For a recap, read The Jungle Scene – Arrivals here.
I groaned internally as I looked at the plate of food in front of me; rice again.
The problem was that because we were so remote, and because there was no electricity, we were limited to the food that we could keep. Most days lunch was diced tomato, onion, camote, and potato, with a large serving of rice.
It was healthy, it gave us the energy we needed for our work, and we never went hungry.
Still though, I would have loved a steak.
Our daily routine was simple, soon after the sun rose, we would wake. After checking our boots for insects or anything else unwelcome, we got dressed.
By this time, our second week in the jungle, we had two extra volunteers; a French man named Valentine and his Spanish partner Marina.
We zipped up our tent and, locked the house, and began the short trek to the centre, stopping at the river crossing to wash our clothes and ourselves.
As always, when we arrived, Orlando was wide awake and had been for hours. From what I could tell, he got little sleep, and only ate properly when he had volunteers to help with the cooking.
Breakfast was simple, either the same fare as lunch minus the rice, or if we were lucky, rice cooked with powdered milk and seasoned with sugar and cinnamon.
We had fallen into fairly gender traditional roles, with Anabel spending most of her time indoors helping throughout the day with cooking for both the animals and us, while I spent most of my working hours outdoors, moving or cutting wood, collecting water, general laborious chores.
The main reason this happened is simple; the monkeys became accustomed to me far sooner than they became accustomed to Anabel, which meant that while I was able to move around outside without being bothered, she needed to stay indoors for fear of being attacked, as had already happened.
I knew full well the surprising pain such a small animal as the Capuchin Monkey can inflict. I idly scratched at the fresh scar on my hand, where one of the more aggressive monkeys had clung to my arm and clamped down as hard as she could with her jaws.
This day would be much like the others, Valentine and I would help Javier with cutting up logs to replace the ones around the centre that were beginning to rot.
On my second day here, bright eyed and little nervous, I had begun my work. Javier and I climbed into the forest next to the centre, thick with trees. Most of the climbing was almost vertical, clinging to exposed roots and fallen logs as we ascended. More than once during these numerous climbs I was bitten on the hand by some species of ant that made my entire arm feel like it was fire.
The first time I was bitten, I panicked, if it was poisonous or lethal, I would have way to get back to civilization other than walk. After fifteen minutes, the pain was still there, but I was alive. The second and third time it happened, I didn’t panic, but I dreaded the pain nonetheless. It was a deep throbbing pain that you could feel right down to your bones.
We spent some looking for a tree that we were sure wasn’t being used by any of the animals, climbing ever higher. When we finally found a free tree we could use, we began to hack it down. I helped as much as I could, but Javier was far more skilled with an ax than I. Soon the chosen tree would come crashing down, and it was up to me to manouever the tree down the mountain, then make my way back up to bring the next tree down.
Some were thin enough to be carried, these I took on my shoulders into the centres clearing from the treeline. The rest I could only drag.
By the time we made it back to the centre, I was utterly exhausted and ate that first meal of rice and diced vegetables like I’d never eaten before. Despite my exhaustion, I felt good. It felt good to be able to look outside and see those tree trunks, and know that I had played a part in that arduous task.
I smiled at this memory and, finishing my breakfast and strong coffee, set out to the day’s work.
As we began to pull in more tree trunks that we had previously felled from the treeline, we heard an almighty crack. Looking out towards the river, one of the trees cresting the hill had begun to topple. We approached warily and inspected it, finding the base had become rotten and cracked halfway. We would need to cut it down the rest of the way. Otherwise there was a risk that it could come crashing down on the centre itself.
After thirty minutes of chopping and hacking, the tree cracked again, the base tearing in half completely. We leapt backwards only to realize the now broken tree had thumped into the ground, but was still upright. It’s upper branches had gotten entangled in a neighboring tree.
We began to warily push at the tree, attempting to dislodge it. Eventually the tree broke loose and came crashing down, we leapt back and ran, and in the following confusion one of the larger branches struck my leg above the knee.
A bloody gash above my right knee, now a large purple scar. The jungle holds no prisoners, it seems.
Despite these minor adventures, most of the days passed without much occurrence; we would wake, go to work, and in the later afternoon head down to the river to wash off the days dirt. Back at the centre, I would help where I could, chopping vegetables, collecting water, tending to the fire, and when there was nothing to do I simply read.
I began to enjoy it, the solitude of it all, and the feeling of accomplishment a person gets after a hard day’s work. The evening meal was usually the same fare again, only this time with some imitation soy meat.
The monotony of the meals became my biggest gripe, the same meals day in and day out began to grate on my nerves and I found myself fantasizing of the unhealthiest foods I could imagine; pizzas, burgers, tacos, and of course, the full Irish breakfast.
It wasn’t so much the food, but the rice. I have no particular problem with rice, but I find that on it’s own it is a tremendously bland affair, and half of these meals were just rice after having finished the vegetables.
Another day, a group of wild monkeys appeared at the treeline. These monkeys had been coming every now and again, and were called Lindos by Orlando, Spanish for ‘Pretties’. It was an incredible sight, a line of monkeys, much larger than the Capuchin monkey, like a cross between an gorilla and a chimpanzee, watching and calling out to the centre. Soon after they were joined by a different species, this time slightly smaller with facial fur that looked long moustaches.
One of the reservation’s monkeys, Yuracocha, went out to meet them, and they communicated for several hours; dancing around each other, chirping and calling. Eventually they made their way back into the jungle. I didn’t see them a second time, but it is yet another sight that I will not soon forget.
In the evenings, during the twilight hours, I liked to sit outside. Some of the monkeys that had taken a liking to me would sit with me, usually one called Chico or another called Jacinta, and we would idle away the last sunlit hours of the day. I had come to know most of the animals, though there were some who were a bit more detached, who didn’t spend much time around the centre, save for their meals. I had come to realize that these primates each had individual personalities that were incredibly human-like. It seemed as if there was a certain connection, an instinctual understanding that we were closely related; I even found myself talking to them.
Only when it was completely dark would we set out on our way back to the house, to make sure none of the monkeys followed us back.
Returning to the house, we wasted no time in sleeping once more, ready again for a sunrise awakening.