Mrs. Mary Thomas
English 101 - 058
Fall Semester 1997
Peru: A Most Amazing Trip
Peru: A Most Amazing Trip
As I boarded the plane bound from Norfolk to Dallas, I let out a sigh of relief. My biology class had been planning this trip since the beginning of the school year and it was finally here. We had decided to go to the Peruvian Rainforest this summer because of its rich ecological diversity. After months of planning, a delay of two hours at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and the rerouting of flights, I was finally on my way to Peru. The moment had been a long time coming but it had finally arrived.
I made my way to my seat on the American Airlines Boeing 727 and sat down next to a middle aged, balding man who was wearing a finely tailored business suit. As I prepared for takeoff, he began to read some papers. Searching through the channels of music on the airplane audio system, I wondered what the gentleman was reading. I decided that I would take a quick peek without revealing my prying nature. The papers were titled "Report for the Board of Directors of MAPCO." I concluded that this individual must be an important businessperson. That conclusion turned out to be an understatement on my part.
Through conversation with the gentleman I found that his name was Don Hodel and that he was on the board of directors of the oil refining company named MAPCO. Our conversation was enjoyable as we discussed business, government, and environmental topics. Later, I found that Mr. Hodel was the former Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Energy for President Reagan. He is currently the president of the Christian Coalition, the most politically powerful Christian organization in the U.S. It was astounding to find that I was sitting next to such a distinguished diplomat on my trip. I had expected to sit next to an everyday person who was on his way to a vacation destination. Instead, I sat next to a prominent political leader who shares my political and religious beliefs. As the plane approached the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Mr. Hodel gave me his business card. Once we had reached the gate, I rushed to catch up with Mr. Waldenmier, my Biology teacher, and the rest of our group: besides Mr. Waldenmier, the group consisted of three chaperones; (Mr. Waldenmier's sister - Joan Broadhead, Dr. and Mrs. Parker Dooley M.D.). Student members of the group included me and eight high school juniors and sophomores (Josh, Erin, India, Leah, Laura, Tim, and Kelly). After I shared my experience of sitting next to Don Hodel with them, we continued to the gate from which our next flight would be departing.
Following two hours of waiting and window shopping at the overpriced airport shops in Dallas, it was time to board the 757 which would take us to Lima, Peru. As I took my seat, a flight attendant handed me the immigration forms, which I completed just before preparing for departure. The flight to Peru was uneventful. The two seats next to me were unoccupied. I put up the arm rests and made the three seats into a couch, put on my earphones, adjusted my sani-pillow, and took a nap. Throughout the flight, I drifted between listening to the airline audio channels, watching the in-flight movie, and sleeping.
The plane was descending as I awoke from a nap. I gathered my belongings along with my immigration papers in preparation for landing. We touched down in Lima, Peru at midnight, when I looked out the window, no concourse existed for the plane to dock at. Airport workers rolled stairs up to the side of the plane so that we could disembark. When I stepped out of the plane, a survey of the surroundings made it apparent that we were no longer in the United States. The smell of jet fuel burned my throat and the squeal of the jet engines was deafening. A rifle toting soldier accompanied by a German shepherd police dog guarded the entrance to the airport. Once inside the airport, customs officials examined and stamped our passports and agent satisfied himself that our group didn't look suspicious. At baggage claim about a hundred other people were waiting for there parties and somewhere in this confusion were our tour guides. We eventually caught up with them and they escorted us to what would be considered a luxury bus in Peru. In the United States this vehicle would be considered a 'fixed up' second hand Isuzu van. We boarded the so called "bus" while the porters stacked our luggage on top.
On the way to the hotel, we traveled through the commercial sector of Lima. The streets were cluttered with construction rubbish and litter. Prostitutes leaned against light poles beckoning at potential male patrons and street vendors displayed their wares on the sidewalks. The buildings appeared to have been built in the 1940's with plaster crumbling off the sides. The signs of poverty were apparent throughout the city. Leah Jester, a rising sophomore (who claims she wants to be a starving artist), found all of this intriguing and responded to everything which would be considered substandard in the United States, as being "cool." When we reached the Sheraton Hotel, we entered the magnificent lobby. Its contrast to the surrounding, dirty, developing city shocked me. In the lobby was a Las Vagus style casino, a bar, a shopping plaza (which sold exquisite alpaca wool and fine jewelry), and a fancy restaurant. The Sheraton must have been the "Crown Jewel of Lima." However, it was 1:00 a.m., much too late to check all of this out. All I cared about was getting to my room.
I finally reached the 17th floor with my roommate Josh Dooley. We explored the room and found that we had a bar in our room and the luxury of a bidet. After preparing for the next morning, I crawled into bed and immediately fell into a deep sleep. I had only three and a half hours sleep when the wake up call came and I bet it had cost a bundle for this short nap in such an exquisite hotel. With heavy eyelids and my bulky baggage, I joined the rest of the group down in the lobby where we met the tour guide to go back to the airport.
Our luggage was checked in by our tour guide when we arrived at the airport. We cleared security and sleepily waited at the Aeroperu gate. When the plane arrived at the gate it was apparent from the pushing, elbowing, and shoving that the airline did not make seating assignments. People stampeded onto the plane, like a brawl in some red neck bar. Eventually, I struggled onto the plane after fighting my way through the crowd and found a seat next to a Peruvian couple. The airliner's seats were worn and the windows covered with millions of tiny scratches, making it hard to see anything outside, even when we were on the ground. The plane was most likely an old American air liner. When it was time for beverage service I had difficultly communicating with the flight attendant that I wanted a Sprite (thank goodness for the Coca-Cola Corporation in Peru). The plane made a brief stop at Cuzo and then flew to Puerto Malanodo, our destination.
The airport at Puerto Malanodo looked very much like an open air flea market with an array of old cars, motor cycles, and jungle busses parked out front. We picked up our baggage and met our tour guides, Pepe and Guillermo, who would be leading us into the jungle. We placed our luggage in an open bed truck, but the real surprise came when Pepe pointed us to what would be riding in. They were motorcycles with a seat for the driver and little cabs attached for two passengers. Josh and I got into one and the driver took off down the dirt roads of Puerto Malanado going about 50 m.p.h. The dust covered my glasses and the wind blew through my hair as we passed the jungle. Every bump on the washboard roads was painfully obvious as our little carts bounced along. Soon, we passed through a marketplace where the smell of the cooking food clashed with the odor of open sewers situated between the lanes of the streets.
After a brief rest stop, we continued to the Tambopata River where we were to board motorized canoes for our final journey into the jungle. We waited while our canoes were loaded with our bags, gear, and the provisions for the lodge. For the next three hours, half my group and I rode in the lead canoe guided by Guillermo, and the other half rode in a slower boat with Pepe. Guillermo pointed out some interesting wildlife such as camen (an alligator relative) and several types of monkeys as we glided along in our canoe. During our voyage up the river we had our first taste of Peruvian food. The lunch was fried fish chunks, palm heart salad, steamed yucca root, orange/lemon flavored rice and a yogurt drink. However, we were not able to identify all components of meal until Mr. Waldenmier and I conducted a pathological analysis of our rations. (I lost fifteen pounds while I was gone due to a combination of dysentery and my dislike of the food.)
Three hours later we arrived at the lodge where we would spend the night. When we got off the boat, the mud was so deep that we had to take our shoes off to get through it. After conquering the mucky shoreline, we washed our feet and settled into our cabins. The guys stayed in a cabin set up much like a hospital ward, and the girls were divided among two cabins. Leah, Laura, and India stayed in the Quagmire lodge, thus, they became known throughout the rest of the trip as the Quagmire Girls. After an hour expedition into the jungle, we had dinner and I meet a German, pot smoking, psychologist who teaches at the University of Cologne. I finished my unsatisfying dinner and retired to my cabin using a candle to light my path.
The next morning we got up and had breakfast, then boarded a canoe for the 5 hour journey up the river to Tambopata Research Center (TRC). After arriving at the research station Josh and I settled into our sleeping quarters which had an open top and a big unglazed window. Each bed was a frame with a simple mattress. The research lodge was a big thatched roof hut in which cane walls partitioned the rooms.
After settling in, Kelly, Tim, Josh, Mike, and I got together to talk and joke around until lunch time. Throughout the rest of the trip we called ourselves the 'Tambopata Philosophers' due to the deep philosophical discussions we had every night while on the trip. (We also considered Erin one of us to prevent her from being classified as a Quagmire girl). We discussed topics important to the world such as the future of Hong Kong after Chinese take over, and the ethical implications of cloning. The philosophy of the meaning of life and death was a subject that we scrutinized throughly, and we had fun talking about intriguing academic subjects as if we were Ph. D.'s. I also had fun discussing school gossip because I had not been deeply involved in the social scene during my high school years. Throughout the rest of the trip we had an exclusive clique. I was pleased that they included me in their group since they were juniors and I was a graduated senior. I had known these students as academic colleagues through Academic Bowl and Envirothon, but they were only casual acquaintances. Suddenly, I found myself sharing in their discussions and in some of their deepest secrets. It was almost as if I had been friends with them throughout high school. Every chance we got, our "little clique" would get together, and I had found a large group of friends if only for a few days in my life. It was fascinating how a new environment caused a small group of people who have always known each other suddenly to become close friends.
While at TRC each of the five days, we would get up at 4:00 a.m. to go to the "Tambopata Clay Lick." Here the macaws (a parrot relative) with their bright reds, greens, and yellows came each morning eating clay to detoxify the poisons contained in their food. We took advantage of this gathering to observe the macaws in their natural environment. After the observation at the clay lick each morning, we would return to the lodge for breakfast. When breakfast was over we would go on three nature hikes each day. These hikes focused on some specific areas of interest in the rainforest, such as birds, botany, mammals, etc. One of the fun activities was when I climbed a tree 75 ft. tall using a safety harness and climbing gear. (Of course I didn't get to the top, but I enjoyed the challenge. ) After dinner we had the night hikes, which focused on such things as amphibians and bats. I enjoyed the night hikes most of all. Every day in the rainforest was a new experience with the wildlife, like the morning a parrot landed on my shoulder at breakfast. It then decided to walk down my arm and drink my juice. I just sat still and let it have its way until Guillermo scared it away. Another day a macaw landed on my shoulder and I fed it crackers just like I have seen pirates do in the movies. Another favorite pastime of mine was putting insects in the path of army ants and watching how fast the ants could disassemble and carry the insect back to their ant hill.
Our five days had gone by too fast at the Tambopata Research Center but it was time to head back to Puerto Malonado. On the canoe trip back we stopped to go swimming in an oxbow lake just off the river after which we ate lunch. The voyage down the river was almost complete when the motor on our canoe stopped, so we waited for the other boat to come along and tow us for the remainder of the trip. It was dark by the time we got to Puerto Malanodo, so we stayed the night in a nearby lodge where we also had a dinner which was one of the most exotic and delicious meals I have eaten. The main entree was a rainforest rodent called an Agouti which, much to my surprise, tasted a lot like beef roast. After dinner the "Tambopata Philosophers" convened in Tim and Mike's room. We watched TV but found only military parades and political speeches because it was Peruvian Independence Day. After an hour Josh and I went back to our room and Kelly came along and snuggled up with Josh for the night (the lucky dog).
The next morning at 4:00 a.m. we managed to get up and catch the plane back to Lima. Once in Lima, we again stayed at the exquisite Sheraton Hotel. Our group decided to explore the city and do some shopping. However, Mr. Waldenmier mandated that the guys for social custom and protection must accompany the girls. It was also customary that the women walk either behind or beside the men. Waldenmier's mandate gave us guys a strange sense of superiority over the girls. It was fun to have the girls treat us with much more respect than they would in our American society.
Our excursion into the city hosted some complications. Cars almost ran us over since traffic signals are no more than suggestions to drivers in Peru, and vendors would not sell their goods to us because we did not have Peruvian Soles (money). On the way back to the hotel, we saw something which we probably were not supposed to see. A little old woman was pushing an ice cream peddler's cart down the side walk when suddenly a moving van with the seal of the Peruvian government drove up beside her. Police dressed in black with full riot gear jumped out of the van and snatched her cart from her and put it in the van. The little lady attempted to fight back, but the police beat her with night sticks. The van took off with her ice cream cart and the lady walked sadly away her head hanging low. After this event we hastened us back to the hotel to find still yet another surprise.
A Venezuelan rock group was staying in our hotel and more than 300 or more yelling, screaming teenagers were outside our hotel. Our group wove through the turmoil as the police beat back the Peruvian teenagers as they tried to cross the police line. Apparently, It was obvious that we were Americans with our fair complexion, and the police let us through. Tim suggested that we have a little fun with this rock group thing so we went up to our rooms and walked out on the balcony and waved. We were so far up that the girls below must have thought that we were the rock group. They began to scream and yell. However, I am sorry to say, that many girls crossed the line and were beaten by the police.
Later that night we went to what would be considered a five star restaurant, even in the U.S. The food was delicious and the restaurant was on the Pacific Ocean, the sound of the pounding waves and the oceanfront view enhanced the dining atmosphere. For our more than ample gourmet meals we paid a meager 20 to 30 dollars. We headed back to the hotel after dinner for our last meeting of the "Tambopata Philosophers". I will long remember the fellowship and friendship I experienced while part of that exclusive group.
The next morning we awoke at 4:00 a.m., got dressed, and went to the airport where we had to wait at the gate for two hours after clearing customs. While waiting we went shopping to find some canker sore medicine for Kelly since she had been in so much pain. Dr. Dooley suggested that she use some tea with coca leaf in it to help ease the discomfort. We teased her that she was now a crack head and if the drug dogs at customs smelled the coca on her they would have to do a cavity search. She got nervous and almost cried, we all felt really bad for teasing her.
The plane trip to Miami was smooth. I slept through most of the flight, but when we reached the coast of Miami everyone in our group sang "I'm Proud to be an American." At Miami an immigration agent directed us to the line which said "U.S. Citizens Only." This made us feel very patriotic knowing that we were back in the U.S., where citizens have special rights. While I was gone, I felt vulnerable because I was not a citizen of the country where I was visiting and didn't know the laws and customs of the country. I was back in the U.S. and I knew what to expect and felt protected as a U.S. Citizen. At customs, our group got through fine except for Tim. Customs officials searched his whole bag. (Security had harassed Tim every time we flew and they must have perceived him as a shifty character).
Once, in the main part of the airport, I commented that we can start using English again. Mr. Waldenmier said "don't count on that," as he reminded me of the large number of Hispanics in Miami. He then pointed out a bumper sticker which said "Will the last American to leave Miami please bring the flag." From Miami we flew to Dallas and then finally to Norfolk. On the plane from Miami to Norfolk I called my mother air to ground. She said that Mike's mother was picking me up and she would be up when I got home.
Mike's mother was indeed waiting for us at the airport and she drove Mike, Mr. Waldenmier, and I home. I arrived at my house about 2:00 the next morning, I immediately went to bed after giving my mother the souvenirs I had bought for my family. As I laid in bed, I reflected on all the things I had done and seen on the trip. I had the privilege of meeting one of our nation's important personalities, Don Hodel, Esq.. The friendship, fellowship, and intellectual discussions of the "Tambopata Philosophers" will never be forgotten. I had witnessed the abuse of a nation's citizens by its own police. The Peruvian food had not been a rewarding experience for me. I had experienced and observed animal and plant life in the jungle of Peru. Overall the trip was rewarding with new experiences and surprises around each corner but I was glad to be back home where I could return to my quiet everyday life.