Monkey Business


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, December 10, 2003 was originally posted on December 15, 2003.

DAY 53:  My lip had swollen down about half way from the night before, and sensation was coming back, which was a good thing being mistletoe season — not that there was any mistletoe around.  In the steamy jungle, it was the exact opposite of “looking a lot like Christmas.”

Some monkeys came to base camp after breakfast hoping to get scraps, but seeing that there weren’t any, they just went to Sue’s backpack, unzipped the pocket and stole her mini battery-powered fan. 

“Uh, remember that fan Sue?” Simion said.  “You know, that fan you used to have?” 

There was nothing she could do; they had already ran off with it and taken it out to the jungle.  I don’t blame them, it can get pretty hot out there.

JUAN CARLOS LED Simion, Sue, Axel and myself on a morning piranha fishing trip at a nearby lake.  Our canoe cruised through the sea of small green lilypads as “Jesus Christ” birds walked on the surface tension of the water in search of food.  Using sticks, fishing line, hooks and pieces of beef, we attempted to catch the fish made famous by cheesy B-film Hollywood horror movies.  What we discovered is that piranha are smart little critters; they know how to snatch the bait in half a second and run away before even feeling a tug.  Piranha fishing is a common jungle tour activity, so they probably had plenty of practice. 

We tried fishing for hours, trying out different locations of the lake, feeling out each area for activity.  Over and over, I’d cast my baited hook in and come back with nothing.  After a while, it got pretty frustrating. 

I did manage to catch two fish — two sardines — which Juan Carlos said were a part of the piranha family.  I think he said it just to build my self-esteem in piranha fishing.  Using my sardines for bait, Simion managed to catch a red-bellied piranha, and put it in a bucket for a while.  I tried catching a piranha by casting my lure in the bucket, but the swimming piranha still didn’t go for it.  My self-esteem in piranha fishing sank right back down. 

THUS FAR, I was merely “tagging” along to Simion, Axel and Sue’s group with Juan Carlos as their guide.  Since they were all going back to Iquitos in the afternoon (as well as the rumored-to-be-lesbian couple), Juan Carlos went back with them since he was only a freelance guide.  All of them left after lunch — but not after a group photo — leaving me alone again, the sole tourist in a camp with the cook, my new guide Juan, a squirrel monkey (picture above) and three brown cappuchin monkeys.  (The monkeys all left after stealing some bananas in the pantry area.)

YOU MAY HAVE HEARD OF THE EXISTANCE of remote tribal villages in the Amazon or in Africa where, upon the visit of Western tourists, everyone hides their radios and denim jeans to give outsiders an “authentic” tribal experience.  Andres told me in Iquitos that he didn’t believe in the fake “shows” that some of the villages do for the lodges closer to the city, and that upon visiting a remote Amazonian village, I’d see the real authencity.

For an afternoon excursion with my new guide Juan — coincidentally Andres’ 34-year-old younger brother — we canoed downstream, passed local fisherman, to the village of San Juan de Yanayacu, a small village of about a hundred people.  We walked the path of the village, passed the houses, the church, the school and the local bar (of course) and sure enough, there was a radio playing techno dance music and people walking around in jean shorts and t-shirts.  Upon a visit to the local shaman — who was also just wearing shorts and a button-down shirt instead of the stereotypical body paint and a big headdress — I drank a sweet health potion concocted of banana honey and several elements from the jungle, conveniently mixed up and poured from an empty soda bottle.

“[You want to play?]” a little eight-year-old boy named Christopher asked me.  He and his friends were about to play of soccer.  I put my bag down and joined the boys in a game — which was hard to do since most of them were less concerned in scoring and more concerned in staring at me.  Soon the village girls came and we divided the teams into boys vs. girls, not that it mattered because no one kept score.  A lot of times, the ball would go out of bounds and into the river and the kids would dare others to go out and get it, the way I used to growing up in the suburbs when the ball went off into a neighbor’s yard. 

Some of the boys kept on staring at me, wondering how an obvious gringo could look a lot like them.  “[Do you know Michael?]” one of them asked me.

“[Who is Michael?]” I replied.

“[He is a gringo from New York too.  He has a hat like you do,]” he said, pointing to my New York Yankees cap.  Perhaps he thought New York, like San Juan de Yanayacu, only had a hundred people too and everyone knew everyone. 

Other curious boys snickered amongst each other before asking me other questions like “[What team do you like?]”  I said Peru, which seemed to be the “correct” answer, but some of the boys yearned to play for other countries.

“[I play for Brazil!]” one said before kicking the ball.  It fell into the river again and someone had to go get it.

WE WENT BACK UPSTREAM back to base camp, as the sun was setting under the horizon.  There had been an apparent raid by monkeys in the main hut because the bottle of lotion I left out had been bitten into with lotion squeezed out everywhere.  And when I picked up my bottle of water, the monkeys had somehow managed to bite in the bottom but keep the water there until I picked it up and embarrassingly spilled it all over my pants.  It was clear that the novelty of cute little monkeys had already worn off, but I’m sure the monkeys got a good laugh out of that prank.

Juan took me out on a night hike to look for tarantulas.  We walked through the darkness with flashlights and headlamps as butterflies and flying cockroaches kept flying into my head.  Walking in the dark of the Amazon jungle, my intrinsic fear of the dark crept its way back in my consciousness, but I kept sane knowing that I was walking in a world with more natural medicine than a CVS pharmacy.  (There are even “rubber” trees.)  But I had to wonder: what if Juan got bitten by a snake?  I’d have no idea what to do and probably go chopping down a tree with a whole bunch of fire ants in it. 

“There are different species, tarantulas and lobo spiders and they eat the birds,” Juan told me.  We found a several crawling on massive fig trees, waiting for prey, hiding from light when we shined it directly on them.  Despite the fact that these spiders can kill and eat entire birds, I knew that I had nothing to fear since they are more likely more afraid of us than we are of them.

“The big webs we see from the river, what spiders are they from?” I asked.

“There are different species, tarantulas and lobo spiders and they eat the birds,” Juan said.  It was obvious that Juan wasn’t nearly as informative or good in English as Juan Carlos was, but a nice guy nonetheless.  He was much more trustworthy than those damn monkeys anyway.

Next entry: In Deeper With A Really Big Knife

Previous entry: Welcome to the Jungle

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Monkey Business”

  • first!

    hmm…waits for boy to grab ball from the river. caiman eats boy. eeek!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  03:27 AM

  • Yo E! Tag on Local Fisherman is broken… drop the .shtml

    Missed your blogs man, and like LP [speechless]


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  04:11 AM

  • tarantulas, eww, spiders. and flying cockroaches. gross. but the monkeys are really cute. i like the little brown ones. can you mail one back to me with your next postcard shipments? =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  01:31 PM

  • The “local fisherman” picture isn’t comming up for me.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  01:34 PM

  • yeah dood…that pic is not coming up….

    what do monkeys say if they want to “spank the monkey”?? would they say “flog the dolphin” or “choke the chicken”?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  02:55 PM

  • local fisherman link now working…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  09:14 PM

  • still gotta fix the latest blogs and homepage with the blogheader.gif b….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  09:35 PM

  • Markyt:  I didn’t mention it in the blog, but once I held a monkey and it got an erection right in my hands…ewww…guess that’s “flogging the human.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  09:59 PM

  • Ummm….  okay?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:31 AM

  • Erik….eww.  :p

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:59 PM

  • As Deeter would say, “Touch my monkey!” Eew.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/18  at  03:12 PM

  • The monkey looks like someone’s family member!
    *Please Write Back(email)*

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  08:11 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
In Deeper With A Really Big Knife

Previous entry:
Welcome to the Jungle


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