Fish Biting Skin and Monkeys Stealing Bananas

Three years ago, we had a life-changing experience in the Peruvian jungle. When we returned,  we were excited to have the chance to ride a boat down the river and explore the rainforest’s depths.

We met Charito on Zoom, and we were surprised to learn she had a hidden retreat in the jungle. She uses this place to escape the city noise and reconnect with nature.

Charito is a passionate advocate for nature conservation. As the former mayor of Tornavista, she bravely stood up to companies that were polluting the rainforest with mercury.

Throughout her term as mayor, Charito endured threats and intimidation. But even now, through her organization for women’s empowerment, she continues to work for the preservation of nature’s beauty and richness.

Time to realize the power of nature

She bought the land she bought in Charyak, as this part of the primeval forest is called, precisely because she wanted to protect it, to protect it from polluters. ‘La reserva’ as she calls it, is a nature reserve where she wants to plant more trees and plants, especially medicinal ones.

Natural healing is another of her passions – knowledge of natural resources for the benefit of our health.

“Hundreds of plants grow in the Amazon rainforest. Our ancestors knew a lot about them, but this knowledge is being lost because young people are not interested in it,” Charito told us. “Now is the time to re-learn the power of these plants and start using them.”

By the way, as an interesting fact, the coronavirus pandemic did reach the village communities of the Amazon rainforest, but the people did not suffer as severe consequences as those in the city, let alone like us in the West.

They consumed herbs as a preventive measure and, with the help of knowledge of the healing effects of plants, ensured maximum resistance. This is what we were told by people from some of these communities whom we met in the city.

When you get attacked by drivers

Our journey to Charyak began with Charito, her mother, and Piero, a young boy hosted by Charito’s cousin in Pucallpa.

On the shore before we went into the forest.

Before entering the forest, we stopped at the shore.

We drove to the town of Honoria, less than a two-hour drive away. Most people in Pucallpa don’t have their own cars. Instead, they hire transport at the Terminal, Pucallpa’s main stop since buses are not common. Taxi drivers often become the only transportation option.

In Quito, taxi drivers are not like the ones we’re used to. Anyone with a car can be a taxi driver. Knowing a reliable driver is essential for passengers. Luckily, Charito knows a few.

Arriving at the terminal is an adventure that can be overwhelming. At the entrance, dozens of drivers eagerly wait for new arrivals. When they spot a foreigner, they become even more enthusiastic.

As the motorcars pulled in, a group of enthusiastic people rushed towards it. They quickly surrounded the vehicle, leaving the driver with limited space to move forward. They eagerly followed, some even going as far as halting the driver. Amidst a chorus of voices, they offered us rides to various destinations, vying for our attention.

We will have to get used to such things. A very unpleasant experience, but it’s part of life in this city. People here are breadwinners, and unfortunately we white people are still a walking ATM for them.

A foreigner must be well acquainted with prices here, especially for transportation, because there are very few who will charge a white man the usual price. Isn’t that racism too?

On the torn and perforated earth

Charito made our journey a breeze. She arranged for a reliable driver and a comfortable car to pick us up. Our journey to Honoria was long and tiring, but Charito’s arrangements made it bearable.

The only smooth road was the main one leading to Lima, once we turned to Honoria, we were on a bumpy and potholed path. We finally arrived at the river port, exhausted from the heat and the journey.

Charito’s friend, the boat driver, was waiting for us at the port. We took a half-hour boat ride down the Pachitea River, followed by a 30-minute walk through the forest to reach our destination, Charito’s piece of heaven on earth. Despite the heat, Charito’s mother, who was in her seventies, made the journey with us.

The house was exactly as we remembered it from our visit to Rosendo’s Shipani community years ago. It was built of wood and palm leaves.

A union of voices that soothes the heart

Describing the Peruvian jungle is like trying to capture magic in a bottle – it always seems to escape my grasp. Despite my multiple attempts on this blog, the words I find are always inadequate.

On the way to the property

Imagine a forest teeming with life and sound – that’s the Peruvian jungle. It’s a symphony of thousands of birds, insects, and beasts, all contributing to a cacophony unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The treetops rustle in the wind, adding their own layer of melody to the mix.

On the way to the property

Have you ever listened to the forest? Each creature seems to be competing with the others to make their presence known, to proclaim their existence and their place in this ecosystem.

It’s not like the noisy city, which can be overwhelming and disturbing. The sounds of the forest are different. They’re the voices of nature, and they’re as essential to our well-being as water is to life. They’re not the harsh shouts of mototaxi drivers, but rather a soothing melody that calms the heart and lifts the spirit.

Over time, as we become accustomed to this strange and healing chaos of voices, we too start to feel like a part of nature, a part of the forest.

I’ve always believed that we can find God in nature just as easily as we can find Him in the Mass or the Holy Eucharist. Sometimes I think we should add another sacrament to the list: the sacrament of nature.

Fruits of the jungle

We spent only one night in Charyak. Imagine a wooden house in the middle of nature, far away from civilization. Charito guided us around the grounds, showing us different trees and plants. He already knows many plants, including their healing effects for various diseases and problems. But she says that she is still learning and that she still lacks a lot of knowledge.

Every now and then she invites a ‘maestro’ (teacher) to her ‘property’ who knows the plants and teaches her about the importance and effects of the many that grow around.

She showed us the cocoa plantation, which she still needs to arrange, as it is quite overgrown, and the trees are not planted according to rows, as we have seen in other ‘chakras’ (fields).

With cocoa in hand.

In the heart of the cocoa tree, we encountered the hidden gem of cacao seeds. Not only the seed, but also the white layer enveloping it, resembled a tantalizing gelatin, both sweet and tangy, quenching our thirst and revitalizing our senses.

We embarked on a unique journey of hydration, tapping into the incredible potential of banana water. With a cut stem as thick as a glass, we carefully drilled a hole and covered it with a leaf, allowing the water to gather overnight. As the sun rose, we were greeted with a refreshing elixir, said to possess remarkable healing properties for rheumatism and joint issues.

Thermal water, even hotter than air.

In addition to the breathtaking waterfalls, the property also boasts several thermal springs. The water in these springs hovers around a comfortable 40 degrees. While the hot water may seem unnecessary in the sweltering heat, we couldn’t resist taking a refreshing dip in a nearby stream late in the afternoon. As the sun began to set, we soaked in the warm water until darkness enveloped us.

Skin-gnawing fish and banana-stealing monkeys

Have you ever felt like hundreds of tiny fish were giving you a massage? It’s a strange sensation, but it’s also quite relaxing. And the best part is, you never know where the next pinch will come from!

In Thailand, we saw a unique service offered by resourceful merchants. For just two euros, you can dip your feet in an aquarium filled with these fish for fifteen minutes. And when the fish are done, your skin will be renewed and refreshed.

As the sun began to set, the monkeys made their appearance. This was their time to shine. We were in the water, surrounded by tall, heavily branched trees—the perfect habitat for these agile creatures.

A piece of heaven on earth

As the monkeys effortlessly jumped from one tree branch to the next above us, their thin whistling cries abruptly overwhelmed every other sound. About twenty meters from our “lagoon,” Chrito had a banana plantation, the intended playground for the monkeys.

Charito, the owner of the bananas, chuckled and said, “If they steal my bananas, there’s nothing I can do because they’re in charge here.”

We spent a day and a half exploring the dense jungle. When we finally returned home, we were delightedly exhausted, the sounds of the jungle still reverberating in our ears, and our legs itching from mosquito bites.

These challenges are all part of the thrilling experience, and we eagerly anticipate our next adventure in the jungle, especially if we can visit an indigenous community.

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