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It sounded like a good idea on paper. Beautiful photographs and italic script graced the substantial, captivating travel brochure.

Patricia Walkow
Humor - It Sounded Like a Good Idea

It Sounded Like A Good Idea


 Patricia Walkow 



It sounded like a good idea on paper.

     Beautiful photographs and italic script graced the substantial, captivating travel brochure:


"Extend your visit to Peru. After seeing the cultural and historic treasures at Cusco and Machu Picchu, walk on the wild side and see nature at its most pure in the Peruvian Amazon region. Your Amazon adventure begins at the equatorial river port of Iquitos, where you will travel by boat to your deep jungle lodge and experience life in the Amazon first-hand."


     Why not?  The Amazon was certainly on my list of places to see.

     Besides, it would give me bragging rights. At a future party when people started talking about their travels, my stories about the Amazon would easily trump whatever they would say about Europe or the Caribbean.

     This would be my first trip to Peru. It had been a lifelong dream. It began as I looked on page eighty-eight at the top of the right-most column of a left page in my fourth grade Geography book. Back then Geography was taught as a discipline. No "Social Studies"—just the study of how physical and climate characteristics affect a nation. The Geography book was black and white, with a few treasured glossy images in color. The image of Machu Picchu was one of those color photos. I was entranced by the clouds, the mountain peaks and stone buildings and decided, then and there, I would visit it someday with the man who would be my husband. And I would visit when I was old.

     "Old" meant thirty.

     So the seed had been planted and when I was forty-three, my dream blossomed.

     The dream included my husband, Walter. But he had no interest in this particular trip.

     I prodded him a bit, asking why he wouldn't want to escape for a time to a place where he didn't need to worry about the variety of nature's unpredictable incursions that assaulted us where we lived. But he preferred to remain nestled in our chaparral-covered, wildfire-susceptible box canyon in our earthquake-troubled neighborhood where homes dotted steep, often-unstable hillsides beneath a reservoir, just fifteen miles from where recent race riots occurred in Los Angeles.

     He felt safe there.

     I was disappointed, but would not let it get in the way of my Peruvian dream.

     So I booked a tour with just a few other travelers and off I went to Lima, then Cusco high in the stark Alta Plano of the Andes, to lush Machu Picchu, and finally to Iquitos.

     Originating in the Andes, fresh, clear water from the wild Urubamba and Uncayali rivers flows north and drains into calmer tributaries which empty into the mud-brown Amazon at the jungle city of Iquitos. The city was built by richness from the rubber trade of earlier centuries.

     Hard by the Equator, Iquitos is beyond tropical as one might think of "tropical" in southern Mexico or some Caribbean Islands.

     The temperature ranges from the eighties to the nineties, Fahrenheit. Not excessive. Rainfall averages almost 103 inches per year.

     The humidity averages 115 percent.

     One hundred and fifteen percent humidity, if you are unaccustomed to it, means the air has a noticeable volume and seems more like a semi-liquid than a gas. One has to remind oneself she is not drowning every time she takes a breath. It takes some calming self-talk. It results in the body perpetually losing water and electrolytes via constant sweat. Heat exhaustion occurs easily and a person like me, unacquainted with excessively high humidity and a tropical climate, must have water on hand at all times and be protected by prophylactic malaria pills and pre-trip typhoid, yellow fever, cholera and hepatitis vaccines.

     I had been to third world countries before and if there is a fourth world, Iquitos was in it.

     It had sounded like a good idea on paper.

     Accessible only by air or water, Iquitos has its own inimitable brand of charm. It is an exotic place—excessively noisy, sticky, hot, colorful and multi-cultural, with bicycle, motorcycle, bus and rickshaw-type local transportation. Most of the contemporary architecture reflects Baroque and Rococo elements from Spain, France, Portugal and Germany, which contrast with traditional huts made of cane, rammed earth or adobe.   

     The city is home to the famous building called "Casa de Fierro," designed by Gustave Eiffel. It was prefabricated in Belgium of a great deal of iron and then assembled in Iquitos. Never mind the humidity and its effect on iron! Rust festooned every bolt, brace and girder, as though it grew on steroids. Sheltered under its deep portico, literate people had set up typewriters on tables. Those who could not read or write waited their turns to have letters written for them, or they would respond to mail read to them. Payment was made in money or trade items like fresh fruit, fish or crafts.

     The brochure proved accurate.


"...Your Amazon adventure begins at the equatorial river port of Iquitos..."


     The night we arrived at the river port, my small group and I enjoyed dinner at a large open-sided restaurant with a thatched roof. Elevated above the Amazon, as are most buildings along the river, it was situated on high stilts among rushes, small islands and narrow muddy beaches. The food was fresh and the hearts-of-palm salad looked like a plate of long-stranded fettuccine. Prepared with a simple vinaigrette dressing, it is unequalled anywhere else I have traveled. It had the texture of al dente pasta and a slightly nutty taste. Even at night the humidity was still stifling and the temperature hardly budged. But the moon, suspended large and low just above the river, flirted with thin bands of clouds and illuminated the backs and beaks of wading birds in repose among the tall silver-glazed marsh grass.  

     I had been seduced.

     We returned to our first class hotel. It had damp, rusted rooms with noisy air conditioners and small colorful lizards scurrying along the walls.  I like lizards, so was not bothered by them.

     The next morning we would travel down river, which meant roughly east, to our lodge. Excited to be staying on land and happy in my ignorant smugness, I knew my experience would be closer to how the native people lived. Why would the majority of tourists forgo staying on land and live, instead, on an air-conditioned boat, partially sealed away from the richness of jungle life?

     Why, indeed?

     Early in the morning we rode a small bus to the river bank and boarded a metal dugout-style boat. At about twenty feet long, it was outfitted with narrow wooden benches running almost the length of the craft and we passengers sat facing each other, our knee caps practically touching. The boat flattened out in the stern–like it was hammered almost flat—and the outboard motor was installed there with its propeller slung through a hole in the floor. A barefoot native man ran the motor and another one tended to the passengers. There was a palm-thatched canopy shading part of the boat, and as the engine started, the movement generated a welcome breeze. For the duration of the trip, at least we had moving air even if it was artificially contrived. We were offered bottled water, and each of us could easily see the single duffle bag we were allotted for our river trip would be damp when we arrived at the lodge.

     But here everything was damp, if not from the water, then from the humid air.

     The river twisted and turned and seemed to get lost among its own peninsulas and islands, eventually finding its main channel once again. It reminded me of an endless pretzel. Thousands of trees were in plain sight; thousands and thousands, with deep darkness between them.

     It was a hopeless landscape. No mountains, no sense of direction, as close to lost as I had ever been.  

     And that was with a guide.

     I wondered, "Would I ever be able to find my way out of here, if I had to?"

     We were immersed in an ancient, yet new alien world. The almost-opaque water was the color of milk chocolate and on occasion, a large fish would suddenly rear its head and retreat, mud particles speckling its eyes as it returned to the depths, invisible in the murk. We were told they were good to eat.

     We were also told piranha were good to eat too, and to keep our hands in the boat.

     Laughing mocha-colored children cavorted on the riverbanks, playing, screaming, teasing, as children do everywhere. Some of them swam, others tried fishing.  Happy and unembarrassed in their nakedness, I envied their lack of pretense. Mothers washed clothing from colorful plastic buckets. They firmly grasped the clothes and beat them on stones along the river and rinsed them in the dark brown water. At the boarding zone in Iquitos, I saw mothers like these buying or bartering for buckets in bright yellows, reds and blues, jarringly punctuating the green and brown natural world around them.

     I immediately noticed the children here seemed healthier and more well-fed than some of the poor urchins I saw in Lima where they lived off proceeds from street begging and scraps scavenged from a massive garbage dump. Here they seemed to have enough food. Crops grew along the river banks. There were fish to catch. The children had families. And they had incredibly bright, beautiful smiles — smiles they readily shared with the strangers plying through the water on a metal boat.

     Their waves to us were infectious.

     "Walter, why aren't you here to see this?" I whined to myself.

     We saw two boats of the Peruvian Navy moored along the shore, each about the size of a sport fishing boat. We were told they patrolled the river.

     "For what?" I asked myself. "An invasion from Brazil?"

     Almost every building was elevated on stilts to accommodate the natural rhythm of flooding on the river and to help with air circulation. We passed a few tiny villages and some had a single light bulb strung on wires between two buildings. This constituted the village square.  One village even had a tiny one-room school house, painted a faded blue. But we were told most settlements did not have electricity.

     Our lodge would not have electricity and I felt game for the adventure.

     But my own culture invaded by thoughts. "How would we have ice to cool our Perrier, Diet Coke and martinis?"

     We continued down river for a little over an hour, to our landing on the left bank.  With the twisting course of the river, I couldn't tell if we were on the North or South side of the river. We alit on a dark, wet beach. Our shoes sunk to the laces in thick, spongy mush, causing a sucking vacuum sound with each step we took to walk up to the lodge, a few hundred feet inland. It sat on stilts on a low rise above the water.

     As my shoes turned matte brown, I recalled it had sounded like a good idea to visit the Amazon.

     Immediately, I recognized Iquitos seemed less humid than here at the lodge.

     I didn't think that was possible.

     We were completely immersed. I was also completely lost. I knew I was on the planet and on the continent of South America, but I knew little else.

     I recalled a line from the brochure:


"...travel by boat to your deep jungle lodge..."


     It was deep, alright, and it didn't bother me, yet.

     Remember, I had been seduced.

     The lodge itself was fascinating. All the cabins and the dining hall, bar and lounge were protected by a high-peaked thatched roof. I estimated it was at least thirty feet high. To our delight, colorful birds cavorted on the inside of the roof, hanging upside down. There were neither windows nor doors sealing off the public areas from the elements, although we were told the cabins had doors, screens and bathrooms and they too, were shaded by pavilion roofs.  Fuel-powered generators pumped water from the river into holding tanks and the water was gravity-fed into the cabins. Each of us would be given kerosene lanterns to guide our way to our rooms.  We were advised to walk on the elevated wooden pathways at night.

     With our room keys in hand we were served a lunch of fresh melons and other fruit, some chicken and bottled water. The hearts of palm salad made an encore appearance. The food was delicious and simply prepared.

     Immediately after we ate, a small group of tourists from Japan retuned to Iquitos. A group of tourists from Spain and my small American group stayed for orientation.


"Welcome to the Wilderness Lodge," our hostess said. "We are here in the Amazon, not too far from where it flows into Brazil. We do not have electricity, so our drinks are in a very large cooler filled with blocks of ice deliveredfrom Iquitos twice a week."


     Apparently, she knew this was an important question for everyone!

     She introduced us to a pet toucan who found it easier to propel itself up steps with his beak than fly, and her own pet coati proved to be very friendly and incessantly interested in getting treats from guests.  She said it would regularly sit next to hanging bunches of bananas throughout the lodge, expecting someone to give her one.  Macaws screeched outside.

     Otherwise, it was surprisingly quiet.

     One person asked, 'What if there is a medical emergency? How do we get help?"

     "We have a short wave radio system we can use, if necessary. They are all dependent on electricity. We try not to turn on the generator and waste fuel. So these devices are not always fully charged.  There are also drums."

     "Drums?" I asked aloud.

     "Yes, we communicate with other locals via drumming if necessary. We can call for a boat if we need to."


     It had sounded like a good idea.

     The brochure had said,


...experience life in the Amazon first-hand..."


     My bragging rights were growing.

     Our hostess outlined the activities available to us for the next three days and introduced our local guides, all men.  They were fluent in Spanish, English and their tribal languages.  None of them was taller than about 5 feet 8 inches and all were muscular. Their white teeth gleamed against their brown skin and their smiles were wide and welcoming. One had a gold front tooth.

     They were dressed in long-sleeved button-down shirts, denim jeans and straw hats.

     "They must be so hot," I thought.

     We proceeded to our cabins to unpack and prepare for the first adventure of the afternoon—a visit to a local settlement to trade with the natives.

     Our excursion was a quarter mile walk through the rain forest along a narrow path. The canopy was so thick, the sky was not visible, and little bright light reached the forest floor. This made the path clear. There was no choking vegetation to battle along our route.

     Dripping buckets of sweat, my pre-hike lathering of DEET didn't help my skin breathe. But I hiked on, and crossed a stream by walking on a log. There were no rails—just a log. Our small group came to another large covered pavilion, similar to the one sheltering the facilities of our lodge. We were immediately met by children, curious about trade items they thought we travelers had for them.  Some travelers in the group offered t-shirts, little plastic toys, and costume jewelry. Apparently, I had failed to read the part of the brochure about trading and was woefully unprepared for any exchange. But the crafts the children made were too good to pass up and I scrounged in my satchel for anything I thought they might like to have. Taking a gamble, I emptied a blue Estée Lauder waterproof zippered makeup case and, held it high in the air, demonstrating how the zipper worked. Immediately, seven arms went up, each offering something to trade. I selected a ceremonial (non-functional) blow gun, wrapped in ocelot fur and bearing long pointed darts with needle-sharp tips.

     We made our swap, and I think I was happier than the child.

     The rest of the kids tugged at my satchel. I offered them a solar calculator, but they laughed. I have no idea what they might have thought it was. Then I emptied another zippered item—a small change purse—and collected another feather-decorated ceremonial blow gun, followed by a set of hand-strung beads for my little hand mirror.

     Out of goods to trade, my small band of travelers approached the center of the pavilion. The chief and elders, barely clad in loincloths, greeted us and offered a demonstration of how to use a real blow gun, almost seven feet long. It was impressive to see how the dart, which would normally have poison on the end, impaled a hapless melon with a well-trained breath.

     The women, some bare-breasted, watched the demonstration and kept their eyes on the children, most of whom ran around naked or with just a t-shirt. It occurred to me how bras are not always comfortable, but the effect of never wearing one for many years was apparent in the women's pendulous breasts.

     Suddenly, I was grateful for Playtex, Bali and Vanity Fair.

     The chief wanted to trade. You could tell he was the chief because he had a large headdress made of feathers.  He had a set of hand-made maracas and a woven bounty bag for storing small animals he hunted. He noticed I was interested, and I was able to negotiate a cost of what would be considered $5.00. I handed him the equivalent in Peruvian soles.  As I had seen in Iquitos, the natives use the trade money to make purchases in towns along the river.

     As we returned to our lodge, the natives sat in a circle and showed off their merchandise to one another.

     Drained by sweat, we were somehow fulfilled.

     The rest of the afternoon was spent in my hand woven hammock safely suspended from some posts under the pavilion, aside my cabin. But first, I removed all of my underwear. My loose cotton slacks and top were enough. In fact, they were too much. Clothing is superfluous when humidity exceeds 100 percent.

     I tried to sleep in the loosely-woven hammock, which allowed some air circulation beneath it. But it was too hot to sleep. And I quickly learned a body resting on a hammock attracted beetles.  They didn't hurt when they crawled on me but their feet and legs had something on their sides that allowed them to latch on to my skin.  pparently, they laughed at DEET. You can't just flick them off, either. They have to be shoved away and they try to hang on when you do. And they make loud clunks when they hit the floor.

     What I didn't yet know was those beetles were the just the small ones.

     It had all sounded like a good idea on paper.

     Sunset comes early near the equator, and before long we were called to supper in the dining area. We sat four to a table and had yet another simple, fresh meal of fish, vegetables and fruit. Each of us was given our two lit kerosene lanterns and told how to operate them. As it got darker, it did not get cooler. One of our guides took out a guitar and started to serenade us. As he did, and as it got progressively darker, the jungle responded. As creatures awakened from their daytime slumber they either screamed, howled, screeched, croaked, slithered, crawled, scurried, climbed, jumped, flew or walked.

     Beetles crawled over our dining table, up our legs, clinging to our skin or slacks. Flying insects whacked our necks. I had to guard my food so they wouldn't crawl into it. But I had lost my appetite, so I didn't care.


"...experience life in the Amazon first-hand..."


     And they do not grow small in the Amazon. Beetles can easily be the size of a palm, moths as wide as a notebook, spiders as thick as a bar of soap.

     I needed valium.

     It had sounded like a good idea on paper.

     "Insects are just part of life here," the guide gently said. "Ignore them."Would anyone like to go for a nighttime walk through the jungle? It will be about an hour's tour?"

     I could stay here and be overrun by bugs, or keep moving. I opted to keep moving.

     It sounded like a good idea.

     And it was dark. Most of us brought flashlights we had tucked away in our duffle bags. Shut off the flashlights and it is as inky as a cave. Shine a flashlight and a thousand eyes, none of them human, find you.

     Was I now prey?

     Living things bumped into us. They crashed into our heads and landed on our shirts.  They crawled over our shoes. I tucked my slacks into my sneakers and covered my head with a cotton scarf.

     Keep moving.

     It sounded like a good idea.

     After we returned to the lodge, I retrieved my kerosene lamps from the dining room. Emotionally and physically exhausted, when I reached my cabin I placed one lantern in a water-filled plate outside the front door and brought the other one inside, as instructed.

     Eerie shadows cast by my kerosene light danced on the dark wooden slats serving as walls in the cabin.  The room measured about 10 feet by 12 feet, and had fully-screened windows covered with floral curtains for privacy. The door had a half window, also screened and curtained, and a simple hook latch.  The roof was made of thatch, which was another layer of protection since the whole cabin was covered by a high thatched-roofed pavilion. The bathroom was all dark wood slats with a single pedestal sink, a flush toilet and a shower.  Only cold water was available.   turned the shower on, and a single stream of milky brown river water came out.  "No point showering," I said to myself.

     I quickly sponge-bathed with a wash cloth and some bottled water and attempted to dry myself with a towel. The towels were wet from the humid air.  After lathering myself in insecticide, I shook out my night gown to be sure nothing alive was in it before putting it on.

     As I reclined on the bed it occurred to me a mattress is a foolish thing in the tropics. It is hot, sticky and wet and only heaven knows what was living in it. Too afraid to leave myself exposed, I covered myself with the thin sheet, checking first for bugs. It would have made more sense to go outside and sleep on the ventilated hammock. Except for the bugs.

     I lay sweating on the bed, covered in insecticide, furious, and almost panicked.

     Why are you making me do this alone, Walter?

     It was too hot. I couldn't sleep. There wasn't enough air. It was noisy. Every creature that could make noise was making it. After lying in bed, sweating still, I heard a new noise.


     What was that?

     I was too afraid to get up and walk to one of the screened windows to find out; too afraid to pull back the curtain and discover something grotesque; too anxious to even touch the curtain; too timid to put my foot on the floor.


     Walter, I'll never forgive you for this!        

     THWAACK!!!  Again.

     That was it. I jumped into my shoes, horrified I didn't check them for insects first, and gingerly pulled aside the curtain. There at eye level was the underbelly of a huge bat, munching on a hapless critter it caught.

     The exterior kerosene lamp attracted insects. Insects attracted critters. Critters attracted bats. Was this someone's idea of a little nasty joke for the tourist?

     I opened another curtain. Another bat. Munch, munch, enjoying its midnight lunch.

     It had sounded like a good idea.

     Bereft and drained, I went back to bed and pulled the thin sheet over my head, tucking it in around my face.  If I looked like a cadaver, at least I didn't worry about something crawling over my eyes or in my nose.

     I had purchased a hand-held paddle fan in Iquitos. That night I learned how to fall asleep among the din of an army of millions, with my wrist keeping the fan in motion.


“...walk on the wild side and see nature at its most pure...”


     I had experienced about all I could stand of nature for one night.

     The seduction was wearing thin.

     After breakfast the next morning and still bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I joined a small contingent of my group for an outing.  We traveled down river again about half an hour. When we disembarked, we hiked through a clearing past a tiny settlement of three houses. The inhabitants watched us walk by, and, ever ready to take a photo, I placed the camera back in my satchel. I thought it would have been too intrusive.

     Instead, I enjoyed seeing the melons, corn, bread fruit and manioc they were growing. Chickens scuttled here and there with sometimes a pet dog; small goats rested under the raised cabins. Fishing lines were in the water.  I noticed the open air rooms had no beds – just hammocks like the ones at the lodge.

     As we passed the sunny, open meadow we headed into a very dark wooded area. Trees had large exposed roots; orchids and epiphytes clung to them by the dozens.  Giant butterflies in Technicolor iridescent blues and greens flitted among us. Caterpillars at least six inches long munched their way through leaves.  Our guide could name all the plants and any creature we saw.  Except for the occasional chirping of birds and monkeys, the jungle is quiet in the day.  And in daylight, it didn't seem so threatening.

     Walter, you need to come here. It is fantastic!

     We hiked to a black water lake about an acre wide and boarded a small hand-made wooden dugout. A black water lake is dark because it is lined with decayed vegetation and you cannot see what is in the water until it is just below the surface.  It smelled of decomposing leaves and rich earth.

     There wasn't a breath of air. It was the definition of "stagnant." Hot. Humid. Pungent. Still. We boarded two boats, four to a boat. Each of us was handed a small wooden fishing line with a tiny nub of some kind of bait at the end. We were told to see what we could catch.

     I do not have fishing karma and expected no fish! But I gamely did as I was told and was the first to catch a fish. At about six inches across and eight inches long it wasn't too large and was somewhat translucent with tinges of orange.  Its teeth were big and needle sharp.

     My first piranha.

     Do you mean we are sitting in a tiny, tippy wooden canoe in a lake filled with piranha????

     A young boy came out from the shore in his own canoe. He helped me remove the fish and I let him have it. We were told the locals skewer and roast them until crunchy.

     He re-baited my line.

     Ten seconds later, I had nailed another piranha. So had everyone else in my boat. The fish were flapping and writhing on the floor of the dugout, snapping their huge, jagged teeth at us. I did not feel sorry for these fish in their death throes. Well, maybe just a little... The young boy reached over into our boat and unhooked each one before gently placing them in his own canoe.

     The heat must have been getting to me. I sat there, stupefied, in the boat.

     What if I stick my finger in the water? Really, suppose I do that? Walter, watch this.

     I dipped my right finger in. Immediately, I saw the jaw approach as it broke the murky water and I snatched my hand back, just in time. Okay, I knew what would happen. I didn't have to do it again. I could say I was faster than the fish. That was some kind of consolation, at least.

     As we completed our little fishing expedition, the young boy had gathered a haul of about twenty five fish, all caught for him by tourists.  About seven years old, he was an enterprising lad.

     When we left the lake I dallied a bit, preferring to remain at the tail lend or our group with one of the guides as the rest of the group headed back toward the river.

     I commented on how the boy had helped us and the guide told me he gets a lot of fish for his family that way.

     I walked slightly ahead of the guide.

     "Miss, will you please stay still for a moment?"

     I stopped and turned my head.

     "Yes, why?"

     "Do not be alarmed. There is a snake coming from your right. It won't bother you, I think. It's large. Just let it pass."

     I froze. I like snakes. I just don't know them so I am wary of them.

     The snake came and slithered about five feet in front of me. It stopped for a moment and raised its head and flicked its tongue, as though to check me out, and continued past me. And then it continued to pass me some more.

     "What is it?" I asked the guide.

     A constrictor. A big one. Maybe fifteen feet."

     It had sounded like a good idea.

     Walter, you won't believe what just happened.

     "Do they ever kill any little children?"

     "Yes, on occasion. The children are taught to be wary of them. The animals have learned to avoid them, if they can. But there are incidents sometimes. The people here use them for food and that helps keep them in check."

     Having eaten rattlesnake already on another trip, I could understand that.

     My bragging rights continued to expand.

     The rest of the day was quiet. After an uneventful boat ride upriver to our lodge, I spent the afternoon on my hammock or taking short walks to explore the plants and flowers.

     When I retired for the evening, the same animal-kingdom ruckus as the previous night accompanied me as I tried to sleep. But now at least, I knew what the sounds of the night were like and what they could do to my psyche. So, I was more peaceful until I had to get up to urinate.

     There, on the dark wood wall behind the toilet was a beetle about two inches long, pointed uphill. I shined my flashlight on it. It was pale brown, with iridescent blue and green spots. Pretty, actually. But I couldn't take the chance of having it fall —or worse — fly on me when my back was to it.

     I went back to bed.

     But I had to pee!

     I got up again and gently swatted it with a towel. It fell on the floor and now I couldn't find it.

     Now I REALLY couldn't pee.

     Back to bed.

     It didn't work. I returned to the bathroom and engaged in what could only be described as speed-peeing. I never saw the beetle again.

     It had sounded like a good idea.

     The following day was another quiet one and I spent it mostly listening to the forest, taking walks and writing in my journal. I was very slowly acclimating myself to the climate, but I longed for air conditioning.

     My duffle bag fully packed by early evening, I enjoyed a supper that was once again simple and fresh. It was grilled fish, fresh fruit and a mound of warm quinoa.  I ate it before the beetles showed up.

     I was awakened in the middle of the night by rain. It silenced all the screaming creatures. I pulled aside a curtain and saw it fall straighter than I had ever seen rain fall before, illuminated by the waning light of each cabin's lantern. Then it stopped. And if it was possible, it became more humid.

     In the distance came the bark of a dog, the sound of chanting, and drums. More drums responded. And a couple from Spain, whose room shared a common wall with mine, started to have sex. The wooden boards shook and the couple was making all the appropriate sounds.

     My first thought was it was too hot for intimacy.

     What if I never get out of here? 

     I sat up and just started to sob.

     Why did I ever come here? I am so glad Walter isn't here! He would never forgive me for this.

     The next morning, I was the first one on the boat back to Iquitos. At the airport, I learned that if our airplane didn't arrive to pick us up, the next flight to Miami was in seven days.

     That was not going to happen.  I fondled my American Express card, consoled in the knowledge I could use it to leave the Amazon to go anywhere. But the plane arrived and when I landed in Miami, the air felt arid.

     At my hotel that night, I took the longest shower of my life and scrubbed every inch of my body. I washed my hair at least three times.

     With the passage of almost twenty years since my Amazon visit, I can see the experience more objectively. Or maybe, it just isn't raw any longer.

     It was a good idea to visit the Amazon.

     As happens so often, when you read about something you may intellectually understand it, but to viscerally understand it, one has to live the experience.  The brochure had been accurate. I just couldn't appreciate what it really meant until I had allowed the river and jungle to engulf me. The Amazon had no visible horizon and it was a metaphor, I am sure, for how I need to live my life. I learned I feel threatened unless I can see possibilities and options of some kind. The Amazon, then, had also been an inner journey.

     The experience shattered my smugness and shoved me light years beyond my comfort zone. But isn't that what travel is sometimes supposed to do?

     Yes, it was a good idea.

     If I return to the Amazon, it will be on an air-conditioned boat. After all, I've already earned by bragging rights.

     And you're coming with me, Walter.



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