The Teachings of Gerineldo "Moises" Chavez (or The Rainforest is a Great Place to Save, But I Wouldn't Want to Live There)

Deep in the seething, fecund Amazon jungle, a seeker finds wisdom, beauty, exciting new recipes, and inexhaustible armadas of biting insects. O Sting, where is they death?

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"WE MOVE TO TERRA FIRME TODAY," Moises announced the morning of our fifth day. We headed back to the boat, crossed the river, and hiked a half-day up and over a ridge to an upland forest that sits 50 feet higher than the seasonal flood zone. The jungle here was denser and a degree less buggy. The ferns, palms, and other plants grew bigger, so bushwhacking was difficult. But by then I'd perfected the sharp-angle slash that Moises had shown me. (If you whack at a stalk perpendicularly, I learned, your machete simply bounces back.) We chose our new tambo site on far more appealing real estate, just above the banks of a clear-flowing stream. No swamp to contend with, but it was raining hard. ("Woman-rain," Moises had announced—five minutes before the deluge. "Because when woman cry, it all day. Maybe three days. Man cry in one or two hour.") By the time we cut our first fronds for Tambo II, the sky was a waterfall. It was a relief, actually, to feel a ten-degree drop in temperature and to grab a shower as we worked. When the structure was done, Moises and Josias threw up a squirreltail as a cooking hut. We sat on palm leaves under our sturdy new tambo, nibbled a few grilled grubs, and watched the rain drench the darkening forest. The downpour continued all night, but nary a drop violated my palm thatch.

The next morning, Moises rousted us and announced, "Today we gonna make the trap." Picturing some simple bit of subterfuge that would snare tasty fodder for a lunchtime barbecue, I began, under orders, hacking posts and once again gathering palm fronds. After hours of fierce and sweaty labor, we had constructed a four-foot-high palm-frond fence reinforced with hundreds of thick stakes, stretching for a hundred feet along a ridge. Two narrow openings were sprung with huge logs that would thwock any beast trying to seek its way through the contraption.

"What exactly do we hope to capture?" I asked Moises, in hopes of calming my stomach.

"Rat," he replied with a sly grin. "Agouti, actually. Could be snake. I no like, but we have to eat. Jungle people say it bad luck not to be eating what you catch." What wasn't amusing was that the trap wouldn't catch anything until late at night, so for dinner it was bony fish—again. When we made our rounds the next morning, our artsy installation hadn't snared a thing. "Not long enough," was Moises's explanation. "The jungle people, they making trap many longer."

Which led him into a stirring soliloquy: "Nothing easy in the jungle. People think they reading a book, they coming here and understand. It's not true."

No such illusions on my part. Any visions I'd had of the rainforest as conveniently bountiful had long since been starved, sweated, and itched out of me. To be sure, all the necessities of life were there. But they were just out of easy reach.

Did it matter that we never caught anything in our contraption? Did not a long day's shared labor in building it bring us closer together? Were we not laughing as we worked? Well, yes. Maybe surviving the jungle really meant enduring its hardships as friends. Maybe.

But I was still hungry.   

Robert Earle Howells is the editor of the Outside Buyer's Guide. He lives in Southern California.

An Outside Television documentary on Robert Earle Howells's adventure in the Amazon will air on the Outdoor Life Network on January 10 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. For more information about Tahuayo Lodge, contact Amazonia Expeditions at 800-262-9669 or www.perujungle.com.



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