Pascal helps with jagua extract preparation.
When we left off last week, Pascal was running around trying to find a few more items to bring as offerings to members of the Matsés. The next morning, departure for the Matsés village was set for 5:00 a.m. That’s when he realized that the “boat” was nothing more than a dugout canoe outfitted with a motor. And thank goodness for that motor because, without it, the 8-hour ride would have lasted three days!
In the foggy, gray dawn, several men worked furiously to load the canoe with all of Pascal’s supplies, Mr. X’s supplies, as well as Daniel’s own bulky packages (when you live in the heart of the jungle, there is always lots of shopping to be done when you go to the city). Upon completion, everyone noticed that the canoe was sitting way to low in the water. There was nothing to be done but to transfer everything into another, slightly larger canoe and hope for the best. When the task was done, the canoe sat just 4 inches above water. Still, this was an improvement over the 2 inches in the other!
The next 8 hours on the mythical Amazon river were a combination of very hard benches as seats, humidity, extreme heat, and a breathtaking jungle landscape made up of—you guessed it—trees, trees, trees, majestic and endless, punctuated by flocks of exquisitely colored butterflies. A magical journey, for sure. Pascal said he felt like he was in the most remote place on Earth.
There’s lots to tell—the welcome he received, the community meeting, where he handed out all the offerings, the food he ate while there (basically mashed plantains, rice, beans and very tough, gamey chicken every day), his rugged sleeping accommodations, the negotiations for pricing of the fruit and the associated work of getting it down to juice form, and other aspects of life in the Amazon, which cannot be condensed here.
Next came the expedition into the jungle by two groups of Matsés men to look for the jagua fruit. As Pascal waited for the men to return, there wasn’t much to do except relax, take siestas, shoot photos and video, hang out with the kids, watch the guys play soccer, and interact with the resident monkeys and parrots. Upon their return, both men and women set to work peeling, squeezing, sifting, and then boiling and re-boiling the juice to reduce it down to extract; then bagging the juice for transport back to the States.
After three weeks, Pascal arrived back in the military outpost, and was greeted with the news that there would not be a plane leaving for Iquitos for another week! He reluctantly headed back to the crappy hotel with the filthy mattress and hot, stinky room; but was saved at the last minute, when Daniel offered to put him up at his brother’s place. Five very slow days later, he heard that an aid group returning from the jungle had chartered a plane to Iquitos, and he was able to buy a seat. Yay!
The next day found Pascal on a flight back to Lima, a gorgeous trip over the Andes, past mountains and an infinite sea of clouds. That night, to kill time, he visited his hotel bar and ordered a traditional Peruvian cocktail called Pisco sour, which made him sick, and he spent the whole terrible night throwing up. At the airport the next day for his flight back to Los Angeles, shockingly, he got no trouble from the customs agents. And why should they hassle him? After all, he was only carrying several large, bladder-like bags filled with a strange black substance!