devi: (fields)
Back home forests are deep cool peace and balm for the soul, the feeling of your chest unclenching and your heart slowing down as you walk out of the jagged noise of the urban world into the quiet greenness. They´re somewhere to go when you´ve been run ragged, to restore yourself and get a treehugging fix to help you cope with the madness outside.

The rainforest is not like that.

Walking into the jungle on the first day of the trip felt more like getting off the airport bus in the middle of Bangkok. A million alien stimuli coming at you at once, some of them dangerous. Your brain spinning up to high speed, labouring to take it all in while also looking out for yourself. This is the pulsing, pounding, frenetic capital of nature. The traffic is mad, the nightlife is high-octane, the crime rate is sky-high (especially in the Murder Zone at the surface of the river where thousands of fish race to devour millions of insects before the birds can devour them) and the most amazing, unlikely, diverse, specialised stuff happens: creatures and plants fill weird little niches the way a big city supports funny little shops, oddball artists and products that only certain subcultures want to buy.

... )
devi: (fields)
I am in Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon. I was going to come here on a riverboat, taking three to five days, slowly sailing up the squiggly Rio Ucayali till it turned into the Amazon. But I heard in Pucallpa that the river was so low it was taking nearly a week at the moment, and I´d already lost a couple of days in Lima, so today I caught another little local plane. Iquitos is a cool little city full of grand buildings with dark blue tiling, left over from the rubber boom.

After checking into the Hobo Hideout hostel I walked a couple of blocks down to the riverside. The sky was grey, broken by patches of rusty light, the air was shifting around expectantly as though it was about to storm. Thousands of birds were flocking around a bunch of communications masts in the Plaza de Armas. Then I came out on to a high promenade that looks out across a sweep of lush vegetation and wet fields to the broad silver curve of the river, and the forest beyond it. There was a thick steel-grey curtain of rain coming in from miles away, with distant thunder and lightning. And now the whole sky was swirling with birds, all kinds of birds from sparrows to big scruffy buzzards, some flicking through the air just above my head, some so far up they were just tiny flecks.

People were strolling on the promenade or making out or selling sweets. A children´s play was going on in a little amphitheatre. I stood and watched the rain coming closer for a while, then all the birds suddenly vanished and I knew from the smell of the air that I only had seconds before it rained. I ducked into this netcafe and moments later, outside the open door, bringing a smell of hot wet concrete, the sky fell.

a thing for rainforests )

The jungle around Pucallpa was scrubby, just the fringes, not the really old-growth forest with the huge ancient trees. Here, though, or at least 100km or so out of town, it´s the real thing, and I´m going there. In a few days I´m heading down the river on a boat and then hiking into the forest, and if they still have space on that bit of the tour I get to climb high up into the canopy, where a science team have hung a walkway for people to stand and watch birds and animals you can´t see from the ground.

It´ll be a delicious irony if I get eaten by an anaconda or something while I´m out there. But I don´t expect nature to love me back. I´m just glad to be here.
devi: (sunhead)
It´s funny the effect losing my bag has had on me. I´d spent weeks carefully constructing this travel self, prepared for every eventuality. Scoured shops for clothes that would cover me up against the insects and dry quickly if I hand-washed them. Packed universal bath plug, two kinds of adaptor, earplugs, a mini-pharmacy. Hunted for tiny toiletries so I wouldn´t have to haul about big bottles of shampoo etc. The careful packing was proof against all the dire warnings and something I used to reassure all the people who were worried about me. It was a mental security blanket. And then it got lost, and I had the odd experience of having to re-buy everything haphazardly, having a foreign rucksack full of unfamiliar Peruvian products and an odd assortment of clothes, all the best of a bad lot rather than anything I´d have chosen. The security blanket is gone, and... I kind of like it. Only having a small bag is brilliant. I´d packed light but this little bag is even lighter. When I´ve been travelling before, the transitional bits between one place to stay and another have been an ordeal. Haul the big heavy bag to the new place as quickly as you can, dump it, lie and gasp for a bit and then explore. This way you can check out of somewhere in the morning, wander around all day, arrive at the next place in the evening and not even be tired. The line between essential and desirable things to bring has moved.

Then there´s language. I know a bit of phrasebook Spanish. I can book things and ask directions and stuff. Somehow (arrogantly, it seems now) I thought this would get me by. I was picking it up all the time, after all. But obviously it´s not enough to talk to people, to understand them, to express things beyond the sort of "Mrs Lopez works for Rover. She has a good salary" stuff in my Instant Spanish book. I am saying things are very good, with the genders mixed up half the time, and saying thank you a lot. And like I found in China, when a lot of your coping strategies revolve around language it feels pretty naked to be without it. But I´ve discovered something very interesting. If you haven´t got much language you are forced to be open and straightforward. You meet some little village kid who throws a handful of leaves over you to welcome you to her village and instead of trying to think up something sensitive and appropriate to say, you just ask what her name is. If you want to ask for something you just ask for it, just the words you need, without ringing it round with a maze of caveats, circumlocutions and apologies. You just say what you mean.

So I was lying on my mat on the floor of a wooden house deep in the jungle last night, staring up at the dark rafters of the banana-leaf-thatched roof. There was a crack in it where you could see one star. The room was full of zigzags of cricket noise, punctuated by dripping from the trees. And I realised, suddenly, that everyone in this house thought I was Dutch and none of them knew my name.

The guide/interpreter guy who had set it up for me to come here, the son of the painter (thereby hangs a tale), had gone home, as had the nice English-speaking boy who drove the mototaxi. I had heard the others, all exclusively Spanish-speaking but for a tiny Japanese girl with no English either, saying I was from Holland. It was what they heard no matter how many times I said "Irlanda". And when they´d spoken to me earlier they thought my name was Gloria or Ji-dah or Dray-da, and I´d say it again and they´d look puzzled, then shrug. It was just an impossible collision of consonants. So there I was, in the middle of the forest. I´d lost my stuff, I´d lost my language, and now it was as if I´d even lost my nationality and my name.

And that felt kind of liberating as well, so that I nearly laughed out loud. It was as if all the extraneous nonsense had been stripped off some fundamental thing that was me. But who ´me´ was wasn´t important. I´m Nobody, I thought, so I can be whatever I like.

Unfortunately all I could actually do at that point was go to sleep, but it´s the principle.


Jul. 19th, 2007 11:04 pm
devi: (Default)

Originally uploaded by bluedevi

Here are the photos from the family camping holiday in Fanore, Co. Clare. I want to turn this one into a painting. And check out the amazing flying dog at the very end of the set.

devi: (Default)
It's like my experiment, but in the 60s and with cute googly eyes...

[ profile] muffledsqueak pointed me at the Oobi site. Oobi was a little plastic egg-shape with cartoon eyes. You put a message inside it, addressed it and left it somewhere, and the idea was that it would get carried a little way by one passer-by, then another and another, till it arrived at its destination. That was the idea. In practice, people hated it. That's actually the word they use, hated. The few that were sent vanished without trace.

I'm annoyed with the site for being so cynical and snide about the whole thing. I think it's a beautiful idea. I'd go well out of my way to transport an Oobi if I found one.

Thinking about how things like bookcrossing have caught on, and how many people have signed up for my letter stunt, it almost seems people are more open to an idea like this than they were in the 60s. Is it the Internet? Would people be more willing to release Oobis or carry them some of the way if they could come online and track them, or report having found one?

Maybe the little critter's time has come.

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