El 23 de mayo
We caught up on sleep and, just as we were planning our day, Helga surprised us with us a visit. (She had called my buddies to find out which unit we were staying). Shannon met Helga when she visited us in Kansas in ’06 and knew that she was my Peruvian “mom;” however, she didn’t fully understand the depth of her nurturing and playful personality until we spent today with her on her own turf. Helga, 62 going on 30, arrived on her moto bearing an indigenous mother-and-child doll, which she explained represented her and me. We delivered her requested vitamins and shared a giggle over our distinct cultural gift exchange. Shannon, eager to meet the manatees, invited Helga to join us, and we were off on a colectivo bus (a must do here). One of Shannon’s fellow Haiti volunteers had dropped a name that allowed us to enter the manatee rescue property. Harold, one of several biologists collaborating with the Dallas Aquarium that has provided funding and monthly veterinarian visits for the project, shared with us the need for the rescue project and gave us a brief Manatees 101. Boats, the main form of transportation for most of the Amazon Basin population, often run into mother manatees leading the babies to certain death without intervention. Manatees are also hunted for food, and the babies are stolen as pets. These same people unknowingly feed these herbivores fish and bread, resulting in malnourishment and death. After talking with Harold, we had the opportunity to bottle feed milk to the baby manatees. They only consume milk for their first 3 years, and then they progress to aquatic plants. Harold told us that we could swim with the manatees tomorrow, so we will return in the afternoon.
Since we were close to the zoo, we decided to get every bang for our soles and stopped in to see: jaguars, monkeys, crocs, otters, pumas, cheetahs, Spanish-speaking parrots (“¡hola!”), AND… the only fresh water dolphin in the world, el bufeo or pink dolphin! Several local zoo visitors were tapping the water, and one little girl kept excitedly calling the bufeo’s name. However, Shannon, apparently a bufeo whisperer, placed her empty hand in the water, and much to her delight, the bufeo approached, raised his head out of the water and checked her out. Shannon pet his chin and head, and the bufeo rolled on its back, so she continued to rub his chest and fins. Right about this time, I overheard the bufeo expert explaining to Helga (in Spanish, so Shannon didn’t notice), that she generally doesn’t like for people to touch the bufeo because he has no partner, and touch sexually excites him. Before I had a chance to translate, (and I was still processing this information… did I really hear that right?!), I reached for the video camera. Next, I heard the crowd of 30-some people and Shannon laugh. Apparently, as the dolphin was rolling around, his “beak”, as one observer joked, was out of the, er, “ lipstick case,” and Shannon’s arm unknowingly hit it, abruptly ending the bufeo massage. For sure, it was an unforgettable experience!
We headed home, took quick showers, and went to lunch at Huasaí, my favorite restaurant in Iquitos. For 10 soles (~$3.60) a person, we enjoyed a pitcher of Tapiriba resfresco (fresh-squeezed juice from a local fruit), paiche (the biggest Amazonian fish), and a beans, yucca, cilantro and beef stew. YUM!
I had predicted that, by the time we reached Chile at the end of our trip, Shannon would have processed enough input and would be bursting at the seams with the urge and vocabulary to speak. This happened much earlier than I had predicted, however, as she impressed both Helga and me at lunch, telling stories about her work and the health care system in the US. Helga said, “When I came to visit in ’06, you knew very little; how did you learn so much?” Shannon loved that acknowledgment and replied that she learned a lot in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and from me.
Next, to cool off, we took a short boat ride to a new floating restaurant with a fresh water swimming pool. Shannon, sweating buckets, headed straight for the swimming pool. From the pool we could enjoy the amazing view of lilies, flowering aquatic plants, and water as far as the eye could see, Amazonia… We enjoyed the amenities for about an hour, which is when the restaurant closed, and returned home. We told Helga “¡hasta luego!,” as she kick started her moto and headed home.
Shannon and I took second showers for the day and decided to head out to see what was happening along the boulevard that borders the river. As usual on any given evening, it was teaming with street vendors, street performers and families out for a stroll. We perused an open-air craft market where Shannon discovered some 20-day old puppies sleeping in a box under a table. We then stopped in The Yellow Rose of Texas, a place I remember fondly, despite the confederate-flag boasting Texan owner who speaks so little Spanish he can’t even correctly pronounce his iquiteña wife’s name.
On our way home, we picked up water, toilet paper and a razor. When we got “home”, Shannon commented that she enjoyed putting away our first groceries.