Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pink River Dolphins

Path to Siona Community

It rained again all night. Maya had more nightmares, and I found myself up before sunrise. I found a bat sleeping above my bed, and wondered if it had been there every night without me noticing. Of course, I had been sleeping with Maya each night, so in fact, it had not been sleeping above me at all. My neighbours came to look and take pictures. When I came home after our day's outings, the bat was gone, but it returned later, to exactly the same place.

My Bat Roomate

After breakfast, we all piled into the motorboat, armed with rainponchos and waterproof bags, for a hour long ride upriver to a Siona community, where we were to have a demonstration of the baking of manioc bread. We ran into a family collecting fruit along the river, and Maya was very eager to try the yellow fruit. I noticed that there were several settlements along the river, more than I expected. The river was much higher after the constant rain of the past few days. We heard macaws and parrots, saw yellow rumped caciques, and oropendola nests.

Siona Family Gathering Fruit

Trying Exotic River Fruit

We walked along a covered walkway, with cultivated fields along the way. Maya was most interested in the chocolate pods, which contain sweet fruit. It is the seeds that are dried, roasted and then ground to make chocolate. Maya ate all the fruit of one pod and saved the seeds in the hopes of making her own chocolate at home. Diego found tagua nuts, and chopped up other nuts to find the grubs inside. Grubs are the larvae of beetles that burrow into the nuts to lay their eggs, and are eaten raw or grilled. They taste like coconut, and several of the group tried them. We saw millipedes and centipedes and camouflaged tree frogs, which Maya caught in her hands to show us. Diego picked up a feisty lizard, and showed us how some 'deer eye' nuts could be rubbed against cement to cause a shock if pressed against the skin.

Colourful Bug

Tree Frog

The Siona community was centred around a huge open field, surrounded by houses, the school and community buildings. Wooden houses are on stilts and are simply an open area with a fire/kitchen corner, and hammocks to sleep in. There are no walls, and the roof is thatched.
A beautiful young mother with several children under four, showed us how to collect the manioc from the ground, clean it, peel it, grate it on an aluminum sheet, and then dry it by twisting it in a long fibrous device. The dried manioc was then run through a sieve to make flour, and then spread out on a hot ceramic pot on the fire and turned over once to make the tortilla like bread. There were no other ingredients except the manioc, and the result was a plain tasting bread, made much better with a little jam. The Siona make jam out of banana to add to the bread. We ate our lunch with the family, watching the children of the community play in the rain and the dirt. Chunchi showed up doing cartwheels and splits and flips, which Maya mimicked on the platform. Before we left, a few children and our hostess brought out jewelery to sell. It was made of many of the seeds we had seen on our walk, along with 'chambira' fibres.


Waiting to Sell us her Wares

Checking us Out

Collecting Manioc

We rode home in the rain. The cicadas were out in force, and we saw a few ani, hoatzin, egrets and many more butterflies. I realized that my head felt better today, and felt thankful for that. Popcorn and hot chocolate welcomed us back at the lodge. Maya and I were the only participants on the afternoon boat ride to the lagoon. Everyone else decided to rest for the afternoon. A cormorant eating a fish created some amusement as we drifted onto the glass like surface of the Laguna Grande. There we encountered a group of pink river dolphins jumping in and out of the water. They appeared to be playing initially, and then fishing for dinner. I was entirely unsuccessful in my efforts to photograph them, but Maya and I were delighted to watch them play. What a treat for us!

Monk Saki Monkey

No one believed that we had been entertained by dolphins when we returned to the lodge for dinner. My photos were not convincing enough either, or perhaps they were just kicking themselves for not joining us for the last sunset of our stay. Maya and I were thrilled with our experience.

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