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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Do a little dance...

So there we were in the "eyebrow" of the Amazon jungle, with a translator and a Peruvian plantation owner.

With pride and enthusiasm, Julia ("hoo-lee-ah") showed us how she runs her organic shade farm. With a great deal of knowledge and hard work, we soon learned. There were an overwhelming number of fruits, well beyond the rows and rows of banana trees. 

Several types of oranges (some for juice, some kinds "for the table,") and mandarins to papayas, decorative gourds, mangoes, avocados, a serpentine vine that ended in passion fruits. A passion fruit fresh off the vine is indescribably delicious, full of delectable golden pulp and crunchy seeds. An occassional cacao tree, sadly, not in season.

Which was ironic, since we were technically on a Chocolate tour.

Down by the river, tea plants. I was terribly excited about the tea plants. We'd seen coffee plants before, in Hawaii, but never tea.

tea plant, I think, and river flowing to the Amazon

I have this dream of going and staying on a tea plantation in the Darjeeling region of India...

Also, coca plants. Julia showed us the two tiny veins on either side of the midrib running down the middle of the leaf. That's where the cocaine is, and it only becomes the drug, I learned later, after hundreds of pounds of leaves are dried, chopped, then soaked in gasoline and then extracted with battery acid and lye and goodness knows what other things drug dealers do to it, turning a nice little leaf into a 70 billion (USD) dollar enterprise for sticking up silly noses and the like.

coca leaf
How anyone figured out how to do this is beyond me. I suppose the b in billion was something of a motivator.

Here on the farm, we were eons away from that nonsense. One hoped. In the jungle, who knows what your neighbors are doing? Two thirds of the world's cocaine is from Peru, but not, at least, from Julia and Juan's farm.

Last, but not least, the banana trees. Lots and lots of bananas. With lots and lots of those giant spiders, watching us, reclining like glitterati on enormous webs with their shiny bodies and long legs. 

I was fascinated with the large, reddish-purple banana flowers. Couldn't get a decent photo of one in the failing light to save my life. They hang off the end of a long nubbly branch, weighing about a pound, the bananas sprouting greenly above.

Julia, Laura, and banana flower

The banana trees provide more than sustenance: they provide the requisite shade for the shade-grown coffee. Which is what Mike and I, Pacific Northwesterners and by birthright enamoured of the glossy brown bean, were most interested in.

We thought we were being polite, nodding agreement as we learned about each fruit, how to plant and grow and prune and harvest each tree, si, si, but we were also getting fidgety and anxious; the sun was setting and it would soon be too dark to tell one plant from another. Julia was more observant than we gave her credit for, or perhaps we were less discrete than we intended.  Interrupting herself in the middle of a sentence, she queried, "¿Quieres ver el cafĂ©, no?"

Yes, we wanted to see the coffee plants. Very much so. Por favor.

We followed Julia and Laura over to a lovely grouping of coffee plants, a few flower with the pure white blossoms, a few bearing the red and green coffee berries. And Julia began to explain to us about the coffee life cycle.

The sun was setting, we were learning about coffee, what could be more idyllic?

Unfortunately, right about then I started yelling, "Ow Ow! Ow! What the hell?! OW!!" and jumping around like a maniac.

This is the good part: I had inadvertently chosen to stand on the entrance to an ant colony.

Now, Peruvian ants are not the friendliest of creatures. These little buggers, and I do mean buggers, had not been pleased at the large personage who had planted herself on top of their home, a hole in the ground, concealed by the shadows of the coming nighttime.

In a masterful plan, and with military precision, they had sent out the troops up and into my shoes and socks, up my legs, past the knee, and when the scouts reached my thighs the silent ant signal to attack was activated. Simultaneously, all began to bite like mad.

"Holy mother of God!" I yelped, jumping about a mile then smacking left and right at my thighs and calves. This had the intended effect of getting me off the nest, fortunately for all involved, but the incident was far from over. Each black ant was biting with fierce intent, their numerous tiny acidic jaws chomping away at my delicate tourist skin.

The assiduously applied bug repellent I'd been so, so careful to use? Absolutely no use in this situation.

Within seconds I was zipping the lower legs of my pants off and doing my best to pick or brush off the attackers, pinching and smashing with little regard for the livelihood of the insects. I was well motivated: they were tenacious little beasts, and everywhere. Most of them were hanging on by their jaws, their bodies sticking out from my legs, their limbs waving frantically as they chewed and bit.

Mike was laughing helplessly, attempting, and failing, to hide it. Julia was looking mortified, and saying something in Spanish, Laura was circling, trying to figure out how to help, and I was still doing the ants in my pants dance.

The freaking ants in pants dance. All dignity down the drain, there.


  1. I know it is very mean to make fun of someone in such distress but boy, I couldn't help laughing at your ants in your pants nightmare!!!! Why have a coca plant if not for the cocaine, that's what I am wondering, mmm?

    1. Nathalie, hardly, darling! If I'm going to get attacked by angry ants in my pants the very least you can do for me is laugh about it! I join you.

      As for the coca plant, it grows wild there, and in its leaf form it's a gentle stimulant that most of the people there chew or enjoy in tea, not unlike caffeine to us. It also helps mitigate altitude sickness. It takes a LOT of leaves to make the cocaine. In other words, I am 100% sure Julia and Juan have nothing to do with the drug trade. :)

  2. Ack! Ack! I'm jumping up and down just reading about your misfortune. Holy mother of God indeed!

  3. not juts this post but the previouso one also....just AWESOME.

    The picutres you are taking are absolutely wonderful.

    Peru...I will make it there at some point.

    Keep it up and as i mentioned before...your blogger/google profile has coffeescape with one less E so it takes you to some guys political blog.

    Enjoy the weekend.

    1. Thanks Marc! I'll correct the address immediately. Politics. Bah, who needs that noise?
      You'd like Peru, Marc. Not only is it beautiful and full of history with great food and a rich culture, there's world class surfing. Bonus!

  4. Oh Natalie, just the thought of those ants makes me shudder! You were a real trooper to continue on w/ the tour, despite what must have been the agony of ant bites/stings. Always an adventure, eh? :)