January 23, 2006

Peru: Puttin' on the Ritz

A river cruise from my tourist camp on Peru's Momon River, an Amazon tributary, took me to a Yagua (Yahua) indian village.

I didn't enjoy the tribal dance staged by the men in the village because their body language told me they didn't enjoy it.

The Yagua danced, sold paintings on bark, and passed around cups of a thick, beige, beer-like brew that bubbled in black cauldrons suspended over wood fires so that tour companies would keep bringing money-toting visitors. These intermittent interruptions by outsiders earn the Yagua enough income to let them stay put in their rainforest, away from the tumbledown bustle of Iquitos, the large, faded city upriver that was once home to Dutch rubber barons.

I left the dance circle and found a thatch-covered porch on stilts. On it sat the village's grandmothers, mothers and babies.

I always travel with food, usually a stack of Power Bars. They're flat, compact, they don't melt, and you can live on them if you have to.

On this day, for some reason, I had a stash of Ritz crackers in my pack instead. With their mothers' permission, I gave a cracker to each baby. They licked off the salt and gummed the crackers and bounced their legs and feet happily up and down.

That day's food supply proved fortuitous, as I doubt the babies would have known what to do with a Power Bar.