by Peter Nelson
Ten days later, we pull into Puerto Ayacucho, and I hop ashore. End of the line, I guess. Don’t have a clue what time it is, but it’s apparently very early in the morning. Nothing’s open and no one’s astir, so I park on a bench in the dry and dusty town square, and wait for something to happen. Spotting this suspiciously loitering stranger — me — the local constable strolls over. Wants to see my identity card. He gets my University of Alaska student card, which I’m sure makes no sense to him, but it does have my photo. Then he informs me that I shouldn’t be loitering. I point out that no hotels or shops are open yet. There is absolutely nowhere else for me to go. And anyway, what’s the point of the benches if you’re not supposed to sit on them? However he’s pleasant, almost apologetic, “I-don’t-make-the-laws-señor”, so I get up and shuffle off to look over the town.
Judging from the buildings, I’d guess the population at about 1,000, about 1/100th the size of Ciudad Bolivar. Seems even smaller at this time of the morning. The pace of life, already pretty languid, slows down even more when the sun rises above the treetops. I set out on my usual hunt for the cheapest place to stay. Here’s the Hotel Amazonas in all its decayed tropical glory, leaning right back against the jungle, ceiling fans high overhead, very slow-moving and utterly useless.
“15 bolivars.” (about three dollars)
“No hay mas barato?”
“Mas caro tenemos, pero no hay mas barato.”
Obviously, that’s more than the budget will bear, so I head back to the center of town. No hurry, since there’s nothing to do anyway. I wander over to the local airport where there’s a sudden flurry of activity. A plane has just arrived. To my great surprise, two gringos come walking down the boarding ramp. A Peace Corps couple, as happy to see me as I am to see them. They take me home and give me one of their hammocks. All of which are strung between two metal hooks fastened into the walls. Not your most comfortable way to sleep, because of the bowed shape, but man is an adaptable creature. So they say.
So here we have Sam and Mary, and a pleasant three-day interlude of communication in this jungle trip which was basically five months of utter silence. In partial repayment for their enthusiastic hospitality, I take them out to dinner one night. The food was tasty, but what stuck in my mind was one of the sauces. A wine bottle full of ants marinating in some sort of clear vinegar (formic acid?). I sprinkled some on my meat, and it was very spicy. Dare I say “piqu-ant-ish”?
Another night, we went to call on some friend of theirs who was some sort of local official, perhaps an educator, perhaps a bureaucrat But he had an inexhaustible liquor cabinet, and the evening turned into a marathon drinking session. One bottle was emptied, then another, and part of a third. Mary and I dropped out of the race early on, and, under the double barrage of unaccustomed alcohol and a more difficult Spanish vocabulary, I also dropped out of the conversation. Just sat back in a comfortably stuffed chair, which was a treat in itself, and in a pleasantly benumbed glow, listened not to the conversation, but to the bouncy pop music on the radio.