Return From The Jungle

P1050398High water along the Nauta riverfront. Two months ago planks were placed on the decks which led to the bank which was 6 feet above.

Departed by boat from the conjunction of rios Yarapa and Ucayali.  Arrived Nauta yesterday afternoon 4PM. From riverbank docks of Nauta, mototaxi ride to van/car taxis that run between Nauta and Iquitos. Arrived Iquitos around 5:30PM just in time for afternoon rush hour.  Spent the night at Casa Del Frances, a haunt for younger international backpackers.  Did not experience a restful/peaceful night.

My consciousness is now confronting the glaring distinctions between the way of life as experienced in close proximity to Nature vs. the way of life as experienced from the more civilized context.

The first thing I notice upon returning from the jungle is that I am besieged by a huge volume of sensory inputs that are generated by exclusively  human sources.  Human presence and activity exists in the jungle environment but it is clearly subdued. Humans and their activities do NOT dominate Life in the jungle.

P1060093Here a man uses natural materials and ancient skills to make roofing material for a typical house in a small river village.

For human visitors to the jungle who were born and raised in civilized environs unusual discomforts intrude.  One of those discomforts is adapting to the reduced amount of noise (perceived as ‘normal’) that is the result of specifically human activity: motorcycles, cars, electronic data; tv’s, radios, music from ‘devices’.  City sounds are replaced by jungle sounds. It can be unnerving. There are many animal nuisances in the jungle; mosquitos, ants, and other stinging insects.

Recent weirdness. As reported above; yesterday there was much traffic upon arriving Iquitos. As of this morning there is an eerie silence from the streets.  Walking around the streets of Iquitos this morning I noticed lots of trash in the streets and along the sidewalks, an unusually large amount in front of a bank. Police presence was visible everywhere in town. I saw police in helmets carrying clear lexan crowd control shields. Hundreds of relatively new motorcycles were parked in front of the local police headquarters. Local cops own motorcycles as their personal transportation.  Something was up.

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Went to the supermarket in town. No cashiers were at the registers. Only the cafe workers (in the rear of the market) were on duty.  Had a coffee and an empanada. Returned to hostel. Took another shower. Changed out of my jungle duds into clean gear. Placed all my dirty clothes in bag and set out to find a laundry.  On the street at noon.

Eerie. Nearly everything was closed tight. A very, very few motorcycles on the street. 95% of all shops and restaurants were closed. The laundry was locked up tight, as was everything else. I happened across a few people standing in front of a pharmacy across from the main square in town. I inquired what was the cause of all the closures.

Political protest was the response.  The ‘trabajadores’ (workers) were protesting the fact that there were so few jobs with any benefits or retirement plan.  The man who explained the situation to me described it as there being two economies. One for people who work for big corporate  enterprises and government workers (such as police and professional army personnel).

Then, there was everyone else.  It was explained to me that the appearance of free market circumstances was in fact the case. Problem is that the people who eke out a meager existence in the free market have access to a smaller share of the economic pie than those who work for big corporate or government.

The protesters are letting the powers that be know that if things don’t change in their favor that there will be lots of garbage accumulating in the streets of Iquitos and the vast majority of shops, restaurants, and service industries will remain shuttered. The common laborers and vendors who have no benefits or other special privileges will not be showing up to work.

Use your imagination regarding what a tropical city of nearly a quarter million (urban center) inhabitants will look like after a week of all manner of garbage being dumped in the streets and near sidewalks. There is a large population of rats on the river banks. Tropical microorganisms and insects thrive in the hot, wet climate.  If the workers do not return sometime in the near future the public health consequences are scary.

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This is from one (dry) day of no trash pick ups. Add rain and more trash and you get garbage soup floating in the tropical heat. Stray dogs and cats will have a feast. So will rats, buzzards, insects and bacteria of myriad sorts.

The positive part of this is witnessing the obvious solidarity of the People here. There appears to be an over 90% participation in the strike.  Will the government respond to their demands?  It seems a sure bet. There are not enough police to force anyone into opening the shops or into returning to work. It is an evident fact.

The not so positive part of this is noticing that it is the People themselves who are demanding that the government provide them with benefits and or privileges that are commensurate with the employees of the big corps and government itself.

Is it possible to calculate the complete  value of all physical resources and the service value of all humans who transform and consume the physical resources?  What is fair compensation? What is just distribution?  Who gets to say?  These are the fundamental issues and questions.

Politics is the art of getting the People to accept a proposition that purports to be a fair and just one… or to trick them into believing it is.
If an agreement isn’t reached or if the People are not cajoled or tricked into agreeing with the government solution then usually one of two things happen, either the government in power is changed drastically or the standing government begins to exert physical force on the perceived troublemakers.

Humans… Civilization… Bah, humbug!… or not.  Observe these odd circumstances and the history of human organization and try to make sense of them. It strains the mind.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle…  dolphins are hunting for fish, insects are hunting for smaller critters, fish are nibbling on each other, snakes are digesting whatever they can stuff into their bellies, birds are scanning the land below for carrion or prey, plants are adapting to an astonishing variety of sunlight and mineral nutrient conditions. And humans who live there take only what they need to make it to the next day.

No denizen of the jungle worries or makes a fuss about ‘benefits and privileges’ nor do they have bank or retirement accounts. Yet somehow, they continue to exist… and it is under those conditions that our distant ancestors survived… and in an undeniably true sense, it remains so that Nature provides all Living creatures, humans included, with all that is necessary to survive… so long as the conditions exist that allow for Nature itself to exist.

Hear the sound of those chainsaws?  They are cutting down 500 year old trees so someone can have a new mahogany bed frame, dining room table and chairs, rifle stock, musical instrument, bar top or dashboard. When that one tree goes missing, so does the home for birds, insects and other animals and the plants that counted on the shade provided by the big tree will wither and die. Everything is connected. One tree harvested causes a chain reaction of events that is set in motion which impact the animal and plant life near it.

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This is ‘secondary’ forest. All the old trees were removed long ago. As a result many species no longer live here.

What does the word ‘precious’ really mean?  Is it not something that is rare and cannot be easily replaced? What amount of money, benefits or privileges can be offered to replace even one 500 year old tree?  Answer:  No amount of money.  It will, in fact, require 500 years of unhindered growth to replace a 500 year old tree. That is an accurate example of the real meaning of  the word ‘precious’.

Can members of the human species improve on that which took Nature millions of years to achieve?  Maybe, but I wouldn’t recommend betting the future of humankind (or the lives of your children) on it.

Nature itself  really has little to worry about. If human’s become too much of a ‘nuisance’ for Nature itself, insuperable processes will ensue and human history will be recorded in the archaeological record. Our existence may one day become something of interest to some other kind of future beings who will study our remains and speculate on what might have been the cause of our extinction.