“One curiosity of being a foreigner everywhere is that one finds oneself discerning Edens where the locals see only Purgatory.” Pico Iyer
A warm, masculine voice came out from the street. I looked at Fidrygalka. We stood still, motionless, in the middle of a spacious room of a wooden house, where we were taken by a man half an hour earlier. The shadows of our silhouettes, pictured on the opposite wall and framed by the window shutter would look interestingly in the most banal scenery, let alone in a natural, dark amphitheater of the Amazon jungle, where a dozen families cut out some trees and set up a small settlement.
Someone approached the door of the house and once again greeted us in a soft voice. It couldn’t have been the host, because he had already said goodbye and went off to a nearby town. We were about to shrug off that unexpected visitor but he did not give us time to think it over and unceremoniously came inside the house.
– Welcome to San Pedro de Pinchanaz! My name is Panchito. I came here to greet you. Jose said that some gringos had come and I should see if they need anything. You need nothing? Only water? Surely, there is portable wáter here and you can take a bath in it if you want, but it is better to bathe in the river, over there, behind the house. I’m so glad you came here! How long are you going to stay? Just a day? Oh, too bad, I thought you would stay longer because I wanted to go fishing with you tomorrow. So maybe next time when you come back? You do not know when? And not that way? But there is no other way. You have to come back that way, otherwise you will get lost. But you do not know when? In two years? No problem, it could be in two years. I suppose I still be there, and the fish will be there, too, unless the river dries up. It is not raining as much as it used to, even now, when it should rain more, cause we have the rainy season now.
What do I do for a living? Well, actually, nothing too special. I have a garden, I grow some vegetables and coffee and sell it in Villa Rica. I have some sheep and fish in the river and that’s all. Stay a little with us. You’ll get to Pucallpa anyway, if not in a week, than in two. The road is nasty, lots of stones, mud and streams to be crossed. Sometimes people from the town come and say that the road would be paved in a few years, but they haven’t started it yet. For nearly twenty years they say the same nonsense, but it’s just bulshit. And how is “thank you” in Polish? So I dziekuje (thank you) once more that you came here.
It’s hard to say why we decided to stay only one night there. On the day of our departure, Panchito and his colleagues offered us two huge coconuts and wished a good journey. Then we moved on, along the road known as the Carretera Marginal de la Selva, or Ruta Nacional PE-5. Two weeks earlier, when Fidrygalka and I were sitting in Lima over a cup of coffee and the map, wondering whether it would be a good idea to take the road to Pucallpa instead of cycling along the west Pacific coast, we both were full of doubts and hesitation. Especially, when we heard those bloodcurdling stories told by one Polish man, who lived in Peru for nearly ten years.
According to that man (who literally fell in love with the country of the Inca Empire descendants and now works there as a fully-fledged tour-guide), we must be well prepared for some attempts of robbery, aggression, felonious acts of extorting money (for so-called “protection”), and generally lack of hospitality and undisguised animosity towards gringos. The road we were about to take is (according to our super guide) unsafe, insecure, unlawfully, very wild and immensely wet.
And how did it look like in reality? Apart from just one encounter in the jungle with a few stoned Indians, who behaved quite aggressively the people we met were very hospitable. We spent time with people who quite frankly enjoyed being able to accommodate us, who devoted their time for us, who used to offer fruits and shelter; people for whom, like for us, those meetings were unique, valuable and important.
And although in almost every village they warned us not to trust any strangers, and God forbid, not to cycle at night – even when we got stuck in the jungle after dark we felt safe there. But how one could believe in all those warnings when nothing like that happened?
When I was returning to the tent after a swim in the river, where among chirping insects and flashlight we were bathing with the whole family; when I was falling asleep on the floor of the house council, to which the limping gentleman for almost an hour was looking for the key – I could not help feeling a sort of complementarity. As if a part of me had already been there for a long time, somewhere in the Amazon jungle, which, after all, didn’t appeal to me before. And as if that part I left among those people, quite consciously, among tangled looks, rounded up words, those invisible marks left somewhere in the air.
And yes, I’ll pass away, you will pass away, and maybe only some elementary particles will remain. But now I am, I am still here. And there is that strange desire with me, that longing for something which perhaps does not exist, but what drives and pushes me somewhere.