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The call of the wild: Part four



One of the animals at Sinchicuy Lodge the first time I went there was Bertha (in Spanish pronounced “Bear-te”), a female anteater (readers are invited to search for a photo on the internet to see what they look like: anteaters, that is, not readers).

She was a fully-grown adult but surprisingly small. All the staff loved her and for obvious reasons she took an immediate liking to me (unlike the damned toucan I mentioned last week).

At meal times she would come across the dining-room to greet me, her long claws going clickety-click on the wooden floor. She’d sit by me, raise her head and rest her long, narrow snout against my leg.

When a friend asked me why she did that, I explained that my trousers were old and ragged and she was measuring me for a new pair.

Most afternoons I would take a nap in one of the hammocks strung between the trees in the shade. Or try to.

Bertha would climb in and stretch out on top of me. I could sense her stomach gurgling—continuously. I guess she was having trouble digesting her ants.

Then there were the tumis. Well, possibly tumis. I didn’t keep a notebook when I was on holiday in Amazonia and I seem to remember these animals were called tumis and that I was told they belonged to the anteater family.

I’ve checked that on the internet under “South American mammals” and can’t find the name or anything like it or a photo that fits my memory of what they were like. So I’m using the name “tumi” for convenience.

There were two of these, generally to be found together. About ten inches long, tailless, and with a pointed snout. At meal times they would come hurtling across the dining-room floor and climb up on to me and my friend Fernando and search our hair for insects.

They liked being tickled. They were also extremely naughty and would steal things from the table, notably sugar-cubes.

When we went back to our cabin at night they would climb on to the roof, which was open to the sky but covered with mosquito netting.

Here they would chatter at us and we would shine our torches to catch the reflection in their big eyes. Sometimes I’d be woken from sleep to find a drizzle of tumi pee coming through the netting. There’s nothing like getting close to nature.

One morning a guide organised a trek with crossings over several streams, where canoes were moored waiting for us.

These were attached to long ropes crossing the stream, so the canoes could be pulled back to either bank by whoever needed to use them.

On this trek were me, Fernando, and a family from Lima—husband, wife and son (the latter about eight years old). The wife was pleasant, the boy boisterous but very sweet; the husband, as confirmed when we had dinner with the family in Iquitos some nights later, possibly the most boring man in South America.

On the trek the boy was kitted out in jeans and a thick shirt and solid boots (the sensible clothes to guard against insect and snake bites), the wife was wearing boots and a huge, billowing floral dress; the husband (and I am not making this up) was wearing boots and a formal suit with a bright blue tie.

Maybe he thought he was going to be introduced to some local dignitary. One of the tumis came with us, racing backwards and forwards and complaining that we were going too slow.

When we got to the first stream the tumi leapt in and disappeared under the surface. In fact they are wonderful swimmers and after a moment he appeared on the other bank.

But the little boy didn’t notice this, let out a great cry of “tumeee!” and leapt in to rescue him. The boy disappeared without trace. At this point there was an agonised shriek of “Alfredo!” from the mother, who came pounding down the bank and took a flying leap into the stream to save her son.

Her floral dress went billowing out like a huge balloon and when she hit the water it spread like a giant water-lily.

Then she, too, sank. The guide turned to the husband and said “coraggio, senor” (“take courage, sir”), inviting him to follow. But then the wife emerged, very like a whale (that’s a line from Hamlet, folks) and clutching Alfredo. Meanwhile the tumi chattered hysterically on the far bank.

We all sat down for a rest, the husband glowering with wounded pride, the little boy looking apprehensive, no doubt expecting some form of punishment. I whispered to the mother: “senora, tiene conojes”—“Madam, you’ve got balls.”
To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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