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Living Along the River
AMAZON, NOT-DOT.COM

Amazonian logging, ready for shipmentAmazonian logging, ready for shipment (Norma McGavern-Norland)
Most of the people who live along the rivers are subsistence farmers, growing small patches of corn, yucca, papaya, melons, and sometimes rice. Most of their protein comes from fish. In the markets we found wild boar meat, turtle meat and turtle eggs, and innumerable kinds of Amazonian fish from small catfish to paiche, the largest known freshwater fish. (Often served aboard our ship.) New conservation practices discourage the traditional eating of manatees that are now, thankfully, finding protection. Illnesses that befell explorers don't seem to trouble the local people who use the many natural medicines of the jungle. The local people swim and wash in the black water rivers (the feeder rivers, colored by tannins), and many swim in the Amazon, with immunities we tourists undoubtedly don't have. I would be wary: lurking in the murky water, along with the graceful gray and pink river dolphins, are piranhas and various kinds of parasites, the most notorious of which is the candiru, well known by watchers of exotic animal programs who may know why - ugly story! - you should not pee while swimming in the Amazon.

We visited a school in a small village. While the kindergarten was crowded with beautiful cheerful faces, the higher the grade, the fewer students appeared to be in class. An upper level secondary class (where they were learning English) held only three boys. From everyone we met we felt warmth and hospitality, and there were always waves and smiles. This caused us to feel almost uncomfortable, as we were invading their houses just by looking, or photographing: living quarters, belongings and all, are vulnerable, completely open to the air, each family on a platform with few walls or coverings for them to hide behind. What do they think about where we come from, or who we are? If they were to leave Iquitos in any way other than by boat, where would they choose to go? I cannot imagine how Lima might affect their senses. None of our guides had ever seen snow. One guide I'm pretty sure had been to Lima, but I don't think the others had ever left Iquitos except to travel in the jungle.

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