Tarapoto is another loud and unremarkable city, noteworthy only for the forest that surrounds it. This corner of the jungle is mountainous, and therefore distinct from the lower regions of the Amazon I’d already explored. I did some quick research and reserved a two day trek, but had no idea what I was signing up for. I had to hold back laughter when my guide(s) arrived; an unathletic looking woman named Jenny, with an oversized grocery bag for luggage, and her seven year-old son, Patri, who was carrying school books in a Smurfs backpack.
Jenny pulled out a long strap and started making loops around her grocery bag. She then stood up and hung the 40 pounds of luggage from her forehead. It was as if she’d tied two days worth of food and supplies to her pony tail. When, a mile or two down the path, I offered to take a turn, I only lasted about 10 minutes, which was long enough to develop a sore neck and shrink two inches. I have no idea how she did it, but Jenny carried that bag for eight hours. And her son was just as tough - enduring without compliant what turned out to be exactly what I wanted - a steep and challenging hike.
In the end, the experience was more than I could have asked for. The two of them were great companions; Patri was a soldier and Jenny was an inspiration. For much of her son’s life, she has bounced between jobs, getting virtually no support from his absent father, working full-time for as little as 65 dollars a month. I was struck less by the familiar story of the overworked single mother, than by the smile which belied it. It made me feel like a coward for everything I’ve ever complained about. Her enthusiasm was contagious.
The forest was lush, serene, and refreshingly devoid of mosquitos. The food was good. The afternoon swim at the foot of a waterfall was invigorating. And despite her minimal training and ill-suited equipment, Jenny was among the best guides I’ve had.