Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A terrifying trip

Next month, I'm planning to go on a one-week trip to see and photograph birds, wildlife, and local people along the upper Amazon River in Peru. A few years ago I had read Ann Patchett's book State of Wonder, which takes place mainly along the Amazon River in a similar area but in Brazil. Because I'm going there, I just reread it.

Bad idea! Marina, the protagonist of the novel has a terrifying trip in which she experiences many of my worst travel fears. Reviews praise the details of the nature descriptions in State of Wonder, but a lot of them are unnerving: several types of dangerous snakes, biting insects, invasive parasitic worms, hostile monkeys, many undiagnosable fevers, and more.

In Peru, Marina's destination is a village where there's a medical experiment taking place; she needs to search for a colleague who has died of fever. While trying to find a way to get to the village, Marina attends an opera performance in Manaus -- Orpheus by Gluck. She realizes that she is about to descend into Hell like Orpheus, who went in search of his wife. She's attempting to rescue her colleague or at least find out the details of his death. It's a great premise for fiction, but not a good thing for me to read when preparing to travel.

While flying from Minnesota, Marina lost her checked suitcase full of necessities. She travels to the village on a makeshift pontoon boat piloted by a deaf 12-year old, and on this boat she also loses the replacement suitcase.  Marina has horrific nightmares due to a bad reaction to malaria preventatives -- which I'm about to start taking. In the village she sleeps in a hut shared with the 12-year-old.

Food for the medical research staff consists mainly of canned foods like apricots, corned beef hash, and tuna which are imported on the makeshift pontoon boat. The villagers themselves eat completely repulsive foods. There's no internet, phone service, or even mail pickup or delivery -- the village has virtually no contact with the outside world. Members of a neighboring tribe are very dangerous users of poisoned arrows who attack visitors. Marina suffers from the heat and insects, has little opportunity to bathe, and experiences lots of other problems that I hope will not occur on a Lindblad boat next month.

It's actually a great book full of fascinating ideas about civilization, medicine, and human interactions --  if you don't take it personally. I shouldn't have been reading this!


Kitchen Riffs said...

Much better to have read that when you returned from your trip! It does sound interesting. Your trip sounds wonderful -- I've never been to that part of the world, and would like to visit sometime. I might wimp out, though, and take a cruise up the Amazon. Easy, but you miss so much doing that. Your way sounds better.

Fran Flint said...

That sounds like a great trip to Peru- maybe you can also research some of the foods that local people eat. I agree with John from Kitchen Riffs- it's just like reading a book about plane crashes right before getting on an airplane. Good luck on your trip!

Debra Eliotseats said...

I can' wait to read about YOUR trip!

Esme said...

You should have an amazing time.

Jeanie said...

I love Ann Patchett -- "Bel Canto" is one of my favorites. But I might give this one a pass! I stop at snakes... Still, your upcoming trip sounds fabulous!