“You’ll have to wait. We’re at least an hour from the Lodge.”
“I have to pee NOW.”
“You have to hold it. It’s going to be an hour before we’re back.”
“Neddy, you don’t understand. I have a urinary track infection. I gotta pee NOW. As in RIGHT NOW.”
Neddy is one of female guides employed by the Tahuayo Lodge some six hours from Iquitios in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon. She gave me the stinkeye.
Then she realized I was deadly serious.
“I’ll find you a tree,” she grinned. And we both began paddling in earnest.
It was April, and the Andes snows had lifted the water level in the Amazon by about six feet or more. The annual flooding means that you don’t hike. You paddle, in low canoes. Tree branches that would otherwise be way overhead brush the canoe and your face. There are few places above the river water.
The river water which also contains piranha and caiman and poisonous snakes.
The Pee Tree
After what felt like an eternity to me (it always does if you have a UTI) we spotted a tree which had a fork. Not a low fork, either.
In fact, for me to get up into this tree it took all my upper body training and yoga practice to haul myself into the fork. I balanced myself rather precariously, one foot in the fork and the other on top of that foot.
From this position, I had to drop my trousers and hang my bare butt over the dark red Amazonian waters. And hope I didn’t fall in.
Where the piranha and caiman and snakes were. Somewhere.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to relax enough to pee when you’re balanced in the Y of a tree over potentially lethal waters?
“Um, Houston, We Have a Problem.”
When the waters of the Amazon rise, it’s only natural that life rises with it. In this case, the uncounted gazillion ants and termites that normally live on the ground in nests most of the year. When your house floods, you have to move to higher ground. In this case, that would be the trees.
Like the one I was in.
Natch, since most of these ants -which bite, by the way- are bark colored, I couldn’t see them. On top of that I had my eyes closed, trying to concentrate on images of running water.
It wasn’t until they started biting that I realized my entire body- all the bare parts mind you- were carpeted with biting, stinging ants.
Apparently they didn’t much appreciate a 125-lb obstacle barring their highways. It’s bad enough that your house is flooded, now you have a sweaty Goliath barring the footpaths and on top of that, she’s half-naked. That’s pretty insulting. I had the fury of the entire tree-full of ants taking their revenge.
What Else is There To Do?
I was hanging by my arms, my bare ass in the wind, covered with stinging insects from head to toe.
What else can you do? I started laughing. Couldn’t help it.
Neddy, who had been waiting for just this moment, took my picture. She was beside herself. She nearly tipped the canoe over.
Taking pity, she yelled at me to brush the ants and the branches off, HURRY UP AND PEE, and she’d help me get back down.
Laughter has a wonderfully relaxing effect on the bladder, but so does one’s imminent demise. I brushed off the ants and the nearby branches, re-balanced and finally relieved myself.
Don’t Even THINK About It
As I stood quickly to rezip my pants, the one and only key I had to all of my luggage came arcing out of my top pocket. With the grace of an Olympian diver, my key executed several back flips and disappeared with a delicate “plink” into the red depths of the Amazon River.
I looked after it longingly.
“Don’t even THINK about it,” Neddy yelled, reading my expression.
I reversed back into the boat, easing myself down carefully. We pushed away from the ant-infested tree and started paddling through the flooded brush.
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Thirty seconds after we started paddling, the fifty or so stowaway ants that I had zipped up into my crotch starting biting in protest.
I threw the paddle into the canoe and pulled down my pants. Red marks and ants everywhere. Look, you’d be pissed off too if someone zipped you into their crotch uninvited.
Desperate but still laughing, I found and threw the ants overboard. Hopefully a piranha got them. I’d feel validated. Some of them took pieces of my skin with them locked in their pincers.
Neddy and I spent seven days together. The UTI never resolved. Sometimes that’s the tropics. However we developed an expertise for finding pee trees.
I’d give Neddy an early head’s up and we’d start looking for a viable option. Neddy would check the trees for nasty occupants, declare the area safe for habitation, and I would hastily dismount the canoe.
Given the nature of the Amazon, a quick visual check will never give you the whole picture. You really do have to move fast, because the longer you wait, the more you are a food fest for something in the market for a bare butt.
Neddy was good at clearing the sites.
Of course, she had to photo bomb me at least once.
She made fun of me unmercifully. I loved her for it. The body does what it does and you just by god learn to cope. I wasn’t going to stay in the Lodge and I wasn’t going to cut short our lengthy canoe excursions.
I had a blast. Moral of the story? If you head to the Tahuayo Lodge (highly recommend, five of five stars) ask for Neddy. If you have to pee during flood season, first, check the tree.
Then, check your underwear. You never know what you may have just zipped into your crotch.
And finally, don’t leave home without a sense of humor. It’s the best travel accessory bar none.
Except, perhaps, a can of Raid.