Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Saucy Lagoon


 The Blue Lagoon in El Sauce felt like a giant, private swimming pool surrounded by overlapping mountains and palm trees. Paddling on my back, I had the sky to myself like the inside of a big blue bowl with swirls of white: steam from a home-cooked soup. I could up eat up every bit of it with a spoon.

What a slice of silence is Sauce compared to the sweaty, pulsing chaos of Tarapoto. We circled the lagoon by boat where the guide pointed out the 50 foot-high platform jutting out of a cliff for brave souls to jump off of. One of the other volunteers was the only one from our tour group brave enough to attempt it. I climbed up to the platform with him for moral support. From up there, the smallness of the boat in the distance and the dizziness from looking down, as if from a five-story building, was enough to kill any of my adventuring tendencies. When he jumped off, I was the one who screamed.

The lake is overseen by a barren volcano that no longer erupts but once in awhile, releases sulfur into the lake which kills all the fish. Returning from the boat ride, we found our eccentric tour guide "P." A shady-looking Santa Claus, he traveled through the Peruvian jungle for 15 years as a missionary before working in tourism. Rumor has it he once got lost in the jungle for months and survived on nothing but grubs and wits. That night, we stayed in a quiet, riverside bungalow and sat by the water drinking coffee "coctels" or liqueurs.
The next day we woke up at 5:15am to catch the sunrise: only it was bright as day already and the roosters had been crowing since 3am. So instead we went hiking and stumbled upon a beautiful riverfront property with elaborate gardens - turns out it belongs to Don Pollo, the chicken kingpin of Peru. The friendly old gardener told us any other time he would let us walk through the gardens but Don Pollo himself was coming by that day. I imagined a cigar-smoking mob boss leaning back in a leather armchair, stroking a chicken made of solid gold.

Heading back to Tarapoto, our colectivo got stopped by a military checkpoint. Soldiers with huge rifles marched over to the car and demanded to see our ID's. We didn't have our passport with us and just as I was having flashes of me sprawled on the floor of Peruvian prison, he acquitted us because of our American tourist status, though not before asking me if I was Korean. One of the guys in the colectivo didn’t have his ID and he got taken out of the car to be questioned. I caught a glimpse of the soldier unbuttoning his shirt, poking him in the chest, searching him. They searched all the bags in the trunk. After what seemed like an eternity, the guy was released to come back to the car.