Today is Thanksgiving, which generally means a few things for the average American: Be thankful, spend time with friends and family, and overindulge on food.
For me, that’s about how it goes, with exception to being with my family. I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving in more than a decade. Instead, I normally spend it with friends and their families.
Last year was the first year that I didn’t go anywhere for a feast with friends. I didn’t have a car, so my roommate and I tried to volunteer with the local veteran’s center – tried being the operative word. By the time we arrived for the afternoon shift, the nonprofit had run out of the main food and none of us arriving volunteers knew what to do.
I ended up feeling pretty depressed that day, so I vowed never to skip Thanksgiving with friends and food again. Now, a year later, I’m thousands of miles away from those friends – from anyone I know, actually. I’m even more “alone” this Thanksgiving than last year.
The holiday landed during the four-day jungle excursion I booked; today is the first day. I’ve been in Iquitos (“Gateway to the Amazon”) for the past couple days with no signs of the upcoming holiday to remind me that I wouldn’t be celebrating it this year. Correction: that I wouldn’t be with friends and family and gorging on the day’s staples. I’m still very thankful, though. In fact, this entire trip is one that has me especially thankful. Every morning I wake up remembering that I’m in a different country on the trip of a lifetime. I’m so thankful for all the many powers that helped make it happen!
My awesome guide with Otorongo Expeditions, Roberto, picked me up at my hotel at 10 am and we set off by tuk-tuk and then speed boat to the lodge tucked into the jungle along the Amazon river. We arrived just in time for lunch and I was pleased to see that there are two other groups here. They’ve been here for several days already and seen and done a lot.
Just in the first day, Roberto took me to a sugarcane rum distillery along the river where I got to press my own sugarcane to extract the juice. After lunch, we saw two breeds of dart frogs, a leaf toad, macaws, a toucan, various other birds and butterflies, and three families of pigmy marmosets (leoncita).
During our night jungle walk, we saw two other breeds of frogs, wild Guinea pig, dragon fish, an owl, a long-legged scorpion, and more spiders and tarantulas than I’d care to think or know about. No matter how many times I jumped at insects and shadows and how hard my guide laughed at me, it was very cool to be so vulnerable deep in the jungle. It’s amazing to know this kind of nature and be so far from what is comfortable, familiar, civilized… Even though I’m missing out on Thanksgiving festivities again, it’s refreshing in a way to be so far from it all.
The two groups are from the states, so it’s nice to have a little bit of “home” and not have to “feast” by myself. Everyone seemed too exhausted to remember or even care about what day it is, but their faces briefly lit up when I shared “Happy Thanksgiving.” Our ground beef and rice casserole was tasty, but I sure could have gone for grams’ butternut squash topped with marshmallow and a can of gelatinous cranberry sauce.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting and joining this journey with me.