Portentous Chain of Events Brings Expedition Into Lockdown State
Back in the days before the coronavirus' scourge of the world, Casey had his sites on getting to the next major milestone on the Peruvian Amazon River - the relatively large city of Pucallpa. He had a new walking partner/guide named Kayo, a young indigenous chief who carried a bible with him.
It was a bright and sunny morning, the type of weather they had had all week. Casey had made meticulous plans to prepare for a grand journey through the deep jungle that was to be on the order of 25 days. He had gotten Kayo trained and up to snuff, had done extensive route planning and planned their rations of food. They were in a partially-abandoned pueblo from where they would set out.
But what was going on on the horizon? Black storm clouds. They could not have predicted what this meant at the time but this ominous change on the horizon was to set off a chain of events that was unforeseen at the time.
Soon strong winds and relentless rain were downing large tree limbs around them. The thunder was fierce. Their journey was now delayed for at least a day.
The rain and stormy weather raged all day and into the night.
The next morning, Kayo was restless and agitated. He had a change of heart. He wanted to return to his community.
Casey, obviously disappointed, tried to be supportive, "Kayo, I believe things
happen for a reason".
"I can’t explain it,” said Kayo, “but I have a bad feeling about what lies ahead."
Once again, Casey's journey experienced a setback because a walking partner had abandoned the journey.
Casey hired canoes to get Kayo back to his community but he was forced to remain there for a few days, out of money and out of gasoline for a boat.
Enter the next link in the chain of events.
One hot morning, Kayo and some others had woken up early to avoid the heat while cutting yucca in the fields. Casey avoided the heat by staying in a wooden house which caught occasional breezes from the river.
Around 11AM Kayo came running back to the house carrying his friend on his back, sweating profusely and with eyes full of panic.
"Help us! Do you have any medicine for snakebite?"
His unnamed friend, (whom Casey chose to refer to as 'Jake'), had been working barefoot in the fields, as the indigenous people here have for centuries. But, in doing so, he had been bitten by one of the most venomous, feared coral snakes of the Amazon.
“He is losing his vision already, and he could die soon,” said Kayo.
Casey remembered there had been a medical outpost an hour and a half down the river.
They hired a canoe and carried Jake to it, joined by Jake's worried mother, sister and brother. They made the journey in good time - only an hour. They came upon a run-down facility but there was a medic there who went right to work on Jake.
After 20 minutes the medic came out and approached Casey. He pointed urgently to Casey's medical bag. Casey had some anti-venom but it was the generic kind to keep him covered for a few general snakes. Tragically the medic had run out of anti-venom. Seemingly encouraged by Casey's kit, he returned to the examining room.
A few hours later Kayo ran out of the room. Jake was going to live.
Casey is humble in his blog, but he had saved the day in more ways than one. Not only did he remember the medic down the river, but he had the anti-venom that ultimately ended up saving Jake.
Leaving Jake with his family to recover, Casey and Kayo went back upriver to Kayo's community.
They arrived in the evening to find something startling. Most of the community were grouped around an old-style box television hooked to a satellite dish and a car battery for power.
It was news from the Peruvian government about COVID-19 and the lockdown of the country. It was obvious that for all, life was not going to be the same.
Casey took pause about what might have happened if those grey storm clouds had never slipped over the horizon and if Kayo had not had his change of heart. Casey could have been penalized or even arrested for having broken the lockdown, Kayo could have been indefinitely separated from his family and Jake may not have lived.
The official rules are that during the lockdown there is to be no travel on the Amazon and a curfew has been put into effect from dusk to dawn in each village.
The indigenous people in the region remember all too well how diseases brought in by foreigners decimated the population in the past. During the pandemic, Casey has chosen to locate downriver on a remote tributary, in an isolated and uninhabited farmhouse, off the grid, and he is not making his location public. He wishes to avoid potential issues with people in the nearby community.
He is receiving food and board and is helping out the owner of the property by working to harvest and process sugar cane and yucca in exchange. He has also been learning the ways of the local indigenous people, such as how to fish and how to construct dwellings from materials sourced from the jungle.
Casey says it's a bit "unnerving", perhaps spooky, to be living alone in an open-plan farmhouse. The farmhouse is supposedly haunted by a phantom.
He expects to hide away and have a quiet life here until the pandemic and lockdown has passed, and he suspects that could be quite a long time.