Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: South America (02/05/09)
TITLE: The Bend of a Spear
By Jack Taylor
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Alejandro slid like a boa through the shoulder high undergrowth while he tracked the brilliant flashes of the blue and gold macaw. The feathered fugitive flitted under the canopy of the 300 species of trees in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest barely outpacing him. While the teenage hunter’s ancestors had unmercifully been shackled in Africa and dumped along the Amazonian shore five hundred years ago he had no oral history to remind him. While his forebears had worked the coastal sugar plantations long ago, generations of his family had already merged with the life of the jungle.
A dusky titi monkey paused its foraging for a moment as it caught the flash of his darkened skin skimming like a hurled spear along the hunting path of the resident jaguar. Blue Morpho butterflies fluttered in and out of shadow and sun patches on their way to new resting places. Only once did Alejandro pause to consider whether a low flying plate-billed toucan might be an easier quest.
His young life had already been filled with adventure. He had journeyed for a week with Enrique and Humberto from the Amazon Basin to the glaciated Andean Volcanoes. They had hunted howler monkeys with blow guns and collected unusual orchids to share with their elders. They had strolled nervously through the mestizo markets of Guayaquil and sampled the strange flavors of lemon-marinated shrimp, toasted corn, and roasted guinea pig. The hot crispy meat and cheese filled empanada pastries and the potato and cheese pancake Ilapingachos felt strange to his jungle trained palate but he had swallowed it all.
The aji hot sauce on the pork and rice had burned his mouth but he would not give Enrique or Humberto the satisfaction of seeing him wince. The street vendors had scolded them when they ran by and snagged a container of chichi. They had watched the old women chewing the manioc root and spitting the contents of their mouth into a pot. The crowd around the small table betrayed its popularity among the locals and the adventurers could not resist the opportunity to indulge. Humberto had suffered from that trip when his stomach rebelled at some improperly prepared ceviche. The seafood dish of squid and shellfish, marinated in lemon and onions, and served with popcorn might be the most popular dish in the country but for young men used to jungle fare it was too much.
When the trio finally dragged themselves into their jungle lair the elders smiled knowingly. Alejandro’s mother worried for a moment that he was a victim of cholera and warned him to wait outside until he could be properly examined. The vast shanty towns sprouting outside the cities were sources of epidemics. Cholera had killed much of her family before the survivors foraged deeper into the jungle away from civilization.
Alejandro’s mother spent much of her time collecting balsa wood and his father carved crude figurines to sell at distant markets. Other members of the family had drifted off to find work near the Sierra plateau on the banana plantations, the cocoa or coffee fields, and one harvested sugar cane. Two of his older sisters had hired themselves out as shepherdesses and they often gave him special blankets when he visited.
While the words of his Creator had found their place in his heart a year before, Alejandro realized that the shamans still held sway among the peoples of the jungle. The Huaorani had once killed five gringo truthtellers and while they no longer speared each other so quickly they still fought for shrinking space with the Zaparo, the Cofan, the Quichua, and the Shuar peoples.
A sick old Huarorani he had found abandoned in the jungle had one time whispered to him the stories of old times when the quick thrust and bend of a spear could determine whether you lived or died. He spoke of the True Peace Bringer who was not like the drug war lords fighting for power. He was not like the ancient Incas or the Spanish conquistadors or like the exploitive oil barons. The stories had found their root in his soul and he had sought a teacher. But today he sought the gold and blue macaw.
The winged quarry rocketed skyward and Alejandro rested his feet and eyes. Nearby sat an elderly Caucasian. She was scratching the scribbling of the Creator on paper and knew his tongue. Without hesitation he sat at her feet and began a new quest.
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