The first thing I was taught by Gerineldo Moises Chavez, my jungle survival instructor, was how to build a tambo, a jungle hut. It wasn't fancy, as you can see, but it kept me dry when it rained and kept me off the ground while I slept.
Some of these houses are relatively isolated; some — connected together by footpaths through the jungle, or clustered about a central square — form caseríos, villages, with a soccer field, perhaps a cement schoolhouse and community center, even a clinic or a small bodega for goods brought upriver by motorized canoe.
The roof is thatched with irapay palm leaves (Lepidocaryum tessmannii), whose stems are looped and knotted on poles of pona wood (Socratea exorrhiza) to form long sheaves, called crisneja, that are then tied in an overlapping pattern onto the rafters with strips of atadijo bark (Trema micrantha) — the same bark that is used to bind the long cylindrical bundles of cured tobacco sold in the market. The peak of the roof is covered with yarina palm leaves (Phytelephas spp.), and the springy floor — it bounces when you walk on it, which can be disconcerting at first — is made of slats cut from the trunk of the huacrapona palm (Iriartea deltoidea). Ethnobotanist James Duke estimates that as many as twenty different species of plants may be used in the construction of a single dwelling.
When I was living in the jungle hut of don Rómulo Magin, trying to learn the medicine, I would get up on shaky legs to vomit at the edge of the clearing. The next morning, embarrassed, I would go to look at the mess I had made, and find that everything was gone. The jungle had recycled it.
You get used to this instant recycling. One of the problems with living in the jungle for many generations is that you assume that the jungle cleans itself, which is largely true. But this attitude creates some problems. One of the problems can be found on the beautiful Pacific beaches in Lima, which, even in the fanciest neighborhoods, are covered with garbage. Another problem is potable water.