Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A week in the Amazon

Dean, Medi, & Jorge

It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly because December has been crazy so far. I had finals for the first two weeks and somehow I managed to receive As in all of my classes including Macroeconomics! The Saturday after finals, my friend Dean and I took off for the Oriente (Amazon rain forest).

After arriving in the south bus terminal, we hopped on a bus going to Puyo and enjoyed the 5 hour ride in the dark. Once in Puyo, we ate a huge chicken dinner, swatted away the mosquitoes, and went to bed in our hot, humid room. The next morning we waited at the terminal to meet Jorge but instead met his son, Silvio, who led us on to a bus going to Macas. Silvio was really friendly and was interested in who we were and what we were doing in Ecuador and after an hour and half we hopped off the bus in the middle of the highway. He led us up to a house (really, shack by most Western standards) where we met Jorge and his young daughter Medi. We rested for a bit and then started the hike.

The four hour hike led us deeper into the jungle through rivers and swamps, all covered in mud. We saw medicinal plants, fruits, insects, birds, and amazing views of the jungle. Dean and I slipped on almost every log and got stuck in every patch of mud while Jorge and his wife, Rut, glided smoothly over the mud. We finally arrived and saw his beautiful home. His house is completely traditional, made of wood, bamboo, and the floors are dirt. We rested on the porch of the volunteer house and Jorge pointed out a rock that he said used to be used to make hot sauce for eating human flesh. Lovely.

Dinner consisted of cooked bananas and plantains and afterwards Jorge played a traditional flute and we got into bed and immediately passed out by 9 pm.

The next morning we were greeted by armadillo soup for breakfast since Jorge’s nephew had shot an armadillo the night before. We spent the morning clearing out a patch of forest that had decaying logs everywhere. There we saw monstrous, venomous insects and I screamed when a big red any got inside my glove. Jorge just laughed and said I might go unconscious and swell up, but at least I wouldn’t die. Again, lovely. After about an hour it started to pour but we kept working, welcoming the cool rain. After the rain stopped we heard toucans in the trees and ate guava fruit. Lunch was cooked bananas. So was dinner.

The next day we ate more cooked bananas for breakfast and, surprise, also for lunch. After lunch we went to the river to swim around and wash our clothes. Jorge informed us that there were no dangerous animals like anacondas in the river. But watch out for the red ants and other poisonous snakes. That night there was an enormous thunder and lightning storm. It was immediately above us so the flash illuminated everything and immediately a huge BOOM would shake the whole house.

On day 4 we constructed a bed made from logs we cut down and carried ourselves. I couldn’t help much because I wasn’t even strong enough to saw bamboo- I blame the banana diet. On day 5 we cleaned up a cacao field and then went on a hike through the jungle. We saw a ton of medicinal plants like the Sandi tree, dragon blood tree, and lots of others I can’t remember.

After lunch we hiked to the village where the school and other families were. We met one family living in a small shack. The mother served us chichi (yucca leaves that the women chew and then let ferment- actually pretty tasty) while the father explained how he wanted to start a kind of zoo so that when illegal hunting leads to the endangerment of animals, he will have enough to breed and keep the species alive. He had a wild hog that made the ugliest sound I have ever heard in my life. On top of that, Dean picked him up and the hog bit a nice little hole in Dean’s shoulder. After that the man asked if we wanted to see his monkey. I went wide eyed when he brought out the three-week old nocturnal monkey. Its eyes took up half its head and it clung onto my fingers before it scrambled up to nest in my hair. Besides the fact that having a monkey as a pet, especially an endangered species, is very illegal, I thought the man’s intentions were good and that if anyone is going to keep these animals, this family who has lived in the middle of the jungle for generations is the most deserving.

Day 6, December 21. The world didn’t end, but it sure did rain a lot. We took a long hike today, seeing lots of butterflies, insects, birds, and beautiful plants. We swung across ravines on tree vines and after we returned we painted our faces with achiote and blew darts, threw spears, and fought each other in the traditional Shuar fashion.

This morning we woke up early to pouring rain but luckily it stopped around 6 am so we packed up quickly and started the hike with Doris and Lisa (Jorge’s daughters) as our guides. The hike back was all uphill and half an hour into the hike it started to rain so we continued the hike for four hours in pouring rain and deep, slippery mud as we tried climbing up rocks with streams falling over them. I was very anxious to get back to the city and after we arrived at the road, we waited for the bus to Puyo and nine hours later I was back at my apartment. I was home and safe, thankful for the opportunity but even more grateful for a warm shower.

For more information about the Iirshim Project, please visit:  http://iirshim.99k.org/index.php?/general-information/  or send me an email at louisa13@uw.edu.