Ecuador’s Amazon

Hello, hello!
Well the last week sure zoomed by. We arrived in Puyo around 10:30 AM, last Monday morning. By 11:30 AM we were in a van on our way to taste a bit of Ecuador´s Amazon region. The first day we went around with our Puyo guide, Marco Naveda, from the Agencia de Viajes Naveda Santos. He took us on a short hike to the Cascada Hola Vida (waterfall), where we were able to actually swim under the falls because it was deep enough and the pool was larger. While walking about he told us about various trees. Once again there is a medicinal idea behind the mud there and I let him cover my face with the smooth, gray mud. I did not wash it off until we finally swam in the falls. I am sure I looked quite ridiculous, but there were lots of people walking around with their faces covered as well.

Then we went on a canoe ride down the Río Puyo. These are the hand carved, long wooden canoes which was once a traditional method of the indigenous peoples for traversing the river, but now of course it is simply a tourist spectacle. Despite that, I still enjoyed the ride. Rio Puyo would be the perfect tubing river. It is wide and shallow but the current is always flowing at a nice pace.

Then we went up to the top of a hill, Mirador Altos del Pastaza, which had a clearing at the top to overlook the canopy forest and meandering rivers. These attractions are all clearly set up to provide entertainment to the hundreds of visitors who travel through because this lookout had a four or five hammock set-up so you could lounge and look out. Also, they had a wooden statue that we shot darts at through a long blow tube. I of course failed to aim well the first time and would have wounded a male´s pride, but the second time I got it right in the middle of the chest for a kill shot. There was also a 12.5 foot long boa constrictor, but it was pretty inactive and all curled up on itself. The best part, though, was this rope swing over the edge of the hillside. You stand on this post and then they push you out and you are just hanging onto a rope an swing. I do not remember how far the drop would be if you let go and fell, but the survival rate might be low.

Finally, we ended the tour at the Kichwa Community where we stayed the next two nights. This is a village-community of about 38 people all related to each other. There is the Shaman and his wife Maria, who were our hosts, then their four daughters and two sons and all of their spouses and children. I cannot imagine living amongst only family members with no other outsiders besides spouses and tourists.

The next day the Shaman took Aaron and I around their protected lands explaining the uses and medicinal properties of all the plants and trees. He explained to us that they live on the front side of some 3,200 hectares of protected primary and secondary cloud forest as spans away from the Puyo river to the north. The Shaman was very nice and he loved to explain things. I realize that he probably gives several such tours a week, but his knowledge of the flora and fauna is still incredible. At one point he started ripping up a leaf then mashing it in his hand until a foamy, green paste was produced. He used nothing but the leaf to produce the foam and it apparently makes a great shampoo. The only disheartening part is that everything was explained in Spanish, so I cannot say that I completely understood everything as thoroughly as I would have desired. Despite the language barrier, he was incredibly knowledgeable, eager to have a conversation, and an extremely interesting individual. He even included us in some ceremonies, which is interesting to think about when considering the tourism aspect of his life. I wonder how much he has altered actual Shaman practices to include tourists into them. One particular thing I noticed was how he incorporated cigarettes into everything. He would light a cigarette and the ceremony or pray would only last as long as the cigarette, whether he was actively smoking it or letting it just burn out on a stand. I am also curious how tourism affects the children. I cannot imagine growing up in a setting were dozens of strangers into your home everyday to witness this ¨indigenous¨ experience and to drink the shaman´s sacred drink made from ayahuasca, the ¨soul vine.¨ Ayahausca is exploited by tourists for its psychoactive affects which can create really intense hallucinogenic visions. However, like all natural substances, the effectiveness depends on the potency of the brew and the individual´s tolerances. I hate to think about the effects of the constant stream of momentary, superficial relationships formed with impressionable children by the tourists.

The second night Aaron and I were joined in our cabin by three young French travelers.

The third day we went on a hike in the opposite direction and again learned more about plant uses. Both days he took us to waterfall settings to swim and bathe in towards the end of our walks. The last day was my favorite because we crossed a small stream that has been eroding the conglomerate bedrock, creating piles of rock debris and sediment for a new conglomerate layer in the future. Plus it was beautiful how the piles were being shifted within the stream bed. On this last day, Marco was supposed to pick us up from the community after lunch but he did not come for a long time. I ended up playing card games with some of the children. Two of the boys taught me an Ecuadorian game ¨Cinco¨ which everyone gets really interested in. Even the Shaman watched and gave me pointers. Eventually, he and Maria were heading into Puyo by bus and took us with them to send us back to the terminal.

And there it was three days later standing in the Puyo terminal with our packs once again as if we had only just arrived. This feeling was only enhanced when we took the bus back to Baños and stayed at Timara´s in the same room we had before we left. Since then we have been in Quito the last week and will leave tomorrow for the coast. I will update you on our Quito activities tomorrow, but for now my internet time is up.

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