I was woken, as I am each and every morning by the rooster- the damn rooster!! The sneaky thing waltzes under my hut, right below my bed, and doesn’t stop “cockadoodledooing” at 3, then 5 then 6am, and I’m sure somewhere else in between. By that time, I had only just gotten to sleep from the sounds of frogs, ducks, crickets, birds, and dogs, chattering all night.
Señora Rosa made me platana chips for breakfast, which were one of my favourite things to eat. She has lived in the Amazon her whole life, moving between different communities. She has been to the city for short periods of time but doesn’t like it there at all, and this, I found I had in common with her. Just the thought of cars, buses, noise, chemicals, pollution, office work, expensive beauticians, petrol stations, and life revolving around money and about what next processed food needs to be bought from the store, was enough to make me feel like I never wanted to return. But I knew I would… if only to try and stop these natural paradises of the world from being destroyed and turned into synthetic, unfulfilling, soap opera engaged, auto pilot ways of life.
* * *
While eating breakfast Javier asked me if I wanted to join them down the river while they worked on the tourist cabins. Of course my immediate reaction was to jump up and half scream out “yes”, as I would have done almost anything to get out of working in the chacra again. As we zoomed down the river we kept our eyes always open for turtles, monkeys, birds and other animals. Suddenly we stopped when Javier saw a huge dead fish, over a meter long, floating on the café coloured water, caught up in some fallen tree branches. I was told that a dolphin had killed it… I didn’t realise they were so fierce here. The carcass was ripped open, with bits of blubbery body parts sawed off by razor slicing teeth.
I watched, as the guys installed some lighting in the huts, then I took off to take a bit of forest photography until it started to, once again, rain heavily. I pretty much just studied Spanish for most of the day and, every so often, helped the guys out by carrying planks of wood etc.
* * *
I had the best fish and platana for breakfast next day, which was cooked by Hernan’s (the president’s) 14 year old daughter. Then Javiar, Marco, and many of Hernan’s children went into the jungle to look for food. We ended up with a whole lot of palm tree stalks, and a pot full of gusanos (the white grubs)… mm mmm. Lunch was just delicious, although I again had to leave the crunchy heads to the side of my plate.
I didn’t find too many things in the village difficult, but one thing that was a little hard for me to digest, was my breakfast, lunch and dinner when everyone around me was hocking up spit and blowing their noses with their hand and no tissue.
Marco, Javier, Sergio (another guy that came to help on the cabins), Ernan (Hernan’s son), Olmedo and I played a game of volleyball in the afternoon with one of the hardest soccer balls I have ever felt. Apart from the pain and the red marks on my hands, it was a lot of fun.
After eating (Nelli, one of Hernan’s daughters made me lentils dinner) and some Amazonian, Shiwiar music, I tried not to scratch away too hard in bed before getting some sleep.
* * *
During the next evening, after Marco, Javier, Sergio, Ernan and I went to Hernan’s house for dinner, we walked back through the forest in the dark. We had to cross rivers on slippery logs and be careful not to tread on any snakes. Once out in the airstrip, I looked up at the sky to see long, thin cloud strips stretching across the sky, with stars speckled, twinkling in between. I had never seen the sky look like this in my life.
* * *
I had such a great day today!! I went to Hernan`s house again, this time for breakfast (falling over on the way there hahaha) and had the best papaya and freshly squeezed pineapple juice I have ever tasted… I normally don’t even like pineapple juice. Puar Timias (Hernan`s wife) prepared it for me.
The whole day, the whole glorious day, was spent making cups and chicha dishes out of clay with Puar. My first creation of a chicha dish I must say was pretty good, but it took me two times of squashing my work back to a clay ball before I got the cup to a half decent cup shape.
The next day, before working on my clay creations, I had to work in the chacra garden (noooooooo) with Puaar, Hernan and their children. It actually ended up not turning out as bad as I expecting- It was steaming hot and so we only worked for about twenty minutes. I was taken on a little chacra tour and got to taste test tomatoes, chives, and bamboo juice, and then later for lunch, sweet potato and mushrooms that were brought back form this garden yucca plantations.
Puar and I then proceeded to paint a layer of runny, yellow clay over out bowls and cups. When the layer had dried we worked on sanding them with a shell and what looked like an avocado seed, and after, once they were all smooth, we moved on to painting them. The paintbrush was made of a small stick that had someone’s black hair tied to it with cotton string. I can actually paint rather well with a normal paintbrush and paper, but I must admit, I was really, no really, pathetically, artistically impaired when it came to this activity. It was the most difficult way to paint due to the fact that the hair on the brush was not short, but really long and thin.
Something made me laugh almost hysterically that afternoon- the kids were sitting around calling out (very annoyingly mind you) “kakakooooo, kaakoookoo”. I had no idea why the heck they were making this ridiculous sound until about three minutes later when the rooster started calling. After one child called out like a rooster, and then another, there was a brief pause left for when the talented chook made his singing debut. I didn’t quite finish painting that day (maybe the rooster put me off a bit) but knew I would be rotated around the tribe again to work and eat with the same family.
Sergio went back to the city today L, but the good news is that Pascual (the man in Puyo who runs Ikiam Expedition, and is organising the tours to Juyuintza) left me a ice bag of goodies! Chips and gum etc., but best of all a torch, some candles and a lighter. My original torch had broken just after I arrived, I had also lost my spare torch, and my second spare one only functioned when it decided it wanted to. Even my lighter had fallen to bits. I knew that I just needed to be careful with the candles as my whole hut was made of wood.
At this point of my stay in the village, I just couldn’t bare to be bitten by mosquitoes and sandflies any longer. After bathing in the river, it was like a race to get under my mosquito net before the blood thirsty little mongrels came to me for a drink of sangria. My feet and legs looked deformed and hideous with the unbelievable amounts of bites I was deeply suffering from. By this stage I had at least 200 lumps of varying sizes covering my entire body.
* * *
On this day, I had the biggest scare! I was working on clearing land for a new platana chacra and was cutting a vine, when the machete (that had just been sharpened) slipped out of my hand and flew towards by foot. It sliced through my boot, my sock, and landed between two of my toes, just cutting the skin slightly. Phew! I stopped working and went back with Guadalupe to her house to watch a spiky haired black pig be de-haired and cut up into bits in the river, almost ready to be eaten. Her son David had caught it while on a hunting trip that very same day. It was pretty off to see the kids swimming around in the bloody water, right next to where the pig was being butchered. We ate pork for dinner.
* * *
About a week beforehand I had taken a tick the size of an eyeball off the neck of a dog, but after a few incidences I stopped going any where near most of them. The dogs were sometimes extremely vicious, and they even scared me enough, by blocking my path, to prevent me from entering my house or the communal hut. David had just brought back from the city two cute little puppies for his mother Guadalupe and the rest of his family. I feared for them as I watched her four year old son (Israel) wack their other blind, starving dog with a piece of wood, for no reason at all. That same kid was later playing around, jumping over a fire naked with his brother, when he slipped and fell onto his back, landing right in the flames. All Guadalupe could do was to apply crushed yucca to his black, bubbled, fresh burns, and a bit of ointment. The burns to his back and arm were quite severe, so I guess he won’t ever be playing that game again.
Apart from this horrendous injury, the day was a pretty relaxed one, painting chicha dished with Guadalupe. She seemed to really like my un-Shiwiar like pattern that I painted on one ceramic bowl, and asked me to paint a few more exactly the same. I was glad it was a chilled day, as for the previous three of four days I had constantly felt like vomiting. I put it down to the malaria tablets, but without a doctor about, who really could have been sure. The thick, sticky hot weather wasn’t helping too much either.
Also on this day, people were cleaning out and fixing the small cooking hut next to my sleeping hut. I was actually living in the teacher’s house at the time, who was soon to be returning from holidays, and so I figured I’d be getting sent out pretty soon.
* * *
Monica, a woman who is living with Guadalupe’s family, and used to be married to David, fed me breakfast. She looks like she is in her early 20`s, but doesn’t actually know how old she is or the date of her birth. I ate platana, yucca and lentils before she taught me how to make chicha. First we went into her chacra to collect and peel yuca, where I also ended up drinking some sort of liquid from a large spiky pepper. When we got back to the hut, she boiled the big pot of yucca, crushed it with a wooden bat in a tiny canoe, and spat something called camoto all through it. She then left it in a bucked to ferment over the next 24 hours.
During my efforts to help crush the yucca, I saw one of the village women begin chasing two dogs angrily in the field. They must have done something terribly bad in the woman’s eyes, because the way she ended up treating them was absolutely horrific. Whatever the dogs did, I don’t believe that their punishment to come was justifiable at all…
The woman was waving a long, thick plank of wood around trying to beat the dogs with it. She then began throwing the plank as hard as she could at them, and finally, after the wood had launched powerfully out of her hands, she managed to smack the smaller dog in the head, forcing it to yelp out in a loud, heart-breaking cry. The other dog was standing over the little one, barking, and trying to protect its friend. I had finally had enough… I went over to the woman and pleaded with her to stop. She did. When I turned around to walk back to Guadalupe’s hut, there were about eight children laughing about what had happened. I asked them how they would feel if someone whacked them in the head with a plank of wood? Everyone stopped laughing except for two kids who continued to laugh and then began throwing stones at the dogs.
Even Monica was laughing when I walked back in the hut, but not after I made it extremely clear to her that I was disgusted at what had just happened. I explained to her that I didn’t think it was funny at all, and that there really needs to be education about how to treat animals within the community. I said to her also that if people hit animals in front of children, the kids then think it is ok to do the same, and in turn are more inclined to hit other children. She also stopped laughing. I had no intention of telling the tribes people how they should behave, but I just had to say something about this situation… my moral side spoke out.
I took another look at Israel (the child who fell in the fire). He had chunks of flesh missing shavings of skin dangling from his back. Flying insects were also making their homes on his new sores. I was a bit worried about an infection starting, as there was no dressing to cover the wound and not much of their ointment left.
If you would like to take an Ikiam Expedition and venture into the village, volunteer or donate, visit www.ikiam.info/
Contact Pascual Kunchicuy:Contact Pascual Kunchicuy : (00593) 88 29 76 77, Or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
There are volunteer positions currently open in the Shiwiar territory for people who are experienced in one or more of the following areas:
Translating with Spanish, English and French speaking abilities.
English teaching (for one of the Shiwiar territory high schools.)
The Ikiam Expedition is in need of a donation; a small plane and pilot training for improved medical access.