When I went for dinner at Guadalupe’s house, I was happy to see that she had caught a giant fish to feed her family and I. After a while of drinking chicha and talking, something she said shocked and really saddened me. She said that eight years ago, the whole the tribe used to always dance and sing, but now they don’t because they are Christians and they think that the bible says it’s bad. She also added that it’s only ok for them to dance and sing to music about God. Mmmmm…
I looked over and saw Monica chewing on food and then covering a large, green birds beak with her mouth in order to feed it. It was just the way a mother bird feeds its young!
* * *
My breakfast the next morning was solely a bowl of rice and some chicha. I didn’t eat again until about 4pm, but when I did, the meal was more than substantial. For some reason I wasn’t feeling to well that day, and spent most of it in bed.
* * *
The next day rained through its entirety. A fierce storm came over and for a few moments I was a bit concerned about the thatched roof over my head. It looked as though it was ready to wonder off for a journey through the sky — but it held.
Gustavo was my host again, and so we spent the day in the forest with his family and Marco. The ground was covered almost totally in water, which we had to trudge through while looking out for snakes. The slice in by boot (from when I had nearly cut my toes off with the machete), kept allowing water to seep through, making my sock very sludgy, and in turn, making it very uncomfortable for me to walk.
As we sat under the thick, silent trees, Gustavo, Marco and I peeled the leaves of a plant and began making string. The string was then used for an animal trap that Gustavo made in about two minutes. There had been wild pigs in the area recently and so I guess he was hoping to catch one of them.
During the whole trip, Gloria cut open some pepas with her machete and gave me the inside, white, coconut tasting pieces. We also ate the seedpods I mentioned earlier, and I can’t say I’ve eaten anything quite like it before. The seeds were covered in a honey-like, sticky substance, but the flavour was more savoury than sweet. It was much tastier though, than the bark of a medicinal plant that I chewed on when we first walked into the jungle when Gustavo was showing me a parrot’s nest. I had only put the tiniest amount in my mouth, but ended up having to spit out the bitterness for at least ten minutes after. I was so impresses when Gustavo later made a backpack (a type that dangles from your head) for my backpack, out of leaves and vines. Marco couldn’t stop laughing at me as it kept falling off when I’d climb over logs.
Back at Gustavo’s hut, we ate part of a gigantic fish that he had caught the day before. Earlier, when I had watched them cleaning and cutting it up and putting the pieces into a pot the size of a mini refrigerator, I was offered baby wasp babies that were like miniature worms. They didn’t have much taste to them, so I only ate one or two in the end.
Just after eating lunch, I was so surprised to hear that Gloria, who is 13 years old, isn’t in fact Gustavo’s daughter but his wife. He is 40 year of age. Marco told me that it is a custom here, just like it is also to have two wives. I later also found out from Fanni that for some of the other tribes near Juyuintz it is normal for the men to have five wives or more.
* * *
The water in the river was rising fast, the flowers were in full bloom; all in bright, different colours and uniquely shaped.
My friends Marco and Javier had by now finished their work on the tourist cabañas, and so I was extremely sad as I knew that they would soon be leaving. Well, as soon as the plane arrived… it was already two days late. The previous day Javier had jumped up off his seat in excitement when he thought he heard the plane coming, only to then have to sit back down once I told him it was actually my stomach grumbling. I was sure going to miss them. As we hung out next to the cooking area, on an elevated level of flat cut bamboo in the evenings, they would tell me stories (slowly in Spanish), Javier, about his wild adventures in the jungle, and Marco, ancient jungle stories… a sort of dreamtime that always made me drowsy. We would also sing and discreetly dance to music, and be constantly laughing our heads off!
I asked señora Rosa (full name Rosenda Tsetsekip) if she too was of Christian religion. She replied “yes” and to my happiness and relief, added that she dances… and not just to music with singing about god. I asked her this as we were walking into the jungle to look for food. I loved going into the jungle, especially on sweltering hot days like this particular day was. The jungle is so cool and refreshing. Even when small branches would tangle in my hair, when I’d walk through cobweb after cobweb, and when I’d get stung by such unpleasant forces of nature such as the spines of a plant that would sting me for about half an hour, I still loved it.
For a moment, a huge ant blocked our passage. That may sound ridiculous, but seriously, just one of its clipper fangs is about the same size as a regular ant. Once we had crossed the giant ant section, I watched as Señora Rosa and her eleven year old son chop down a few trees. As usual, I made sure not to stand where the tree was predicted to fall, but I was always ready to run. I sat down on a trunk of one of the trees that was covered in bright, lime green moss as soft as carpet, and watched as Señora Rosa chopped open the many layers of the top part of one of the trees, to get the crunchy, fresh tree food, deep inside the trunk. For lunch she cooked this tree part for me and added in a few white grubs, some platano, and some yucca. That morning she had shown me how she makes a particular dish out of nothing much more than platano.
In the evening I ate the tree insides again, but this time fried. I had to gulp down the meal in the dark, hoping that no insects had entered my mushy food. It was hard enough eating fish in the dark with all the tiny bones. Although I knew I was probably getting some extra protein, I preferred not to get violently ill from some unknown species of bug. Even as I got up to get a drink of water, a huge toad bounced by my feet.
Later in the night, on my way back from the wooden, hole-in-the-ground toilet (that is certainly snake territory), whilst listening to small (but still big on my terms) cats, scowl and screech, my torch-light flashed onto a rat that was hopping along the freshly cut (by machete) grass.
* * *
It was so hot again the next day. The roof of the giant communal hut was being repaired with leaves, and I found it very amusing when they built a ladder from scratch out of tree trunks to get up there. I myself, not realising how hard it actually was to walk on a thatched roof, also went up to take a bird’s eye photo of the village.
Soon after, a plane came to take Javier and Marco back to the Puyo… Olmedo took off with them. He perhaps went to see his sick wife.
Back in the communal hut, everyone sat drinking chicha — females on one side, males on the other — all exchanging words in Shiwiar (a language that although it’s usually not the case, often sounds like shouting). Guadalupe asked me for my tube of iodine ointment I had brought with me, for her child (Israel’s) back. (He is the child who fell in the fire). So I sat and covered his scaly, pink and black scarred back with the crème, while occasionally peering down at one of the poor smaller dogs, Chiripa, who had a sore of his own. A gaping, weeping wound in fact, that bulged like a hollow volcano with puss-like lava skirting on the rim. Many flying insects had also made this their meeting point.
I looked the other way and saw two 3 or 4 year old boys, standing in the midst of the butterflies, slashing around in the air a knife and machete.
Nelli, a nice young woman in about her 20s had taken me under her wing for the following two days, and I was happy indeed as her cooked fish , purple potatoes, lentils, rice and fried egg that she had so far fed me, had been exquisite. Just as I had begun to eat lunch, the hot weather rapidly faded as yet another loud, windy storm took over the village and its natural, emerald surroundings. After eating I took comfort in my hammock, under two blankets, and gazed out around me at the always, and hopefully forever green view of what I believe the whole world and every city should consist of, real life.
I sat making chicha dishes with Gloria (13yrs) and some other little girls in the afternoon. I tried to ask about her marriage to a forty year old man, but it was quite difficult as she could only speak Shiwiar, and her daughter in law (who is 6yrs old) had to translate for me. I kept the conversation light, and without judgement.
* * *
On Sundays everyone is pretty chilled out in the village, and so I was glad it was Sunday. Nelli, who would constantly blow her nose with her hand, was supposed to be singing in the school for church in the morning. I really wanted to hear her sing, and so I sat through a most boring sermon and, while watching a butterfly enter and exit as it pleased, waited for her to sing. For some odd reason it didn’t happen, and so I decided then and there that I was certainly not going to put myself through another service again. Even after, when everyone who attended the church went for chicha to listen to some more religious music, I had to somehow politely remove myself from the group, and go for a long, refreshing swim. Walking from the house up the plane strip to the river was like walking through a dry dessert.
At around midday, Nilly showed me how to cook the platana strips I loved so much… I was really surprised by the simplicity of it all. After another swim, I saw Gloria holding something, and a group of kids in awe, huddling around. I walked over and gave the big rat that she was grasping a pat on the belly. I asked if she was going to eat it, and when she replied “Yes”, I decided to leave for the killing. It was way too cute.
Dinner was remarkable! Well, not actually the fish and dry potato meal, but the way it was eaten. It was about 6pm and the sun had only just gone down. Creeping up slowly were the dark grey clouds of a storm, and I sat, waiting for both my dinner and the raging weather. My meal came, and so did the gushing winds through the wall-less thatched roof of the communal hut. Rain sprayed against my check and jagged lightning sprawled across the sky as I slowly pieced apart the bony fish. It was pitch black until the flashes lit up everything around including the dogs who sat close by. Nelli told what I think were scary stories to some of the children sitting beside me, and once the rain had settled a bit, I walked to my hut to sleep. The only time I was a little shaken by the storm is when it woke me up in the middle of the night, as right above my head the cracks of thunder blasted. They were so loud that they shook the earth.
* * *
I was happy to be at Fanni’s house again for the next two days, and, for the first day’s breakfast she fed me sting-ray her husband Patricio had caught the day before. While eating this meal I had a short break as I chased a chicken (that was after one of the kid’s food) around the table until it exited the hut. If I had a house surrounded by jungle, I sure wouldn’t mind having chickens to clean the floor after meal times.
From 9:30am to 4:30pm, Fanni, Patricio, Maribel and I, spent our time searching for food in the jungle on the opposite side of the river from the village. While Patricio was cutting open the top of a palm tree he had felled for food, Fanni made a cute little basket out of leaves. We happened to see a similar animal to a monkey, with a bushy tail, jumping from tree to tree. While we were looking, I heard a deep snorting sound, and we all climbed up a tree for safety, away from what was probably a wild pig. Fanni made Maribel and myself spears within about two minutes, in case the pig came back to attack. Thank goodness it didn’t. Fanni began making me a sort of headband — crown thingy out of vines, before we headed back, stopping to drink chicha in a small river and collect some more morete fruits.
I must be pretty fortunate, because I’m constantly surrounded my danger, but never get hurt. On the way back through the track, Fanni began screaming “Colebra! Colebra!” (Snake! Snake!). I calmly responded “Donde?” (Where), but she just frantically gestured me to keep walking… so I did. I was horrified when Patricio went to the snake and smashed it to death with his axe. After the ordeal, Fanni told me that the snak
e was poisonous and can kill you quickly. It was the same breed of snake that had bitten the young boy on the foot a couple of weeks beforehand. She also told me that the snake was slithering right in between my legs. I am still sad they felt the need to kill it though.
* * *
The next day I made string, beads from seeds, and then helped Fanni make a necklace from them. When I was making a hole in one of the seeds with a drill bit that was melted into a toothbrush, I accidentally pushed too hard and snapped the metal drill bit, right into my thumb. Blood spurted everywhere, covering my hands, so I took a rest after I began feeling a little queasy. Fanni was so nice to give
me another necklace, and her kindness made me feel a lot better.
That night I slept in a different place as the teacher was soon returning to the community, and I had been staying in his house. It’s a bit more difficult now though, as I have no walls, and therefore no privacy to change. I am sleeping in the communal hut, where Marco and Javier had stayed when they were in the village. Anothe
r thing that is difficult about this spot is that when I need to go to the toilet (about five times per night from all the chicha), I need to climb down off an elevated platform and then back up, in the dark, half asleep!
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: email@example.com
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.