Star Date: October 2013
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"Destroying a tropical rainforest for profit is like burning all
the paintings of the Louvre to cook dinner”
Fierce, proud, one with the jungle around them. True keepers
of the land. Their
territory is vast, yet with the infringing oil companies it is
shrinking as we speak. Known for their ferocity these proud
people allow visitors only by invitation. Photos of people
lying with spears through them pointed to that fact. I was
trying to no avail to contact one of the guides allowed in their
Not meant to be.
She had been burned by oil near the family cooking stove at age 3 and of course no plastic surgeons out here. After about 15 minutes of sitting and visiting by the river, under the large tree full of spider monkeys, I shared that I really wanted to visit a Huarani village and learn more of their culture. She said she was Kitchwa but she knew of a young Waorani man who was in town and returning to his village the following day. We walked for about 8 blocks to a small shop where they phoned him and I made a time to meet him. Only 30 minutes late I immediately took a liking to this warm, genuine young man. The truck will pick you up at 7!
Sleeping little from excitement, I was out waiting at 6:45am and 2.5 hours later, down sometimes dirt paths only resembling roads we arrived at Moipa's village. Not knowing what to expect I was in total awe by what awaited me. Not usually visited by outsiders, I felt privileged to have the opportunity. It was a once in a lifetime experience of sharing heart to heart. We immediately 'took' to each other and it was a day I will always remember. I beamed and glowed as the women and children of all ages welcomed me as their sister to their open, thatched roofed home, 'casa' or onko. They sang and danced, and Grandpa Okata, undressed for the occasion, proudly stood by while grandson showed his skill with a blow gun. They joyfully painted my face with the red paint from a small hairy gourd similar to a rambutan. Wanting to show me their jungle we walked and skipped along the trail. Kids climbed trees and hung there making sure I saw their goofy faces. I would act like I couldn't see them which caused a great group laugh. Acting as a collective they often would all react the same at the same time. 84 year old Dad, Okata was shooting his heavy blow gun, climbing trees and bounding along the path. Moipa told us that elders often live to be 100 to 120 years old.
All of a sudden 2 vibrant sapphire blue morpho butterflies flew past. Everyone stopped and looked. Moipa started the 'historia', story or myth of the 2 blue 'mariposas'. Everyone sat or stood quietly for over 15 minutes while the tale involving shape shifting unfolded. The moral of the story: if the leader of your group says to go THIS way, and you go THAT way, you are in for some big problems.
Jaguar! As we walked along, naked little kids skipping, running, playing and climbing 30 feet up into the trees, Moipa noticed a oval patch of dirt about 12 inches across. This was a very large jaguar marking his territory, with urine on a clawed out area. "We must stop now. Too many children will attract the large cat and we need to turn around. Some jaguars like men are 'buenos' good, some are 'mal' bad."
Moipa shared that local shamans
are called iroigas. There are 4 main types:
Moipa, represents Waorani tribes with the Ecuadorian government in Quito. He speaks 4 languages; his own Waorani, Schwar ( a neighboring tribe), Spanish and a little English. He explained the plans he has helped the neighboring tribes implement (protection of wildlife, visitors 1 day a month, border disputes, etc). With his new position he is glad that his village is currently at the end of a path that leads to the road to town. Life will change because of this.
Waorani are basically nomadic. They move around the jungle as needed. They are able to move from one corner to another within their tribe's territory. This is not the case with the Waorani untouchables or 'taromeriani'. Still zero contact with the outside world these fierce warriors will kill anyone who steps foot in their territory. Just 3 months ago a couple was killed and left with spears sticking out of them. Retaliation was quick from the neighboring tribe with yet another bloody tribal battle. So it goes here. Battles between petroleum workers and the Waorani were common years ago with poison darts hitting workers and they in turn shooting anyone they saw. As Ecuador plans to open up more territory everyone fears a flare up of the Waorani wanting the to protect what little land they have left. I told Moiro, in a way it is bad luck they have oil under their land.
Back home it was time to light
the fire with bamboo sticks and boil some yucca. When a lid
for the pot was needed, Mana, Moipa's wife sent a kid out to fetch a
leaf just the right size. While waiting we chewed on some
boiled nuts, 'petomo', good for energy and to no doubt keep the kids
quiet while waiting.
After our yucca and roasted plantain it was time for the women to gather 'drambira' - a reed for splitting, then rolling, back & forth, then weaving into beaded bracelets or necklaces. The group howled as I played the clown and clumsily tried the rolling on my leg. Maybe it was because I had too many clothes on! Together we made bracelets and 'talked' and mainly laughed. They showed me some of their handiwork only after I asked. They make jewelry and bags and someone takes them into the shop in town once a month. I bought a few little gifts and really enjoyed their no pressure attitude. When I left Mana took the feather head dress off her head and put it on mine. Language beyond words. I felt honored.
Coca is way out there. A frontier gateway to Ecuador's Amazonia it has been working hard to spiff up it's image and clean up the shady elements of this petro workers R & R town. Now with it's new park and revamped Malecon along the river it is a pleasant, steamy little town. From there east is only jungle.
Off on a real adventure we took a boat 2 hours down Rio Napo, 2 hours across land in an open truck, then boarded a cargo boat for 2 hours further down Rio Tiputini. Our goal the remoter than remote Tiputini Research Station - run once again by the progressive University of San Francisco Quito. Tiputini has one of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity on earth! As we got further from civilization we saw pink river dolphins, kingfishers, turtles on every log, blue headed herons, parrots, and rain!! After all this is a rain forest. One minute deluging the next bright sun. Over 700 sq. hectares of virgin forest this gem in the rainforest is one of the few remaining vestiges of wild in El Oriente of Ecuador. Surrounded by immense 1,000,000 hectares Yasuni National Park, this area is home to endless species without interference by man. We tucked into our screened cabin in the forest and spent an amazing week hiking the forests, climbing up towers to view the canopy from above, 45 meters in the air. From up in the clouds, with the aid of binoculars, we saw 3 toucans, 2 macaws, a black & white puff bird, 2 bright blue iridescent birds, vultures, raptors, bands of howler, spider, wooly, saki monkeys and more down in the tree tops.
Twice we hiked in then took a very rickety old wooden boat, only 3 inches above the waterline, to what I nicknamed Sweet Dreams Lagoon. This hidden lake had trees with spines 6 inches long, moss hanging down, swarms of army ants and clouds of mosquitoes on shore. Once on the quiet, other worldly water it was easy to forget what dangers lurked. There were piranhas, caimans (large 8 ft. alligators), sting rays with lethal barbs, poisonous snakes, electric eels and parasites that eat your flesh! We saw a "paiche" fish roll twice, confirmed back in camp, they are 3-4 meters (9-12 feet) long. These fish are living fossils with no gills, no lungs yet breathe air. These were the creatures we knew about! The second visit we were treated to a rare sighting. We were 1 foot away from a sleeping 18 ft Anaconda. Glad he was really tired as we were mesmerized and sat there watching for over 10 minutes until he started moving. The still, calm, murky waters and dense shoreline are full of king fishers, herons, monkeys and little bats all crying out or singing. A place where dreams are made, that is if your canoe doesn't capsize. Sweet dreams!
Night hikes revealed a whole
different world as countless creatures appeared, and an equal number
lurked in the shadows. The crickets and frogs sang in unison
and one couldn't help but think what might be just out there in the
dark, watching. I have always felt at home in Nature and was
completely at ease, spellbound by our next discovery.
"To me, Yasuní is by far the most special place in the world. It likely contains the greatest number of tree and insect species anywhere on the planet and because it is largely unaffected by human activities, it supports an intact fauna of predators like jaguars, pumas or harpy eagles. It is the home of a great number of large terrestrial mammals, at least 10 species of primates, many large birds, and literally millions of other organisms. It is also the home of two nomadic Waorani clans, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, who live in voluntary isolation from the rest of the world." Diego
One night at dinner everyone was excitedly telling a story how while walking Anaconda Path to the lake they were startled when a jaguar came running full speed towards them. Scattering they heard an uproar approaching as a hundred wild boars raced down the path. One guy arriving late thought he heard them say a "group of jaguars" was running towards them. Off he ran and climbed the nearest tree - unfortunately it was one of those with the spiny bark. When the boars passed he climbed down with injured pride and sore hands. Weeks later he still was getting kidded whenever the subject of jaguars came up!
Army ant declares war on Quaker! Grabbing my pants off the nail on the wall I quickly dressed so I wouldn't miss breakfast, only to discover that I had ants in my pants! A lone army ant had found his way in during a recognizance mission and started biting until my pants went flying. I kept his signature on my legs for weeks as a reminder. I always checked my clothes and rubber boots after that - one just never knew.
Tiputini has groups of researchers from all over the world visiting and studying the rich flora and fauna of the jungle. There was a group from Utah, several from Italy and two men on assignment for a year. These 'monkey men' have been following the bands for over 6 months now. They call them 'my monkeys'. When following them they have to trudge through all sorts of swamps and thick jungle. One time when Miguel fell in the mud of a swamp the monkeys sat above laughing at him! When he has a day off around the camp the monkeys will drop by to say, "Hi!" One night, about 3 a.m. we heard him yelling at them to "Shut up, I am trying to sleep!" As I write this a ruckus erupted in the trees behind our cabin. A whole group of monkeys descended from the jungle and started frolicking, goofing and eating leaves in the trees surrounding the cabin! Small, golden little guys, I will have to ask the 'monkey men', Ian and Miguel about them over dinner. We are visitors in their domain. Never a dull moment around here!
We also learned the rules of clothing in the jungle. Nothing ever dries. "When clothes get wet hang them up. When they get nasty I put them in a basket. When really nasty I wash them." Luckily long termers have access to the clothes dryer once a week! Maybe that's why the Waorani don't wear clothes! Also don't forget to dump your rubber boots over before stepping in. Never know what may have crawled in overnight.
On a brighter note, cycles seem to work out well here. Walking down the hill to the boat I fell in the mud, squish. When the skies opened up further down the river I got so wet that my pants washed off. A couple of days later while hiking through the jungle I got splashed with some serious mud. God's laundry service had me soaked and cleaned in no time.
All electronic things must be
stored in a dry box - my poor little 'Casio' alarm by our bed began
having a nervous breakdown from the humidity and started randomly
setting off the alarm in the middle of the night.
Everyone/thing gets a second chance but the second night when it
went off at 2a.m. it got flung against the wall. Patience
isn't my forte in the middle of the night.
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals one US dollar. US currency is used.
A visit to Moipa's
village. Although he isn't organized to have visitors I'm sure
he would accommodate you. He was even talking of making a hut
Visit Waorani Hecho a Mano.
Once a month someone makes the long trip to town to this little shop
to sell their handicrafts. Good prices, authentic.
Support the women of the Amazon's cooperative.
Waorani women in Moipa's village
They joyfully painted my
face with the red paint from a small hairy
Warm, fun, with genuine smiles; I felt blessed to
Wanting to show me their jungle we walked and skipped along the trail.
Kids climbed trees and hung
there making sure I saw their goofy faces.
Fascinating creatures hide in the jungle.
Back to Coca. B.b.q.'d grubs anyone?
Over 700 sq. hectares of virgin forest, this gem in the rainforest
is one of
Butterflies kissing the
turtles head- a true butterfly
We were 1 foot away from a
sleeping 18 ft Anaconda. Glad he was
Beautifully marked anacondas should be given a wide berth.