A 4 foot something, sun-darkened woman in a bright orange dress swung in a hammock in her cooking hut. When she saw us enter, she got up, stoked the fire, and then stood in front of us, waiting shyly. William introduced her, and asked her to tell us what we were going to do, in her own language, which I believe was Kichwa. I love languages, and it was great to hear her, speaking barely audibly, tell us that we were going to make yucca bread in the ways of her people.
She led us outside and to some yuccas that were ripe for the digging. Machete in hand, she pulled several up, then let Daniel have a shot at it. Once we’d gotten enough, we went back in, washed them, grated them, then she squeezed most of the water out in something that looked like a hammock by twisting it tighter and tighter. She put a big iron pan over the fire, cooked it, then offered for someone else to try. I love to cook, I was all in.
After we all ate some of the bread, we went for a hike through the indigenous village, and yes, even there they had a soccer field, which was being mowed by two boys with weedeaters as we passed by. Eventually we came to a massive tree where we hung out and took pictures.
After lunch and a quick swim to cool off, we went to another indigenous village to meet with a Shaman. There are good Shaman and bad Shaman, he told us. The good ones study at least 15 years before beginning to practice. When someone is sick, they come to him. He performs a cleansing ceremony, then he drinks a local concoction that evidently makes him hallucinate. During the hallucination, the illness is revealed to him, and either he can make the person better, or he refers them to a hospital (he is not permitted to operate). It might take him several nights in a row of cleansing and hallucinating to make a certain diagnosis.
He performed a ceremonial cleansing on Maggie, but the show took backstage to a pet monkey that was, well… monkeying around. Getting into our backpacks, trying to open our water bottles. At one point he jumped at me, teeth bared. I ducked and he flew over me, landing hard on the ground. The Spanish women gave me what I perceived as a disgusted look.
The monkey was quite interested in the cleansing as well, climbing up on Maggie, wrapping his tail around her throat and dangling. Stephanie pulled the monkey off, revealing a red welt on Maggie’s throat. I felt bad for the Shaman. Here he was singing and dancing in beautifully bright robes, and he was being one-upped by the town pet.
That evening we went out for one last boat ride, heading to Caiman Lake, called that because in the dry season, this lake evaporates, and if you walk through the muddy lake bed, you will see loads of caiman hanging out. This lake also happened to be full of piranhas. We saw someone fishing for them (which is illegal, so I won’t say who). They got a stick and beat the water, causing as much commotion as possible. Then they dropped a wire (fishing line wouldn’t work because their teeth are too sharp) with a hook and meat as bait , and in a matter of seconds they had a piranha in their boat. So of course, this is the lake our guide brought us to for a swim.
We jumped in, me trying to make as little commotion as possible, and swam, watching the neon orange sun sink behind the Amazonian treeline.
We all survived, as far as I can recall. When we got back to the ecolodge, several of us climbed the observation tower, laid down on the top level just above the trees, and watched the stars as the incredible sounds of the surrounding jungle serenaded us. As if we were in a movie, a few minutes later, a star streaked across the sky for at least 5 seconds.
Photos are here.