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ECUADOR | Thursday, 2 October 2008 | Views [5201] | Comments [6]

A pineapple in Juyuintza village, Amazon

A pineapple in Juyuintza village, Amazon

When I arrived at the village of Juyuintza, which is in Shiwiar territory and is in the Ecuadorian Amazon close to the Peruvian boarder, I had no idea what to say or how to act in front of the large tribal group. The pilots wife said to me just before we took off (a day late, as there was a plane crash just minutes before I was supposed to leave the previous day) ¨One month!! Geez your a brave girl.¨ I then said ¨Umm... why?¨ feeling a little concerned about her remark. She then continued to tell me what a hard life it was there without going into details. So there I was, sitting under a huge thatched roof that's about twenty meters away from the landing strip, with about twenty pairs of eyes glaring at me in confusion. I tried to figure out any differences in culture quickly so that I wouldn't do or say anything rude or completely ridiculous.

I noticed there were two baby monkeys hanging around that the kids were eager to catch and play with. The pilot Ricardo stayed for a while and spoke with the tribe about Christianity, only much later finding out that he is a missionary and Evangelist. He gave some of them bibles for a few dollars each and a folder with songs written in it about god for them to learn. This was all pretty full on for me at the time. 

The tribe is so connected to the surrounding jungle, and yet, also with the outside world. They fly to the city if they need to go to a hospital, have a radio and solar panel, some western tools for cooking and building, and also a motorised canoe. They also wear clothes (except for some of the younger kids) unlike years ago when they used to use leaves and other natural resources. 

I was taken to a basic wooden hut with a thatched roof that was to be my house for the next month until the teacher arrived back from his holidays. It was actually much better than any of the places I have stayed in my travels. They even gave me a thin roll up mattress for the wooden bed.

Later, after starving for hours (but not wanting to complain on my first day) I ate Yuca (a plant root that tastes similar to potato) and some soup. I also tried chicha for the first time... certainly not the last, which is a drink made solely from yuca. The women cook the root, then mash and chew on it, and then spit back all over it. (This I didn't realise until later). They then leave it to ferment in a bucket for a day or few (the longer time it is in there the stronger and more alcoholic it becomes) then mix it with river water, and it's then ready to drink. The women serve it in ceramic dishes they have made and painted themselves, to the men who sit and talk. I actually really liked the taste.

I later went on a canoe that had a few holes in it, up the river with Marco and Javier, who are two guys around my age, from Puyo.  They arrived in the village at the same time as me and were going to be working there for fifteen days.  They came to this community to help with the construction of eco-tourist huts (for the Ikiam Expedition) which are about a forty five minute motorised canoe trip down the river. We paddled only about 100 metres from the community and caught three fish, which we ate with yuca for dinner. We then bathed in the river, which I especially needed to do because I had covered myself in mud to protect myself from sand flies. No matter how much repellent I put on, they still attacked me!!

When I went to bed, I was joined by a 14 year old girl named Maribel who had decided that I was in need of company, as I may get scared on my own. I didn't really feel like I had any choice in the matter, so I shared my bed, and in the process woke her about three times when I needed the thatched roof toilet, from drinking so much chicha. By the way, the toilet is about 150 metres walk through sometimes high grass (when it hasn't been cut for a while), over a small river, in which you need to cross by walking on a thin strip of tree.


The birds called out at about 6:30am and woke me out of bed. Breakfast was fried fish and yuca, and I was so happy to be eating such fresh, healthy food. Although my Spanish is slowly getting better, they don't often speak it in the village, so it was sometimes difficult for me to know what was going on. They instead speak Shiwiar, which I ended up learning just a few words and sentences of.

After drinking more chicha, many people from the tribe and I headed down the river on the motorised canoe to help build the eco-tourist huts. The president sat at the head of the canoe with his face painted in red. We saw turtles and a monkey on the way, and upon arrival I saw ants with wings, and also giant ants that were two times the size of my thumb nail! I also saw brilliant blue butterflies bigger than my hand, metallic-blue and green small insects that hover, small beige spiders that ran up my arm, and flies that look like bees but have no stings. I found it so incredibly beautiful.

Before working on the huts, chicha was once again drunk. The work to come was tough! Loads of wet sandbags were brought from the canoe to the new huts, and were carried by even the very young girls of the tribe. There was digging, measuring, and the clearing of a small bit of land for piping. After yet another chicha break, I put my pen and paper down, and went off with one group down to a river beach to load the canoe with sand. It took extreme physical effort to bring the wet sand up the hill to the huts, and the skin was slowly grating off my shoulders from carrying the gritted bags. The steep hill up to the huts were all muddy, so we had to be very careful not to slip with the heavy bags. I used the mud to my advantage though, and covered my arms and legs with it to stop the sand flies and mosquitoes from attacking me.

I'd definitely choose eco-tourism over oil exploitation any day, as the impact on the environment is substantially lower. And that is just what this Shiwiar tribe did. Many times, representatives of big oil companies came with the promise of jobs and money, but after considering the hugely negative impact this would have on the environment, decided against it. It is just such a shame that this idea of eco-tourism is not put in place further, in the north in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where many oil companies are sucking the land dry and destroying the lungs of the earth.

On the way back in the canoe, a storm began brewing. White balls of fluff that looked just like of fairy floss, floated everywhere throughout the sky. The dark clouds followed us all the way back to the community, and when it reached us, cried down strong water pellets for around and hour.

Dinner was fish and papachinas (small potatoes), and was cooked by large woman named Guadalupe Timias. She had nine children, and one of them is Maribel (the girl who has taken up residency in my bed each evening). I asked Maribel what her dreams in life were, and she said to go to university to study animals perhaps.


In the morning I went, after walking with Guadalupe and a few of her children for a while, to one of their chacras (a cleared lot of land that has been replanted with yuca and other plants, and is used as a food resource). They equipped me with a machete, and I then began weeding practically everything but the yuca. Hours later, tired and sore, we had a chicha break, and then I was showed where to find a certain potato. Guadalupe and one of her girls brought back the heavy baskets, which have soft carry handle strips made from tree bark, dangling off their heads. Guadalupe´s basket broke in the forest during the walk back, and so, what would have taken me about 10 minutes to fix, took her only about ten seconds. She went to a tree and came back with a strong, natural rope for the basket.

Lunch included the potatoes we had dug up, and I ate them pretty much half asleep as I was totally worn out. I nearly died when Guadalupe said to me to get some rest before we head back to the chacra to work again. WORK AGAIN??!! I thought. I was ready to pass out! So I had a quick swim in the river and went to try and sneak in a nap before leaving. And then, something saved me. A huge storm came over, it poured, and the work was cancelled. Hooray!

I went to sleep that night to the ¨wooup¨ sound of a frog trying to find its mate, and had an intense dream about two snakes... one poisonous, one not. My itchiness woke me various times, which was incredibly annoying. I counted, no joke, twelve sand fly bites on my right elbow alone. 


Practically the whole tribe left for the forest at about 6am, and took a canoe up the river. Everyone was excited, and I didn´t quite understand what the big news was. After spotting a Tapir (a huge black harmless animal) on the way, we stopped at a thick  muddy bank. The mud was like quicksand, and it was difficult to pull my legs back out once I had trudged through it. I followed Guadalupe. She cut her way through the jungle with the blade of her machete whilst carrying her eight month old baby on her back in a cloth sling. The others were further ahead, calling out a strange vocal tone to let us know in which direction they had walked.

We continued to plod along for about half an hour through thick plantation until we reached the others, but the mood was one of panic. One of the young boys had been bitten on the foot by a poisonous and deadly snake! One man, Olmedo, quickly tied his leg with tree rope and carried him on his shoulder, back through the jungle to where the canoe was. 

The rest of us continued walking, and eventually made it to a river where there was a dead tapir floating. A few of the men had gone hunting the previous day and had killed it for food. I watched as its body was cut up, and although I felt a little queasy, I helped carry a sawed off leg up the river bank. Then to my surprise, I saw a man dragging yet another Tapir (they had also hunted the day before) up the river.

I decided to maintain a bit of distance and commence writing at the point when blood, from where the machete was hitting the spinal column of one of the tapirs, began spraying all over everyone. The kids were laughing hysterically, covered in red, and seemed to be very happy with the fact that they had a good amount of food to eat for the next week. I was told by one of the men that it is very rare to catch two tapirs... even one is hard enough.

A few of the women cut large leaves from trees and laid them down so that the many body parts could be placed on top and remain clean. I could taste death in the air as the head of the animal passed by me in someone’s arms, dripping, with nothing but its spine attached, and dangling in the open. The smaller children lugged the insides of the animals up the river bed including the hearts, lungs and livers. Everyone spent time beside the river cutting up the animal into smaller sections on the leaves and then putting them into hand made baskets. I watched dumbfounded as one little boy kept playing with a hoof, surrounded by hundreds of flies. One of the heads was taken in a backpack that a man quickly made with plant branches and leaves.

Just have a guess what we ate for the next few days??

Upon returning to the village, I saw the young boy with the snake bite. He lay on the wooden bench under the community hut, crying, with his family around him praying. I was told previously, before I arrived in Juyuintza, that the radio only functions from 4pm to 6pm, and he was bitten at about 8am. As the snake injected deadly poison, there was of course much concern to whether he would make it to the hospital in time or not.

Fortunately the radio must have began working earlier, because the plane came at about 1pm. Sacs of meat were also put into the plane, so I’m guessing this may have been their trade instead of money??

IKIAM EXPEDITION- Part 2- (next blog)

If you would like to take an Ikiam Expedition and venture into the village, volunteer or donate, visit www.ikiam.info/  


Contact Pascual Kunchicuy
From Abroad: (593) 9 832 3637, and (593) 9 769 2988
From Ecuador: 09 832 3637 y 09 769 2988
Or by email: shiwiarfund@hotmail.com and ikiamp21@hotmail.com

There are volunteer positions currently open in the Shiwiar territory for people who are experienced in one or more of the following areas:


Website design 

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.  




Sounds like an awersome adventure!!! I only spent 3 days in the Jungle, it was definately too short.

  Harold Oct 3, 2008 5:07 AM


wow simone!!
so so amazing!
can't wait for part 2

  Haylee Oct 3, 2008 10:17 AM


thats unbeliveable simone,cant wait for more

  Mitch Oct 3, 2008 11:50 AM


I'm awestruck I wish I had have had it in me to do what you do. I created a wonderful daughter I'm very proud.

  Mum Oct 3, 2008 6:10 PM


Hey Simone,

Spending a month in the jungle. WOW! Sounds like you have really been learning and having your eyes opened to so many different things. I can´t imagine what it would have been like to watch the animal be chopped up. You sounded like you were horrified but I bet you have mastered the art of placing some of your emotions and feelings aside so that you can observe.

Looking forward to reading more.

Your Mum´s comment is fantastic!!! That´s how my Mum feels too. Where would we be without them hey?

Hugs xoxox

  Krystle Oct 6, 2008 3:25 AM



  furkan Dec 6, 2008 11:45 PM



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