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ECUADOR | Tuesday, 7 October 2008 | Views [2727] | Comments [2]

Olmedo in the Jungle near Juyuintza tribal village in Amazon

Olmedo in the Jungle near Juyuintza tribal village in Amazon

I was sitting in the communal hut when the president of the village (Hernan), stood at the edge of the wall-less hut and blew into a shell that sent out a deep hollow tune. Soon enough, most of the tribe if not everyone was together, waiting to hear whatever needed to be said. I was glad that Hernan had blown the shell, because it had paused, the hard to get out of madness for a few moments. Just minutes before I had been sitting quietly, politely, watching people throwing their arms up in the air and listening to them shout ¨Hallelujah¨. This Sunday was a full day of Christianity, which was once again, far too much for my level of religion. But I couldn't help enjoying the happy music and listening to the singing, which was all sung in the Shiwiar language.


As I looked around the village I saw a man working on making a new canoe, dogs (in some serious need of food) and a chicken that was being followed by its cute little chicklet everywhere. I watched as the females picked out small bugs from each others hair, put them into their mouths to bite and kill them, and then spit them back out. I even saw a girl eating some substance from her belly button! Many of the kids were running around naked, as they usually do. I let them draw and write in one of my exercise books, which they really seemed to enjoy. I could also see that everything gets washed in the little bay of the river beside the houses… I mean everything. Clothes, dirty dishes, filthy pots, boots, dead animal's bodies and people. 




A man named Gustavo invited me into his wall-less home with Hernan, to sit and drink chicha. Gustavo has two daughters, one named Gloria who is 13 years old, and another named Sita who is six and a half. Gloria served us the chicha, while Gustavo sat sharpening his machete and axe, telling me about how the community makes natural cooking oil from animal skins. Soon after, he, Gloria and I went to find lunch in the jungle. On our way I was taught many things such as how to construct houses with tree bark, what mushrooms were edible, and most importantly, what leaf to use as toilet paper! They also showed me what sap was used for varnishing chicha dishes, and then after, dripped milk from a tree onto a leaf for me to drink. The actual sap was just like tasty, thick milk!


Gustavo felled a palm tree that we were going to eat for lunch. He then walked to the top end of the tree and chopped through thick layers of green and brown tree protection, and unwrapped it many times until there was only a thin, white stalk left. I was surprised that the whole tree had to come down just for this small bit of food. I tried some while it was raw, and it tasted plane but refreshing, and had a nice, unexplainable texture to it. He then went to another palm that had been cut down about a month beforehand, and chopped it open so that Gloria and I could find some gusano´s (fat, white grubs that look similar to the witchety grubs of Australia). I was glad to see that more food could come out of the one, big tree. They smelt awful... alot like maggots. Gloria ate many that were alive, and insisted I try some. After alot of shoving the grub into my face on her part, I finally decided to try half of one. I wasn't going anywhere near the head though, which had giant ant like nippers coming from it's mouth. I couldn't eat any more than that half.  


While Gustavo was getting some more tree food, Gloria and I filled up her handmade net bag with morete (fruits that are red on the outside and yellow on the inside, and are extremely difficult to peel as the skin is like hard, small fish scales). Once the bag was full, I tried to be smart and dangle it from my head as I had seen all of the women do. To my embarrassement, the bag dropped and the contents sprawled everywhere- under leaves, in the mud, in water puddles. I tried again later, only this time with luck on my side, and I kept everything within the netting while walking back to the village.


Gustavo prepared lunch, and I have to admit, the cooked tree parts tasted delicious. I was also given a kebab stick of about six cooked grubs. I ate them quickly, and then threw the dogs the crunchy heads that initially got caught in my teeth when I had decided to eat the whole thing.            


Gustavo, Gloria and I walked down the airstrip to visit Gustavo´s sister Fanni Timias Makat, and I later found out that Guadalupe is also both their sister. On the way back to the village via the airstrip, looking up, the sky was sensational! Flashing up one end of the night sky was lightning, while the rest of the blackness was glistening with millions of stars that you could occasionally see through the sillougettes of trees.




In the morning I went down the airstrip to Fanni´s house again, this time for breakfast. She lives with ther husband Patricio, her son Javier, and her two grandchildren Ricson and Fernando. A plane flew in just after and brought my new camera that was sent back as soon as I first landed, because for some very annoying reason, it had stopped functioning. It barely functioned well after it was ¨fixed¨ back in Puyo, but at least I was able to take photos. 


I taught Fanni´s son Javier some English (as he was desperate to learn) ate some lunch, and then took off to greet the doctor who had also arrived on the plane. I went for a swim with the kids and then Fanni showed me where to find the correct clay for making chicha disheds and food plates. The kids and I kept throwing the clay at eachother, and rubbing through our hair which was kind of fun. Fanni was so nice to give me a necklace she had made from seeds when we returned to her house later.


Funnily enough when I went to sleep that night, I had a dream that I was snowboarding!! When I woke up, sure enough I was still in the hot Amazon, surrounded by jungle. I was woken up at 5am, and Fanni´s family, the doctor Carlos, and another medical and environmental worker named Alfredo, and I, hopped into the motorizes canoe and made our way up the river. 


Many hours later we stopped and roped the canoe to a tree on the bank. Only after climbing up a steep muddy hill to get there, we arrived at a village called Yandanaetza. There was a very small family of about ten people living there. Fanni taught me how to begin making string using the long, spiky leaves of a particular plant... it took me quite a while to get the hang of it. The local mother fed us chicken soup and platana (hard, bland, banana looking fruits) and also kept pushing us to drink more and more really strong chicha. (P.S. The stronger chicha is, the more alcoholic it is). The doctor gave out medicines, and also gave some of the people and the dogs a shot. I was totally surprised when he also handed out some cigarettes, and made it fairly obvious that I was quite dissappointed with him about this particular action. 


It took us another hour or so to make it to the village of Shiona, where the doctor gave out somemore medicines. It pained me to see how the dogs are treated in all of the communities. They are so thin that you can see their rib cages, and when they hang around for food, they are usually beaten by someone. Even puppies are starving!


In Shiona we were also served really strong chicha, and as I sat drinking, music began to blare. I turned around and was surprised to see a cd player with a large battery powering it. One of the young local men asked me to dance (I think he´d had a little to much chicha) and after being pushed into it by Fanni and the others from the Juyuintza tribe, I got up and danced with him. It was one of those moments when a whole bunch of people you have just met, watch intensly, as you dance awkwardly.


We said goodbye to the people of Shiona, and as we hopped back into the canoe I was attacked by butterflies... yes butterflies!! On the way back, as the stars came out bright, we stopped the canoe by the river bank, and Alfredo caught a stingray in about two minutes. I ate dinner with Fanni, her family and Alfredo, and went to bed with a massive headache from all the strong chicha.




In the morning I was given breakfast by Olmedo ( 21 yr old man who lives close to Fanni). He then took me deep into the jungle to go hunting for food. A few minutes into the walk, he steadied his long, wooden, blow gun (of a few metres), and blew into the end of it, sending out a small dart with a poisonous tip. A small bird fell to the ground, and I couldn´t help but nearly cry as I watched it slowly die. I asked Olmedo if he could kill it quickly to stop it´s suffering, but he just looked at my watery eyes with puzzlement. He then proceeded to pluck the feathers from the now dead bird, wrap it in a leaf, and put it in his pocket.


Olmedo snapped twigs as we walked through the jungle, so that we could find our way back. We heard some sort of pigs, so we went to find and hunt them, but we found monkeys swinging from tree to tree instead. He showed me a brown seed-pod that had fallen from a tree, opened it, and gave me a seed covered in sap like liquid to eat. He then hunted another bird (the same type) which he managed to kill after several attempts. During the walk he made me a musical instrument (a basic flute) made from a stalky plant. He did this about three times, as I kept accidently loosing them when something in the jungle would catch my attention. Unfortunately, later, the one that I didn´t loose, I accidently trod on in my pitch black room (which had made Olmedo laugh when I nervously told him).


Just before we walked back to his house, Olmedo cut a vine from a tree, skinned it, and then stripped it into several long, flat pieces. When we arrived at his place, with the vine parts, he showed me how to begin making a basket. During this basket making lesson, a loud, strong storm blew over, pouring madness, and when the weather finally cleared, we went to his chacra in his backyard to dig out some papachinas (small potatoes). While we were digging and talking, I realised my level of Spanish language was in need of a serious face lift. I had to ask him numerous times to repeat things and speak slowly, or change the words in his sentences, and so when he didn´t, I decided to teach him some English. He had a massive headache after learning so much, so could then at least understand some of the difficulties of learning a new language, and then perhaps try speaking slower for me.


We ate the birds he had caught for dinner, and then went to wash in the river. After I was nice and clean (well as clean as I was going to get), I slipped and fell into the mud, causing everyone, including myself, to laugh at me.




Again it was breakfast with Olmedo, before I helped weed in Fanni´s chacra. Olmedo had gone far though the jungle to another river, and came back with pleanty of fish for a late, but tasty lunch. We finished off the basket we were making before he gave me a turn at his blowgun. I hit the target he had set twice, yay! and then he gave his three year old son-in-law a turn. The boy (Christian) needed help to lift it... even I found it hard to hold up because it was so heavy. When we went for our baths, the river was full of kids who greeted me extremely warmly, which made me feel like a real part of the tribe.




The next morning I had a very interesting platana dish, which was made by Señora Rosa (the mother of the boy who was bitten by the snake). Her and her son had arrived back the previous day, and fortunately, the boy was safe and well. I went with Señora Rosa and three of her six children to her chacra (food garden), via paddling up the river in the canoe that has holes in it. While we were weeding and peeling yuca skins, the flies were unbearable!! Even with three layers of repellent, they frollicked on my skin, and tried to get into my eyes.


Javier, Marco, and Ernan (the president´s son) had gone down the river for a few days to work on the tourist cabañas, but suddenly came back, tired and puffing into the village. They had walked two and a half hours through thick jungle to get back to the village, as the community had run out of petrol for the motorized canoe, and couldn´t go to pick them up. They had been waiting about two days for someone to come. We greeted, then walked about fifteen minutes through the jungle to the president´s (Hernan´s) house. The walk there is amazing! His houses sit by the river, is surrounded in thick plantation, and he has chickens running everywhere about the place. Hernan gave us a live chicken, which we walked back to the village with, and which the boys ate for dinner... I had fish.

Maribell had not slept in my bed for a fair few nights, as I was always getting in late, but she stayed again last night. I must admit though, I do prefer my own space when sleeping.

IKIAM EXPEDITION- Part 3- (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: [email protected] and [email protected]

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.  



mmmm!!! were the grubs better than the noodles you always had to eat??

  Leanne Oct 7, 2008 6:01 PM


It is a walk down memory lane to read your blog. My daughter and I spent 12 days in Juyuintsa in May of 2008.

We are both very fluent in Spanish. Gustavo's 13 year old daughter is his wife. She's from a different tribe across the river and has been with him for a few years. Christian is Olmedo's son. Isn't his wife (woman) around? She was our cook. We lived in the school while there. We loved Hernan. Did you know everyone in the village is related? There used to be a woman named Diana there and she is the mother of at least one member of each family. The president's wife is her daughter, as is Guadelupe, Gustavo (son) and so on.

Your blog is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  Rebecca aho Jan 3, 2009 3:02 AM

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