Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tena--and the Jungle

From Banos, Dave and I headed to the city of Tena, which our guidebook said was the best spot to book an eco-tourism trip into the Amazonian jungle, or ¨selva¨as well as boasting world-class rafting opportunities.

The City of Tena

In the 1500s, Tena was settled when the Quichwa population fled the Spanish. The Spanish soon found them, built a church, and named the town. It is now the capital of the Napo province, although it has lost regional power due to the oil boom farther northeast.

Tena is a legitimate city that while boasting lots of tourist opportunities is not mainly a tourist town. In fact, some folks we talked to expressed the idea that the city could do a lot more to generate tourist income (produce good maps, etc.).

Here´s the footbridge that spans the river that runs through Tena. Our hostel (Traveler´s Lodging) was right at its base and we crossed it many times.

A few nights we were there they were having concerts in the main square, apparently to celebrate Father´s Day.

Not Rafting

After spending all day Thursday sorting out our jungle adventure, we were finally able to book a rafting trip at 10pm for the next morning. So, Friday we got up early ready to tackle some of Tena´s famous Class IV rapids.

We piled into the cars with a group of six women from UC Berkeley, and then hiked about 40 minutes down an incredibly muddy slope to the river. Here we are at the beginning of our hike:

When we got down to the river, our guides told us it was too high and not safe to raft. At first we thought they were joking--we´d never considered the possibility. But, soon it became clear they were not and we were grateful they made a professional decision not to put our lives at risk.

So, we turned right back around and hiked back up. After grabbing some lunch, the guides suggested that we try another Class III river which they thought would be doable. We agreed, hopped in the cars and drove about 40 more minutes in the opposite direction.

But, no go. That river was too high as well. The guides were shocked--they´d never seen this happen before (both being undoable after the other rivers they´d checked in the morning were fine). Here we are looking confused:

We ended up making a pretty fun day of it. Our guides, Alex and Tim, were two very cool Irish brothers who´s family owns the business. They took us to a cool lagoon for swimming. I hope to have more pics of that when I connect with the Berkeley woman who had a waterproof camera. Here we are with Tim (left) and Alex at the end of our adventure:

La Selva

On Saturday morning we left Tena for the jungle. There are lots of places to go around Tena and we had spent most of Thursday exploring different options. We wanted to have a good time, but we also wanted to do some genuine eco-tourism, ensuring that we would have a real cultural experience and that our money was actually being used to help the indigenous community we´d be visiting. Some of the programs seemed either fake or parasitic or both.

So, while we looked at some corporate-seeming tours that were certainly well-organized and might have been more ¨fun,¨we ended up choosing to go with an organization called Ricancie ( Ricancie is a network of ten Quichwa communities that have banded together to increase their eco-tourism revenue. The communities are equally represented in a general assembly of 50 members and at this point Ricancie generates about $30-40,000 per year for the collective. They charge $40/day for their excursions which is pretty standard around town.
Here´s Carlos, who helped us at the office. We chose to go to the community Rio Blanco because it it is near primary forest (bosque primero), has a shaman, and was about three hours away.

So, at about 11am we got on a bus that took us to a river where we hopped in a motor canoe. Once we reached the other side of the Rio Napo, we had a two hour hike through the jungle to reach ¨la communidad.¨

Jungle Hiking

Rio Blanco is in the middle of some pretty thick jungle. Wilo, an 18 year old community member, served as our guide throughout the weekend, hanging out with us and explaining the various plants and cultural activities. It´s a good thing Dave and I both speak serviceable Spanish because Wilo does not speak English (although he taught us some Quichwa).

Here´s Dave with Wilo on the hike in, looking very much like the Gentleman Explorer in his collared shirt, khakis, and jungle boots.

The rest of these photos are mixed from our hike in and our hike the next day to some waterfalls. He we are beneath a really big tree called ceibo.

This is called sangre del drago (blood of the dragon) and is used for fighting mosquitoes, brushing teeth, and soothing irritations:

Here we are sampling canagria, which is used for bath vapors and to fight diabetes:

Finally, this phallic-looking thing I´m holding is appropriately called the ¨penis of the devil:¨

La Communidad

Here are some shots of Rio Blanco. The view as we entered:

This is the kitchen of the house where Wilo lives with his parents, two brothers and sister (when he´s not in Tena for school).

Here´s the center square slash futbol pitch:

And the church (yes, the Quichwa have shamans and are Catholic as well):

Cultural Exchange

When we arrived at the village, there was a group from an all-girls Catholic high school from California staying with the community--about 18 girls, two teachers and two interpreters/liasons. Hanging out with them sure made me feel old--did y´all know there´s a new dance out there called thizzing that involves making a face like you´re smelling pee?

Anyway, our first night we all participated in a ¨cultural exchange¨with the residents of Rio Blanco. They showed us aspects of their culture--mostly music and dance; and then we presented something from ours. The girls sang their alma mater. Dave and I bored them with a short lesson in U.S. politics and the upcoming presidential election (hey, at least it was in Spanish and y´all know we can´t sing).

The coolest part of their presentation was the ¨dance of peace¨which commemorates the end of fighting between the Quichwa and Warani tribes. The crossing of the spears represents peace. Here´s a photo and some video:

The next day, Wilo and his family showed us how to make chicha, or ¨jungle beer¨made from fermented yuca. This used to be made by chewing the yuca, mixing it with saliva, and spitting it into a bucket. No longer. Now the yuca is simply boiled, mashed, and placed in a bucket to ferment.

Here´s Dave crushing the yuca...

...and Wilo drinking chicha out of the traditional bowl.

To the Waterfalls...

On our first morning, we took a hike through the jungle to some waterfalls with Wilo and his younger brother Maximillian who is 11 (at right).

Here I am with Maxi on a bridge on the way:

Here´s me in the water...

...and Dave conquering the falls.

Finally, here´s a shot of us returning to Rio Blanco via canoe:


After dinner on Sunday night we took part in a shamanistic ritual. Wilo´s father Clemente is the village shaman. He drinks the potion on the right, called ayawaska, which causes him to have visions. After he drank and before the potion took effect Dave and I each asked the Shaman for what we wanted from the spirits. I requested good health for my family friends and self; contentment with my life; and good luck for the rest of my travels.

When the potion took effect, Dave and I took turns sitting beneath the Shaman while he whisked away bad spirits with plants, seemed to suck some out with his mouth, and spit a cinnamon-smelling plant on us.

Although I´m not one to believe in evil spirits--or good ones for that matter--I actually had a fairly reflective experience. As the Shaman was brushing the plants over my head, I thought about my relationship to the world and the kind of spirits within me. I quickly concluded that I´m pretty well-situated and that the only negative spirit plaguing me in any significant way right now is self-doubt.

I used to be pretty confident, but also cocky and not very self-aware. As I became more self-aware, experienced up and downs at law school, and had a very tough experience working on the 2004 election, I entered the cruciable of self-doubt for the first time in my life.

Now, perhaps, I was ready to have this doubt whisked away and enter a period of synthesis--emerging less cocky, more self-aware, but confident enough to pursue my dreams aggressively and not be crippled by my self-perceived shortcomings.

So, for the rest of the ritual, I imagined that this self-doubt is what the Shaman was removing. It wasn´t what I asked for in the beginning--but I don´t think that´s too critical. It remains to be seen if I was transformed, but one can hope...

The next morning, I asked Wilo about the relationship between Shamanism and Catholicism in Quichwa culture. He basically said that they are separate but equal beliefs held simultaneously. This doesn´t really make sense to me--it seems that belief in evil spirits is pretty anti-Christian. But, I didn´t get the sense that I was going to be able to explore this fruitfully with our 18 year old guide.

La Escuala

On our final morning in Rio Blanco we visited the community´s school. One room with one teacher houses seven levels of students. Here´s what the school looks like from the outside and the inside:

Here are the students outside with Pasquel, el profesor:

We thought we´d just sit quietly in the back and observe, but the teacher brought us up in front of the class to interact with the students. They sang for us, demonstrated their skills (adding, counting in English) and even taught us some Quichwa. Here´s Professor Dave teaching the kids how to draw a rose.

School starts at 7:30am and goes until 12:00 pm. At about 10am there´s a snack break:

And afterwards, sports. Here´s Dave and me playing futbol with los ninos:

Finally, here are some of the more adorable shots from in the classroom. Kati (last photo) is very smart and will break some hearts in ten years.

Overall, I´d say Dave and I had a very good experience in Rio Blanco. We didn´t get to see any exotic animals, but we got a genuine cultural experience and I think our money ($40/day) went to the right place. I would definitely recommend the experience--but I also hope to get back into the jungle to see some monkeys and anacondas and shit.

1 comment:

Rodrigo said...

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