Day 60: Kayaking down the Shiripuno River

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June 5th 2013
Published: June 8th 2013
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We got up and had breakfast at 7.30am ready for our 8.30am departure down the Shiripuno a tandem kayak! It was looking a little gloomy and overcast when we first got up however once we got our bags all packed (cos we were moving down river today and staying at a camp site tonight), the drizzle had stopped and the sun started to pop its head out.

So it was Rach and I in 1 kayak, and our guides Gabrielle and Hamir in the other. We got in first and started floated with the current down the river. We first had to try and navigate a fallen tree trunk sticking up out of the river. Whilst we were still trying to co-ordinate our left and right paddling, we floated straight onto the tree trunk, anchoring ourselves which required a great amount of rocking and pushing our oars on the riverbed to get going again, meanwhile pissing ourselves laughing in the meantime...geez we've got 2.5 hours more of this!

We quickly settled into a pattern of negotiating the trees and rocks that kept popping up all along the river. The Shiripuno River wounded its way through the rain forest, never going straight for any more than 100m before turning at right angles and heading off in a different direction. We were floating down the river with the current therefore the kayaking was relatively leisurely. There was the odd mad panic paddling trying to avoid obstacles like overhanging trees however for the most part we just enjoyed the sites and sounds.

About an hour into the kayaking, it became apparent that we were given the 'good' kayak as poor Gabrielle had to resort to scooping water out of the back of our guides kayak. Their boat had started to sink at the back, resulting from a whole in the rear of the boat. It was mildly amusing for Rach and I and lucky that our boat remained fully intact as we went down the river.

What we couldn't get over was the distinct lack of wildlife. We had expected the Amazon to be full of all sorts of birds and animals however the only wildlife we saw were butterflies, bees, the odd kingfisher and chief birds and lots of annoying insects buzzing around our heads. At one point we saw a flock of 4 or 5 macaws fly across the trees however they were quickly gone before I had a chance to pull out the camera. I put this down to the fact that we aren't in a national park, however an area designated to the Huaorani people whom get most of their food from hunting basically anything that moves (monkeys, macaws etc.) and they don't really have a concept of 'sustainable' hunting (which you can understand when the jungle is your sole source of meat).

By the time we reached the small village of Apaica, our arms (and butts) were quite sore and were glad we'd reached our halfway destination. We got out and walked through the mud and mush to the 'centre' of the village. The village is basically a big hut made of palm leaves and a wooden house. It home to only 1 family, well the grand parents and 2 little kids. The grandma was the funniest person, she came to greet us and started talking in her native Huaorani language to us, muttering away like she knew what she was talking about! She was wearing traditional 'clothes', a sack skirt and warrior's ropes around her neck. She just kept muttering away to anybody that wanted to listen, with Gabrielle or her husband responding everynow and then. She then cracked open a red fruit (no idea what it was) which contains this red paste once squished and proceed to start painting warrior markings on our face and arms. The guys got off lightly with a few lines on my cheeks, nose and forehead. When she got to Rach, so dabbed her little stick in the fruit and painted what looked like a catwoman mask on her, including her eye-lids! She then handed around bowls of chicha (the local staple food) which was basically mushed up goop with water. It tasted HORRIBLE and I only had a little sip before handing it back to our guide. Rach didn't go anywhere near it!

Hamir then told us a bit of a story about the Huaorani region and their struggle to keep their lands against the oil companies and the government. I'll share some brief facts with you and try not to bore you with too much information. Basically the government has allocated certain parts of the Yasuni National Park to the Huarorani people, 2 other tribes and small sections for the oil companies. The Government have been trying to 'round up' the Huaorani people and consolidate their villages, and basically get them out to move out of the national park. They've done this by reducing schools and resources and centralising facilities. This is largely because is there massive amounts of oil reserves sitting underneath the Amazon rain forest. Certain parts of the jungle have been ripped up already (which we'll discover tomorrow), destroying the national park in the process all for the price of oil. More disturbingly is that there are still 2 tribes of uncontacted natives living in the national park. These are people who have had no contact with the outside world and they also kill any intruder who enters their territory (scarily, we are only about 100km from their territory, and they are nomadic tribes so noone knows exactly where they are!). Recently, as part of the Huarorani tribe relocation, their was a clash of tribes in which 30 people were massacred! Scary stuff and this only happened 2 months ago. And the government don't really care because the more the natives kill each other off, the more chance they have to move in and start setting aside areas of the national park for oil construction (all oil companies in Ecuador are state run and operated!). Our guide also showed us areas of the national park that were used for illegal deforestation, indicating where the logs are transported out of the forest, right infront of army and police road blocks. Its such a same that such practises can go on, with the government turning a blind eye and groups like UNESCO unable to stamp their authority (with the Amazon rain forest supposedly being a protected zone!).

Anyway, rant over. We sat down in the palm leaf hut for a spot of lunch. It was quite disturbing that we were sitting up eating chicken and rice brought down from the lodge whilst the local family were getting stuck into bowls of chicha. Whatever we didn't finish, was given to the kids to finish off! After lunch, the native lady piped up again, telling a story to her family of her recent trip to Brazil for a congregation Amazon tribes. She then proceeded to do a demonstration of a native dance that was performed at the conference. Somehow Rach was caught up in her little performance, and she was dragged around the hut, chatting 'hum di yi ya, hum di yi ya...' That's pretty much the extent of the words that I could pick up and the song and dance went on for about 10 mins!!

The native guys then decided they would show us city-slickers how to start a fire using sticks. One guy ran out of the hut and returned a couple of minutes later carrying a stick, a block of wood and some cotton that he'd just 'fetched' from the forest. They then took it in turns of rubbing the stick on the wood, twisting it causing it to drill into the wood, causing friction then heat and finally smoke as it boar its way through the wood. We each took it in turns trying to get the bugger going. The stick finally drilled through the wood and little embers fell onto the cotton and started to light up. I could've told them that using matches would save a lot of time and energy but kept that to myself.

We left the village a little while later, no before getting a few photos with the local family and buying a token hand-made bracelet made of tree fibres. We headed off for a wonder through the jungle to a nearby lagoon. The trail hadn't been visited for a while as it was completely overgrown and Gabrielle and the grandad from the village (who only looked about 40 and as fit as an ox!) had to machette their way through, clearing a path for us in the process. We had to be sure to keep our distance as they were flaying around their massive 50cm blades. We made it to the lagoon where we could see the beady little eyes of a cayman (or aligator) sticking up out of the water. Both of the native guys tried all sorts of whistles and calls to tempt the croc to swim a little closer. (Un)lucky for us, he just sat their in the water looking at us (it was probably about 30m away).

We strolled back to our kayaks and started off again down the river. It was probably another 2.5 hours kayak and the sun was quite strong. We had to sparingly use our sunscreen as we were running on empty ever since entering the jungle and unfortunately the Huaorani don't really have a need for the stuff.

We made it to the Nenquepare camp site around 4pm. It was a pretty impressive layout with raised and undercover areas for dinner and tents, and also a separate toilet and shower with running water! We rested our tired bodies and had a little sleep in the hammocks hanging up. We were woken by the sound of a motorised canoe, the leader of Huaorani tribe paid us a visit and told us of the importance of ecotourism and encouraged us to tell our friends to come and potentially volunteer to teach at the local schools. He was a pretty impressive character, apparently a few years ago he was part of a group of natives that managed to kick Texico, an oil company out of their rain forest. He is a man that does not want to sellout to these guys.

We settled in for the night. Our native service team cooked us up a simple dinner and we weren't long out of bed once we'd eaten. Over dinner, we tried to teach Gabrielle a few English words and phrases and vice-versa in native Huaorani. It was pretty funny and he quickly picked up 'how are you' and 'see you tomorrow'. All in all; a very frantic, energy sapping, educational day and we were spent when our heads hit the pillows in our tent...falling asleep once again with the sounds of forest to keep us company.

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8th June 2013

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We've just read your latest group of Blogs and it made us feel like we were there with, plenty of details and fantastic photos. I guess there's not too many people that can say they have been to the Galapagos Is. and been into the Amazon jungle and mingled with the natives. We just watch a Doco on S. America and they were in Peru at the ruins that you are going to ( I can't spell the name with looking it up ) There was some magnificent scenery on the train ride to the ruins and of course the ruins probably equalled the pyramids in its grandeur. Looking forward to the next edition of blogs Stay save, Love Mum and Dad

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