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Published: August 21st 2010
Byron Marika and me
With the people who host us for the first night
What does an 'indigenous' community mean? After visiting a few it seems to me like it is only a marketing label. I guess we are some two hundred years too late to meet a real indigenous people, add to that our contemporary conscious of cultural contamination we dare to visit communities that haven't seen a white man before. Therefore when I see an army of men and women ravaging on me with their arsenal of handicraft I feel disappointed and cheated - I don't think this is indigenous, even if they are half naked. For this reason I appreciate the trip I did with Daniel in the jungle near Pucallpa, a jungle city on the Ucayali river at the far eastern end of the Peruvian road system. The city enjoys small amounts of tourism both local and foreign but doesn't have tour agencies. Therefore we asked at the hostel we stayed (Barbtur) about a jungle trip and got introduced to Daniel, a keen environmentalist who loved to preach us about nature preservation and eco friendliness. As usual, in the beginning we didn't know how much we could trust him so we first went with him on a popular tour to see
the laguna of Yarinacocha with the Shipobo communities along its banks, and stopped to buy really beautiful (indigenous) handicrafts at the village San Francisco. Many times a visit to an indigenous community is effectively a visit to a market. I don't mind to visit an indigenous market, just tell me. We slowly built trust on him as he didn't push us to pay him and was quite excited about the amazing experience we were going to have and the wonderful things we were going to see. Of course we didn't know then if this excitement was because we were his first ever subjects on this trip, or maybe indeed it was going to be a unique experience - well... it was.
After a short bargaining about the cost we set to meet the next morning to buy food and a mosquito net for B&M. We slowly got more trust in him as we saw him leading us in the market between the stalls explaining what is good and what is bad and helping B&M to buy a good mosquito net. He used the money we paid him to buy food for the journey. We were quite surprised about the
Floating on a peaceful lagoon
The place we stayed overnight
quantity of food we bought though, as we thought it was more than enough for Four people for Three days, but it was now his money, so we were more concerned about carrying it. Later in the trip we realised that this food was given to the people who hosted us, not for us, because we received a local indigenous hospitality by each family and didn't use the food we bought at all. We met the next morning, took the cab for some Four hours drive to a village Contamana, then we changed to a motor taxi that bounced us through mud swamps to a river which we crossed by a motorised canoe, perfectly timed to our arrival. Another Ten minutes walk brought us to a village from where Byron and I headed on in a dugged out canoe to a romantic ride on a shallow stream, through a bush, to a peaceful lagoon, until we reached to a house on its bank. Marika and Daniel took a detour on foot and reached to a closer point from where the canoe man picked them up a few minutes later. Then we were there, a raised platform and a roof was
our home for the rest of the day. Now what? I thought that this trip was going to be one big discomfort. It was hot and humid, the sun stroke me hard. Assessing the rubbish next to the house I could hear battalions of mosquitoes flying over.
Surprisingly the day passed quickly and night fell just when we set up our beds and mosquito nets. Then the adventure began. We were invited to go fishing. Already in a moaning mood I nearly ignored the invitation but a spell of rational hint me to join. I boarded the canoe of the fishermen, Byron and Marika were on another canoe with Daniel. Floating in heavens, stars above us and stars below us reflected by the clear water, the murmur of the rowing was the only sound I could hear. Sometimes the fishermen signal between them something I couldn't understand but then I was more bothered by the option of falling to the water. I sat paralysed in that tiny canoe my bony bum already in pain and then PAOO - the guy behind me shot his rifle on a heron. 'Why did you do it?' Was the first thing that came
in me, luckily I didn't say it out. I just looked at the bird that seemed to be still standing on the branch, unhurt. 'Good' myself sighed quietly adding 'bloody macho show off'. Then the bird flew to a nearby branch not acknowledging yet how fatally it was injured, but it couldn't hold a grip on the branch and fell down to the water. 'Are you going to eat it?' I asked? 'Yes', the man with the gun said, we will pick it up later. We continued fishing, reaching to a point where a wooden stick was stuck in the ground and there the fisherman at the front, a ten years old boy, released the fishing net to the water while the man with the gun behind me rowed backwards in a circle until he reached back to the wooden stick. Then he rowed forward and the boy pulled out the net taking out of it the odd fish and throwing it in my direction. The canoe floor in front of me filled up slowly with jumping fish, some jumped on me, hit my leg and then hit back the floor. When a Piranha fish was in the net he
The boy was sent up to pick a coconut (or three)
first hit it to kill it and then threw it, that gave me a little idea to how dangerous this fish was. We continued rowing to another point practicing the same manner of fishing. By the end of this night fishing we had perhaps 40 fish that they then put in salt to preserve. In the morning we ate a fish soup cooked with the fish we brought the night before, and tasted Piranha - very nice texture and good taste.
It is a big shake to the system. We come from a place where hunting is a sport, an option, perhaps a macho thing but definitely not a necessity. But these people don't have a supermarket, they have the jungle and it supplies them anything they need. Mmm.... We know that the trees give them fruit and medicine, building materials for their canoes and houses, the trees' leaves use for the roof or for cleaning or as plates for food and until some point at the past they used for clothes. So...? Although here I could see the closest example to organic jungle living in Peru I wonder is it so? The community nearby has electricity and a
Mosquito nets ready
shop that sells soft drinks which already dot the jungle in empty plastic bottles. This is the point where the modern and the indigenous collide. They eat organic and their waste is organic, even if not hygienically kept away of their living environment. But, for the heron they will get a few drinks and some bags of crisps that will be thrown away in the same 'organic' manner as they throw their organic food and this way they litter their surroundings. It is at this point where the balanced turns up-side-down. When one hunts for food the eco system is kept but when one hunts for selling the eco system is distracted - this is what Daniel tries to teach them.
Waking up to a new day excited by the event of last night and by the surprisingly tasty Piranha we had just eaten the walls have fallen, but it was a short lived friendship as we had to move on. We left thanking them greatly for their hospitality and thinking about this weird combination of people living under one roof: Carmelesita, over sixty in age, who came to the jungle only five years ago after her husband died,
the numerous kids who live there to give her company, the gunman who provides security but has also his house - where we were going to stay for the second night, and another old man who helps her with the kids. It seems that we just encountered a new social structure that we couldn't really comprehend but we didn't have the ability to discuss it in Spanish - how pity. We walked for five hours passing again the community with the shop and heading on the other direction deeper into the jungle where we met another community. Far from supplies they were really a community of hunters. Some of the people were born there, other came from Pucallpa and one Rambo came from the coast - what makes a man who lives by the sea to go to the jungle I don't understand. This community treated their rubbish in a clean way and so in day light it seemed a really nice place to live at. But at night the mosquitoes devoured me. As I understand the people divide to hunters, cookers, teachers and so on and this way exchange 'goods'. We came early afternoon to a family hut where
Piranha for breakfast
When alive it can eat you...
we had lunch of Benadu with rice and yuka crumbs. Benadu suppose to be a jungle goat or a deer, as we understand. After lunch and a talk led by Marika and Byron we went for a four hours trek in the jungle looking at the medicinal trees around and hoping to spot some wild animals. For the third time I was introduced to the medicinal trees, heard their properties and yet I cannot remember a single detail. But it was interesting, and in the light of my poor ability to memorise the data I was impressed by the guy who led us through the bush from one tree to another - he knew the forest like I know my home. Although at times we felt that they were lost and that we were going to be stuck there after darkness we came back to our beds on time. I was extremely exhausted and went to lie down first thing and skipped supper. B&M joined me soon after. This night will be remembered as the roughest night I had in this trip because of the mosquitoes that beat me all over. My body was covered by so many bites it
looked more like a skin rush than mosquitoes bites. The platform had gaps between the floor boards from there the mosquitoes entered making my mosquito net completely useless. At about four in the morning the mossies left me finally so I could save a couple of hours sleep before another day begins.
I woke up grumpy and annoyed. I wanted to moan, I wanted to cry, I wanted to go home. The only thing that lift my mood was the fact that it was our last day - I counted the hours. The jungle is by all means way out of my comfort zone. Before I went on this trip I eliminated the option of a jungle trip and here I was for the third time in the jungle beating my self for going and wishing it to end. But then when we sat to eat breakfast I got a reminder to what attracts me into the jungle. Daniel came to tell us that the hunters hunted a crocodile early in the morning and that we can have some for breakfast. Byron and Marika rushed to see it whilst I was still licking my wounds. They brought a piece
of its tail for the family who cooked for us, the man stripped the skin off and fried the meat. Some would say it is slightly chewy. The first smell I got was of a fish, what surprised me, but the texture as I chew it was somewhere between a fish and a chicken - it was nice. Anyway it took the grumps away. Eating crocodile for breakfast - this is indigenous (so long as it is not done especially for the tourists) - wow. Looking at the hunters sitting next to the now sliced prey made me feel like a little kid among adults, staring with an expression of awe on my face. I stayed like that for a few seconds then I was called to the school of the community where we got a little explanation about the size of the area they have and the problems they get from the government who wants a bite from their land somehow... this is just beyond believe... We were told that they really need teachers but people would not come so far and then they invited us to return as teachers. Well, by now I know that I will skip
this opportunity, sadly, but if you read thus far in my blog and you speak Spanish please make a contact with Daniel. They will give you everything you need and more, plus it will be one amazing, once in a life time, cultural experience.
Daniel Saavedra Saavedra:
firstname.lastname@example.org for his boat - Bote Progreso Tours
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