Ecuador’s Jungle- Beautifully Dangerous
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

August 15, 2009

The jungle. The word strikes a foreign key with most city dwellers of all nations. Despite the continual exploitation and devastation of the worlds jungles, when you enter the varying canopy heights, the incessant buzz of insects and continual melody of bird calls, or time spent with an indigenous family, it seems as if the jungle or at least that that remains of the jungle stands still through time as we know it.

Leaving Banos Ecuador, I headed south towards Puyo where I was to meet a guide by the name of Esley. Esley has lived in the jungle outside Puyo for his entire life with his 13 brothers and sisters as well as his mother and father, his father being a medicine man or the local Shaman. The family comes from the Quichua people with their local settlement on the confines of two rivers.

After visiting a local waterfall in the area known traditionally as “the shaman falls” we made our way to a river bank with two long wooden canoes wide enough for a single person to sit or stand. After bailing the water out from the last few days of rain, I entered the very precarious canoe as Esley began to use a bamboo stick to push us upstream and across to counter the current. Half way across the river towards a fellow indigenous village, I see a black vulture taking off out of an estuary with a snake in its’ mouth. A very strong omen in many cultures, one strong enough to make a people settle the great city of Mexico, or so they say. I keep it to myself as we teeter back and forth almost rolling the canoe, not any worry in itself, but my gear on board makes it less than an appealing mid afternoon activity. Reaching the other side we find an abandoned village, it seems all the locals left to another village for a community gathering. Esley doesn’t have a paddle for the trip downstream and so he sits with a machete and begins hacking at a plank nearby to remedy the situation. A local parrot refuses to have anything to do with me except for when I offer it pieces of unripened green banana. Still, it refuses to move from its perch, as if guarding the village from outsiders while the family is away. Within 20 minutes Esley has a new paddle and two new bamboo sticks ready to tackle the river ahead.

As worried as I am about the stability of the boat, if his rafting skills are anywhere close to his wood carving skills, we shouldn’t have a problem. We’re off and as I work to keep the boat balanced as he digs deep to get us in position for mild rapids. The dug out canoe is long and skinny, nothing compared to the stability of a common river rafting inflatable boat, but for these rapids it should do fine. He suddenly works to flip us around and using a bamboo pole pushes us across a section of the river. Unknowing to his reasons as I face upstream, I see us go between two giant boulders. As we pass, he flips us around again and we continue on. We reach a bank before an impassible rapid with the canoe and hike along the bank with gear in hand. We reach a tranquil part of the river after about 20 minutes and he says we have to swim across to his community to get another canoe to pick up the gear. Without much of a hesitation, I strip down and we both plunge in. I fall into a rhythmic free style as swimming has become a dominate sport for exercise in my life over the last three years. As I take breaths from one side to the other, I start to wonder if there may be other creatures to worry about in these waters. I lift my head out of the water to locate Esley to find him close on my heels trying to pass me. I catch his eye and ask quickly if we have to worry about crocodiles. “No camens aqui, Anacondas”. I ask if we are in any real danger and he nods as he continues to swim. “Is it better to go first or second?” I respond in my best Spanish. “1st”, he says as he works on passing me. Somewhat of a race commences as we swim towards the other side. Reaching it, we jump out of the water and into another canoe to begin our way back across the river for the gear. Getting to his village, I meet some of his family and learn the majority of them have become guides, using tourism as a significant source of income along with traditional living practices. It feels good to get dry clothes on.

Later at dinner, I meet Esley’s father, the shaman. He is quiet but a consistent small smile sits on his face. I observe as Esley ensures his father has all he needs for dinner. It also seems as though his father is short a couple of fingers from which I catch the story of later from Esley. It reflects an almost absurdity of the dangers and beauties of the jungles I am sure not to forget.

I am invited to go on a local collection the next morning that happens only once a year in August on the half moon. At 4am, after a night of vivid dreams I awake feeling the vibration of feet coming up the stairs of the stilted house. “chris, chris” the voice whispers. It is Miguel, a younger community member. Quickly drawing on my pants and rubber boots, we set off meeting two more young men and a wife of one of them with her newborn child. The couple looks like they are in their early 20’s and it strikes fascination in me as I see they share something only known between a new mother and father.

We set out circling ponds where we went crocodile night watching the night before. Crocodile eyes reflect red in the light allowing one to see them at night when just their eyes lie over the surface. We come to a low point where just a log sits above the surface leading to the other side. Trying to gain my senses as quickly as possible, I hope all those childhood games of walking a line on curbs trying not to fall into the pit of make believe lava or alligators pays off. Crossing the channel without mishap or surprise, we make our way to a giant ant colony. They quietly proceed to rip up clothing, wrapping them around sticks and dipping them in oil to make torches. We surround the colony and wait.

The idea is that at this point in the year, the bigger flying ants besides the workers and army ants in the same colony are born to go out and create new colonies. For about a month they fly into the trees at dawn and return in the middle of the night to the mother colony. This will go on until they leave for good. The idea is to wait until the mass exodus around 5:30 when we light the torches. The ants then fly into the fire losing their wings and falling to the ground where after they can be collected for breakfast. Suddenly, “Fuego!” they say in unison as the buzz comes from the ants rising into the air in unison. What commences next is a sight of swarming ants flying into the fire. We then dance for the next three hours as we collect the crawling big ones while trying to avoid the hundreds of others defending their colony.

This was one example of using the local land and knowledge in both the best interest of a community as well as a reusable resource. Can’t say ants make the tastiest of dishes, but an experience to be remembered and used as an example all can learn by. A backyard vegetable garden could be a local start… that is if you don’t live in the jungle.

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