An Amazon Trip
posted by Ariella Jew on October 31st, 2013
A few weeks ago, Ishacko offered to take me through the Amazon, to see where his family lives, in a pueblo named Buena Unión. I jumped at the opportunity, feeling that we would be able to see a lot of different plants, and that I would finally get to see the ‘river ocean’, the Amazon herself.
Mike, Nicky and myself got together after breakfast this past sunday and followed the fast feet of Ishacko. He told us it would be about two hours of a hike through the jungle to reach where we were going. I was up for it, as was everyone else. Being that documentation seems to be something I can bring to the table, I found myself lugging around 2 heavy cameras and a backpack to fill with cuttings and seeds (yes, I asked permission Sarah).
We learned that Ishacko has walked this path for his whole life, and I could tell by the way he moved through it. It was as if he was on those people movers at large airports, an escalator that just goes forwards (there has to be a name for this), yet I was on regular ground, trying to keep up with him. I felt at one point, when I was getting a hang of the rhythm, that I was skateboarding again, like I used to, only the ramps and obstacles are slippery clay slopes and the tricks are not getting bit by a tarantula and knowing which mushrooms to eat and what herbs are which.
There is something magical about being in such a bio-diverse wonderland. We found ourselves facing the giant girth of Pau de Arco, the sweet aroma of Copal, the running rivers with sketchy wooden planks to walk across, sometimes 10 feet above the water… the smells of decay and fermentation of the flora and fauna, earth’s great recycling program, creates an olfactory playhouse. Being in such a new place, every moment was fresh, every sight was new.
Through all of this, we would reach this patches of clear cut land and banana plantations. It was incredible for me to witness, since, just nights before, I was reading in Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual., in the section on how such plantations are ruining the land with their pesticide use, corporate interest, and wiping out the local economy. Of course, this isn’t the case for every piece of land with clearings, but it really inspired me to further cultivate plans of reinvigorating our land, which years ago was a plantation of bananas and pineapple (the most common plantation fruits because of their ease of planting and dependable harvests).
We got a chance to be introduced to Ishacko’s family, his sister and mother and brother, and his surrounding neighbors as well. I was gifted some seed of chiclayo (sp?), which I believe to be green beans, after shortly speaking to a man named Julio. We were welcomed back to stay, and share more of what we can… I promised to return with plants and seeds! It was really inspiring.
We ended up returning back to the pueblo a few weeks later, this time being well equipped with cranberry hibiscus, cuban oregano, and a mexican sunflower, as well as quail grass seeds. Jimmy came with us this time, as well our new volunteers (friends from Tassajara, Ashley and Tim!!). We left around 7:30 am to make good time, and we were feeling really charged with such an early leave. Off we went, packed with a lunch of puja cooey’s (fermented yuca bread like things that Jimmy has mastered) and some sourdough bread (post coming soon on this one!).
Being able to see the same paths and plants and trees again brought to me a sense of slowly getting to know this long hike. I am beginning to become more familiar with the different leaves and flowers and their associated properties. I couldn’t help but think of the millions of gallons of rainwater that pour through the carved out clay beneath our moving feet. It really made me feel the connection to Nature, to life itself. Nicky took notes as I photographed the trees and plants and flowers that Ishacko stopped to tell us about. He is a walking library of healing plant lore.
We got our chance to go out on the river again, this time Bronco, our lab, came along with this. He trekked all the way through the jungle, walking across all the bridges and swimming across some. There were the ‘flying’ fish, jumping out of the water and sailing over the boat (which reminded me of the Jungian concept of something ‘arising out of the ocean’ relating to unconscious content emerging… hmmm). We shared the bread and puja cooey (does anyone know how to spell this?) and did our best to smile in the blistering hot sun. I don’t think I’ll ever go without a hat and long sleeve on an Aires day…
Upon returning, we rested for a bit again, got some water in our bottles from a well, and started on the 2 plus hour hike back home. Ishacko’s mom insisted on us stopping by on the way home, to drink more masato and also to take a rack of plantains as a gift. Such a sweet lady, I tell ya! Ishacko volunteered to carry them, and Jimmy carried my backpack so I could have a break. I noticed storm clouds in the distance and asked Ishacko about them… he said not to worry and that they weren’t going to be an issue. Off we went.
Nicky decided to walk a bit slower than us, like the first time we were off. She seemed tired, so I handed her a headlamp and told her that I was going to pick up speed to get us home before dark as she likes to more so wander and stop here and there… The skies were telling me otherwise. No sooner than minutes after, lightning struck… the most intense lightning strike I have ever witnessed, followed instantaneously by thunder, meaning the storm was overhead. We went on. Within about 10 minutes, it started to trickle, at which I threw my camera into a plastic bag in the backpack. We passed mamacoca around, and thanked it for it’s energy and continued, joking about the drizzling rains.
The drizzle suddenly decided to let loose a bit more. Then a bit more. Then, it was a full on rainforest rain storm. I lived in florida for almost 20 years. I have never seen a storm like this before. Trees falling all around us, bamboo bending near to the ground, lightning illuminating the quickly darkening path in front of us every few minutes… all the while, the hard dry clay that we walked on hours earlier, was more and more becoming a small river, running quick;y to it’s home base. We still had about an hour and a half left, and the determination rose to the occasion.
The terrain consists of undulating earth, creating perfect areas for mega pools to form!!! To think hours earlier, I was basking in the beauty of how the millions of gallons flow through, and now we were walking through it! We pushed on, Bronco too, and we finally made it to the road, which connected to our land. The rain was coming in sideways, my boots were filled to the rim with water, and all of my things were logged with rain. I fell in a ‘puddle’ which was about waist high on me. It wasn’t there earlier in the day, whatsoever! So quickly this area transforms.
We get home to the house, and my bed was overthrown by the wind, my things all soaked with rain, books and all. It looked like mother nature was looking for late rent, and she found it under my bed! Earlier in the day we had given an offering to this jungle spirit, named Chullachaqui… This is a small person that has mis shaped feet, that can manifest as a friend or someone you know. It is a protector of the jungle. I am still learning about this local legend, as it interests me a lot… Anyways, one can tell where this jungle spirit resides by seeing how clean an area is, like it has been swept up clean. We offered mapacho, a jungle strand of tobacco to this spirit. I pinched off a bit of one rolled mapacho… Here is where I flash backed too when I saw my room in disarray… I should’ve given it all the tobacco I had, I thought! Hahahaha frugalness may have gotten me a flipped bed, but you know, what can prove any of this? Nothing, but the story stays…
After drying off our things, we got to sit down for dinner and I started to think about leaving Nicky behind and Ishacko too, with that huge rack of plantains on his back… minutes later, we here a “holaaa” from Nicky and Ishacko following close behind! So relieved, we were, to know they were well. Ishacko shared that he too had fallen in the ‘puddle’ that I had fallen in, but by the time he had gotten there, it was up to his chest!!! Amazon flood basin… no joke folks. We shared our stories and feelings. It truly felt like a purifying experience; singed and burned in the daytime by the brutal sun, and then basically submerged in the falling rain. We all felt renewed and reborn (after we dried off, of course). It was quite a lesson in humility and respect to the great forces that lie at bay, under our feet and above our heads, and all around.
Thank you Pachumama, for bringing us home.