Kapawi Rain Forest, Aug 6, 2003

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

17:09 - I forgot to mention! While we were floating down the river yesterday we heard howler monkeys just over the first ridge of bushes! Lorena was really, really excited, but we never got to see them. This morning, we woke up to howler monkeys as well. Jose Luis said that there used to be a family of them living in nearby trees that could be observed from hut #1. (Man, is it hot right now. We're just sitting in our cabins, sweating!)

We had an interesting day. In the morning, we went out for the 6:30am bird watching trip down the Capahuari river and saw lots of beautiful species. We returned, had breakfast, and departed for our full-day excursion. The trail we hiked in the morning was much more wild than the ones we hiked previously; it was sort of between terra firma and floodlands, and the trail started in a sandy area by the river. There was an algae-covered, stagnant pond/lake thing half-way through the hike, where lots of stinky turkeys (hotzins) were making a racket. We also saw a coatí or two run across the path. Eventually, we arrived at an enormous kapok tree, which the Achuar people hold sacred, because the spirits of their ancestors live in the trees (they are also represented by jaguar, anaconda, and large tapir). To solve problems in their lives, they venture into the forest while fasting, construct a shelter by a large kapok tree, and drink hallucinogenic tea so that they can communicate with the spirits. Hilario showed us how they build the shelters.

After leaving the large kapok tree, we stopped to have a picnic by the river. For me, that meant wolfing down my food as fast as I could to prevent ingestion of flies. There really were a lot of flies. Following lunch, we encountered an absolutely stunning site: a school of butterflies, feeding on minerals at the riverbed. The majority of them were a dry-ish yellow and pale green, but other species were there as well. I squatted amongst them for some time, taking macro photographs.

In the afternoon after lunch, we stopped by Hilario's village, where a local teacher hosted us in his house for chicha and chit-chat (he also happens to be Hilario's nephew -- all 18 couples living in the village are related). The process was as follows: we enter the house in silence and sit around the oval structure (half of the house is open to the air around the sides). We are presented with chicha by the wife (we avoid looking her in the face and accept the drink, as instructed), and then our guide chats with the head of the house (who is seated in the middle) for some unspecified amount of time. Eventually, the head of the house asks us to introduce ourselves. We tell him our name, age, profession, and origin. He then opens up the possibility of conversation, where we can ask each other questions. We talked mostly about family life, his role as a teacher in the village, and the exploitation of Ecuador for oil and wood. After the talk (which lasted for about an hour), the women of the village bring their handicrafts and lay them out on large leaves for us to buy. But instead of asking for a dollar or two per item, they asked for up to five dollars for some items, and three dollars for simple bead neckacles. We chatted about this (and the apparent need for money for local life in the Achuar village, where they don't really have a need for it yet) in the boat on the way back. It certainly was interesting to be in a primitive, open-air hut made from local materials, and to see Nike and Teva shoes, and a inkjet printer box. Also, we were told that the Achuar people think that taking a picture of them amounts to theft of the soul. But as we were leaving, Wendy and I overheard two Achuar men talking about a camera (in Spanish). One asked how many frames were left, and the other took a camera out of the chest on the table, looked at it, and replied, "12." Lorena clarified: they like having pictures of themselves, but they think that other people can do bad things if they have photos of Achuar people.

Oh, and Anderson and I were the only ones to try chicha. It wasn't that bad, but I've been told that that's all the Achuar eat/drink for both "breakfast" and "lunch" (they don't have set schedules for eating). I don't think I'd enjoy that. And I couldn't help thinking of how it is made. We saw the daughter, participating in the chicha making process. *shudder*