We finally slept in until 8 am today (all the other activites so far have required us to wake up early) and then quickly prepared to leave for our journey – two days and two nights in the jungle. I was nervous but also really excited!
After stocking up on all the water we could carry and sugary water flavoring for when we would have to inevitebly use iodine pills to purify our water, we hiked off into the jungle. Twenty minutes later, we were drenched in sweat! Soaked! The humidity was staggering. The hike was nice though. We saw monkeys frolicking in the trees and a couple of really big trees. Our guide showed us how to use tree sap to heal wounds and taught us that some trees have drinking water inside them (just in case, we ever need it…)
While the jungle here was pretty, I was struck how much more lush and ¨jungly¨it had seemed in Ecuador, where there were tons of huge trees, six species of monkeys, anacandas, and many other animals. Our guide explained that local people do not take care of the jungle here. They hunt the animals and cut down the trees for timber.
About one and a half hours into our hike, our guide suggested that we take a break while he would try to find a different path to get to our maloca, where we would be spending the afternoon and the night. (A maloca is a traditional long house used by an entire community for their celebrations and gatherings) . He did not want to use the regular path because it would mean that we would have to walk by another maloca, where he did not like the people. Apparently they killed his brother last year so he understandebly was not very happy with them.
That seemed like a very reasonable request (although I did start to worry about the people around here, somewhat concerned that the killers were never brought to justice) so Jade and I settled in and waited… and waited… and waited. Half an hour later, there was still no sign of our guide and I started to worry that perhaps he met the same fate as his brother. And not to be self centered, but what were Jade and I going to do in the jungle on our own? We had no idea how to get out other than find a river, etc.
Just as I was starting to seriously worry, our guide came walking up and announced that there was no other trail so we would have to walk by the killers´maloca. OK. I tried to act casual with Jade but I was wondering what I had gotten us into.
Two hours and numerous crossings of super slippery logs later, we finally arrived at our maloca unharmed. All I wanted to do was bathe myself in… anything. The anything turned out to be a small pond, from which I could scoop up water with a dried gourd, but that would come later because our guide insisited that we had to first visit with the shaman (wise man) who owned the maloca because he and his wife had a party to attend to. What???
Now I was more nervous. When I had booked this trip, I was told that the shaman´s wife (another woman) would be there. Now, it turns out, she was going to a party until who knows what hour and we would be left alone with our guide and four workers who were seriously into mambe (a coca derived powder that the indigenous folks are addicted to but more on that later) and we would be sleeping in the same maloca. I felt a little ridiculous because it´s not like every man in the jungle is a rapist but I also felt very responsible for the well-being of my 12-year old daughter who looks like she is 16. Chances are nothing would happen but if it were to, how prudent is it for two females to be in the jungle with five males and not much apparent rule of law?
But back to the maloca, the whole area was actually nicer than expected with a semblence of a garden with chickens running around. We were invited inside the maloka to meet with the shaman. The maloca itself was pretty bare and gloomy and I wondered how we will do spending the night here. Meanwhile, the shaman told us all about the history of the maloca, the thrice yearly celebrations that take place there, and about the sacred mambe. Mambe is a serious addiction among indigenous men who belive that it gives them energy and strength. They do mambe constantly (our guide was constantly shoving some in his mouth) and boast that they don´t even need to eat when they do mambe. I could not help notice the similarities between mambe and its chemically processed cousin, cocaine.
The shaman was clearly very proud of his maloca and his group´s mambe traditions and wated to know if we had any questions for him before he left to go to the party. Jade asked a few about their food and dances. I was so tired and sticky with sweat that I could not think of any.
After a few gourd fulls of pond water over my neck and chest, I felt substantially better. We layed around reading in our hammocks for abit and then were invited to attend a mambe preparation ritual.
So here is how it goes: Some kind of leaves are burned for ash. While they are cooling, coca leaves are toasted on the biggest pan I have ever seen in my life (how did they even get this into the jungle?) Once toasted, the coca leaves are ground by pestle into a fine green powder in a huge mortar, whereby they are mixed with the ash, sifted, ground some more, mixed with the ash again, etc. Once the process was repeated three times, voila, we had a big bowl full of mambe, ready to consume. The twenty year old boy who was taking us through the process (and seemed quite taken with Jade much to my concern!) was obsessed with the stuff and kept inviting us to have some too. We declined. It didn´t seem like good role modeling to accept plus I really did not want to be up all night.
After a passable dinner of fish and rice, we headed off to our maloca to try to sleep. Our hammocks were hung on the second floor and we had to climb up an inclined, notched totem pole to get to them. Going down to use the bathroom at night was out of the question!
The second floor was very rickety and I was afraid we would fall through but we somehow made it to our hammocks where we were greeted by many big red bugs that looked like cockroaches. I decided right then and there that if nature calls, I will use a plastic bag. There is no way that I would get out of my mosquito net at night!
We cleaned off the bugs best we could, tucked ourselves into the hammocks and decided to call it a night. I tried to ignore the sounds of the workers building a fire and cooking their dinner inside the maloca. My inner gringa might metion that they were building a fire inside a wood and straw structure but when in the jungle…. This was bound to be an interesting night.