Monkeying Around in the Mud

On Thursday May 12, we had the opportunity to venture far deeper into the Amazon than many people ever have. We rode in canoes to the Waorani community, an indigenous group situated fairly deep in the Amazon on the banks of the Nushino River. We had the opportunity to live with this group, eat with them, and even hike in the rainforest with them to a waterfall.

The excursion began with a long canoe trip along the river, it was pretty treacherous at times, but the views were entirely unmatched. I will admit, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had while actually in the canoe, but again, the scenery made the entire experience feel so surreal.

Once we got off the canoes, we were greeted by the whole community and upon arrival we got marked on our faces with a red fruit powder by the president of the community. After we saw our lodge, we met their pet monkey! The story they told us is that the day before we arrived they were hunting for spider monkeys and killed one, then found a baby and decided to take it home to keep it as a pet and raise it to ensure that they don’t run out of monkeys. When it’s old enough they’ll release it so that he can mate, and then eventually probably kill him, too. For now though, he’s a very cute doll for the little girls.

On the second day we were with the tribe, we went on a hike in the Amazon. This hike was like nothing I’d ever imagine. I’ve never done something so difficult in my life…which feels like a trend on this trip so far. While sweating like crazy, the little girls of the community came along and showed all of us up. While we were struggling to climb up and down the hills and around tree branches, they were scampering up like it’s second nature– which it probably was. We reached a clearing and a few people made their own baskets out of giant leaves. After that, we continued walking, following the tribe elders as they ran down the hills through the thick forest in order to help us down the path they were creating with machetes as we went. The entire experience was so unique it’s hard to even explain. Finally, after 3 hours of sweat, mud, and some of the hardest hits my legs have probably ever taken, we made it to the waterfall. It was, yet again, one of the most insane things I have ever seen. Once we got into the waterfall the little girls were jumping around off of the rocks and into our arms. It was so cute, and such a vital part in connecting with the community even more. After jumping around and playing with the girls for a while, we hiked back. While the hike back was less intense than it was to get there, but still took quite a lot out of us all. Funnily enough, the natives told us that on any given hunting day, they walk for 6 hours minimum just to get to the hunting ground, our entire excursion, hike there, swim, and hike back, was 5 hours.

We had lunch after the hike and it was probably the best chicken and rice I’ve ever eaten, just because of how hungry I was. In the middle of lunch one of the little girls handed me the monkey, and I got to hold it! That did make eating pretty hard, but it was definitely one of the highlights. After lunch, I played with the kids in the central area (and the monkey of course), and the little girl even tried to teach me Spanish (she was 4!). Everyone was so welcoming it was insane, they wanted us to feel like we fit in so much that even the youngest members of the community were trying to teach us things.

We helped them plant some cacao plants in a new clearing they recently made to make some money selling the beans in the town. While in the cacao field area we tried the native Ecuadorian cacao which strangely tasted nothing like chocolate, just a strange, slimey, sour thing.

We finished up by watching a celebratory dance from the tribe. It was Ben Glasl’s birthday, so they wanted to do a traditional dance to celebrate him. It was super cool to see, and they even made us join in. It was super fun and a nice experience, but we were marching with them in circles for about an hour or more. While it was super exhausting, it was a once in a lifetime experience to actually be invited to participate in a celebratory friendship dance by people pretty removed from modern life.

To end it all, the girls gave a few of us their own ceremonial headbands as gifts of friendship, which really just solidified what we all already felt about the relationship we had foraged in just 2 short days.

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