When was the last time you didn’t use your phone for 24 hours? What about two days? Before May 12th, my answer to that was never. On our fifth day in Ecuador, we loaded into canoes to trek into the Amazon to visit the Waorani tribe. This name translates to “They are true people”. And they were nothing less of this meaning. The canoe ride there was roughly three hours, and it was no walk in the park. We sat in puddle filled canoes with no benches as it rained. But I had no complaint about this because what we were about to go through was a once in a lifetime experience and life changing. When we arrived, we were greeted by many community members with open arms ready to take us in. Each of us got three marks on our head using a native fruit, a sign of welcome. We then waited for the other canoes to arrive and looked around in awe. At first glance, we saw things that you can’t find anywhere in the states. A baby holding a baby spider monkey, a rare trumpeter bird, a chihuahua in a vest, and much more. After the others arrived, we were led to our rooms and the fun then began.
To start our excursion, we got to know the tribe members. I instantly started to talk to Angel, a young member of the community from Venezuela. He spoke both the native tongue of Wao and Espanol, so I was able to lightly talk to him. He told me all about the animals in the area and the fish and animals in the lake that our rooms overlooked. I was amazed at the diversity of the lake spanning from turtles, fish, snakes, to Caymans. Next, Skipp began flying his drone to get some shots and the young members of the tribe were in disbelief. They had a great time chasing it around and we loved watching their eyes light up. We ended our introduction into the community with a brief discussion with the president of the community, Gonzales, and then headed to the kitchen for dinner. When we arrived, dinner was not yet ready, so we had some time to have some fun. Never would I have thought that I would shoot a handmade tribal blow dart gun, but I can say that I did. After watching the locals, we all had a chance to shoot a blow dart at a hanging banana. Whoever hit it would then receive a warrior headdress representing friendship. Ben Glasl, the huntsmen, won the reward and wore the headdress proudly. To end the night, we chowed down on some beans, rice, and plantains then got to bed early for a big following day.
Waking up, we quickly got busy with a hike. I must say, it was far from what I expected. It was uphill, then downhill, then back up. I forgot to mention that the path was heavily slippery, and the leader of the hike was making his own path most of the time. At points we had no choice but to just slide down a slope and grasp onto a branch to cease our slide. During the hike, we stopped at various points to learn about ancient archeological sites, plants they use to reduce fevers, inflammation, toothaches, and even plants to use as diapers for children. We also saw amazing birds on the hike such as an eagle and even were taught how to make baskets with leaves. The hike tested our endurance, but the end goal was well worth the adversity. We arrived at a gorgeous waterfall, and I quickly got in to have some fun. The waterfall was very strong and provided crisp and refreshing water. The girls of our group had a lot of fun with the young community girls, and everyone was truly enjoying themselves. I even learned from the president that we were the first Americans at the waterfall and that was an amazing feeling.
This was an exhausting trip, but we had more planned, and we had to trek back to camp to continue making memories. Once we were back, it was time to visit their Chakra. A Chakra is pretty much a huge garden growing various trees, plants or bushes. In their brand-new Chakra, they planned on growing cacao trees, yucca, and plantains. Each of us even had the opportunity to plant a tree for them. This may have been a quick point in the day, but when reflecting on it I felt great knowing that one day the tree I planted may yield them food or profit. Concluding this trip to their Chakra, we had some free time on our hands. The entire group played a local sports game with the tribe which was almost like dodgeball with bananas? I don’t quite understand but it sounded fun. While the other group did this, I had other intentions. I went fishing with Gonzales over by his house. This may have been the most fun I’ve had in a while. He was mesmerized by my gear consisting of a bobber, weights, hooks, and artificial spiders. On the other hand, I was mesmerized by his suggestion to use bananas as bait. As I casted my bait into the water, I would instantly catch a catfish. Gonzales and I quickly formed a system where I would catch a fish, haul it up, he would remove the spine and hook, then I would rebate then cast again. I quickly hauled in about twenty fish with the help of Thanos. This was an amazing experience and Gonzales showed pure gratitude that these twenty fish will help feed the tribe. I saw the rod that he uses, a wood stick with a piece of string attached to it. Then I thought, these people fight for their lives every day and show love to us who have most things handed to us. I was humbled. I continued chatting with Gonzales when he mustered the courage to ask if he could have some weights. I instantly felt my heart drop. What I did next wasn’t to gain anything, I did this to show him the respect I have for his open arms, love, and simply spending time with me and making me laugh. I gave him all my gear, including my rod. This was a fishing trip I will truly never forget.
Following this amazing event, the day just kept getting better. We ate dinner then it was time for the tribe to give us a cultural dance and song. The men and women divided, and each gave us a tribal dance with song. What came next was expected, and I loved it way more than I anticipated. They called us up to join them in their dance and it was a great time. It consisted of high knees around a circle while we sang various tunes and lyrics. We danced for at least thirty minutes to an hour. After this, memories were made forever. They sat down with Malina and a tribal teenager, Billi, and it was time for them to get married. They performed a dance around them, and it was official. In their culture, after a wedding, a godfather must be chosen. It was the birthday boy’s honor of being named the godfather. Ben was then trotted around the circle by the men and attempted to play a flute while he danced. Ben may appear to be a shy kid, but he was the star of the show. Concluding the wedding, and naming of the godfather, it is tradition for the wife to make and hand out a drink called Chicha. It is a fermented yucca drink and we all drank it until it was gone. I can’t lie, I got a fermented chunk and almost threw up. But hey, I had to follow tradition.
Concluding the dance and singing, our night and time with the Waorani tribe came to an end. To reflect on this, the best way I can put it is that it was the most humbling experience of all time. These are men, women, and children who are secluded from the outside world. They don’t have the opportunities, commodities, luxuries, etc. that we have. But you will never see these people without a smile on their faces. They love each other and they love life. They are looked at from the outside world as outcasts and stubborn from joining the current world. But I promise you this tribe is filled with some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. For example, their president can speak three languages, he can build a bridge across a creek in five minutes, form paths in the woods from nothing and return home, and make his own medicine cabinet out of natural remedies. Another example is Billi, a 17 year old who never went to a real school. But Billi takes a test in a month to get into the University and will become a forensic doctor. That shows courage. I could go on and on about this voyage. To sum this up, I truly learned to appreciate the little things, love our loved ones, love others, learn from others, and there is nothing to complain about.