Thursday, May 11th: Today we took a canoe ride into the Waorani nation. After a bus ride we got into the canoes 70 miles downriver from our destination. My boat was filled with mud and water, but we still had a great time watching the forest go by. Along the way saw some turtles that were pitch black sitting on wood near the riverbank. No birds this trip although the way home had plenty. Despite the vibrating canoe filled with muddy water it was a super beautiful experience. Eventually though, by the last hour, I was exhausted and ready to be done. After about 6 hours, we made it to a lodge that Todd had built with his brother in-laws as a place for visitors to stay. Spirits were low but a good dinner made it better. Spent some time talking by candlelight and flashlights, also getting to see a white witch moth. Went to bed listening to the sounds of the rainforest.
Friday, May 12th: Today we got to meet our Waorani hosts. They came by our lodge at breakfast and introduced themselves. The boy who had driven my canoe was actually a part of the family we were visiting. His Spanish name was David. Each of us were given a Wao name, mine being Iwa, which means howler monkey. We were taken to a side stream which we went down a bit before getting off to hike. This area hadn’t had visitors in a while, so the path was cleared by a machete as we went. We arrived at the edge of a stream where a vine hung over the water. We took turns swinging over to the other side or swinging there and back. I swung and stayed on the other side, where we realized after the fact, we would need to hike back through the stream a ways to get back up. Me and Wyatt didn’t want to do this, so we tried to swing back despite being on the lower side. Wyatt went first so I was able to push him, giving him enough momentum to swing back over. Left alone I needed to get a good swing to be able to make it back. The vine broke twice, and I had trouble getting far enough back. Luckily there was a pile of mud I could balance on top of, grabbing the vine as high up as I could. I swung and with a helping hand from Cale and Wyatt on the other side I made it back.
Next, the Waorani showed us how they climb vines up into the trees to hunt for food. It was impressive how they easily could get over 40 feet into the trees and slide down holding leaves to avoid burning. Also, we learned that being up high is helpful for avoiding leopards. We also got a Waorani story from Todd, about everything initially being human before becoming the various animals and creating balance. There was one story about a spider monkey who looked like a man still who married a human woman. It was a strange story that basically ended with the visiting human family falling out of the trees. Kind of a weird folktale. We spent some time swinging around on vines before hiking back to the boats. We canoed back to our lodge for lunch and saw more turtles on the way, one of them getting knocked off their piece of wood by our wake.
After lunch we took a moment to speak with Todd about various topics like a fear of investment in areas like Ecuador (specifically the Waorani nation) and how land ownership works and used to work in the Amazon. He preached how the struggle for the Waorani is how to create income without resorting to cutting trees or selling the land for mining rights. Instead, how can these people become digital marketers, etc. We got a good explanation about the land ownership issues in the area, the forest being surveyed in the 1970’s with no regard for those currently living there and it was sold off. One example was a German company who purchased land that was a hunting ground for the Waorani, creating conflict.
Post talk we went to the family community. There we were taught how to throw a spear and shoot a blowgun. The blowgun was about 8 feet long and I was pretty good with it. The spear was not so easy although I did get lucky contact on my second throw. The oldest member was good with the spear and Todd shared that he was an old warrior. I asked if this meant he used to hunt or if he actually fought other people and Todd told me from the limited information, he knew that this man had been involved in raids against oil companies in the area a long time ago. We received face paint as well made from a local fruit as a sort of welcome. Then we played soccer, the first game being a mix of us and them. Our second game was a USA vs Waorani matchup, and we ended up losing. To cool off we went for a swim in the river. Before leaving for dinner, they showed us the various goods they had made such as jewelry and bags. I ended up buying a purse as a Mother’s Day gift. We then went back to our lodge and had dinner.
On the way back we boated through the dark and the sky was the clearest I’ve ever seen it. Not only were all the constellations visible but a mist of white surrounded them. It was incredibly beautiful. When we returned, the Waorani had changed into some of their cultural clothes, and we gathered around to watch a welcome dance they had for us. After watching for a minute or two they motioned for us to join and we hopped in, marching in a circle and trying to copy the chants. In return, we were told in translation that they wanted to see American music. We started with “I Want It That Way” which we couldn’t find a recording of to sing along too. We ended up singing from memory, I think Wyatt getting us really started. We were all pretty synced up and Colin took the “TELL ME WHY” part at the end of the song. We also sang a Taylor Swift song and finished with Sweet Caroline which was pretty good because it had a bit of choreography to go with it. After our performance they put on salsa music, and we danced with them for a while. On the way home I took in the view of the night sky one last time and fell asleep to the sounds of the forest again.
Saturday, May 13th: Before we left the Waorani family we had visited came by to say goodbye and then we got on our way. This boat ride was cooler and way more birds were visible. Luckily, I was in a boat with Skip who identified a ton of the birds. I wrote down all the kinds we saw including:
- White throated Tucan
- Turkey Vultures
- Oro Pendulas which were black with a yellow tail. We first saw a few of them but later saw about 20 fly past our boat.
- Later in the ride we also saw Oro nests, woven bags hanging from branches high up.
- What we think was a short tailed hawk
- A blue morpho butterfly
- Smooth-billed Ani, two flew out of the bushes right next to our boat. They were Matte Black
- Flycatcher (yellow)
- A hawk fo some kind with yellow legs
- Blue and White Swallow
- A woodpecker
About halfway through the ride we got hit by heavy rain. Visiting the rainforest, I decided not to complain and enjoy the adventure. Between conversation with Colin, Olivia, and Izzy, as well as stories from Skip the time went by quick. The need to scoop water out of the boat was also a good amount of time. Me and Colin also started playing drums on the coolers we sat on and sang some songs like Hooked on a Feeling, Come and Get Your Love, We Are Young, and Viva La Vida. The motor was so loud Izzy and Olivia couldn’t even tell we were singing. We got them involved and sang some One Direction and Bohemian Rhapsody. After a soaking wet couple of hours, we got to the end and bussed back to Todd’s Lodge to clean clothes and a warm shower.