The canoes prepare to carry us down the Bobonaza River in the upper Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.
Jacobs is Greeted by the Achuar People and the Sounds of the Forest
Briefly we stopped at the center of the world to visit the equator. It's a moment like this when one begins to realize just how far north we live in the United States.
The guide asked, "How does the world spin?"
We all made horizontal circles with our fingers.
"Nope. It spins with one pole on the left and the other pole on the right."
So all the maps should be vertical instead of horizontal. I'm still trying to get my mind wrapped around that one. Once again the world is not always as it is perceived. It leaves me wondering what other assumptions I am making about the world.
Our driver maneuvered the bus up into the cloud forest of the Andes Mountains. We drove through a thick fog to eventually come down on the eastern side of the Andes and into the tropical river basin of the upper Amazon.
As the fog lifted, it felt as if another layer was peeled back from my mind and heart. The internal journey seemed to be unfolding as I prepared to head into the heart of the upper Amazon of Ecuador. Now the air was heavy with humidity. It smelled tropical - such a contrast from the cool and dry air of the high altitude of Quito.
"We will be flying on the airline owned by the Achuar people," explained Cristina Serrano, our Ecuadorian guide. "The plane will land on a small dirt airstrip in the middle of the jungle."
The Achuar is one of the indigenous people still living much the same over as the last several hundred years in the Amazon Rainforest. The people live in many small communities spread across the upper Amazon in Ecuador.
We were going into the forest at the invitation of the Achuar. They are a proud people, known as great warriors and one of the cultures that once practiced head hunting.
You don't show up unannounced or uninvited.
Nine of us squeezed into the small plane that lifted us through the clouds with occasional views of endless rainforest below.
It seemed to be another layer was being pulled back, another layer of modern conveniences left behind and the hectic pace of life seemed to be falling away.
Forty-five minutes later we arrived at the Achuar village of Chichirat. The pilot tipped the plane sharply to the left.
Serrano pointed to a short brown dirt strip in the green forest. Attempting to be heard over the engine noise, she yelled, "This is where we are landing, the village of Chichirat."
The village consisted of a couple of buildings constructed from wood with thatched roofs.
Lined along the runway were children and a few elders.
As the small plane took off to get the rest of our group, the children ran through the wind and dust created by the departing plane.
Waiting to greet us was the village Shaman, wearing a headdress of red and orange feathers that is a symbol of his position in the community.
Under a thatched roof shelter with no walls, he offered us an Achuar greeting and welcomed us to the Amazon Rainforest.
Our visit was short; we still had some distance to travel before we got to where we would be staying.
We walked through the thick and dense rainforest until we came to the Bobonaza River. We got into large canoes that carried us to a location near the community of Ti'inkias, an Achuar village deep in the Amazon Rainforest.
Our boat ride down the river was like being in a place where time had stood still. Lining the riverbank was a diverse and dense forest with occasional sounds and sights of birds and monkeys greeting us as we floated by.
Occasionally, I had to say out loud, "I'm in the Amazon Rainforest." I wasn't on a visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. This is the real thing.
Another 45-minute walk from the bank of the river brought us to our home in the jungle. Walking through the forest was like walking back in time as each step took us farther away from the busy distractions and closer to a different reality.
Achuar Shaman welcomes us to the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador (left). A playful moment at the equator in Ecuador, the middle of the world runs across the top of Dean (right).