A young Achuar boy in the village of Tiinkias in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador shows his warrior look.
A Special Delivery to the Achuar People
“Pull up, obstructions below, pull up, obstructions below,” the cockpit computer repeated as our pilot began to land on a remote dirt airstrip half-covered with grass.
“I really didn’t need to hear that,” I thought as I glanced at the young pilot.
This young man, whom I had entrusted my life, smiled. I was pretty sure he had never had his first shave.
When we arrived earlier at the airport in Shell, Ecuador, it was determined we needed a larger plane. We had collected too many bags of school materials for the Achuar people, and the plane they had scheduled to take us into the jungle wasn’t powerful enough to carry everything.
Sometimes you just have to roll the dice and trust.
Now, just a few minutes before my heartbeat increased dramatically, my face was pressed against the plane’s Plexiglas window. Below was the endless Amazon Rainforest. It looked like green broccoli spread across the ground, bumps and clumps of green vegetation as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, we passed over a meandering brown river; it was just one of the 1,000 tributaries that connect to the Amazon River.
This part of the Amazon Rainforest is the homeland of the Achuar nation -- 7,000 indigenous people living in an area of 2 million acres of pristine forest.
A group of villagers gathered to greet our plane. Some faces were familiar.
Roman, from the Tiinkias village, had come to escort us. His long black hair was drawn back into a ponytail. He was wearing a traditional Achuar headband.
Roman, an Achuar leader from the village of Tiinkias, leads us through the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador.
When I saw Roman, I greeted him in his native language. “Winyahi,” I said loudly, which means “hello.”
He responded with a big smile and returned the same greeting.
Roman is coordinator for the Tiinkias village project. He’s an Achuar who has been educated and has spent time outside the rainforest. He has chosen to live the lifestyle of his ancestors.
The Tiinkias project is an Achuar village designated to receive visitors from the outside world.
We unloaded the plane and organized our bags.
It felt good to be back in the Amazon Rainforest. The smell of life fills the air here.
We walked for 40 minutes through the rainforest with porters carrying our bags. We came to a river where a wooden canoe was waiting for us.
After the canoe was loaded, we began our journey down the river.
Along the edges of the river, South American river turtles sat perched on half-submerged logs. As our canoe approached, the turtles would quickly dive into the safety of the brown water. This always brought a roar of laughter from my Achuar companions.
South American river turles line up on a log in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.
One of my observations of the Achuar people is they seem to know how to enjoy life.
Five hours later, I sat in the Tiinkias village. The entire community gathered in a house with a thatched roof supported by wooden poles.
The Achuar are also very formal, which can be surprising. They had written a two-page schedule for my visit. Several members of the community stood to give short speeches of welcome.
Roman stood and said, “We know you don’t come as a tourist but as family. People have come to visit us in the past and made promises. You are the first to keep your promise, and for this we are grateful. This is also why we call you ‘yatzuro.’”
“Yatzuro” is the Achuar word for brother.
Then I was asked to speak.
“This is larger than my promise to return. It is the expression of many students and individuals who wish to support and empower you to help protect the Amazon Rainforest. People who believe the rainforest is important to the health of the world and the role you can play in protecting it.”
I showed them photos taken at schools with students holding signs that read, “We stand with the Achuar.”
It was clear they were moved by the messages sent from those so far away.
“Go and rest. We have much work to do,” Roman concluded.
The view out the window of the small plane as it lands in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.