Stories from the Amazon

  • Giant Kapok Tree
    The base of a giant kapok tree in the Amazon rain forest of Ecaudor.

    Walking Among the Giants of the Amazon Rainforest

    As we walked down the path through the Amazon Rainforest, we came upon a large kapok tree.

    The trunk was gigantic, as large as some of the redwoods I’ve seen in northern California. My neck strained, as I bent it backwards in an attempt to look for the top of the grand tree.

    The kapok is a giant in the rain forest. The tree can reach up to 200 feet in height, sometimes growing as much as 13 feet per year.

    The majestic kapok tree has many uses for humans. Its wood is lightweight and porous; it’s good for making carvings, coffins and dugout canoes. The silky fibers that disperse the seeds are too small for weaving but make great stuffing for bedding. Soap can be made from the oils in the seeds. Other parts of the giant tree are used as medicines.

    Scientists estimate a kapok tree can live up to 200 years.

    children walking with backpacks
    One of the Achuar students carries one of my bags as we walk through the rain forest learning about plants and animals (left).
    A poison frog in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador (right).

    My mind drifted back to a conversation I had with a young Achuar during one of my previous visits.

    “I love to walk through the forest,” he said, “because it is filled with the spirits that watch over us.”

    The Achuar believe the kapok tree is sacred and home to a powerful spirit.

    I stood wondering what stories the old tree wanted to share. It was a place where I wish I had more time to sit and listen. But friends were waiting in the Achuar village of Tiinkias.

    Along the bank of the Bobanasa River was a small canoe that we would take down the river.

    The view from the window of our plane had revealed the meandering nature of the Bobanasa River. The view from the canoe created a feeling of curiosity and wonder of what might be seen around the bend.

    A couple of hours later, we were greeted by several smiling children along the bank of the river. The children were from the village of Tiinkias and were waiting to help carry our bags.

    I am always astonished by how much the children have grown and changed since the last time I visited.

    We made our way to the rustic camp where we would sleep for the night.

    The Achuar created the Tiinkias camp to host visitors and staying there is one of my favorite parts of the journey. There are no walls – just an elevated platform with thatched roofs to protect the sleeping areas from the rain. At night, I go to sleep with only a mosquito net separating me from the jungle. It is raw and romantic as I rest in the arms of the rain forest spirits.

    Over the next couple of days I visited Tiinkias, delivered the school materials and walked through the rain forest with the students.

    This is always a joy. The students teach me about the rain forest on our walks; then, I take that information back to students in the United States.

    As we walked through the forest, we stopped from time to time and the children told me about the use of plants. Some trees had ripened fruit. When we found these trees, the children would climb them and pick the fruit at heights that would give most mothers in the United States a heart attack.

    child climbing fruit tree
    A young Achuar climbs a tree to collect fruit in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador (left).
    A young Achuar offers fruit collected from the trees in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador (right).

    It’s not that mothers here don’t care; they just don’t live in a state of constant worry. Or they just deal with what needs attention.

    I always admire the children’s relationship to the forest. As I walked through the mud wearing tall rubber boots, they walked with bare feet. Nothing seems to bother them; they are at home and ease in the forest.

    We also play on these hikes. One game they enjoy is hiding along the forest trail. As I approach, they jump out to try and scare me. During one of these attempts, a student fell into an ant nest. I tried to stop him but failed.

    He just jumped up, laughed, shook the biting ants off his hands and ran down the trail to find a new hiding spot. He didn’t freak out or scream in fear. He just handled it and continued with the game.

    This is a quality I greatly admire in the Achuar; they don’t allow distractions to keep them from enjoying life.

    smiling children
    A group of Achaur students in the village of Tiinkias prepare for a writing project.

    Fremont Tribune

Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2019. All Rights Reserved.