Stories from the Amazon

  • Achuar kids smiling
    Children in the Achuar village of Tiinkias in the Amazon Rain Forest of Ecuador create drawings to send back to schools in the United States.

    Delivering Gifts and Learning Lessons in the Rainforest

    In the rafters above my bed, a tarantula clung to the roof.

    “They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them,” explained my guide, Cristina Serrano.

    Our rustic campsite offered a safe opportunity to sleep in the jungle. The platform elevated off the ground reminded me of several boat docks linked together. Wooden poles elevated a handmade thatched roof that protected us from the rain or offered shade from the intense sun. Inside were small beds with mosquito nets draped over the edges.

    The structure had no walls, just like the Achuar houses we had walked by in the jungle.

    I loved the fact that there were no walls. It offered a rare chance to be connected to the jungle, not just be in it. The walls that generally separate the indoors from the outdoors were gone, both physically and – in some magical way – energetically.

    At night, the jungle came alive.

    On a bed next to mine, a green light blinked off and on. It looked like a summer lightning bug until it dashed away. As it flew, the wings beat loudly. The underbelly of the insect turned into a bright glowing orange that was at least three times larger and brighter than its green light.

    “What’s that?” I asked.

    “That’s an orange beetle,” Serrano explained. “They won’t bother you either.”

    “Really? It’s called an orange beetle?”

    “No, I actually don’t know the name,” Serrano said, laughing.

    With more than 400,000 different species of beetles in the world, that’s understandable. Off in the distance, another large orange glow floated through the rainforest.

    It wasn’t a concern. I figured my guard tarantula would take care of any intruders.

    As a chorus of insects and nocturnal birds floated through our camp, I drifted off to sleep.

    Village elder drinking
    An elder in the Achaur village of Tiinkias in the Amazon Rain forest of Ecuador takes a drink of chicha.

    The next morning, we returned to the Achuar village of Tiinkias to deliver the school materials I had purchased.

    By the time we arrived, the villagers had gathered in a house near the school.

    After the traditional formal greeting, I gave them a stack of laminated photos that had been taken during my previous visit. Then, Serrano translated a few letters that I had brought with me from students in the United States.

    One student had written, “We don’t hunt with blow guns, we hunt with shot guns in Nebraska.”

    This had the Achuar laughing.

    Another student said, “We stand with you in your protection of the Amazon Rainforest.”

    The Achuar villagers were touched by all the messages the students had sent and they asked me to return their gratitude.

    “Our students are ready,” one of the parents said.

    We walked to the school.

    Inside the one-room building, students sat in pairs at wooden desks and eager to go to work.

    Achuar girl writing at desk
    Children in the Achuar village of Tiinkias in the Amazon Rain Forest of Ecuador create drawings to send back to schools in the United States.

    During my previous visit, the Achuar parents had decided to have their children make drawings of the rainforest. These would be sent to the schools that supported the Achuar Education Project.

    Out of some bags we pulled boxes of colored pencils and rolls of paper to distribute to the students.

    Some of the younger students were accompanied at their desks by their parents.

    Over the next hour, the students created drawings. As they finished, they approached me smiling from ear to ear and proudly handed me their creations. On their papers were images of birds, trees, butterflies, flowers and jaguars. I rolled them up and slipped them inside a plastic tube to transport back to the United States.

    Afterwards, we returned to the house for a special meal to celebrate our day.

    A woman approached and handed me the traditional Achuar drink – chicha. It’s a fermented drink made from river water and the yucca root. I drank the bowl of yellowish liquid.

    Next came a bowl of toucan soup.

    Not wanting to be disrespectful, I graciously accepted what was offered. The dark meat in my soup appeared to be the breast of the toucan. It tasted like quail.

    Later that night, I discovered the hard way what I should have already known – not to drink river water, even if it is fermented.

    Another lesson learned on my journey.

    Christina settling down to eat
    Cristina Serrano sits down for a lunch that includes toucan soup in the Achuar village of Tiinkias. The village is located deep in the Amazon Rain Forest of Ecuador.

    Fremont Tribune

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