Stories from the Amazon

  • Beautiful red flower
    Beauty can be found everywhere in the Amazon Rainforest. A flower attached high on the side a tree blooms above the pathway through the forest.

    It's Time to Leave the Rainforest

    “It’s time to go,” said my guide, Cristina Serrano.

    Our time in the Amazon Rainforest was drawing to an end.

    But, I didn’t want to go. The experience of being here was so rich and rewarding. I got a glimpse of a life where community was sacred and I had gained valuable insights.

    The previous day, the Achuar villagers of Tiinkias had invited me to fish with them. This was a rare treat that creates a festive feeling within the community. In Achuar, it is called “barbasquear.”

    “I’ve never gone fishing with a whole village in the 15 years I’ve been coming into the rainforest,” Serrano said. “This is something very special.”

    The root of a plant called barbasco is used for fishing. The villagers gathered on the edge of an old river oxbow. At one end of the lagoon, they set up fishing nets. On the other end, they dumped the smashed barbasco roots into the water.

    A chemical in the barbasco root brought the fish floating to the surface.

    Men and boys waded into the brown murky water to harvest the fish. Using spears and machetes, they gathered as many fish as possible. After an hour, they returned to the fish camp where the women had started fires for cooking the fish.

    Boys fishing in the river
    Achuar men and boys from the village of Tiinkias go fishing in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

    Blue smoke rose from smoldering embers while the women cleaned the fish and wrapped them in green leaves before placing them on the red embers. Families gathered around these small stacks of wrapped leaves filled with cooking fish.

    Large green leaves were then spread on the ground. The leaves became the table on which to place our food. We would sit here and dine on the freshly caught fish.

    Fresh fish layed out on leaves
    A woman rubs salt on fresh caught fish before wrapping them up in leaves to be cooked on a open fire.

    One of the women spoke before we ate.

    “We have been fishing as a community for as long as the Achuar have roamed the rainforest. You have been invited to share this sacred experience with us because we call you our brother. You are welcome at our table.

    “We love the rainforest and are happy with our way of life. The best way to show you this happiness is to share it.

    “Please help us protect our land and way of life from the oil companies that will destroy it,” she concluded.

    Achuar women cooking
    Woman from the Achuar village of Tiinkias prepare the fish camp deep in the Amazon Rain Forest of Ecuador.

    The time had come to leave the village. I didn’t want to go, but I knew the best chance for me to respond to the woman’s request would be back in my world.

    After having spent some time in the forest around the village, I had become familiar with the pathways.

    “I’m going to start walking to the river alone,” I declared to Serrano.

    She gave me one of those looks that questioned my statement.

    I assured Serrano that I would be fine. I told her I wanted to spend a little time in the rainforest alone.

    As Serrano stayed behind to finish some work at our rustic campsite, I set out for the river on my own. Without the distractions of being with a companion, I was able to see and hear the rainforest in a more intimate way.

    Critters scurried along the forest floor, birds offered songs and the small details that generally go unnoticed were given a chance to surface. The Amazon Rainforest is not as sensational as the wilds of Africa or other parts of the world, but the density of life here is second to none.

    To walk amid the ecosystem of a tropical rainforest is like jumping into a pool of life energy. It penetrated and connected me to the essence of life within myself. This left me in an almost trancelike state of awe – a place rooted in a deep and respectful appreciation for life.

    The sweet voices of two young Achuar girls broke my trance. They were singing a beautiful song as they walked toward me through the rainforest. They had carried some of my gear to the river and were returning to the campsite for the rest of the bags.

    The moment the shy girls saw me they became silent. They smiled as they passed by and giggled when I tried to ask them to continue with their song.

    A young boy who was accompanying the girls stopped and greeted me briefly.

    “Maketai yatzuro Dean.” (Thank you brother Dean.)

    At the river, a canoe was ready to take us up river to the village where a dirt airstrip was located.

    As I stepped into the canoe, a group of Tiinkias children waved and smiled. The look in their eyes seemed to ask the question, “When will you come back?”

    Fremont Tribune

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