Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Adentro (pt.1)

(this post has turned into a ridiculous length, so I am splitting it into 2, or maybe 3, parts.)

I passed the last week of May and the first week of June in El Oriente, invited by my Peace Corps friends Jeremy and Susan King who live and work in Puyo. Most of Susans´ work is with the Huaroni tribe (these are the Indians depicted in the movie ¨End of the Spear¨ as well as the subject of a great book by Joe Kane titled ¨Savages¨) Like all natives in the Ecuadorian Amazon the Huaroni have been impacted by 50 years of oil exploration and extraction, illegal logging, and a steady stream of missionaries. More info about the Huaroni people and history can be found at Wikipedia, or amazingly enough, at http://www.huaroni.com/. Although the Huaroni have a long history of violence against outsiders and against neighboring clans the people we encountered in Menapare and Tepapare were anything but ¨violent savages¨.
Our trip adentro began in Puyo, where Susan, Jeremy and I met up with another PC friend, Kris Pedings. The four of us had trained together in La Esperanza, so it was a nice reunion – although I was dismayed that my Spanish lagged far behind theirs! In the morning we went to the offices of AMWAE, the agency Susan works with, to pick up supplies and to meet the 9 students from Duke University who were here to construct a water collection system and also to determine the community´s interest in solar derived electricity. With a grant from somewhere, AMWAE had recently purchased a brand new Yamaha 40HP outboard motor for one of its dugout canoes – we all watched in awe as one of the Huaroni men carried it down the stairs from the office and loaded it into the back of the chartered bus. This was only the first of many outrageous feats of strength that we would witness in the coming week. As the morning wore on, Duke students straggled in as did the Huaroni who were heading back to their villages. Our scheduled departure time became a distant memory as we gathered food and water, loaded bags and gear, and waited for something to happen. Ya mismo.
All of a sudden, the driver fired up the bus – it was packed to the gills with people and stuff, a gigantic water tank tied to the roof along with metal roofing, tubing and other various and sundry work related supplies; bags of cement, tanks of gasoline, and the 40 horse outboard all stashed in the compartments below. That the bus even moved was somewhat a shock. We had a beautiful and uneventful drive to Puerto Napo, where we took on 2 more passengers – Jeff Brown, another PC volunteer from up in Chaco, and Mary Fifield, who lives and works in Tena. She is affiliated with Global Pediatric Alliance and a friend of Jeremy and Susan´s. We then made a short stop in Misahualli where we had to track down a component of the outboard motor that was vital to its operation, namely, the key. A key was located, and as we left town crossing the rather suspect bridge over the Rio Napo, our driver forgot about the water tank strapped to the roof and inadvertently pulled down an electric wire. Thus, to cross the bridge we had to remove the tank, then walk across the bridge as it had been determined that the bus along with passengers would be too much of a load. We all waited on the other side with our breath held as the bus lolled over the bridge and made it safely to the other side, where we repacked the water tank and went on our merry way.
Our next stop would be Menapare, about 2 hours away and the end of the road. Along the way we passed settlements of colonistas, people who work for ¨The Company¨ (the oil companies). We passed parts of the pipeline, and at least one compound where supplies for oil extracting were piled up, waiting to be utilized. Towards the end of the road we came across a guarded checkpoint – we were about to enter Huaroni territory – and we wondered if the suspicious guard would allow this overloaded bus with its motley crew of gringos to pass. He did, and we cruised on in to Menapare.
We were staying only one night in Menapare, in the morning we would be traveling 2 -3 hours by canoe downriver to Tepapare. We unloaded the bus, and reloaded all work related supplies (including the gigantic water tank) into a dugout canoe waiting below the bridge, to be taken to Tepapare. The canoe would return for us in the morning. There had been rain, and the river was muddy and fast. There were some concerns that if it rained more during the night that we would have to wait to continue on, but as it turned out the night passed clear and quiet; we set up our tents and mosquito netting, prepared dinner for ourselves and the villagers, told stories and sang songs, and later crawled into our bags.
In the morning we woke to find that one of the Huaroni men had killed a small caiman with a machete blow across the skull, and that it was being roasted over a fire at another hut as part of breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, coffee and crocodile – the breakfast of champions! The meat was tender and tasty, much more palatable than I had expected.
After eating and washing up we broke down camp and started loading canoes. It was a short hike from the village to the river, and everything was carried down. We packed out 2 canoes – both appeared overladen, with only 4 – 6 inches of gunwale visible above the waterline. A light drizzle was falling, and as we left for Tepapare I noticed I was cold – something I never would have expected in the Amazon. The river was still up, but not dangerously so. As I looked around, at the river, at the jungle, at the water sloshing around my feet in the canoe, and at the people I was with, I had another of those moments of recognition where I just grin a little and say to myself ¨holy shit, I´m in Ecuador¨.
I would like to report that during the two hour cruise down to Tepapare that I saw great stands of primary jungle and thousands of exotic birds, butterflies, and flowers, not to mention some rare example of one endangered creature or another, but I can´t. Although far from Tena, we were still too close to civilization and its´ effects – oil extraction, colonization, illegal logging and hunting. Nevertheless, it was beautiful, and quiet (when the outboards were turned off), and I was thrilled to be there. We floated and motored downriver, and as we made a wide turn in the river we were greeted by 20 or 30 souls standing on a muddy bank, the people of Tepapare.

1 comment:

Susana said...

You forgot to add the part where you used your superpowers and saved the day by preventing the bus from wrecking into the camioneta on the other side of the bridge! Roger to the rescue!!!!