the Amazon Rainforest
By Kosa Ely
Rising early, before any hint of the dawn, we prepare for our full day’s journey to Porveneer. By 4:30 am the boats are loaded with bags bearing gifts, our day packs, and a cooler full of fruits. The motors are running and the boatmen are calling us to board.
The village of Porveneer is a native Shipibo community off the Ucayali River in the Amazon Rainforest. This community has chosen to keep their culture and heritage intact, and remains relatively isolated from the modern world. Almost two hundred miles upriver from Pucallpa, the last town with electricity, this journey would take us four or five days in the usual mode of transportation - a dugout canoe.
We are not traveling in canoes today. Our modern boats and 40 horsepower engines should get us there in five or six hours. But unlike the modern world, here we are as children, vulnerable and submissive; this land and this river are much more powerful than any of us, we know to expect the unexpected.
The loud sputtering of the motor makes conversation a chore. I allow my attention to be engulfed in the scenery around us. The wind gently whips my hair, and the rhythm of the boat plying on the water, courses through my body.
The river is much broader than I expected, and surrounds us in all directions. The sky, too, expands without limit. As the sun rises in the East, we witness a gallery of original art, painted in the sky and water, changing from moment to moment.
All of my senses are heightened, yet there is no satiation. From the inner depths of my being I feel powerfully connected with this river and sky and forest, and the emotion that rises within speaks, “Don’t let this ever end…”
It was only yesterday our party of fourteen arrived in Pucallpa, Peru, led by our veteran guide and explorer, Amazon John Easterling. John has made more than 170 trips to the Amazon rainforest over the last 26 years, building relations with the Indigenous people and working with them in partnership. Those of us accompanying John are distributors with the Amazon Herb Company, and for most of us, this is our first rainforest expedition.
After lunch we set out across the lake to visit the Amazon Herb Ecological Reserve. It’s a short boat ride, and as we approach the shore, we notice how much lower the river is than the bank. During the rainy season the strong rains raise the river level as much as 40 feet. The thatched roof huts are built on stilts five to ten feet above the ground. On many of the trees we can see the watermark and envision the land here submerged under water.
There are a few families living here, overseeing the reserve and the camu-camu grove. After being introduced to them, several of the men accompany our group on a hike of the medicine trail, and a few of the children, excited to have foreign visitors, lead the way.
The first part of the medicine trail takes us to the grove of camu-camu trees. The small red fruits from this tree contain the highest source of natural vitamin C known. I have tasted the dried camu-camu powder, and am eager to eat the fruits from the tree.
“These trees are under water for about three months during the rainy season,” Amazon John informs us while filling our hands with the small, round, fruits. “During our recent harvest, we brought in 13,000 kilos of camu- camu, giving us 650 kilos of dried camu-camu powder.”
I eagerly pop one in my mouth. It is crunchy, and tart, now sour as anything. Enjoying the burst of life energy and vitamins contained in these fruits, I’m on to the next. I feel blessed to be tromping around this camu-camu grove, leisurely munching on these nutritional treasures.
Hiking into the interior of the jungle, there is a repertoire of screeches and calls from monkeys and birds hidden from our view. The bright sun, eclipsed by the towering trees above, fails to reach the lower part of the forest. Looking upward, I see the tall trees set in shafts of sunlight, as gemstones are set in gold. There is a multitude of living creatures residing here. We stop to watch the leaf-cutting ants parading across a fallen tree. Alberto, a Shipibo shaman (medicine man) introduces us to the medicinal plants growing in the wild: the imporuru trees, the ayahyasca vine, the una de gato vine, the graviola trees.
Finding an area laden with una de gato vines, our other guide stepped from the trail to cut the vines for us. A moment later, he let out a deep yell, quickly followed by the loud thump of his machete. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he pointed to a bushmaster snake (known in the jungle as Jargong) that now lay unconscious on the jungle floor, less than two feet from our trail. The bite from these snakes is the number one cause of death in some parts of the Amazon. Looking at this 3 foot snake, pale green with light color markings, I am surprised how innocent it looks, compared to cobras and rattle snakes.
David reached over and picked the snake up, having his friend photograph him while holding it. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” cautioned Amazon John. “The snake’s not dead, and even if it was, it could still bite. When the Jargong bites, you have 30 minutes, perhaps an hour, to live.” Without protest David returned the snake to the jungle floor. A few minutes later the poisonous snake was killed. It was the 33rd Jargong that had been killed on the reserve this year.
Returning his attention to the una de gato vines, our guide began cutting 3 foot sections of the vine, peeling back the thick, outer bark, and handing them to us. The una de gato vines are as thick as some tree branches, and grow as much as 100 feet in length. Within these vines pure, refreshing water is stored. Anytime one needs water in the jungle, they can utilize the una de gato vines.
Offering a prayer of gratitude to the earth and the forest, I open my mouth to catch the dripping nectar. As the drops trickle into my mouth and down my throat, I am surprised by the subtlety of its taste. The ‘taste’ is the energetics of the vine itself. It is very refreshing.
After our hike, Alberto and his wife Elisa, who is also a shaman, accompany us across the lake to our Rainforest Lodge. After dinner we are invited to meet with them. They have brought plant medicines and the ayahuasca brew for sampling.
Their beautiful ceremony, singing, and teaching lasts late into the night. “Every tree, every plant, has a spirit. Plants are live beings. A plant may not talk but there is a spirit in it that is conscious, that sees everything,” Alberto explains. Part of their training is to be able to communicate with the plant spirits, and receive their healing skills from them. “That is why our people, the Shipibo people, always ask permission of the plant spirit before cutting.”
Elisa and Alberto sing their sacred songs, known as icaros, to offer us blessings and protection. There is both ceremony and icaros of thanksgiving, before, during and after receiving the plant medicines. I am moved by the deep reverence they have for the earth and how they honor her healing plants. I can feel how their consciousness magnifies the healing potency of the herbs. And I wonder if it is the magic of their herbs and their songs that have deepened our connection to their sacred land
Back in the Boat
A small fish lands at my feet on the floor of our boat, bringing me back to the present. The fish, desiring desperately to be returned to the river, flops about helplessly. Kathy scoops him into her hands and returns him to the water. Within minutes another fish lands in the boat. After the fourth fish has been returned to the river our boatman chuckles, “Piranhas, those are piranhas.”
In my reflective and meditative state, more than five hours have mysteriously passed as we’ve journeyed the Rio Ucayali. We are close to our destination now. A beautiful white bird is flying ahead of our boat. Around several bends of the tributary and out into the open waters, the bird continues to guide our boat and lead us to the village of Porveneer.
In the distance we can see the entire village on the bank of the river, waiting to greet us. Their drums are beating. Colorful clothing, then smiling faces, come into view. As soon as our boats dock at the riverbank, the Shipibo children and youth clasp our hands, assisting us out of the boats, onto their land.
As they lead us to the dancing arena, their warmth and friendship are way beyond anything I could have anticipated. In all of my travels abroad I have never felt so welcome upon my arrival. Dancing with a handsome Shi-pibo youth, we exchange smiles and laughter.
After dancing we are seated on wooden benches, and served masato, a ceremonial fermented drink made from manioc. The chief and elders of the community honor John and thank him for all he has done for them. The affection and appreciation between these villagers and John is incredible to witness first hand.
While they perform their traditional dances for us, I enjoy watching their faces, observing the children, and photographing as much as I can. Fortunately, they are eager to pose for photos, and after the dances, one after another they approach me, requesting me to take their picture. The young men like to pose alone, holding their ceremonial club and looking brave. The young girls, giggling, gather a friend or two, to have their picture taken together. The men bring their wife and children for a family portrait. The chief wants his picture taken with us. What a treasure these photos will be, for myself and others. We have brought gifts of clothing, shoes, and school supplies. It is their custom to offer a gift after receiving one. As they receive their gifts from us, they in turn decorate us with beautiful handmade necklaces and bracelets.
Amazon John has a gift he personally brought for their village, three solar lanterns with lightweight solar panels. John asks them to try them, and if they work well he will bring one for every family. Huge smiles and cheers of approval resound. Next they invite us to the marketplace they’ve set up for us. What a pleasure to view and purchase their hand painted and embroidered cloths, carved instruments, rain sticks, and other handicrafts. I buy something from each family, pleased to have such valuable gifts to bring home.
Lunch is served, and the village band starts playing again. One by one, our new Shipibo friends ask us to dance. John, Koda Sun, and David slip away, and when they return their faces are painted with traditional Shipibo designs.
Amazon John and Martin learn from the chief that loggers are threatening their tribal land again, and he needs their help. Although they have the rights and deeds for their land, it is an ongoing struggle to protect it. John and Martin assure him they will start their team of lawyers on it, and will meet with him again next week.
It is past three o’clock and the boatmen are anxious to leave. For our safety, they do not like to travel in the dark. More dangerous than the fallen trees and unexpected weather, are the occasional river pirates that plunder, and sometimes kill, travelers.
Still I am reluctant to go, wishing we had more time for good-byes. From the boats our eyes meet, and we all wave and smile, and the drums are still beating.
Before long, our American warriors are taking siestas in the boats. Tomorrow we will visit the village of Puerto Firmesa, and our Amazon Herb Co. facility in Pucallpa. We will also get to see the tribal handicrafts, pottery and painted cloth that are shipped abroad, as part of Amazon Herb Co.’s Manos de la Tierra (Hands of the Earth) program. This program gives the tribal women the opportunity to earn money while sharing their beautiful art and culture.
Four rainbows appear, each unique unto itself, on our return journey. The full moon begins to rise on the Eastern horizon as the sun begins its descent in the West. The clouds continuously dance in formations across the vast sky, playing with the light of the sun and the moon, and their dance, in its entirety, is reflected in the river waters surrounding us.
We are racing the setting sun. Now we journey in the dark. Fortunately the light of the full moon helps the boatmen navigate the black waters. We’re all intensely quiet, each of us internalizing this day of days, feeling our lives changed, our consciousness altered, and a kinship with the villagers of Porveneer we will never forget.
The beauty and serenity of this magical land, its healing botanicals, and its native people, has shifted my personal definition of prosperity. From the inner depths of my being I am powerfully connected with this river and sky and forest, and I know now, this will never end.
To find out more about Amazon Herb formulas, rain-forest preservation, or partnering with the Amazon Herb Company, please contact Kosa Ely at (800) 362-3975, or you may visit www.AmazonProsperity.com .
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