ADVENTURES with (ex)HeAd-ShRinKeRs of the AMAZON!

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2010

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Where I stayed
casa de Enrique

Flag of Ecuador  , Pastaza,
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Drenched in sweat following a Shuar Indian gripping a newly sharpened machete into the the Amazon Rainforest, I found myself thinking, "Why yes, indeed I do like long walks alone in the jungle with a member of the Shuar Tribe-- once one of the most violent tribe--made famous for their headshrinking of enemies---"

How did I get myself into this situation you ask? WELL adventures (and they really are adventures!) into the depths of the Amazon began in Quito where I spent the ENTIRE day searching for a mosquito net for living in the jungle (only to of course later discover there were about 15 extra there...).  No one in Quito even knew what they were of course because they are in the mountains and dont need them... Finally found one and laughed at the fact that is was bright pink!

I had decided to volunteer in the Amazon rainforest with an organization called Eco-UP---working with a local NGO on community development with the infamous Shuar Tribe.  ****Check out the website: *****   Freshly off the plane from Lima, I was picked up and taken to a ·"host family" as the organization had previously described-- (found out that the host family was just tjhe family of the director of the program... no expectations is the way to live down here in South America really) Then was awoken at 6 am and given a map and some directions on how to get myself to the isolated site-- "WAIT what? No one is going with me?",  I thought as I tried to gain my consciousness from my deepsleep dream-world....

Turns out, indeed, I was supposed to get myself there... Ride a bus to Puyo for 4 hours, get off, get on another, tell the driver to let you off at KM 48.... And THEN ask SOMEONE, God only knows who, for a man called Dominique... SO off I went, SOMEHOW made it there--and was dropped off literally on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere... ha

Some man came out of the jungle and took me to a house..there I met Domingo and had a littleeee of a culture shock as I walked up into the wooden house, and sat down as small monkeys chased each other around the wooden floor boards and onto my backpack! The men in the house were shirtless, eating fruit I had never seen before, and drinking Chicha-an alchoholic drink- out of a vegetable-made bowl.  I was SO HOT, but all I could think of was the fact that I was supposed to wear long sleeve shirts and pants for the mosquitos and other "creatures" in the amazon... 

And this is where my first jungle walk comes in-- crossing on logs over water drenched soil, and up to a mirador or viewpoint.  Once we got there---wow--- it was undescribable.... A panoramic view of the canopy of the Amazon, a brown river snaking through endlesssss green...All I could think of was all the times I had read about the Amazon, seen documentaries, and created a diarama with Raven in junior or senior year of highschool on the incredible diversity of this --then so far away and unreal-- incredible biome.   Its amazing here.

Ive only volunteered for 2 or 3 days because I came in the middle of the week, and then on Thursday the group of volunteers--6 of us-- went into the Selva or jungle for a couple days.  We visited the water fall-- the most sacred thing to the Shuar; Sebastian-- a member of the tribe- told me, "The waterfall.  Itīs our church".  We had to rapel down to get there which was really fun- and we spent the night under a night sky SO UNPOLLUTED, like NOTHING I have ever seen before-- the milky way as clear as can be...

Spent the weekend in Banos--city 4 hours away-- with Sebastian, who really doesnt know or like cities, and who ANY day would prefer larvae over pizza or a burger.  Yes, larvae.   We talked of "our worlds"-- mine-- a city, hot showers, plumbing, OUR world in the West- his-- the jungle home, walks, food collecting in the jungle.  He told me how strange it was for him to be using knives and forks, to be listening to classical music.. and I told him it was the same for me in the jungle... He rebutted, no its different, because the jungle accepts people with open arms-- And I found myself pondering the world we live in-- how people tend to view cultures like his-- "primitive, backwards"-- maybe our world isnt so kind after all... 

Its been hard living with them-- there are traditional sex roles--Men never cook, women cant play the drums at a dance, and are expected to cater to the men-- life is so different here, but im learning SO much.

Im off to go back into the jungle now, and will fill you in next weekend if I can find internet.  Meanwhile, Ill be macheting, digging holes, and showering in the rio or river-- contemplating what makes us US, as I realize more and more the impact of culture on ones identity...

More about:::

Bosque Protector Arutam straddles the main road 48
kilometers south of




, going south toward Macas.
Via Macas is a one lane gravel road that follows the edge of the Amazon
and the
eastern foothills of the



. The bosque is 2670 hectares of rainforest (6675 acres) of which 80
percent is primary forest and 20 percent having been logged within the
past 10 years. The property is the private ownership of a Shuar family
and had been developed to be an education center and rustic eco-tourism
destination. The west border of the bosque is along the



and an old ox bow lagoon. From
there the property lays east across Via Macas over the rolling foothills
this area and then down into the flats with the swamps, lagoons and

In the culture of the Shuar, who were the headhunters of the
Amazon, the men would purify themselves before and after the battle.
They would
fast for as many as 14 days, bathing in the waterfall and walking in the
gathering their will and intention. After the fast they would drink tea
from Ayahuasca or a variety of Floripondio which bring them visions of
future and guidance and strength from Arutam, or God. If a warrior was
enough to control the fear of meeting with Arutam then he could speak
to Arutam and get the gift of additional strength and valor for the
battle. If
the warrior were to die bravely in battle their spirit would go back to
waterfall and live there in the form of an anaconda or jaguar. In time a
warrior would come to bath and ask for strength and the spirit of the
warrior would enliven the seeker and therefore recycle the energy of
life. If a
warrior was to die an ignoble death during battle his spirit would
divide into
parts and live in different insects and animals of the forest. If
successful in
battle the warrior would return to the waterfall to thank the spirits of
cascade for the strength and to purify in the water.


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john moor on

Great photos again. Glad you are doing well and having fun. Are those suits official Ecuadorian waterfall wear that you and your friend have on? On a different note, I finally got a name for the orphanage near Cusco that I talked about. Don't know if you will be near there again. It is Casa de Milagros and Mama Kia at See what you think. Have fun. Learn and see a lot. We are learning a lot from you. Best wishes.

Pati on

You are sensitive and aware of cultural nuances, Lara. I love to read your blog and ponder your thought-provoking questions and observations. *hugs*

Pascal on

Wow Lara, it is crazy to think that you are able to experience all of these different places! Can't wait to see you!

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