This morning we took a two-hour boat ride down river to Don Alberto's house. He is a traditional medicine man or shaman of the Siona community where he lives. He greeted us in traditional dress, which included a black tunic, a crown of parrot feathers and a feather thru his nose. He told us a little about the old ways, how the tunic used to be made of tree bark, and how they used wooden spoons and clay pots. He told us a little about his training as a shaman, which started at age 12, and continued to age 15 with his grandfather, and then continued with another teacher until age 30. He talked about using ayahuasca, or "eje" which is a hallucinogenic which helps them have visions which they use to help cure people and identify new and/or proper ways to use plants as medicine. According to Don Alberto, they can see illness in a person in three colors: yellow - stomach, red - blood, or black - brain (or mental illness). He then gave us a demonstration of the use of "ortiga" (stinging nettles) to help with circulation. (The welts this raised on Lucas' back and Debby's arms and legs disappeared by the end of the day!)
After lunch, we went to the house of another member of the community, "Mama Aurora" to learn how the Siona make yucca bread. First they pull up the yucca plant, breaking off and burying part of the root to start another plant. Then they peel it, grate it, and squeeze the water out of it, using a thin woven reed mat. After it is dry, they sift it, and this fine "flour" is spread on a hot clay plate (what the Guatemalan's call a "comal" but the Ecuadoran's call a "tiesto"). It is spread in a thin layer, and packed against the tiesto, and after a few minutes it is flipped. The resulting "bread" is more like a large pancake, and is tasty, but a bit dry.
After this, we headed back to the lodge, and after some down time, we took a short night walk thru the nearby jungle, and saw a lot of spiders, leaf cutter ants and other insects.
The jungle has been one of the parts of our travels in Ecuador that I have been most looking forward to, even more than our trip to the Galapagos or Machu Pichu. We had first talked about going with our friends who came to visit at Christmas-time, but it didn't make the final cut on that itinerary. (Probably just as well, based on what we learned on the trip this week, that the river drops from about 10' deep to about 1' deep in January and Feb.) Thankfully, this trip lived up to my expectations.
The four days we spent here was a perfect mix of the natural - bird and reptile watching boat rides, jungle hikes; and the cultural - a visit to a shaman and to Mama Aurora. The nature is fantastic and like a rich novel, I loved it although most of it went over my head. Although I won't remember, and can't appreciate all the different varieties of birds our guides pointed out, I did love the red crests of the tanagers, and the yellow breast and wing tips of the caciques, the swallow's graceful flight just inches above the river's surface and the iridescent blue of the "morpho" butterflies, which traversed the river too quickly and erratically to ever pose for a photo. The black furry monkey's tails high in the canopy were a bit difficult to distinguish, but the large band of squirrel monkeys crossing the river on the low fallen vines and trunks as our canoe passed underneath were easily identifiable. And although we were constantly on the watch for fauna, the overwhelming presence in the jungle is flora. The lush green of the trees and plants that line the river is amazing. The shades of green, from the canopy to the floor, from the almost translucent green of the newly opened fern to the sturdy pale gray green of the bromeliad and the multiple greens of the various palms, ever changing as wind and sunlight shuffle the pallet: green is the color of the jungle. Mix in the coffee brown of the river, the gray and ivory of the tree trunks, and the blue of the sky, glimpsed thru blocks of green, and that is the color of the jungle. The reds, yellows or violets of a flower or butterfly or bird punctuate the scene, but green dominates it.