Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Journey is the Destination

Imbabura and Lago San Pablo From the Air

The journey is the destination. That was very clear today when our adventure began early this morning. After waking up Maya and sending her off to school (not to see her for five days which makes me anxious and worried), we met Pamela (or Wabita as she is called, not sure why) and piled into a taxi with all our bags (Eric was up all night preparing equipment, so we have five bags full of research related tools and two computers). I was amazed that we could all fit into one tiny little taxi. We stopped at Isabel's house to drop off Maya's music stand and instructions regarding her stay, as well as the unfinished cherry pie, which Maya requested. We met Thomas, a student at my Spanish school (Swiss, from Zurich), at the airport, and helped him get on a flight a little earlier than ours ( he was supposed to have a flight booked, but did not show up on the manifest).

View of the Jungle Through the Clouds

We saw Antisana volcano above the clouds as we flew north and east. Imbabura and Lago San Pablo were also visible. The jungle suddenly appeared through the clouds, the river red and silty against a carpet of green. Coca, or San Fransisco de Orellana as it is more properly called, is bigger and busier each time I visit. We met Marion and Hans, German tourists, and the representatives from Shiripuno at the airport, where we piled into a truck and rendezvoused with other associates at a hotel not too far from Sacha Lodge House. I was not sure what the pause was about, but later it became clear that the owner of Shiripuno Lodge had failed to arrange a guide for us. It turned out that there was a huge conference or community event with the guides and the Houarani occurring over the next several days and that neither the owner of the lodge or the usual other guides were available. Eric went off to find Luis, a guide we have used in the past at Sacha and who had a place in Pañacocha which we had visited years ago. He had always wanted to be a guide for us one day, but he too was unavailable and tried to call several colleagues, none of whom could help us. Finally, Patricio, one of the 'men in charge' found a young man who knew the trails around Shiripuno. I asked our driver if he was any good, but he demurred and only responded that Javier 'knew the trails'. Later I learned that we would try and pick up a Hauorani guide along the way.

We finally set off for the three hour drive through the jungle. It was hot and stifling and then raining heavily and I think I drifted off, when suddenly we were stopped at a clinic where we were informed that we needed a 'swine flu check'. We waited and waited on broken chairs watching women and their children waiting too. Finally each of us had our temperature and blood pressure taken. I was worried that my cough would give me away, but I managed to get through the check up without incident. It took about an hour and three of us left before realizing that we had only seen the nurse and that the other truck's occupants were required to see the doctor and get questioned and interrogated and examined while we were waiting and wondering what had happened to our companions at the river's edge where we were to embark on the next part of our journey. Needless to say, we were delayed for a significant period of time.

Entering Huoarani Territory

Our Boat for the Journey

Trees Along the River

When we finally left all together on our motorized canoe with our cook and our driver and our guide, it was far later than planned and we were told to expect a three hour ride. The forest began to reveal herself immediately, with oropendula nests and their occupants making their unique water droplet sounds. Eric pulled his bird books out and I could understand why birders get so excited. The birds were everywhere, and their coloring was stunning. We saw yellow caciques, white throated toucans, many banded aracaris, kingfishers and flycatchers and whilte banded swallows and terns and ducks and yellow and blue macaws and a red hatted woodpecker and black caracara with a red head and yellow headed vultures, curassows (big black birds), the list goes on and on. The birds were flying all about and we were looking left and right and up and behind to catch them all. At one point three capibaras jumped into the river on one side and swam to the other bank and climbed out and ran into the forest. They are big rodents, with square heads and bodies and are surprisingly good swimmers.

Huoarani Settlement

Huoarani Boy


Our purpose along the way was to find a Huoarani guide, and we stopped at a small community and asked the chief for help. The two or three usual guides refused to join us, so we kept stopping and asking and getting refused. Some were more traditional than others, most men wore only underwear, but the women and children were dressed in western attire. Two men had the huge earlobes hanging down ( they put a large seed or piece of wood in a hole in their earlobe when young). Finally a young man agreed to help us. It seemed that the lure of money did not attract these people. One man was going fishing and the other simply did not want to work. I later learned that the lodge was required to employ one Houarani with each group of visitors. We encountered a woman in the river trying to pull a string of boats along, her small son in one huge metal canoe, and her husband further along in a dugout canoe. She was sinking in the water and not making progress, so we had her throw us the line and hauled her boats along the river with her in the boat with us. He turned out to be the chief of the community and she the chief's wife.

Huoarani Hunter

The delays added up. Before long the sun was descending and we were traveling in the dark, further down the river and further from civilization. I was reminded of the Joseph Conrad novel, 'Heart of Darkness' and the movie 'Acopalypse Now'. We were charging down this river farther and farther away from the world we know, alone in the jungle, in the dark, The fireflies came out and then there was a massive downpour and we were wet and shivering and not at our destination yet.The boat slowed down in the dark and we huddled and shivered and prayed for an end to our misery. Finally we arrived at Shiripuno Lodge. There was no light and no electricity, we are truly in the middle of nowhere far from everything.

Night Falls on the River

We found our rooms in the dark and used candles and flashlights and changed out of our wet clothes. Dinner was surprisingly good and we discussed our plans for tomorrow. We have had an adventuresome day and have traveled far and seen an incredible amount of wildlife and an entirely other way of life along the river. Our journey has been our adventure.

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