I really don't know where to begin. This trip was no ordinary vacation. I"m going to break it down into few sections, because there's so much to say about so many things, that's the only way I can even begin to sort it out in my mind. Before I dive into any of these parts, I'll share the biggest take-aways.
The Country: Ecuador was full of beauty, volcanos, and warm people.
The Jungle: beautiful, alive, life giving.
The Indigenous people: peaceful, humble, open-hearted.
My travel companions: Ten of the most incredible travel companions EVER! These were my people. Open-hearted, willing to share, full of love and adventure. We learned so much from each other...my journey was their journey.
The medicine: We embarked upon two journeys during the trip. More on that later.
The Take-away: The whole point of this trip was to learn about the local tribes, the land, and the urgency of sharing their message with the outside world so we can take action to stop the oil extraction and other damaging effects that the western world is having on the rainforest. Please visit Pachamama.org to learn more. Or, donate to my personal fund-raising page. HERE.
First stop, QUITO!
Quito is at a high elevation, It's a beautiful city...we stayed at the La Rabida hotel, about 2 miles from old town Quito. It was a quaint little place, with a courtyard and a bunny rabbit! He stole the candy from my nightstand one evening, as he visited my room...I chased after him and stole it back!
As our group arrived, one by one, we hung out and got to know each other. We quickly became friends...after all, we already had a lot in common.
On day 2, we walked to Old Town Quito and enjoyed a local parade, fresh mango and other fruits, an art museum, and an amazing old church.
Next: bus ride to the next place, stayed overnight, got our rubber boots for the jungle, enjoyed dinner and hot tub, hammocks, walking along the river, and camaraderie.
Quito Video below
Days 3-8: Achuar Territory
The airport was an experience in itself. We enjoyed a sermon from a local who worked at the airport, in spanish. it was intense and moving. In small groups, we boarded the 4-seater planes, and headed to the rainforest. For about an hour, all I saw was green...as far as the eye could see. Eventually, we came up on a river, which was winding back and forth through the jungle. Then we saw the tiny airstrip...carved from the trees by hand. there was barely enough room to land!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a smattering of Achuar family members, who scooped up our duffle bags and disappeared into the jungle, heading towards the camp (a mile and a half away!!) that we would call home for the next 5 days. We found our way to the shade, and waited for the other two planes to arrive.
Once we were together again, we hiked through the jungle until we reached a river, and then we boarded a canoe, which took up upriver to the beginning of another trail. We walked more...in the mud...untli we reached the camp, called Tinkias.
Tinkias bunks were built under a thatched roof platforms, there was a fresh water shower (cold water only) and flushing toilets. Each bunk had mosquito netting...I hung out in my bunk right after dinner, because as soon as it got dark, those mosquitos were out! And they were hungry. But, they didn't really bother me much. I took vitamin B for a few days prior to coming into the jungle, and kept taking it throughout the trip. it worked! I never had to use bug spray!
We enjoyed fresh cooked food three meals a day, all of it was carried in by the Achuar people...including the water! These people are strong and generous. We ate simple meals of quinoa, beans, some vegetables, eggs, plantains and fruits.
Much of the time spent here involved hiking through the muddy jungle with Nuja (pronounced Noo-hah) who taught us about the trees, the plants, hunting techniques, and how they make everything they need to survive, from the jungle. He was enthusiastic and never seemed to tire of our endless questions.
We also learned about their handicrafts, including weaving and making bowls from clay. We also got to try using a blowgun...I didn't do to well at that, but it was fun to try!
One morning we woke before dawn and hiked to a family that lived close by. We shared their morning ritual, called Wyousa tea. Each morning, the families wake before sunrise to share their dreams in a sacred time called ‘hora de wayusa.’ As early as 3 or 4 am, Achuar people arise and share a tea called wayusa, made from a small shade-grown tree that is cultivated in most family gardens. Because the wayusa is caffeinated, it acts as a mild stimulant as the families recount their dreams.
The other big thing was the ayahuasca ceremony, on the third day. We had a nice breakfast, then fasted for the remainder of the day. We hiked to the black lagoon, went kayaking, and then prepared for our journey. We gathered under the common area with our mats, blankets, water, and headlamps. The shame arrived and after a short ceremony, one-by-one, we drank the brew that took all day to make.
This was my first experience with ayahuasca, which is called Natem by the Achuar. it tasted bitter, and left a nasty aftertaste in my mouth. I sat on my mat, and waited. After about 30 minutes, I felt slightly dizzy, so I laid down, closed my eyes, and spent the next 90 minutes or so on a beautiful journey up into the universe, through the stars, then through a portal...I spent a lot of time traveling through the portal...and when I came out the other side, I ended up landing in my grandmother's kitchen! it wasn't exactly like her kitchen back here on earth, but she was in fact baking, and was very happy, just she always was here on earth. We had a lovely chat about my kids, about my life, and about how happy she was to finally be together with the love of her life, my grandfather, Irwin, who also made an appearance! After we visited for awhile, I noticed that my mom was present as well.
We also had a great chat, and she shared that she was with me always, was proud of me, and that I had done a great job of raising my boys. it was so great to see her. Next, my kids showed up, and one by one sat down and had a talk with my mom. I was so happy that she got to spend time with them!
Next, my Uncle David showed up! (he was tragically killed in a car crash a couple of years ago) He was also happy and at peace, and shared his perspective for having a happy life...laughter and joy! He said, if you're not having fun, then something it wrong! I shared how much I enjoyed spending time at his house when I was a kid, because he always jumped into the pool with us, and was the life of the party.
Soon after that, my dear friend Bobby, from high school, appeared. He also was tragically killed in a car crash at the young age of 18. Bobby was the sweetest, funniest, most gentle soul I had ever met. Despite a difficult life, he always had a smile on his face, and spread the love to everyone he met. I shared how special he was, and how I still remember all the fun times we had in high school.
The rest of my vision was too hard to explain here, but feel free to ask me, next time we chat and I'll try to explain it! I learned many many things both from my visions and from the entire experience. It changed my perspective on life, that's for sure.
Days 9-13, Sapara Territory
We departed the Achuar territory with tears in our eyes, as we had come to love the people and the jungle and our little camp. But it was time to move on...another hike, another canoe trip, another hike...and we were back at the air strip. Eventually, we arrive at the Sapara territory, and was greeted by the tribe members, and Manari, their leader.
The first of many tobacco ceremonies, we were brushed with tobacco leaves, covered in smoke, and then we snorted tobacco juice. It works much faster than coffee to get you going in the morning!! it was quite the welcome. Manari then shared information about the tribe, and then we began our hike to our new home in the jungle, called NaKu. There are about 500 Sapara people left, and their numbers are dwindling.
We arrived at our camp, which was next to a small but clean and refreshing river, after a couple of hours. We rested, bathed in the river and shared a delicious dinner.
The next day, we hiked through the jungle again, this time up a steep incline. We learned about the history of the Sapara, about the significance of the Jaguar, and the struggles they have endured over the centuries.
The Sapara are a spiritual tribe, and Manari was an eloquent speaker, who spent much time sharing his passion and knowledge about spirituality and about his heritage. We also did dream sharing every morning, which was fun and informative. It was interesting to hear the dream interpretation...the tribal culture is so connected to the forest and hunting and family relationships...but we dream about other things like our jobs, offices, homes, cars, traffic, whatever...things for which they have no context. But, they were still able to find meaning in our crazy dreams!
The ayahuasca ceremony here was quite different from the other place. The brew was more gentle, but still provided us with what we needed to see. My journey was much less prolific, mostly because I chose to have a lesser dose...due to the string reaction I had from the pervious experience.
Aside from that, we spent time in the river, had a special tobacco and meditation time down river, hiked a lot, observed lots of large bugs, had many chats with Manari, and just enjoyed being in nature and with each other.
Days 13-15, Sierra Alisos
Our last few days were spent in the beauty of the mountains. Sierra Alisos was a home, converted to a lodge. It was a very long drive up a cobblestone road...and when we arrived, we were delighted to find ourselves in such a beautiful and cozy place. Maritsa was our hostess, and she took such good care of us! the food was incredible, the views spectacular, and the air pristine. From here, one by one, we departed for home, or for another destination. My life is changed forever...touched deep in my soul by the jungle, the people, and the spirits. Thank you Pachamama, for teaching me a different way to see.