After an overnight bus ride from the capital of Ecuador to the frontier town of Coca we arrived at the doorstep of the mighty Amazon Jungle, the largest in the world (sometimes referred to as the lungs of the earth). The Amazon is so large that it sits within multiple countries of South America (see an atlas). From here we drove for 5 hours along a road which was created through the Amazon by oil companies and sadly splits this great forest, to arrive at a tributary to the mighty Amazon river. After this road, to get anywhere in the Amazon one must travel by river as the indigenous people here have done for as long as they can remember. Here we met our Kichua guide, driver and cook – who took us 8 hours by motorised canoe to an isolated thatched roofed lodge. This was to be our last night of comforts, before we headed another 6 hours up river to camp within a village of traditional Amazonian people, the Hoarani (pronounced Worani).
The Hoarani people have only been in contact with ‘civilisation’ for a few decades, before this they lived a stone-age existence and still do in some respects, hunting in the forest with wooden blow-guns and stone tools to make spears. At this point it might be useful to look up the Hoarani on google to learn something about them, they are very interesting. Within the same Amazon area are groups of people that have chosen to have no contact with the outside world and we heeded many warnings about them, they can be very violent and dangerous if come across in the forests. In fact that they believe that strangers in the forest are cannibals who have come to eat their children. Even our Kichua guides were terrified of the ‘non-contact groups’ and would have nightmares about them in the forest. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t too long ago that the Hoarani were the same and had achieved infamy through their fatal spearings of missionaries and students in the past. These days they are a friendly bunch and welcomed us as we pulled in on the bank, along with their pet spider-monkeys, macaws and trumpet birds.
This friendly spider monkey got a little bit too excited! There was blood!
This friendly tarantula decided that our tent was a perfect place to hide out from the rain
We spent a week in the forest with the Hoarani learning about the forest, how they use plants to survive and make baskets, nets, hammocks and poison blow-darts. We also joined them on their hunting trips to find food for their families, including cute squirrel monkeys, capybaras (a dog-sized guinea pig like rodent, the largest in the world), collared-peccary pigs and tapir. Our only successful hunt was the squirrel –monkeys which they grilled on an open flame that night to feed the whole group (not for us though!). It only took two very quick and accurate poison darts to paralyse and kill the monkey. The darts the Hoarani use are dipped in Curare, a sticky brown substance made from boiling the bark of a particular tree. You can actually lick this stuff, we tasted some, however poke it into your flesh and it will enter your bloodstream with fatal results.
Getting the blow dart ready to shoot.
This is our Hoarani guide Guinto looking very proud with his monkey catch.
If an animal killed for food has a baby they will raise it as a pet, giving the children the opportunity to learn about its behaviour and its calls, developing their skills as hunters. When the pet grows it will often return to the forest to live naturally, and sometimes return to visit its human family.
This gorgeous baby olingu loved a cuddle
A Hoarani family will live in one thatched-palm-leaf hut and sleep in hammocks they make themselves from the fibres of palm trees. One hammock will last a whole lifetime. If their enemies come it is easy for them to sneak out through gaps in the leaves into the dark night.
Dinner with the villagers.
Each evening we had to bathe in the muddy river next to our camp-site, sharing the water with the many piranhas that live there. This may sound very dangerous and scary but piranha do not eat people, they usually hunt fish and carrion (dead animals) but were told that if we had a cut we may be in danger as the blood would attract them. Although we weren’t lucky enough to see one, anaconda also lurk in these waters.
Check out the teeth on this Piranha
One night our Kichua guide Livio took us into the forest on an insect hunt. Amongst the other strange creatures we found was the scariest spider we have ever seen. Livio had previously warned us that there was a giant venomous tarantula about that would leap a metre in order to attack, we had found it and Livio was right! We kept our distance as Livio tricked it out of its burrow. This thing was lightning quick and huge…. Check it out, …
This was an amazing adventure that we will remember forever.
Next stop the Andes mountains.