P1000642Replica of shrunken head in Gualaquiza

I can feel the heartbeat of the Amazon.  I’m on the edge of it. Rainy season. Yesterday was the first day I did not see the sun. Cloudy and light rain all day.  Same thing today. Anything as big as a ditch is now boasting itself into a stream and a stream is bragging that it is a river.

P1000802Taken while walking along the rio Puyo

There is a ‘paseo’ that runs along the bank of the Puyo river.  There are three foot bridges that span the river along the 6ft wide pathway that is covered in paving blocks.  Length is about 2km end to end. Was begun about thirty years ago to encourage tourism.

P1000813Suspension footbidge

You can easily see that you ARE in the amazon basin from this ‘close to civilization’ pathway. Huge leaves on some trees. Palms, ferns, bird of paradise, crotons,  different varieties of bamboo, and much, much more.  Leaves of various sizes and colors are seen to lay on the pavers. A few spots where you may venture closer to the bank of the river, rocks embedded in very slippery mud. I was very careful.  P1000797Mud is deep red in spots

Saw a medium sized rodent like critter in the pathway ahead of me. Must not have had great eyesight, because it got within 30 feet of me before scurrying away.  Was not fast enough on the draw to get a picture. I am sure that it was an agouti.

Along this ‘easy’ walk (paving stones underfoot)  all you need do is to look to your left or across the river to see that treking through the jungle is not an easy thing to do.  You can see how easy it would be to become disoriented. It is DENSE. Easy to see that the plants would envelope you on all sides and there is no way to orient yourself. It all looks alike. Without finding a ‘clearing’ it would feel almost like being wrapped in plants.  Without the sound of moving water or other device, a person unfamiliar with it could get spooked very easily.  The sun light only filters down to the floor.  There is no ‘sky’.

Anyone who has experienced this will come away with an abiding respect for the humans who inhabited this terrain for thousands of years prior to the arrival of any European.  They did not have the benefit of metal tools. Had to fashion whatever tools they had from the jungle itself. Rocks, vines, hollow tubes. They would have had to develop a skill set that would include an intimate knowledge of all the plants and animals in this environment. Without that intimate knowledge, it is clear, that they would not have survived very long.

And I’m just on the ‘edge’ of it. Imagine just setting off across the river and into the jungle.  I extends for tens and scores and hundreds of miles.  No roads, only what you hack your way through. No shops. No electricity. No cities. You may stumble into an indigenous settlement. Forget English or Spanish or any other European or Asian language.  That is how it was as few as fifty years ago.


Local Gualaquizan archaeological finds

Things are changing rapidly. Nearly all of the indigenous tribal peoples do learn Spanish these days. Now you may come across a dirt road built by a petroleum engineering team or some other group of mineral hunters or loggers or people growing things that they do not want anyone to know about… you know what I mean.

I took the photos of the replica shrunken head at the start of this entry in Gualaquiza. I knew that the Shuar people were known to engage in this practice. They developed it originally as a means of scaring their neighboring tribes, don’t come this way, or else.  In times past it was a normal part of tribal existence.  Things change. Now many a Shuar is working as a construction, agricultural or petroleum worker.

The young man who was managing the local Gualaquiza tourism board office shared a story with me.  I mentioned that I had heard that the practice of shrinking heads had stopped about 30 years ago or so.  Was informed of a recent incident (two years ago) of a head that turned out to be real… not a replica.  As the story goes, there was an investigation and what was discovered was that some ‘collector’ had made an offer of 1000 dollars for a ‘real’ one.  He did not have a particular head in mind,  so long as it was real.

So, a while back, the Shuar (and a very few others) performed this practice as a means of ensuring that their favorite hunting grounds were not populated by competing tribes. These days, the same tribal people know about how things work in the ‘civilized’ world. They didn’t need to see the Smith Barney commercial (…money the old fashioned way…) to understand that money is how things are done in the ‘modern’ world.  The more you have, the more ‘power’ you have. Along comes an offer of 1000 bucks for something that you once heard your folks talking about and whamo, off comes some poor fellow’s head.

Not to worry though, the ‘practice’  is no longer in vogue.  There are representative members of nearly every tribe now learning the ‘power of government’. They can be seen in an number of street protests countrywide and in the capital.  They are learning the ways of ‘civilization’.

Maybe they will be encouraged to deal with political scoundrels a bit differently.  Remember the French Revolution? Seems that Joseph-Ignace Guillotin and the Shuar had similar notions about how to handle people that they deemed to be a problem.

Spending a second night in Puyo.  Still fighting off this nagging respiratory thing. Got a few more anti biotic pills and some cough syrup. Taking it slow and easy till I get my breathing back to normal. Then,  will gradually add more exercise. The jungle does not cater to the weak.