6 May

Tuesday 6 May

After some deep investigation yesterday night, we did not find anything in Tena that propose us a tour in the jungle. So early this morning, we take the bus for Puerto Misahuallí, a village on the Napo river, and the main touristic port of the Ecuadorian Amazonas region. From here, we take a tour to go for a walk in the rainforest, visit a museum of medicinal plants and ancestral traps, and meet a local indigenous community.

Puerto Misahuallí and its surroundings count around 5000 inhabitants (and a herd of monkeys), of which 80% are indigenous (of the ethnics Kichwa). It was founded by the Spanish several centuries ago when a Spanish priest celebrated a mess (misa in Spanish) over a bunch of branches and other rubbish (hualli in Kichwa) about to be washed away by the high waters of Napo river.

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Of course, we move on a boat, on the river. There is a strong current, it’s very fast to reach the mouths of the next affluent, a few kilometres down, where we stop the boat and go for a walk.

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Ricardo is our guide for this day. In the forest, he is our eyes and brain. Thanks to him, we see a minuscule frog, a giant butterfly, bees nesting in a hole in the earth, learn to plait the leaves as indigenous do, discover many plants, avoid the deep mud spots (a little like shifting sands), !

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As he tells us the local children sometimes cross the river, we also want to try it: in ten seconds, the waters have brought you 50 meters down! don’t try to reach the point of the shore in front of you, just go straight, and let you take down by the current! it takes us several minutes to cross, and some worries of not getting on the other side before Brazil.

We learn many things about the local medicinal plants. All the trees and bush look the same for us, but they have very different use.

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The Agave Americana, called Pita here, has very strong fibres in its leaves. They are used to make ropes or fabric.

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This plant is cultivated for diabetics here in the jungle. It is natural insulin.

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Another very famous culture here is the Ilex Guayusa. It is taken as infusion, to relax you. And they say that it help the women to be fertile. Tena is the capital city of cinnamon and Guayusa.

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The Psycotria countains an hallucinogenic substance, the dimethyltryptamin (DMT). The shamans use a potion made of the Psycotria leaves, calles Ayahuasca, to perform their ceremonies and divinations. It is a very dangerous substance, can be lethal if ill prepared, so only the shaman dares to manipulate it.

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The Croton Urucurana, sangre de drago in Spanish (dragon’s blood), is a tree with reddish latex. The indigenous collect the sap when it’s fresh, in the morning, and they use it for healing wounds and curing gastritis.

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This plant is very known even in our Western countries: the Curare. It is a very powerful sedative. They grease the tip of their arrows with a juice made of the roots of the plant, and when the animal is touched, it falls inanimate within minutes. The leaves are also used as sedative.

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The Lagenaria Siceraria is called Planta de Maté, and of course, its fruits are used to make containers (originally, the Argentinians (and Uruguayans and some Brazilians) take their infusion in this kind of container, that is why the infusion is called mate).

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The Mansoa Alliacea is called here ajo del monte, or ajo sacha, and for a reason, because it smells like garlic. It is used as a condiment, but also in infusions, to cure the headaches, flu. It is also useful to repel the snakes.

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The Maytenus Levis, Chuchuhuasi for the locals, is a tree very useful. Its bark is prepared in infusion to aliviate the prostate, cure ulcers, cancer, artritis, painful bones. You also can prepare a balm of it to rub the painful place.

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The Bactris Gasipaes, or Palma de Chonta locally is a species of palm tree. Its wood is very hard, so it’s extensively used: to build the houses, to make the dart of the blowpipe. Also, at the heart of the tree, where the branches start, the palm heart represents a good vegetable. But this tree also provides meat: the tree is infested with fat white worms, the chontacuros. Of course, once back to Puerto Misahuallí, we tried these worms!

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With all these natural medicine, our guide tells us that his ancestors use to 100 years, and were still strong enough at 80 to be able to work. Now, with the junk food, disease, and other short term efficient medicine (but not good in long term), it’s not the case anymore.

It’s now well after noon, and we finally go to eat, local food in the community Unión Muyuna. We have tilapia, a local river fish cooked on the barbecue inside a bijao leaf. Oh my God! It’s the best fish I’ve had in this trip. The flesh is soft, with a taste between fish and meat, the skin is perfectly edible. It comes with yucca (quite similar to boiled potatoes, but much drier), and a small onion salad. We drink guayusa juice, typical from this region (tena is the capital of cinnamon and guayusa).

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After lunch, they explain us how they make the chicha de yucca (a fermented drink based on yucca). Originally, the women used to masticate the yucca, but now they have found that using the sweet potato (camote) instead is faster for the same result (and probably less disgusting for us). We also are offered a performance of traditional music and dance.

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If we want, the village shaman can clean our minds of all the evils. The villagers have a boa and a caiman, with which we take picture (yes, like the vulgar tourist, but it’s not every day that you can feel the contact of a big snake on your skin! it’s like a giant muscle!). And we also have a brushing-up of using the blowing pipe. The darts are very light and precise! and it is so silent!

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As the rain starts to fall heavily, the kids of the community, who were playing football, remove their T-shirt, to keep playing football under the shower. The playground is a swimming pool in a matter of minutes, but no problem, the fun is here.

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Back in the village of Puerto Misahuallí, we have a snack waiting for the bus back to Tena. Stefano had advised us to try the chontacuro, so let’s order it. It is a huge fat worm, that is found in the palm trees. They prepare a brochette of it and cook it on the barbecue. The taste is wonderful: it’s like a shrimp! And the texture is not so weird. Only the skin a a little more rubber-like, but in a good sense: imagine having a chewing-gum with the taste of shrimp!

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In Tena, we’ll have a good night of sleep, before taking the bus for Quito tomorrow morning, the day has been intense.

What an intense day!! We took many pictures and videos! Here is the video we mounted for today, in two parts:

Part 1:

Part 2: