An Indigenous Journey in El Tipnis
After some pot luck of meeting a famous indigenous leader Fernando Vargas and his wife Maria in Santa Cruz, we we’re stoked with excitement to be invited for a 10 day journey ahead through El Tipnis with them. After learning that money doesn’t exist within these communities, and for the most part, they trade food and live independently in an untouched and abundant areas of the amazon, we knew we we’re in for a incredibly unique experience. A sincere sense of gratitude overcame us because only a handful of people (both locals and foreigners) have ever had the privilege of visiting the park and the indigenous communities that reside within it.
The excitement didn’t wear off as we set off for the river where we would be spending 10 day on a boat cruising down the river. We opted to hop in the back of the ute and get our first glimpse of the vibrant greenery and biodiversity of the area as we drove 3 bumpy hours to the edge of the park.
Upon arriving in the late afternoon, a family welcomed us in and we spent the night camping in their backyard, cooking over the fire and getting used to the lifestyle of what was going to be the next 9 days. We stayed up and went fishing in the river with a few locals, although catching nothing (phew) it was a moment of gratification, sitting on a boat in the amazon, under the luminous night sky, with a few locals, simply enjoying what is. Then a mosquito bit me, f*** those useless creatures.
4am wake up and we packed the boat and set off as the sun rose behind us. It really hit then, we were off, beginning a 27h boat ride into this pristine and untouched part of the amazon where few gringos go. The sun lit up the amazon, pink dolphins popped out of the water and the next 10 hours of the ride were spent snoozing on our tiny little boat and soaking it in. We stopped at a bend of the river, were a husband and wife live totally by themselves, raising chooks, pigs, and few dogs, all with a little bit of land and a few tiny shacks. It was our first taste of how these people live.
We went for a first dip in the river, and shortly after we got out, the husband and wife told us that a 5m Camine lives on the bend and took one of there dogs a few weeks earlier. When I had previously asked if we can swim here, all the husband was concerned about is if we could swim; “?sabes nadar? (do you know how to swim)” he said, not “there is a huge crocco that’ll swallow you whole”. Gringo life, aye.
We took refuge from the hundreds of mosquitos in a fly net tent and the little buggers buzzed around centimetres from our ears all night as we tried to sleep. Waking up to another orange lit sky, we loaded the boat for another day getting deeper into El Tipnis. Before we knew it, 5 hours cruising in the boat was up and we we’re welcomed into another family’s home up the banks of the river. The family of approximately 10 grow sugar cane and use it to make into a delicious syrup, which they then sell and trade. After a big lunch with the family, we set of with huge machettes in hand to go cut down some sugar cane and make Jugo de Cane con Limon (Sugar cane juice with lemon). Two of the younger boys, who I’d recently been playing games of ‘ninja and zombie chasey’ with, led the way with knifes half the sizes of their bodies. Intimidated at first, the young legends showed us the ropes and the next hour was spent hacking sugar cane with machettes. The afternoon was spent drinking litres of Cane Jugo, thinking about my blood glucose levels and soaking in the lifestyle in the beautiful area.
Another early start, another orange sky, and the tiny motors on the back of our glorified canoe led us to the learning institute of the El Tipnis. This amazing institute is home to approximately 90 teenagers from the communities and villages. After being welcomed, yet again, to sleep in a shelter close to the riverbank, we settled in and went for a stroll out into a savannah at the back of the institute. The Savannah turned bright orange as the sun began to set, the only thing that could take away the pure joy of the moment was the abundance of mozzies tucking into us for dinner.
We awoke early the next morning to watch the students lasoo and then milk some buffalo’s. We sat on the sidelines utterly impressed that these kids, 6-7 years younger than us, can be way more practical and skilful than ourselves. It was then time to pick some fresh veg from the permaculture farm, again, impressing us as we got more insight into the self-sustainable lifestyles that is taught to the kids in the institution.
We left the institute with a promise to the kids and everyone else that we’d come back and watch the World Cup final with them in a few days. With that, we set off for the final leg before making our way back down the Rio. On the ride to the next community, Camines lurked in the shallow waters and plenty of pink dolphins popped out of the water just metres away. Entertained by the abundance of wildlife, the journey was seemingly short. Pat and I even got the chance of a lifetime to mount each other in some waist deep mud, boy was it sexy. Once we arrived at the community, we set up camp, started a fire, watched the sun set through the lush green jungle and relaxed, a routine we could definitely get used too.
This community was the furthermost village we would visit in the park and they welcomed us with warm arms, a delicious campfire dinner and a beautiful starry night. In the morning we awoke to the sounds of roosters, pigs and dogs mixed amongst the birds and monkeys of the jungle reminding us of how remote we really were.
The ride back was just as special as the journey to here, with another 5 magical days spent with the kids of the institute and other families.
More to come!