EXPLORING REMOTE TRIBES IN THE COLOMBIAN RAINFOREST
JOURNEY TO THE MAVICURE MOUNTAINS
Colombia probably has the most pristine Amazon rainforests left in the world. Why? Because they blocked roads being constructed through them. In September 2021 I had an opportunity to visit some remote tribes in the Amazon. I jumped at the chance to travel, see an old friend who was working in Colombia, and visit the Amazon! I was fortunate to see two regions of Colombia. The first was in the NE part of Colombia in Puerta Iniridia.
The four-day trip required flexibility, stamina, and being open to challenges. We flew from Bogota to Puerta Iniridia. And then visited three communities trying to live sustainably in the rainforest and keep their traditions. I ate a lot of fish soup, cassava, and plantain!
At one community we were also able to ascend to the forest canopy to see an overview of the rainforest, and then towards sunset, see freshwater dolphins (tonines) come up to the surface for air.
Then we visited the 3rd community along the “Honey Trail” that was raising stingless honey bees and hoping to earn some extra money.
Climbing to the top of the rainforest canopy and visiting the Mavicure Mountains was memorable!
EXPEDITION TO THE REMOTE APAPORIS RIVER
Traveling to remote areas in the Amazon is always an adventure! One is eternally at the mercy of the elements. It was the start of the rainy season, and one is at the mercy of the weather. To get to Vaupes Department (region) in the SE part of the country, one has to travel by big plane from Bogota, and transfer to a small Cessna one propeller plane, to the remote Apaporis river.
I forgot that the Cessna pilot must use sight to land the plane. If it’s raining or a heavy cloud pattern, you can’t fly.
Then the indigenous community sends a dugout canoe to fetch you.
We were invited to share the Yurupari Sacred Dance of the Jaguar Men, on the Apaporis River. They are located in the Vaupes department, above the Canarari River that ends at the great Apaporis.
There is this small community from the Jaguar Men lineage, which has kept certain native and traditional customs for centuries.
The Tucanos, and Taibanos ethnic groups invited us to participate and share in their sacred dance and ayahuasca drink. One was free to participate in all the ceremonies or just observe.
Our seven-day adventure planned to arrive at the indigenous village on Day 1. But the weather was against us. When we arrived in the Vaupes capital of Mitu, it was raining heavily and so we could not proceed to the Buenos Aires community deep in the rainforest. We did some circular hiking loops in the forest around Mitu and prayed for good weather the following day.
The Cessna planes can only take 3-4 clients plus the pilot and the journey lasts 1.5 hours. It took 3 Cessna planes to transfer the group of 11 persons. It took 5 hours to get the whole group together at the Buenos Aires site on the river. We all piled in a dugout canoe with our equipment which made the boat sink even lower in the water. And then it was another 1.5 hours to the point on the riverbank where we started our small trek into the jungle to head for the village. I forgot to read the small print which explained that we needed to carry our equipment in. Fortunately, some younger men on the expedition carried my 10 kg duffel.
It was a 40 min trek to the village (1 hour for me) through the jungle, which was dark, wet, and muddy! Preparations were already started as the Shaman prepared the various potions, and the tribe was getting tattoos of a black solution being applied to various body parts. We didn’t have a long time to take a bath in the pond, and to decide whether to get the black paint (which would last 15 days) or to take the red paint which would last only 24 hours! It was a no-brainer for me – the red paint! Some women from the tribe helped me hang my hammock in the Maloca lodge, and then dinner was served! Fish soup! Sunset arrives rapidly in the Amazon. And the celebrations started promptly.
Back in the 1930s when the Spanish first made contact with the tribes, the sacred dance was an initiation rite for men only. Over the years, they eventually let the women participate and then small groups of outsiders who respected their customs. There was a group of some 12-15 men who danced. Certain men wore a feather headdress clearly handed down from generation to generation. Others wore bangles and ankle bracelets that made a noise. Every dancer had this 5 ft staff that he pounded in the dance.
Another separate group of men composed the wind instrument band which played a set harmony. The first group of men was offered a large bowl of a plant-based drink that was not alcoholic nor hallucinogenic. This drink was shared with the whole community. You were offered the whole bowl and drank what you wanted from it. Everyone drank from the same bowl.
They would dance for 20 to 30 minutes and then take a break. The Shaman and his assistant would come with a bowl of a fine powder composed of tobacco and coco leaves. They inhaled this and then they drank the ayahuasca (psychedelic drink). Then the Shaman would come to the community and offer the drink to those that wanted it.
It can create a meditative state in the brain, which can quiet overactive actions of your brain that lead to depression and anxiety. The DMT element of ayahuasca interacts with your serotonin receptors, which has an impact on things like emotion and vision. I chose not to drink the ayahuasca, But I did partake of the tobacco/coca mixture that you roll on your tongue and place in your cheek. I was high in 5 minutes.
The dance, the music, and the drinking continued all night until 6 am the next morning. Although I went to my hammock around 1 am, I could not sleep. My hammock was in the men’s section of the maloca (lodge) and there was constant activity.
The next morning the group climbed to the sacred waterfall. With no sleep, I was wasted and was feeling dizzy and decided to skip the trip to the falls. We left the next day to head back to Buenos Aires and then on to the Morocco hills to visit the petroglyphs. This hike’s description was beyond my capabilities, and I had decided upfront to forego. So, Ivan, our guide, arranged for two guides to take me back to climb to the Falls so I could see them, while the rest of the group visited Morocco hills. The Falls were stupendous.
The Shaman asked our group not to display videos of Falls or state their location on social media. That is why you only see me in one photo.
The next day we headed back to Mitu. Of course, the weather acted up again, and it took 2 days to get the whole group to Mitu. I got out on the first Cessna and enjoyed a chicken dinner that night, a nice change from fish. I look back on this extraordinary adventure and wonder how long the tribes can maintain their lifestyle.
I feel honored to have been able to witness and experience different cultures. From my travel to Bhutan to my latest travel to the remote tribes to Colombia.