A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

Mumbojumbo

Spotting boobies in Ecuador


View MAP OF THE JOURNEY on AnnaMickus's travel map.

We felt that we hadn’t seen enough of the Oriente yet, and as we had been told Tena was a good place to visit a shaman we decided to head there from Lago Agrio. On our way to Tena we made a night’s stop in Coca, just another city that we didn’t bother to explore that much.

In Tena we managed to find this nice and quiet place to stay at with a colourful garden just next to the river. Two pocket monkeys lived in a tree close to our room. They were so cute, almost so cute that you just wanted to take one home with you in your pocket. We also had the luxury of cable TV, so we got to witness the beginning of the great financial crisis and the ongoing race for the Whitehouse. Let’s see who they finally elect! Hoping for the best, and fearing the worst...

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Pocket monkey

After a few day’s relaxing we were ready for some action, so we booked a private trip to the jungle in order to see a shaman who was supposed to do some herbal remedies for me and do the ayahuasca ritual with Mickus. We took a car into the jungle and continued on foot crossing a river and walking a few kilometres further into the rain forest. When we came to a small shack close to the riverfront the guide told us we had reached our destination and showed us to our room with two stone hard beds. It looked like nobody had slept in that little shed for ages and there were no mosquito nets as had been promised. The guide assured us there were no mosquitoes and that we wouldn’t be needing them. Yeah, right, no mosquitoes in the middle of the jungle...

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Hiking to the place

We started our day in the rain forest by visiting a local family that lived up the hill from us. They had a very basic house surrounded by a beautiful garden and a huge forest where they cultivated all kinds of plants, trees and herbs. The guide took us for a walk and showed all kinds of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants. One plant was good for all kinds of cuts, so he cut open one of the branches and put some of the stuff that came out on Mickus' sea lion bite. We saw how pineapple grows, which was kind of interesting since we haven’t seen that before. We also saw how the yucca grows and how easy it is to make more of them: you just take a piece of a branch and stick it into the ground and it starts growing. No wonder they eat so much of it here. Another cool thing we saw was the cacao tree. The huge fruits just grow straight out of the stem quite close to the ground for the animals to reach them. This big garden and the river next to their house provided everything the family needed food wise; there was no need to go into town unless they needed something else like new boots or a new machete.

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Outside the family's house

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Cacao tree

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Cocoa bean

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Pineapple

During our walk we collected a bag of leaves from different plants that would be used for my herbal treatment that the shaman was going to give me. When we were finished we walked to a place close to the river along a stony path. There was a small herbal garden and a house standing on tall poles. Underneath the house was a fire going and some benches around it. This was where the shaman lived. He was an old guy in a red shirt and big rubber boots. He made it clear that the herbs we had picked were not enough and that he wanted 40 dollars more to pick the herbs that were missing and to do the treatment. Greedy little bastard shaman...

By the fire under the house there was also a woman who was cooking yucca over the fire. We got to help her prepare lunch together with the guide. We made fish in the traditional style as they do in that part of the jungle. First we picked big leaves on which we placed the fish, some herbs we had picked earlier, pieces of palm heart and salt. Then as an extra treat we placed a living maggot on top of it all :). Next we folded the leaves so that the fish was left inside and tied the whole packet up with a string made out of a leave. The packets were then put on the fire. After a while the fish was done and we had a delicious lunch with fish and yucca.

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In the "kitchen" of the shaman

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The maggots

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Preparing the fish

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The fish is cooking on the fire

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Ready

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After lunch we returned to the hut and watched a documentary with the family that lived on the hill up from us. The film was about traditional dances, instruments, food, tools etc. of that region. It was kind of interesting in the beginning, but when the hundredth type of tool came to display we were getting a bit bored...

When the dark came we returned to the shaman’s house. Finally the time had come to try the much raved about ayahuasca, the sacred ‘wine of the gods’, which has been used by the Amazon tribes for millennias. The strongly vision enhancing brew should supposedly get you in contact with the spirit world, where the spirits of the different Amazonian animals roam. My (Mickus) anticipation was immense as this was one of my most anticipated events that I had planned to experience in south-America. Not to say that I was a bit at unease at the same time about what would unfold.

So we greeted the old shaman and his friend and sat down on a bench. It was completely dark and we could barely see each other. The shaman poured the readymade brew in a bowl, said some mantras and handed me the bowl. I then drank it in one go, it was a rather small bowl and the content tasted quite bitter. The shaman himself then also had a bowl of it, as the custom is that the shaman also enters the spirit world with you in order to guide you and fend off evil spirits. Next followed an agonizing wait of 20 minutes in order for the brew to take hold. On a sign by the shaman I went in front of him and sat down on a small stool with my head slightly tilted forward and watching the ground. The shaman started chanting and making different noises. He also had branches with leaves nipped together, a bit like we use to hit each other with in the sauna in Finland but smaller, and kept repeatedly and gently hitting me over the head with it. The feeling was like you were in the middle of a flock of birds, wings moving all around you. Once in a while he blew smoke on my head and ended it with strange noise against my head that shed shivers down the whole body. This went on for maybe 15 minutes and I tried to relax and get into the mood as I understood he tried to set the stage for the visions to appear.

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Drinking the brew

Then he suddenly ended, said he was ready and that we could leave. We were thinking Oooh what the hell, was this it!? I was far from any visions and just felt a bit dizzy. The guide said that we better get going and that visions will come then when we are back at our place. So off we stumbled through the jungle, Anna holding my hand as my feet felt rather wobbly. We just made it to the ground of our shack before I started puking all over the place. It felt like the flood gates had been opened and I’m sure I vomited far more than I had drunk that day. Throwing up is part of the ritual as ayahuasca supposedly cleanses the body of all kind of toxins. After this I lay down in bed and hoped that the visions would start and my entry into the spirit word could begin :)

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Well nothing happened, and after vomiting the slight dizziness even disappeared. I just lay wide awake and couldn’t get any sleep the whole night. And as a final insult my crappy bed broke in the middle of the night. A few boards fell loose under my back and the mattress fell partly through. The first ray of light finally came as a relief, we could finally get away from this bug infested hell hole.

My verdict on the whole shaman incident was that we had picked one of the bad/fake shamans that are around. It was an OLD guy probably past his shaman pride and now more lured of ripping off tourist for some easy bucks. This said I’m sure it was the right brew, just not enough of it or strong enough. Well in the end I guess we will never know what the true story was and I presume one has once in a while to bite the sour apple. In retrospective it makes for a funny tale but on the morning after the experience one felt rather cheated and angry as there had been a lot to be desired. As a final insult the shaman happened to be on the same bus into town, probably to spend the newly gained fortune on cheep booze. Well I wouldn’t let the experience let me down and I was determined not to give up, as my desire for a proper ayahuasca experience was greater than ever. The time and place just had to be another...

So in the end of our little trip, all we were left with was a sore back, empty stomach and a body filled with weird itching bites from the stone hard bug infested beds.

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Posted by AnnaMickus 11:48 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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