One of the main motivations of going on this adventure was to spend time with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon— Sarayaku. As a Worcester State University alum, I was approached by one of my former professors about an opportunity to join him and several other professors on this journey to Ecuador. My professor explained the concept of forming a partnership with this indigenous tribe. This professor has visited Sarayaku (area of land that the tribe occupies), where he formed a trusting friendship with the tribe's most influential members.
As mentioned in a previous post, Sarayaku has been targeted by major oil companies in South America, as their land in the Amazon Rainforest has an enormous amount of oil lying beneath. As one would expect, Sarayaku members are not quick to give up their land without a fight. Since the 2002 invasion by an oil company, Sarayaku members have been hard at work forming a community that has one foot in our western way of living and another in their traditional way of living— a life rich with hunting, gathering, and a deep respect for nature.
As we left Quito in our mettalic-colored minivan, we slowly transitioned from the rocky peaks of the Andes to the lush forests of the Amazon. After a long five-hour drive, we arrived in the town of Puyo, the gateway to the Amazon. My professor explained that just a few years ago Puyo was nothing but ramshackle houses and small minimercado (small markets). As we drove past the bustling streets just after sundown, I noticed numbers of people hanging out on the sidewalks next to brightly-lit restaurants, bars, and convenience stores. Additionally, there were several hotels and traveler amenities. Our modest hotel was across a small bridge suspended over the Pastazi River, which included a full-service restaurant, patio, and pool/spa area in an outdoor setting. It is obvious that Puyo has grown significantly in the last few years
After a short stay in Puyo, it was time for the next and most important leg of our journey. I laid on the bed in my hotel room, looking up at the muted grey ceiling, when a feeling of amazement struck me. I was now in Ecuador, and tomorrow I would board a five-person plane to fly into the Amazon Rainforest. A strange surge of excitement and nervousness coursed through my body.
Prior to boarding the plane, ourselves and all our cargo was placed on scale to be weighed. It was crucial that the aircraft's weight limit was not exceeded. That would be bad!! Admittedly, this part of the process was a bit nerve-racking, because anxious thoughts of what could go wrong began to creep into my mind. After all, these types of planes go down much more often than commercial airliners. Then again, what fun is life without a bit of danger, right?
Being within arm's length of the pilot while he controlled our fate was an amazing experience. I was in awe as I stared out at the rainforest canopy while our pilot monitored the abundance of gauges before him. After a twenty-five minute flight, we were now in Sarayaku territory, deep in the Amazon Rainforest. As we climbed out of the plane, we were greeted by warm smiles worn by a dozen residents of the village. We walked on the dirt path towards our dwelling, hearing chickens clucking and wild dogs barking. Our hut had a dirt floor, but it boasted impressive bamboo walls and a thatched roof. Inside there were several beds made up with sheets, a top blanket, and a mosquito net—a necessity for sleeping outdoors in the jungle!
During our stay in Sarayaku, we got a real taste of the daily life of the tribe's people. We watched women make a chicha, a fermented drink made by chewing leaves of the yuca plant. One of my favorite parts of the entire trip was going on a hike through the rainforest with a native guide who taught us all about the plants and their uses. Learning about nature from this direct source was truly inspiring, especially after hearing about the deep respect and philosophy that the Sarayaku people have for the natural world, the world that surrounds us all. The primary reason of going
to this unique corner of the globe was to discuss the partnership between the Sarayaku people and Worcester State University. The group of WSU professors who I traveled with each has a specific area of expertise (business, education, geography, tourism, and communication), which made it easier to delegate the assistance that the Sarayaku people sought. Although we engaged in formal meetings for the duration of the stay, the second day was the longest and most important meeting. I was lucky enough to film the entire rendezvous.
My major hurdle during this trip was the language barrier. Although I have taken a few Spanish courses, it did not prove to be of much help during my time in Ecuador. Much of my time with the natives was spent filming and listening. I relied heavily on two of the professors, who were experienced translators. As a talkative individual, it was difficult not being capable of proper communication, but it taught me a new form of patience.
This unique experience has once again transformed my view of the world and cultures far different from my own. Being influenced by new people and new languages truly changes who you are as a person. Saying yes to a once-in-a-lifetime experience and following through with it gave me a new energy that I cannot properly convey in words. I encourage everyone reading this to take risks and seek new horizons, because your life will inevitably change for the better.
Break Your Boundaries.