It was one of the darkest nights I had ever encountered. Well, at least it was when the lightning wasn’t flashing across the sky, giving me an ever so brief glimpses of the forest that surrounded my tent. Despite the heavy rain, which had been falling for several hours, the night sounds of the jungle continued unabated. It was nearly as noisy as it was during the day, and when you added the thunderstorm to the mix, I couldn’t help but think that people payed a lot of money to the Sharper Image for a machine that replicated these very sounds.
It was my second to last night in the Amazon, and we were camping in the jungle. Earlier in the day we left our river boat, La Turmalina, behind once again and went ashore for another jungle trek that took us even deeper into the forest. Along the way, we passed trees stretching more than 65 feet into the air, with vines running their length and all manner of critters scurrying up their trunks.
We hiked for several miles, while overhead the rolling thunder could be heard drawing nearer. By the time we reached the campsite, the rain had begun to fall, and the night was closing in, but fortunately the dense jungle canopy kept much of the rain from actually hitting the ground. While it sounded like a torrential down pour was going on over head, it felt like a light rainstorm at the forest floor.
%Gallery-63881%The camp itself was nicer than I had expected. The tents were erected on a permanent wooden platform, which kept them off the damp ground, and provided a more comfortable experience. Inside, there were two cots, a small table, and a lantern, with room to stand and easily move about. The side panels were rolled up, allowing for a steady breeze to flow through, and I was surprised to find that it was quite comfortable, even a bit cool inside, despite the humidity that pervaded the entire area.
After getting settled, we all assembled in a screened in mess hall for a traditional dinner from the region consisting of chicken stuffed with rice and wrapped in the leaf of one of the jungle trees, then cooked over an open fire. Following the meal, we were joined by a guest who appeared from the darkness, joining us inside the mess hall. She was a tiny young woman, in her early twentys, and from one of the Quechan Indian villages in the area. Our guide introduced her, and told us that she was a shaman who had been studying her craft for more than five years.
Over the next hour or so, she showed us some of the various medicines that she had created using plants that grew in the jungle. She had begun learning at a young age which herbs, leaves, roots and so on, were useful and where they could be located. She had also learned how to properly harvest them, then mix them together to create her various potions and elixirs. She had several glass jars filled with her creations with her, and passed them around for us to examine. Most shared some common traits in that they were thick, came in various shades of green , that smelled incredibly awful. I’m reasonably certain that her patients got better out of fear of having to continue to take this “medicine”.
The last bottle that she passed around was unlike the others however. It was orange in color and more of a fluid than the others. Our guide informed us that this particular concoction was mainly made from a specific vine found deep in the Amazon, and that was one of the most powerful hallucinogens in the world. At various times in their lives, the shaman, as well as others, would drink the liquid when they were in need of guidance or enlightenment in their lives. It is believed that while under the influence of the hallucinogens, they would have visions that would show them the path they needed to take to get past what ever obstacle was troubling them. The process described to us was not unlike Native Americans going on a vision quest in North America.
Before the night ended, the shaman gave us a traditional blessing, calling on the spirits of the rainforest to protect us and keep us safe, no matter where our travels took us. While we sat, she danced around us, blowing smoke from a handrolled cigarette, and chanting a prayer. One by one, she approached each of us as she moved about the room, extending the blessing to all who were there., When she was finished she collected her things, and disappeared into the darkness, the storm raging around her as she went.
After the shaman departed, we all said our “good nights” and retired to our individual tents. Most of my companions were soon sound asleep, their lights blinking out one by one. But I sat alone staring out into the darkness, listening to the storm and sounds of the jungle itself. It was one of those singular experiences you have when you travel in which you experience something that is both surreal and tangible at the same time. I was in a tent, in the middle of the Amazon, with thunder crashing all around me. The night creatures of the forest continued to make their calls, sheltered from the storm in the branches over head, and as I finaly lay down to sleep, I couldn’t help but think that everything was right with the world.
Next: Ecotourism in the Amazon
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