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Travel Inspires Greater Commitment to Earth

April 28, 2011

By Mary F.
I knew our trip to Ecuador to visit the Achuar indigenous people and the Amazon rainforest would be unique. What it turned out to be was actually the most satisfying, adventurous and transformational journey I have made in my life!!

How privileged we were to experience a direct encounter with the Achuar, an ancient people just beginning to open their world to visitors from the modern world.

My husband, Lou, and I took our grandson Kyler, age 8, along with us on this awesome voyage in March. We traveled with a group of 19, mostly facilitators for the Pachamama Alliance, sponsors of the Awakening the Dreamer program.

We experienced the wonder of being in the heart of one of the largest areas of primary rainforests in the world, where the rich diversity has remained virtually untouched. We learned from the Achuar, one of the oldest intact dream cultures, about how they live in harmony with Earth. Since their lands have no roads, we flew into their territory on a small 10-person plane, landing on a dirt runway carved from the forest. This remoteness has been a blessing, helping to ensure that thus far no lumber, mining or petroleum interests have operated in their territory.

The Tinkias Lodge where we stayed was recently built in the Achuar style, located in the heart of the rainforest. It was designed for travelers from the modern world to enjoy the biologically diverse region and live with a rustic level of comfort and safety, sleeping on raised beds with mosquito netting. There is a thatched roof overhead with no walls, so one can see the greenery and hear the animals and birds both day and night. There is no electricity in the rainforest. We had an outside toilet and primitive, private shower with a hose overhead and large bucket below. We had to adjust to fumbling for items in our bags with our flashlights after the sun set. We lived in utter simplicity, connected with nature and each other and discovered to our amazement that it was exhilarating.

We spent our days canoeing and hiking through the jungle with the Achuar guides. One night we put on our mud boots and hiked to the Tinkias Achuar community for a festival. Each culture shared its songs and dances. We ate a meal prepared by the Achuar women for the occasion, consisting of various vegetables, chicken, bananas and hearts of palm with a few grubs (most of which I managed to avoid). Other fascinating phenomena were the two shaman experiences in which we participated. After the shamanic ceremony cleansing us of negative energy, we were asked to refrain from eating red meat, hot peppers and sugars, as these foods would make our cleansing less effective.

Visiting the Quechua, who live high in the great Andean mountain highlands, contrasted with our time with the Achuar, the least colonized among the Amazonian indigenous tribes. While in the community of San Clemente, we stayed with Blanca and her family of five children. They taught Kyler Spanish vocabulary, and he taught them English. Blanca also taught all of us to grind corn and to sift the flour, which was used to make tortillas and empanadas. We also shook quinoa seeds from the plant, washed the grains and spread them out to dry in the sun. We helped Blanca make quinoa-chicken soup that evening.

The Quechua guide, Jaime, took us on a nature hike in the highlands. Jaime pointed out several medicinal plants that are used by the community for common ailments such as diaper rash, aching muscles and torn ligaments. Lou and Kyler also helped the Quechua men plow their fields.

Our last evening there we had a festival where a community band played and sang Quechua songs, and we all danced. The Quechua women dressed the American women in their native skirts and embroidered tops. The American men wore serapes. The Quechua women sold their embroidered goods, and I was able to purchase several pieces of Blanca’s handiwork as gifts to take home and as a small token of our great appreciation for the hospitality shown us by this gracious, capable Quechua woman and mother.

I did much reflective writing while swinging in a hammock one afternoon at Tinkias. One of the quotes I recorded was that of an articulate Achuar shaman who was asked the question: “What do you think about the visitors from the North coming to your territory?” He responded that he liked our visits because we bring new ideas to them and we bring economic possibilities (with our eco-tourism). And most importantly, we help them protect the rainforest from the oil companies that destroy the environment.

After this trip we are personally committed to using our energies to spread the dream of the Achuar people, which is that the people of the North awaken and change their dream of constant consumption of the earth’s resources, and to reflect on what it means to live a meaningful life on Earth. This does not mean going back to living as cave dwellers. But it does mean that we must be aware of our lifestyle choices that impact the health of the planet and its people, and to do our part to live a lifestyle that is ecologically sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling for all who share life on this one beloved Planet Earth.

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