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The Esteban Pombo's trip to the Amazon (Jul/07)

Esteban with his Ticuna guides Jairo and Rafael

Esteban with his Ticuna guides Jairo and Rafael

Gustavo blows rape at the mambeadero of the maloca

Gustavo blows rapé at the mambeadero of the maloca

Luis Enrique Moran

Enrique

The Ticuna guides

The Ticuna guides

The Ticuna campsite

The Ticuna campsite

With a mosquito net it is possible to eat using both hands

With a mosquito net it is possible to eat using both hands

The campsite kitchen

The campsite kitchen

Dinner is ready

Dinner is ready

Victor Pacaya

Victor Pacaya

As a varied program of introduction to many aspects of the Amazonia, it was magnificent. From the trip to Tabatinga to stamp the passport, the visit to the Gustavo's Maloca, the trip and lodging in Heliconia (without forgeting the canopy adventure), the camping and the opportunity to know some about the Tikuna people, and the boat trip with the Samper and the matchless Elaís Cuao, everything was the most interesting experience.

After a time, I would have liked to have a little more preparation for the trip, since I had taken advantage of the days of vacations to read some books that I have obtained in the bookstores of Bogota. They released an edition of “One River” by Wade Davis, that with its stories of the ethno botanic expeditions of Richard Evans Schultes in the 30s and 40s and of his students Tim Ploughman and Wade Davis in the 70s, it helped me to put in context some of the conversations with Gustavo and the observations of plants.

I was also in the Botanical Garden of Bogota, where I made some consultations, but had been worth the effort to have a conversation with an (ethno) botanist in Leticia, since at the beginning of the 80s I studied Curcuma longa (the root saffron), and in collaboration with Juan C. Martinez and Luis Cuca, from the National University in Bogota, we determined the chemical structure of some components of theVirola elongata, that is used as hallucinogen. In the book “Vine of the Soul” Schultes describes the preparation of the resin of Virola. It is a book with wonderful photographies, but it irritated to me the ignorance of the translator in a matter of chemistry, something that is unacceptable since one of the authors, Rob Raffauf, is a chemist. It will be necessary to buy the original one, perhaps with his other book “Where the Gods Reign”.

With the later trip and readings, the interest for the fitochemistry awoke into me again. I imagine that in the University in Leticia or the Amacayacu Park there are scientists who are studying the region, and I would like much to have the opportunity to know them.

It was great that the departure to Heliconia was delayed to give me the opportunity to go to the Gustavo's Maloca. Not only for the adventure of the bridges, that served to me to improve a little the precarious sense of the balance, but also to meet Gustavo that very generously told me his history, something of cosmogony of the Makuna - saying that they had 4 Gods, the tobacco, the coca, the yagé and Yuruparí, and that the elders took care of that all for the nature was in balance, besides giving me to try rapé and mambe, to show to me all the plants of his chagra and some of the near forest - his cultures of the “grape”, chontaduro, copoazú, yuca, pineapple, granadilla, besides the coca plants that is used to prepare the mambe.

I read later that mambe is prepared with dry leaves of coca in some parts with ashes of yarumo. I would have liked to see how they prepare rapé of tobacco and mambe, see the ingredients and know the process. The rapé had excellent aroma of best tobaccos, and it did not seem to me that it had other ingredients, but Victor informed to me later that sometimes they put pepper and other plants on it. In spite of the infestation of aradores, that made me mainly undergo a little when returning to Bogota, it was the best way to begin the experience of the Amazon.

Tikuna guides (Enrique, Jairo and Rafael) gave me a great amount of information about their customs, legends and uses of the resources of the forest and the rivers, and I liked much to have the opportunity to walk with them and to see the tracks of tapir, anteater, deer, and even to see some monkeys. At night to hear the noise of the jaguar, and to enjoy a nocturnal trip in canoe, under a spectacularly clear sky, and star plenty that is not seen in the proximity of the lights of the cities. Their explanations and demonstration of the uses of the plants, the vines and the candles of copal, and the use of the leaves of palm to weave a backpack, was very interesting. Enrique took me to the museum of the Bank of the Republic, and explained many things, among others the importance of the ritual of the Pelazón. With curiosity I read in the text of Yuruparí, where it says that to the women it is necessary to get the hair peeled after the first menstruation; if no, they are not possible to be married until their hair is white.

In Heliconia, our native guide Jimmy showed many things and told histories to us. Among others about the tree of capirona, that he said that the variety that grows in the flooded zones is the one with a very inflammable shaving. Looking for in the botanical collections in Internet, I could not find data on varieties of Capirona, and less to confirm the inflammability of the shaving, although it is mentioned that it is very hard and good wood like firewood. I would like that the information of the guides could be complemented with an expert botanist of the plants of the region, since sometimes the names are not unique and is difficult to identify a species without the suitable description.

Also, it seems to me that Victor knows the zone enough, and has more experience than Jimmy. Santiago was a very responsible guide, being in charge to assure that the program was fulfilled and to solve any problem that arose. Also I would like to have been able to learn a little more about the natives of the zone of Heliconia, mainly of whom the blowpipes and small baskets that made the decoration of the dining room had been taken.

Esteban Pombo
Bogotá, 30/Jul/07

(Traslated by Borugo)




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