For those who I have been keeping relatively updated on my whereabouts in Ecuador, or for those who have been scrolling through my facebook photos, it’s pretty evident that I’ve skipped a very important blogging event in my study abroad experience with SIT– our second group excursion, to the Amazon Rainforest. Yes, Ecuador is that amazing, that regionally (and bio-) diverse, that it includes FOURTY SIX ecosystem (thank you, hipecuador.com, although I probably should have that in my notes from a lecture…) and one of them is a tropical rainforest, that happens to be part of the infamous Amazon.
And I have to say, it did live up to its dream-like expectations. For one, here’s a view of a sunset over el río Pastaza, which is a tributary of the Amazon River. In the background, you can see Volcan Sangay, an active volcano happily puffing away for us humble viewers…
Yes, this was one of our amazing views, one of those moments when I had to stop and think– I am actually in the rainforest– pinch myself from all this beauty. And, while it does all seem like a dream, it is of course a reality. One morning, we visited a Kichwa indigenous community close by to where we were staying, and got to observe and partake in some of their traditional practices, such as drinking chicha made from yuca, harvesting yuca, fishing with tubes, and beautiful ceramics. Then, we played a gringo vs. the kids-and-Fabian game of fútbol, in which one of the famous rainforest downpours began, and it turned into a mud battle. Luckily, just about everyone in la selva (the jungle) wears rubber boots (botas de caucho), so it’s not too much of an issue. Being wet, on the other hand, also turned into a non-issue when we realized that was going to be our permanent state of existence until we came back to the sierra. Yes, wet socks are not fun to put back on, but once back in the rubber boots, you barely even notice! (Thank you, Smartwool) Plus, the nature of the rain (coming in every direction, with pretty impressive force) was such that it somehow managed to fill the inside of the rubber boots with water, too… Luckily, the sun usually came out in the afternoon, so we had a few chances to dry off.
Back to dreams vs. reality… It was amazing to see how people lived (elevated houses, rubber boots, harvesting yuca) in a jungle that has long been romanticized in such a way that, for me, it was hard to realize a reality of life in that jungle. Yet, in some ways, I’m realizing that I don’t have to reconcile it with my reality, because it certainly is not. Nor is it a dream.
I am starting think in the shamanic philosophy of parellel worlds– although not along the lines of how these indigenous groups see their world(s), as coexisting with other parellel ones, such as that of the spirits. To them, these other worlds are accessible if the practice is correct, and that simply seems to be a fact of their lives, as we were told in a talk by another Kichwa man, who comes from a family with a long line of shamans (his mother decided she did not want him to become a shaman, as it can be a dangerous life of death threats and bad blood). However, my understanding and interpretation of parellel worlds is that they exist here on earth. Perhaps, culture is simply a parellel world, put in a simple way, that can be shared with effort and empathy. For now, though, parts of Ecuador exist for me on a completely different level than the life I have always known– not quite dreams, but not quite realities, yet. It’s a dualism I’m still working with, that we have long discussions about in class, that seems to be an inevitable part of cultural exchange. Whichever, it does keep my brain working.
I’m not sure why elevated structures have such an appeal to me, but there is something quite heady about being above ground. Especially when hammocks are strung up under the cabin, just waiting for you to come relax…
Another interesting aspect of Amazonian cultures is the importance of dreams. A Kichwa practice is to rise early in the morning, drink a tea made out of a plant that is supposed to give you energy all day, and share dreams of the previous night’s sleep. Those who are rich in dreams are rich in life. Another complication, another thread and knot, in my attempt to understand this dreamworld, in which dreams play an undeniable factor.
One morning, I woke up early, and decided to take advantage of the lucidity of the dream/reality state. I took my journal and went down to swing in a hammock and write. It turned out that I didn’t get up that early, but here are a few things I came up with, playing with everything I had learned so far:
Tell me I’ve been gone for a while
I’ll respond in my dreams:
The anaconda, my blood, an ant sticking
its way into my feet.
Tell me the river has no depth
and I say no, its mud is quiet
in its strength, its pull. And I
am thus quiet in my surrender.
(The brown stain I will wear
as my freckles deepen.)
It’s my own heady feeling
my own great push and pull:
can I accept my sheer closeness to the sun?
That I could let a river take me,
bathe me in its red mud, posit me
on a rock and let me crawl
into the utter normalcy of the jungle…
Alright, there’s my attempt at some Amazon jungle poetry, hopefully getting to the meat and emotion of the situation, of my own moment occupying a mind caught in the whims of dream and early morning air.
With love, Hash Brown