Tag Archives: tropical flora

Etnobotánico Omaere Parque, Puyo

Jun 28 – After a good night’s sleep and a very good breakfast, we ventured out to find the Omaere botanical park, on the edge of town. And just like that, we’re back in the jungle!

Omaere means ‘nature of the rainforest’ in the language of the native Waorani people. The park (once a cleared field used for grazing cows) was purchased by two French women and one Schuar indigenous woman almost 30 years ago, and planted with all the medicinal plants important to the nearby indigenous people. It now looks like the jungle it used to be, lush and green and teeming with life.

We met Chris, a biologist from California who came to Ecuador to complete his dissertation 30 years ago, and never went home. He provided a bilingual tour of the medicinal plants, telling us what each one was good for, and how each medicine was prepared.

Vanilla vine
Biggest prayer plant ever

Chris explained how the Schuar and Waorani people lived and hunted (with blowguns and curare darts), how a fierce hunter could have as many as 15 wives, and how they maintained an ecologically sustainable life over the centuries. He also had tinctures, shampoos and handicrafts to sell.

Chris expounded about the eco-friendly toilets he created for the park. Urine flows out a pipe right onto the forest floor to nourish the plants, and poop is covered with soil and stored until it turns to compost. We agreed that it makes no sense to use our precious fresh water resources to flush away our waste, but are not sure that folks back home will be willing to store their poop for a year…

Then we were treated to a native cultural performance by a Waorani family – a man named Yeti, his wife Rosario and her sister. They offered to perform in their native costume – stark naked with a single string tied around the waist – but we figured that we could get the gist of their dance without their full disclosure, so they just wrapped themselves in ropes and put on headdresses.

They chanted several songs in a flat repetitive tone, and shuffled back and forth. Rosario offered to paint my face with the red mask that she wore, but I politely declined.

Chanting – no eye contact

Then Yeti asked if anyone would like to get married. The college kids in our group all declined that offer, so Jim volunteered that we would get married in the Waorani way. We all got up and shuffle danced, then everyone gathered in a tight circle around us and chanted. And just like that, we were married (again!).

We walked out of the park to find some lunch and found ourselves in the tourist part of town. We were the only tourists in sight.

Wall art!

After a fine meal of pollo y papas (chicken and fries), we walked home. The roads are being torn up to put new pipes in. Unlike our experience in Guatemala, most all the roads we have encountered here are paved.

After a siesta, we went out for dinner and found that almost all the restaurants we had seen in the afternoon closed at 4pm. Dinner out isn’t really a thing here. Way down the street we found an Ecuadorian Chinese restaurant – not your typical fare, but not bad, considering.

On our way home we heard music, and walked over to the sports stadium. There, under the lights, was the biggest community Zumba class ever! How fun!

An ad at the pharmacy – I’ll have what she’s having!

Iyarina to Puyo, Ecuador

Jun 26 – So, life continues here in Iyarina. One morning we had no hot water, the next day no WiFi, then last night the electricity went out entirely. Small inconveniences when you consider how well we are living in the middle of the jungle!

Jim taught his last class yesterday, so our official duties are over. We continue to walk every day and find new things to appreciate. The sky has been very blue, with no rain for the past few days. Our clothes dried on the line! As we near the end of June, the rainy season is coming to an close.

Walking down the road, we encountered a maintenance crew cutting brush with machetes to keep the jungle from overtaking the road. Not sure if the dog is part of the crew.

A man told us that if we took a side road, we could climb up El Mirador – a scenic overlook. Of course we had to check it out. As soon as we started walking up, we were joined by Flora, a barefoot nine year old with a lot to say.

She took a liking to Jim, and kept up a stream of chatter as we ascended the hill.

The view from the top.

We walked back to the house of the shaman, and spoke with his wife Maria. She showed us the herbs she grows, and told us which ones are good for back pain, and which help if you have an open wound.

More wildlife.

Don’t hug this tree!

There are many little huts erected at the roadside. Bus shelters? This one is also a shop. There was not much on offer, mainly warm bottles of Big cola.

Some beans set out on the pavement to dry.

Pretty fungi.

Papaya, I think
Pineapples growing on the ground – I always thought they grew on trees
Huge heart shaped leaves – so pretty

More student sculptures – water women (mermaids) are a thing here.

Jun 27 – After one last delicious breakfast, we bade farewell to Iyarina. Janis had hired a cab to take her back to the airport in Quito, and because the bridge is still out due to last week’s floods, she has to take the long detour, which goes past our next stop, Puyo. She graciously offered to let us share her taxi. Luisa also came along, as she actually lives in Puyo.

An hour and a half later, the jungle is gone, and we are in Puyo.Our very nice hotel is right on the main street, which is full of little shops and eateries. We will be here three nights, which should give us more than enough time to see what Puyo has to offer. This is not a tourist town, so we will see. Stay tuned!

More from Iyarina

Jun 20 – So, I haven’t really talked about the weather here. It is not hot at all considering our proximity to the equator, perhaps in the low 70s during the day, but very humid. Pleasant walking weather. After sundown it gets chilly enough for a sweatshirt and long pants. The river provides a constant background noise as it roils along, soothing white noise. We are sleeping very well here.

Morning mist on the hills

More pretty flora.

Jim is busy teaching the anthropology students about Asian shamanism, to enable them to compare it to the Quechua shamans here. He also gave a hypnosis demonstration so the students could better understand the trance state. Here is the open-air classroom where most classes are held. I enjoy the contrast of the thatched roof and the flat screen tv.

Tod, who owns Iyarina, is the son of American doctors who brought him to Ecuador as a small child; he was raised here and married into an indigenous family. He maintains an academic career at Arizona State, while concurrently running this center. His extended family works here in all capacities. He explained (and I oversimplify) that in the Quechua culture, a person’s sense of self includes his entire family, and not caring for family members is thought to result in illness or misfortune to the children or elders of the family. A big responsibility.

The Quechua derive their power from the mountains that surround them, and, in times past, sacrificed animals or children to keep the mountains happy. In a land of many volcanoes, you can understand how this belief would arise. If a person experiences illness or misfortune, shamans are still consulted to determine the source and remove the misfortune.

We went with the anthropology students to observe a shaman ritual.

The shaman, named Bartolo, drank a cup of the hallucinogen ayahuasca, then chanted to various animal spirits. His wife Maria sat behind him. The round stone in front of him has magical properties and was described as female. He encouraged the students to touch the stone and the section of ayahuasca vine.

There were two smaller dark rocks described as male, that looked like faces. They served as protectors.

The shaman had a hand rolled tobacco cigar that he used to blow smoke over all the objects to cleanse them. The bunch of leaves were shaken throughout the ceremony and used to brush away negative effects. The shaman’s chant was calming and beautiful. Quite an experience!

Jun 21 – It rained so heavily through the night that the sandbar we could previously see in the river was submerged. Charles and his daughters are leaving today to travel home to Utah, and he received word mid-morning that the bridge back to Tena was washed out, and they would have to take a long detour. Safe travels home, Charles!

Jim and Charles

We continued to explore the campus.

The rain muddied the river

Huge fragrant gardenia

Logs used as seed starters

Tomorrow, an adventure!

Tena, Ecuador

Jun 15 – We set the alarm for 5am, but of course we didn’t need it, as we woke up every hour throughout the night to check the time. Are we the only ones who do this? The 15-passenger van arrived at 5:15 to take us to the next chapter of our Ecuadorian adventure – Tena. The van picked up passengers at various spots around the city until all the seats were full.

It was still dark for the first part of our ride, but the popping in our ears let us know we were coming down from Quito’s high elevation. Then we had to remove our jackets as the weather warmed up. We saw some breathtaking views of the Andes covered in morning mist, but the condensation on the windows didn’t allow for any photos. Use your imagination!

By 9:30 we arrived in Tena, and the van stopped right at our hotel. Just like that, we’re back in the jungle!

Tena is a scruffy little town, touted as the cinnamon (canela) and wayusa capital of the world. Wayusa is a leaf that is dried and used as a caffeinated tea, drunk by indigenous people as an aid to having visions. Located on the Pano River, Tena caters to adventure tourists who come here to whitewater raft, kayak and take jungle tours to interact with the indigenous Quechua people and partake in shaman rituals. We are here for just a day, prior to meeting up with Jim’s professor colleague tomorrow.

Tena is also home to Parque Amazonico La Isla del Amor, a nature park right next to our hotel. We dropped off our bags and walked over to check it out.

What’s the first thing we saw? An observation tower! “Up!” said Jim, so up we went.

As we walked along, I was just starting to ask Jim what our chances were of actually seeing any wildlife, when out of the brush strolled a tapir, big as life and unrestrained in any way!

Jim moved in, in pursuit of a Facebook video, causing me to wonder how close was too close to an animal this size, even if they are herbivores. Say cheese!

Five minutes later, we met another one!

This day was already a home run as far as I was concerned. Further down the path, there was a restroom (read tin-roofed outhouse), and I decided to answer a call of nature. As I sat, I heard a loud crash right above my head, and Jim informed me that a monkey had just jumped onto the tin roof! I looked up, and there was a sweet-faced little spider monkey, looking down at me inquisitively through a gap in the tin. I’m sure you’d like to see a picture of this, but I was a little busy at that moment.

I rushed out, got my camera and snapped a few shots of the little guys right above my head. Don’t you just love that sweet little face?

After a while, the wooden boardwalk stopped abruptly and only the cement supports remained. Jim said this was a town once enriched by oil wealth, but when the current administration came into power, this park project was just never finished. The oil wealth is now used to pay back the loans for infrastructure made by China, and there’s no money left over. Jim was happy to walk on the support beam, but my balance isn’t that good, so we turned around.

Here is a ceibo tree, where elves and fairies – the guardians of the forest – were thought to live.

I love seeing what we consider ‘house plants’ growing huge and free in the forest.

In the evening we strolled the town board walk in search of supper. Here’s some wall art:

A good day!