Trekking through the jungle for weeks at a time, chopping vines with machetes and peeing on snake bites isn’t my style of travel. I haven’t collected any, “One time, in the Amazon…” stories of my own here in Ecuador. I have, however, been enchanted by Misahuallí, a teeny town which acts as a hub for excursions catering to Indiana Jones types.
Sitting around a bonfire at my hostel, an older local tour guide named Leo began to tell us fascinating stories about the trips he’s led in the jungle. Like the time he was leading a group of four Americans deep into the Amazon, when he was kidnapped by the Waorani.
When trying to float past the tribe’s territory, the river was blocked off and their raft was detoured onto shore. The guide had forgotten the note of permission he had obtained to visit them, so they were stripped of all their clothes and tied up with their hands behind their backs and spears to their throat (kind of like the movie Apocalypto, minus the Hollywood). Though they escaped with their lives, they were robbed of all their food.
Others aren’t so lucky. A certain branch of the Waorani is completely out of contact from the modern world. Emboldened after converting several tribes in the area to a Christian way of life, a missionary and accompanying nun sought out this group in an attempt to spread their religion. The result? A brutal dismemberment and murder.
Leo explained that this particular tribe is unreceptive to outsiders because they fear exploitation from the “white man.” Which is reasonable enough.
Spellbound, I asked Leo if this group of people would know who the president of Ecuador is, for example. He giggled and replied, “They wouldn’t know, nor would they care.”
Luckily, not all the stories ended with blood-covered spears. Leo also told of a tour group visiting a community in the area. The chief took a liking to one of the female tourists and stipulated that she stay the night with him or they would all be denied access to the tribe. She found this to be a tolerable request, despite the 40-year age difference, and agreed. Not only did she stay one night, but the following six as well. Upon her departure, she was presented with a crown and her own pet monkey.
Maybe one day I’ll be named queen of the Amazon… until then, I’m happy to live vicariously through the real jungle junkies.