Amazon,  America,  Colombia,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Visit of the Colombian Amazon Notebook 3/4: Medicinal Plants with a Shaman, Piranha Fishing and observation of the Caimans (Crocodiles)

I am very excited today because we will spend the whole morning with a shaman/healer and go fishing for piranhas in the afternoon. If you missed the 2 previous episodes, it’s here and here

Note: travel books contain a lot of spoilers and photos. If you’re going there soon and you’re only interested in practical information, you should know that we have published this practical guide to the Amazon on the blog (you’ll find our agency’s contact details, advice and detailed budget).

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

DAY 3: Visit of another Ticuna village

We take the boat back today, to go to another village of Ticunas, 30mn by boat. With this overwhelming heat, it’s good to be on the boat, ours has a plus one tarpaulin protecting us from the sun. The ultimate luxury!

I appreciate more and more our Nader guide, he is ultra respectful, of animals, plants, humans… every time we meet another boat, or a family doing their laundry on the riverside, he slows down so as not to disturb them by creating a wave. The others do not necessarily have the same tact.

Meeting with Carlos

This morning, the visit isn’t with Nader but with Carlos, the well known healer / shaman in the area. It is the most interesting visit of all our stay in Amazonia so I will not be stingy in explanations

Usually he goes from village to village to treat people, but he is here with us today. Within 5 minutes, we would have had another guide, but luck smiles to us during all our stay in Amazonia, we always have the best guides for us.

Carlos is a healer, we call them shamans (a term of Siberian origin) but in Spanish, it’s rather said curandero.

A curandero is a healer in Hispanic America. They administer remedies for illnesses. Their powers are considered supernatural since popular belief says that they deal directly with malevolent spirits that cause diseases. Source: wikipedia

Note: Amazonian shamans aren sages or enlightened beings in the Western sense of the term. The definition of warrior-sorcerer suits him better. Do not go to Amazonian shamans for personal development.

It’s a family business, Carlos learned how to heal from his father who learned from his grandfather. But he says that if someone is really interested, he can also teach them. Students also come to learn from Carlos, but they still need a lot of practice to be able to use the same recipes he uses in hospitals.

We did not manage to get him to talk about the first origin of the knowledge of medicinal plants, but I was able to learn, in an interview given by an anthropologist(you can read his book here, Amazon link), that the indigenous peoples in *Peruvian* Amazonia were taught directly by the plants, they know their names and know how to use most of the plants present (although there are thousands of them). They communicate with nature using hallucinogenic plants – and the spirit of each plant presents itself, and teaches humans their medicinal properties and how to prepare potions. The same anthropologist cites the hallucinogenic drink made from ayahuasca as an example: you have to use two plants to obtain it. Ayahuasca allows the production of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), responsible for hallucinations, but its intake by ingestion is ineffective because an enzyme in the stomach, monoamine oxidase, transforms it into inactive metabolites. It takes another plant to deactivate this enzyme. Then how can we explain that the natives were able, as if by chance, to find among the 80,000 different plants in the Amazon, two plants, which go well together, to prepare their drink? There is more chance of winning the lottery than finding the perfect combi.

Carlos also communicates with the spirit of nature, using the tobacco and coca plant.

coca leaves

He tells us that the animals also know that he is a healer and he is going to demonstrate this to us. He approaches a honeycomb and takes the nest in his hands, the bees come out of the nest but no bees attack him. Note: do not attempt the experiment at home.

When he picks the leaves to prepare medicines, he first asks Mother Nature to send energy to the plants. Then he gives the potions to the patients, singing… he gave us the demo, the singing is so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes.

Carlos has 16 huge plots of land: there are medicinal plants but also fruit trees and cassava for his family’s consumption. In 3h30 we could visit only a tiny part of them.

There is a leaf, from the same family as mint, that smells exactly, but exactly like my favorite perfume A garden after the Hermes monsoon. In the Amazon (and even in Colombia for that matter), everything seems to have more flavor and smell, even the lemon leaf smells 100 times better than what we have in Asia. By the way, while shopping in Medellín, we spent long minutes sniffing the basil leaves in the supermarket because it smelled so good.

There is another flower to soothe toothache. By chewing this flower, the tongue is as if anaesthetized, then a sensation of freshness and mint taste invades the whole mouth, it is very strange but also very funny.

This is an important tree, its bark is used to treat the bites of a particularly ferocious insect, which lays eggs on your body – and you can die from it. Carlos even wanted to show us the insect in question, but fortunately he wasn’t “at home”.

On the tree in question, you can see the leaves of another plant sticking to the trunk, these leaves allow to fall asleep well… but are also used to put other people to sleep to steal their clothes… or their wives. This plant is very well known and is part of several folk tales.

This one is to keep a faithful man. Just wash his clothes with it, the leaves are super sticky and stay there for days. I hurried to stick one on JB, you never know… 😀

This one is to be remembered absolutely, I took a picture of the sheet for you to recognize it. In case of snake bite, you have to use the stem of this plant, and make a drink from it.

Legend has it that if you hit this tree twice (which also has anti-wrinkle properties), and the trunk cracks, you are entitled to another woman. Carlos has succeeded twice, he has 3 wives now (out of the 5 allowed). He is currently looking for a 4th woman, white this time, who is willing to go?

Among the Ticunas, women seem to have a lot of power. They can decide to have children or not. They can also have lovers, just as their husbands can have mistresses… After the first few months after giving birth, they are entirely taken care of by their husbands (or daughters) who do everything for them. Carlos works alone on his land, saying that his wife (wives) are there to be loved and pampered, not to work.

Many of the plants that Carlos shows us help to improve sexual performance. Let’s say that the locals are already in excellent health thanks to the chuchuwasa drink, which gives vitality and protects against many diseases (he even cures malaria). This drink is also sold in Puerto Narino, I recommend you to try it, it’s super good!

There iseven a tree to cure cancer (some tourists come all the way to the Amazon for that).

So they come to see Carlos especially for heart problems (love), to get pregnant, not to get pregnant, for childbirth … and especially for the equivalent of Viagra, because when you have up to 5 women, you have to ensure behind …

There is a plant where you can blow the name of the one you covet. I don’t know if it’s effective, but since Carlos has forgotten the name of Nadia, our translator, he’s not likely to marry her immediately ahahah

It suddenly starts to rain (ropes) and fortunately we have our special Amazon raincoat on loan from the agency. Carlos is satisfied with a banana leaf, it’s really too cute.

Our walk turns into a food tour because we are very hungry. We can’t get tired of these palm fruits, or bananas, or the lulo from our garden that have so much more flavor than at the supermarket. Like what the forest can be dangerous but also nourishing.

Suddenly you hear a sound, like a drop of water falling. This sound is repeated again and again and we realize that it is a bird(mochilloso ? for sure of the spelling). Then comes a sound that gives us the creeps: it sounds like children laughing. But there are no children here, it’s just another bird.

I fall into a hole, quite big. Fortunately the owner of this hole (we don’t know which dangerous animal) is absent. More fear than harm.

I’m making a short parenthesis to tell you how much we appreciate Nadia, our translator. She asks a lot of pertinent questions and also translates the answers. And when Carlos is evasive, she doesn’t give up and insists that he answer the questions asked. So I think the guide is important, but having a good translator also helps a lot. Moreover, Carlos is very touched by our interest in him and by our translator’s pertinent questions. Instead of spending 3 hours as planned, we spent 3h30 and if it didn’t rain, we were gone for the whole day I think ahahah Nadia also tells me that even if the natives speak Spanish very well, sometimes the words they use aren’t very precise so we shouldn’t hesitate to ask for more information. For example, they can talk about tigro (tiger) but it is a small wild cat, not a real tiger.

We leave Carlos with regrets and take back the boat to have lunch in Puerto Narino. We still have 1 hour of rest before leaving for the whole afternoon.

Afternoon: visit to Lake Tarapoto

We leave a little later in the afternoon to go to Lake Tarapoto. On the way we see many birds but also absolutely wonderful plants like this one, which is based on a parasitic plant.

On the lake, we still see grey dolphins. They give birth here, train the pups to hunt, before taking them to the Amazon River. We are supposed to be able to swim here, but it is a bit cool.

We go a little further and we find a quiet corner but so beautiful that if the paradise exists, it must strongly resemble that.

We can also observe a lot of birds, big and small, it’s beautiful! The water is murky, but there is a small bird able to see up to 1m deep and fishes without any problem.

a kind of eagle

We fish with simple rods and JB was able to catch three small fish (which he releases immediately because they are too small). The fish like to eat the fruit so we have to imitate the sound of fruit falling into the water. The guide was able to catch two piranhas, big enough to end up in our plate in the evening.

I am completely horrified by this fish with two small antennas. When JB fished it for the first time, we gave it very quickly to the guide who explains us that it can bite so we have to block its head to remove the hook. When JB fished it for the second time, I was able to observe it more attentively, and the little noise that I associated with birds – actually comes from this fish. It’s a fish that speaks OMG, it goes “arrrggghhh” with its screaming little voice. We released it very quickly.

As soon as the night falls, the mosquitoes come to devour us but nature is well done, in a few minutes, dragonflies came to eat the mosquitoes and protect us!

Cayman hunting – crocodiles

As soon as everything turns black, the guide takes us by boat to see the caimans (crocodiles). With a flashlight, he locates the eyes of the caimans which are orange.

The lamp in one hand, the paddle in the other, he steers the boat while catching the caiman in his hand (but which hand???). The first attempt is a failure. But he isn’t discouraged, it takes another 30 minutes to track another caiman and this time it is a success. It is a baby black caiman, which is about 60cm. Of course, the caiman is released very quickly.

We are looking for a white caiman this time. He spots a second caiman with his lamp, but when we see the size of his eyes and the distance between his eyes, we understand that it is a 3 meters long caiman and that it will not be possible to catch it like that by the neck 😀 We are too lucky, because it is the biggest caiman that our guide saw in the surroundings.

Being in total darkness, on a boat in the middle of the Amazon is an extraordinary experience, you are much more sensitive to noise and there are lights coming from thousands of fluorescent insects, flashing like garlands. Que lindo!

On the way back, the boat goes at full speed in total darkness, sometimes disturbed by the flashlight when our guide needs to find his way.

JB and I are thinking that visiting the Amazon by boat seems to be the safest and most pleasant option…. when we see shadows approaching the boat and hitting JB making us shout in amazement: they are just sardines jumping around. Usually they jump one by one but this time it was 3 by 3. The boat isn’t so safe as that finally ahahahahahah

On the menu this evening: the two small piranhas fished by our guide.

Just for information, piranhas only eat corpses, or very rarely, when you have a huge wound. There is little risk of being attacked, even if you swim nearby.

When they bite, it’s a piece of flesh they’re ripping out, and not an ordinary wound, because they have a very strong jaw. Piranha attacks on “normal” humans are rare, and only occur when piranhas are desperately short of food, which isn’t the case here because they have plenty of other things to eat. Source

Despite the folklore about these fishes, there are few, if any, reliable records of attacks by piranha schools on large animals, including humans. Additionally, there is a misunderstanding about actual attacks on live humans and scavenging by piranhas on humans already dead due to other causes such as heart failure and drowning. The most common profile of a piranha injury on humans is caused by a single fish biting only once. The typical bite consists of a single, circular, craterlike wound with laceration of tissues. Injuries caused by piranhas on bathing people occur mostly in dammed waters because of the proliferation of the fish there as well as their spawning and parental-care behavior.

Read the rest of our adventure here

Part 2: Practical Tips

We left with the agency Amazonas Jungle Tours. For more information about rates & program, please consult our practical guide for the Colombian Amazon here

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