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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

THE AMAZON!!! -- Part 2, the Waorani Community

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Bromelia, with her beautiful smile!

Hey guys,

In my last post about my Ecuadorian Amazon trip, I introduced you to my Waorani guide, Pegonka, and shared with you some jungle skills he taught me (and that I, in turn, passed along to my Lil Dude and Ian.  Blowgun target shooting in the snow was interesting...)

So in this post, I'll introduce you to other people in the Waorani community who I hung out with. 

The guy in the white shirt was our awesome English-speaking guide, Javier.

We spent lots of time in the dugout canoe-- the main form of transportation, since we were so deep in the jungle there were no roads, just extremely muddy foot paths.  And whenever we got into the canoe with our guide, a bunch of other people hopped in too, so we'd often have over a dozen people (including babies and kids) in the boat. It was a lovely, relaxed family atmosphere.

Our wonderful guide, Pegonka

There's something so magical about floating down a river in the rain forest in a boat made by hand...  The guy in the picture below is Luis, and during my trip, he was in charge of "poling" with a bamboo pole at that back of the canoe.  The way the Huaorani Ecolodge is set up, people from the local indigenous community largely run it themselves (with logistical help from the Tropic-Eco tour agency).  They rotate roles at the ecolodge-- server, canoe poler, boat motorist (for when we're going upstream or doing pop-n-wheelies and need the motor), housekeeper, manager, guide, etc.

That's a Justin Beiber shirt Luis has on.... ;-)

We ate picnic lunches by the Shiripuno river, so idyllic.... Every morning, Pedro the excellent cook packed us up these huge, delicious meals in Tupperware and put them in a cooler for us to enjoy after hiking.

Here I am with the whole community that runs the Ecolodge-- all part of an extended family... I'll try to remember everyone's names (my apologies if I got any wrong!).  It's also tricky because everyone has a Waorani  name as well as a Spanish one.  Since I was unfamiliar with the Wao language, it was easier for me to remember the Spanish names.

From left to right, back row: Fausto, Gabriel, me, Luis, Pedro, Elizabeth, Remigio, Veronica, Beatriz (Obe), Pegonka

Front row: Laura and baby, Carmen and baby, toddler, and Fredy

Several of the teens and people in their twenties (including Luis and Pegonka) are going to high school now, and have culture-focused thesis projects they're working on.  I was really interested in hearing about their work-- it's incredibly valuable, especially since their culture has been changing so much over the past few decades.  After I got home, I mailed them a digital audio-recorder and camera to use in their field research. One night, Luis and I stayed up late and he told me some completely riveting family history about his grandparents, whose interactions with the missionaries and petroleros (oil company workers/owners) had far-reaching and drastic consequences. (I'll restrain myself from giving you more details now-- truly, that's a whole 'nother story!)


Beatriz is working on a project that sounds fascinating, and right up my alley-- talking with healers (curanderos and shamans) to document their healing practices and plant medicines.  I'm hoping to translate her project, and perhaps others, into English, once they're done.

Beatriz (Obe) and sweet toddler

adorable Bromelia

We went fishing with reed rods one afternoon, and Pegonka caught two piranhas!

We had them as part of our dinner, and they were delicious.  Apparently, this subspecies of piranha isn't too vicious toward people, which is good because everyone swims in this river, especially the kids.

Here, Luis has just dove into the water to look for the piranha that I hooked, but which then got tangled up in an underwater log when it tried to escape and hide.  Alas, he couldn't find it....

Laura and cute baby....

Here we are in the back area of the dining cabin, where everyone hung out. This is Carmen, and her baby, with irresistibly pinchable cheeks...

My buddy Fredy in the yellow shirt-- we had fun playing with paper airplanes and toy cars...

Gabriel and Pegonka, story-telling on the edge of the canoe... I love hearing myths and folklore.

Gabriel tried his special caiman-call at this lagoon, but no caimans appeared this time.  It was gorgeous, though...


Here I am with Beatriz (Obe) in the canoe... We had great conversation as we drifted down the river. She is busy with her five kids, but dedicated to finishing her high school degree-- this is her last semester!  It's challenging for the students here because there's no Internet or cell connection or library-- they have to find creative ways to do their school work.

Sometimes, the canoe got stuck on debris in the river.  Here, the guys managed to wiggle it free, but still couldn't get it past the fallen trees.  So they pushed it back upstream a bit, and then revved the engine at full blast and let 'er rip...  The canoe did a pop-n-wheelie right over the logs.  (The rest of us were watching onshore, but our British companion stayed in the canoe-- it was tricky to get out in the middle of the river... she ended up getting an unexpected adrenalin rush. :-)

Except for those heart-pounding moments, it was sublimely peaceful traveling along the river, with bird songs and lapping water.

 Here's Pegonka with his father, whose traditional-style house we visited one afternoon.  They showed us how to start a fire with only wood and dried grass and cotton from the ceiba tree.

Here he is, spinning the stick, with its pointed end inside a hole, creating friction and heat. Pegonka is gently blowing, to give it oxygen.

And after a few minutes, tah-dah! A baby flame...

This is the meeting hall for the community, right next to the wooden school buildings.

Here is Veronica's house.  She's actually from another indigenous group, Quichua (which is also the indigenous group of my co-author, Maria Virginia Farinango.... only her culture is in the Andes mountains, and Veronica's is from this region of the rain forest. So, although their cultural groups share the same name, they have very different ways of life.)  She married Gabriel, who is Waorani.


Veronica will use this basket for collecting yuca, which she'll use to make chicha (a fermented drink made from boiled yuca which is mashed and chewed up-- the saliva helps ferment it.)  People usually have chicha on hand to offer guests and drink themselves.

Thanks for coming by!  I still have a few more Amazon posts for you.... a swim at a magical waterfall, a fun face-painting and dancing ritual.... and then, I'll do a post on the Otavalo market and Peguche waterfall with Maria Virginia in the Andes.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

South Carolina Interlude...

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Note the *alligators* on the banks...

Hello, dear readers!

I will briefly interrupt my series of Amazon posts to give you a little update on the trip to South Carolina that I took with my co-author, Maria Virginia Farinango, to talk about our book, The Queen of Water, with middle and high schools.  This was our first time in SC, and we loved it!


 We scheduled the visits for Friday and Monday so that we could get to know Charleston over the weekend. Gorgeous city!

A friend of Mrs. Crawford's gave us a fascinating walking tour... did you know there were *pirates* in Charleston?  I had no idea.... and I do watch lots of pirate-related movies thanks to Lil Dude.

We had the most amazing weather-- 60s and 70s and sunny much of the time.

I wish there were more pink houses in the US.

Prettiness everywhere...

These gas lights were so atmospheric at twilight...

I love water, and there was water *everywhere*! Charleston is on a narrow peninsula, with islands around it, and we visited a couple of them.

I've done a number of school visits around the country for The Queen of Water.... but these were the first schools that invited Maria along, too.(Lugoff-Elgin High and nearby Middle School, Charleston School of the Arts, and Charleston Academic Magnet School.)  Maria came all the way from Ecuador!  It was really special for both of us... and this was a great way for her to learn more of U.S. history.  The Charleston area was a big Revolutionary War and Civil War site.

Ancient graves.  Apparently, these winged skulls were precursors to cherubs.

Mrs. Crawford took us to the Middleton Plantation in Charleston, and it was stunning.

Camellias and Spanish moss everywhere.

I love trees-- these old live oaks and magnolias made me very happy.

Maria was enchanted by all the animals we saw on this plantation-- goats, hens, roosters, peacocks, cows, egrets, swans, horses.... we took a carriage ride, pulled by these enormous horses. It was interesting, but sad and disturbing, for her to learn about the history of slavery in the U.S. (She herself was a child slave from ages 7-15 in Ecuador.)

Our trip was organized by the incredible twin teacher sisters, Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Crawford.  They were loads of fun to spend time with!  We were completely immersed in sweet, warm Southern hospitality.


Here we are on Sullivan's Island. I had major cravings to rent a beach house here and lounge around reading novels and drinking sweet tea.

On Friday, we were at Lugoff-Elgin High School, and the nearby middle school came to join us, too.

Awesome bunch of students...

Maria performed a beautiful dance to the music of her husband, Tino Picuasi, an Andean flute musician and singer-songwriter.

These were the lovely girls at my lunch table-- I could've talked to them for hours-- three super-creative writers and readers. Our lunch, by the way, was shrimp and grits and fried chicken and sweet tea and all kinds of Southern yumminess!  We were very well-fed on this trip...

Here we are with our host, Mrs. Howard, Spanish teacher extraordinaire, and Anne Lemieux, extremely wonderful, imaginative, and energetic librarian.

Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Crawford made us feel like family.... and we did get to know their entire extended family-- *four* generations, from their dear mother to charming grandson.

As I said, we ate very well.... plenty of items from the bacon and butter and grits and biscuit food groups. Yummmm.

Here we are at Old McCaskill's Farm-- a welcoming bed and breakfast in Camden, SC, run by friendly owners Kathy and Lee.

Look at the fun basket that the students of the School of the Arts in Charleston put together for us... so thoughtful. Chock full of treats.  Monday with these students was wonderful, too, but such a whirlwind, I didn't get a chance to take many photos there.

Incredible trips like this are unexpected author perks that I never even dreamed of when I started writing my first book.  And another wondrous part of being an author: meeting readers like Katie, who came all the way from Decatur, Georgia to chat with me and Maria at our Books on Broad event in Camden, SC.  What a HUGE honor for us!  (Thank you, Katie-- our hearts are full!)

Thanks for coming by! (Y'all come back soon now... ;-)