Piranha

When we went to look for piranhas it was a little before dinner at 7:30. The first spot we went to was a little away from we would swim every day in the trees growing out of the water. We got a couple bites but they were too small to fit in the hook in their mouth so they just would bite, go away, then come back like all piranhas. But while we were waiting we saw about 4-5 howler monkeys one was pregnant and one had a baby on its back.

The second spot was a little further back. At first it was like the first spot but then one that was big enough to get its mouth around the hook came. (the smaller piranhas live in the deeper water close to the brush that we were fishing in.) Finally when we got it on the boat we got to see its teeth.

Neal and the Guide with the piranha.

As you could see in the video it can bite thru a stick like nothing. We had to let it go, but what an experience!

video of piranha

Siona Tribe

Before the oil companies came the Siona (se-o-n-a) tribe was nomadic. Then the tribe was forced to stay in one spot. The village was mostly wood made houses with metal scrap roofs. In total, there are about 250 people in the tribe. They most people in the tribe wore normal clothes.

Shaman

On Sunday 6/30/19 we went on the boat and we rode to a village. We went to the Siona tribe. There we met a shaman (shaw-men) who is a medical person. He told us about his way of treating sicknesses and spiritual illness. The shaman demonstrated on me as shown in the video below.

It takes twelve years of training to become a shaman. You can be a boy or girl. You can start training at fifteen. Anyone can chose to become a shaman. The tradition clothing is:

  • headdress made of feathers
  • bead and animal-tooth necklace
  • seed and nut sash
  • cotton robe

They make their clothes and accessories themselves. For the final test to become a shaman, they drink Yagé, a traditionally made drink that numbs pain, and go into the jungle. There they seek a vision for the shaman clothes they will wear for the rest of their life. They believe the clothes show how powerful they are.

Blow Dart Gun

At the end of the ceremony, the shaman showed us a blow dart gun and how to use it. The dart gun he used was over seven feet long. After he showed us, the shaman set up a papaya on a stick as a target then let people try shooting at it. Many people tried and missed but I kept trying and on the third try I it the target. Grant hit the target on the third try too. Alora got close to hitting it and only went once. Kate went once and took three blows to get the dart out and it instantly fell to the ground. Grant picked it up and put it in the papaya for her when she wasn’t looking.

Lunch in the Siona Village

I became familiar with cassava when I was living in Brazil. There called macaxiera, here called yuca, cassava is a native South American tuber comparable to a potato, but different in many ways. As cassava is referred to yuca by Ecuadorians, I will refer to it as that through the remainder of my post.

Yuca is the root of a large shrub that looks almost tree-like. It stands about seven feet tall and to harvest the plant, you chop off the top with a few swipes of a kitchen knife, grab the trunk, and pull. You are then presented with a cluster of tubers at the end. Then you hack a few off, and easily peel the waxy skin away.

Yuca is a very starchy food that is more thick and chewy than a potato. This gives the tuber the unique property of not needing to be mixed with anything in order to make bread with it — not even water. In preparing the tortilla-like portion, all one needs is flour and heat.

This is a common method in Brazilian cooking to make a treat known as tapioca (not to be confused with the pudding). There, it is common to add shredded coconut, butter, fruit paste, meat, or other fillings. But the Northeastern Brazilian-style I have become familiar with diverges from the traditional methods of consumption as found in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

But before I get more into that, let’s take a look at how this tuber is actually prepared. We had the pleasure of participating in many processes to make our meal. Grant and Neal jumped in to help harvest the roots from the ground, being careful to pull them strait up so the tubers would not be damaged. All of the kids helped to peel the skins.

Something I found interesting was that to replant a new yuca tree, all you have to do is put a few notches at the end of the trunk — which now was without limb, leaf or root — and stick it in the ground. The soil in the area is so rich, nature handles the rest.

After harvesting, we carried our peeled tubers back to the large pavilion to clean and grate the yuca roots. Señora Gladys was our native Sionan chef and instructor. She spoke her native language as well as Spanish.

After washing the yuca, we sat around a long, wooden, bowl that almost looked like a canoe. Using metal sheets punched with holes, we began grating the yuca to prepare it for drying. Before the days of these metal graters, the indigenous peoples used the spiky roots of the walking palm tree which have barb-like growths.

Once the Yuca was grated, Gladys took the shredded tuber and pressed it into a basket-like container that was made from woven fronds. The basket was very flexible and had a loop at each end. Gladys then twisted the basket so the yuca was secure inside. One loop went around a hook, and a stick went through the other loop. Then the stick was twisted, wringing the water out of the yuca flour. This was repeated three times. The liquid can be used as a base to make broth.

When the yuca flour was wrung out fully and dried, it was compressed into chunks that then had to be broken up and sifted to make it into a powder. And with that, our yuca bread was ready to be made!

As you can see in the video below, the cast-iron pan is about 24″ diameter. The entire pan is covered in yuca flour which is then evened out. This differs from Brazilian tapioca in several ways. Firstly, tapioca is generally smaller, about 6″ diameter. It also is only briefly left on one side, flipped immediately after being spread. This makes it more moist whereas the Ecuadorian yuca bread is more firm from being left on the heat longer.

Traditionally, I don’t think it is common to eat it as we did — we treated the bread as a tortilla, stuffing it with rice and chicken — but spreading guava paste over the bread is a well known and delectable treat.

Day 5 in the Amazon

Today we woke up early and climbed the observation tower in camp to bird watch. We didn’t see as many birds as we were hoping, but it was still fun to be at the top of the tree line looking over the forest.

After a quick breakfast of eggs, “sausages” (which were really hotdogs!), fruit, granola, and yummy guava spread we headed out to visit a Siona tribe village. We’ll have other posts forthcoming about specific activities that we did there.

The village was made up of only about 100 people and it had several fruit trees. Children were high up in a “rose apple” tree causing fruit to fall and we got a sample – yummy! They also had a grapefruit tree and there were probably 50 grapefruits on the ground that appeared to be discarded. The guide said we could help ourselves and they were delicious! Grant ate 3 softball sized fruits himself!

Approaching the village from the river

We learned to make yucca bread (which Karen will post about) and we visited with a Siona shaman (which Neal will post about). The villagers were pleased to be able to share their culture with us and the shaman told us that he hoped that we would take it with us in our hearts.

We then went piranha hunting (that we’ll post about soon), followed by a swim (yes Neal wanted to swim, even after seeing a piranha up close).

We then went back to camp for a dinner of soup, noodles with meat sauce, and gelatin dessert. Afterwards we went out on the river for the first time at night to find some Caiman, crocodiles. We found a few but didn’t get a good look at them. They really stirred up the water when we got close as they quickly dove in to avoid us. We did find a small boa constrictor swimming in the water, which I didn’t know they could do!

The boat ride home after the search may have been my favorite part of the trip. Riding on the river by the light of the night sky was incredibly calming and caused me to reflect on everything we had experienced thus far. I won’t ever forget the smell, the sky, the mist, and just being together with my family on this incredible adventure!

More posts about making yucca bread, visiting with the shaman and the piranha hunt are to come!