By Jen Frey
I am in a long motorized canoe, moving down the Tiputini River in Ecuador. I am among a group of 24 who are here to study with Ecuadorian, Ethnobotanist and Shaman, Rocio Alarcón, and we have been exploring the Amazon Rainforest which surrounds her center, the Iamoe.
This is my first time in the Amazon and it is not at all what I expected, even though I didn’t really know what to expect. All I could imagine was wild. And it is true, if you walk about 10 feet off of the path in the forest, you may never find your way back. However, we are also surrounded by the oil companies, and I have better cell service in the middle of the Amazon than I did in Quito.
Even today there is an interesting juxtaposition as we prepare for our journey. One of our guides is Waorani. He paints our faces so that the River will welcome us. As he does this, his wife and children watch with the large pipelines visible behind them.
After everyone is painted, prayers are said to bless our journey and we pile into 2 boats. These have motors; however, there are also holes and we regularly need to bale out water. It is an absolutely beautiful day, and I am grateful for the breeze as we move down the river. The temperature is in the high 90's and the humidity is even higher. I swear you can see the moisture in the air and my supposedly quick-dry pants have not dried in 2 days.
After about an hour, we reach our destination: a sacred spot we know as the Tiputini Pugyo. A Pugyo is a power spot where the Water Spirits live. When humans are in alignment and honor the River and Spirits, the Pugyo remains open and is a source of healing and communication. However, when we move into amnesia, the Pugyo closes. This Pugyo is closed.
We have come here for 2 reasons today, to open the Tiputini Pugyo and to work with the healing clay along the riverbank. We pile out of the boats and I am among the first to follow our other guide, a Quechua man, while his son climbs the nearby Trees to harvest fruit. As we follow our guide, Rocio calls to him and says he has gone too far. We need to give our offerings first. We turn around and suddenly I have stepped into quicksand. My boot sinks deep, I manage to get my leg out and have to work to get the boot released.
We return to the group and the presence of the river is very strong. As we begin our ceremony, I set up a bowl in which to make an essence with the Tiputini Pugyo. I have been honored to gain permission to gather an essence here, that it may be used in the healing of waters in my home place and other places in need. As our ceremony proceeds, I perceive the spirit of this river— in the form of a giant Anaconda, who blesses the water in my little bowl.
Rocio and our guides say prayers and walk towards the Pugyo. It is obvious that the Waorani guide is frightened and the Waorani are known to be fearless warriors. So to see this man frightened gives a sobering feeling to our situation. After they have finished with their prayers and offerings, it is now our turn.
After praying for the opening of the Pugyo, we gather our items to move towards the riverbank, anticipating our connection and experience with this special clay. Traditionally the urns for Shamans are made from the clay in this area and we were fortunate to see some of the urns in the Museo MACCO in Coca. People would also traditionally come here to be covered with the earth to be healed from physical ailments.
The men are led to a separate area. The women pair up, we take turns smearing the clay onto one another saying prayers and blessings, and soon you can hear laughter and wailing, the sounds of healing. When we are done with our ceremony, we enter into the river to wash off the clay. Then it begins to rain. At first there are only small drops and what does it matter? We are already in the river. However, our guide quickly rushes over and calls to Rocio. He says, “We must go NOW!”
As we begin to get dressed, it starts to pour. He tells us that if we do not leave now, we will not be able to. We hurry into the boats and take off, getting soaked.
Most of us have rain gear, knowing that we should never be without it in the rainforest. Despite this, we are all shivering. Just an hour ago, it was so warm we could barely breath and now our teeth are chattering. We try to huddle close. Fortunately, there is a snack of corn and cheese waiting for us when we arrive at the dock. I swear this food saved our lives. It took me over 2 days to warm up after our river journey.
Three years later, I return to the same place on the Tiputini River. I barely recognize it; however, I can sense the energy. The spot where I nearly lost my boot is buried under water. The River is so high that we cannot even see the banks where we smoothed clay on each other. We must go farther down, ducking under Tree branches that were once unreachable to find dry ground. Most of the people who are with me have never been on the Tiputini before. They are unaware of the difference. They simply see a beautiful River.
I begin to glimpse the connection that our guides must have with this incredible River. For clearly, the Tiputini has multiple personalities and they need to know and understand them all. Not just so that they can take tourists on a boat ride, they depend on this River for their food and transportation. And to be honest, they recognize the importance of this River for what we would call their spiritual life, which to them is simply life.
While my time on the Tiputini was short, I am changed by my experience that day. I can feel the Tiputini running in my veins. When I am praying with Water, I can still feel the Spirit of the Tiputini Pugyo rise up in my heart and the river flowing in the waters of my body. I am grateful for the gifts of this river and for the people that continually nourish her, pray with her and keep her energy open and flowing- this is co-creation with nature. May our Rivers be wild and free and pure.
Jen Frey is a member of ONE's Vision Council and owner of Brigid's Way and Heart Springs Sanctuary. She is a healer, teacher and plant-essence practitioner. to know more about Jen and her work visit www.brigidsway.com.