On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog (follow on #FlashbackFri):
A few years ago I did an Amazon Jungle Tour in Ecuador where I was trying to fulfill my dream of being an explorer. In true explorer fashion we embarked on a trip to an indigenous village, somewhere in the middle of the jungle. The locals were really friendly, but I couldn’t help but see them whispering to each other and our guide as we arrived. They were giggling and when we asked our guide what they said he announced they had just challenged us to a competition but that they didn’t think that we would be tough enough to enter.

I read various horror stories about these challenges before our trip, for example a ritual where men wear a glove filled with bullet ants who sting so badly that you are in pain for days. There were lots of these ants crawling around so I thought that might well be the challenge. But it turned out that they had three other challenges for us: a blowpipe competition; a drinking competition; and an eating competition. Quite a program for an Amazon jungle tour. This could either turn out very nasty or very funny…. but challenge accepted!

fire ants

Bullet ants

The blowpipe challenge

First up was the blow pipe competition. We had to hit our target with a poisonous dart pushed inside a traditional blow pipe. The target was a toy parrot about 15 m away. Our guide showed us how it is done and hit the parrot in one of its wings first time around. It can’t be that hard if he can do it so easily. Then it was my turn. I was handed the blow pipe, took aim and missed. The villagers were laughing at me. Damn it! None of the other tourists hit the target either, much to the amusement of the villagers. But then came one-shot-one-kill Chris. He took aim and BANG! Right into the red target. The villagers were very impressed. Challenge passed!

blowpipe ecuador

Ready, aim, shoot (…and miss!)

chris with blowpipe

A vegetarian hunter

parrot

The only dart (apart from the guide’s) to hit the target. Not sure how much damage it would done though.

tribe girl

Locals girls, not hugely impressed by the hunting skills of the foreigners!

The eating challenge

Our next challenge was to eat a jungle delicacy. A local indigenous women took a leaf parcel from the fire and opened it in front of me. It was full of fat and slimey Amazonian grubs. Yikes! I am far too stubborn to decline a challenge though, so with some initial hesitation I took a tiny piece of one of the grubs and ate it. To my surprise it actually wasn’t that bad. It tasted like very salty scrambled eggs. Challenge completed!

amazonian maggot

Lunch – Yum!

tammy eating maggot

Suddenly wishing I was a vegetarian

The drinking challenge

As if eating a big fat grub wouldn’t be enough the villagers then showed us what our third challenge would involve. With cheeky smiles on their faces, they showed us a pot of a yellowy/brown fluid. It looked like murky river water, but when we were told that it is in fact Ecuadorian jungle beer (also called chicha) Chris’ eyes lit up. We were asked to drink as much of this drink as we can. When Chris was given a small coconut shell containing the chicha he laughed triumphantly. This was going to be easy for someone who is used to knocking back pints of Stella Artois. That was until he was told what the jungle beer was made off.

Chicha is a fermented drink made out of yucca roots and the preparation is fairly easy. Pieces of the washed and peeled root are thoroughly chewed in the mouth, and the resulting juice is spat into a bowl. The saliva rapidly converts the starch to simple sugar, which is converted by wild yeast into alcohol. So Chris was about to drink some random people’s spit. Nice! But he did manage a few sips. Challenge mostly completed!

chris drinking chicha in ecuador

Make mine a double

The shaman cleansing ritual

As we managed to win two (and a half) of the three challenges the villagers asked us if we wanted to stay longer and meet their medicine man. The shaman was an impressive looking man and he offered to do a cleansing ritual as he sensed some bad spirits inside me. Quite the salesman, but I felt in good hands and as an Amazon Jungle Tour wouldn’t be the same without seeing a shaman I gave it a go. He started his ritual by cleansing my aura with some kind of herbal branches, chanting and singing along the way. He then lit a cigarette (as you do), leaned over and started blowing the smoke on the top of my head (what felt like into my head).

tammy with shaman

My medicine man

shaman smoke

It was all good fun up until then, but then he took out a bottle of very strong alcohol and had a sip off it. He was basically having a jolly with his fag and alcohol I thought to myself until this happened: HE SPAT INTO MY FACE. I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to say or do. Chris of course found this hilarious (a bit rich coming from somebody who drank a cup of spit earlier). So as if that wasn’t enough he then took a large sip from his bottle again and spat at me AGAIN. This time on top of my head. Apparently he saw the evil spirit trying to get back into my body and so he used the alcohol to prevent it.

shaman spitting

Ppppuh! Take that, foreign girl!

Yeah right, this guy was taking the mickey. Or was he? Only after I had seen the photos of the ceremony did I realize what he was talking about. I promise this is not photo-shopped in any way and I have no idea what this black spot above my head in the photo below is. Was this the evil spirit he was talking about?

ghost

Very, very weird!

So that was the day a shaman spat in my face during my Amazon jungle tour. What were your most confusing cultural experiences?

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

12 Thoughts on “The time a shaman spat in my face

  1. Very odd. I’ve hit a flip flop with a blow pipe before, but I’d never be able to eat a grub! I reckon my weirdest cultural experience was also in Ecuador – when, at Mama Negra festival, some guys surrounded me spitting alcohol and rubbing me with a live guinea pig!!

  2. Eww, a life guinea pig? Ha ha, that sounds gross! 🙂

  3. Ok, ok… so it looks like Chris and I need a ‘dart off’ Agreed? As for the spitting… erm. Shocking. That is all!

  4. Ha ha, agreed Becki! The prize is a bottle of Absinth. 🙂

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  7. Great entry Tammy!

    Personally, my most confusing cultural experience involved kissing male business partners in Argentina. I’d spent two days working with a manager from a retail book chain and I’d gotten along with him pretty well. As I was about to get on the bus back to Buenos Aires, he leaned in – which seemed to take an eternity – and gave me a peck on the check as he shook my outstretched hand. It felt like I got gravel rash!!! Different strokes for different folks I guess.
    Luke Simmons recently posted…Heading off to see the world.My Profile

  8. SOunds like a very interesting yet odd experience.
    Spitting darts would be pretty cool!

  9. I think after you failed at the blowgun competition you should have challenged them to a duel of Angry Birds. Then you’d have the home court advantage.
    OCDemon recently posted…Every border is a crime against humanityMy Profile

  10. Ha ha, love it. Will do that next time. That wouldn’t work in Asia though. Kids here are awesome at AB. 🙂

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