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