Amazonas: Visiones de la Selva / Amazon: Jungle Visions

Amazonas map 1

ubicación de La Pedrera

En mayo de 2014 tuve la oportunidad de regresar al Amazonas colombiano, esta vez para trabajar como traductora en un documental sobre la minería y la importancia del oro para las etnias indígenas del Resguardo y Parque Nacional Natural Yaigojé-Apaporis.

A continuación, una selección de fotografías del trayecto que me llevó, junto con el director del documental, Jess Phillimore, y nuestros guías y acompañantes de la Fundación Gaia Amazonas, a la selva colombiana. Viajé desde Santa Marta a Bogotá, donde me encontré con ellos, y de ahí salimos juntos a Leticia, capital del departamento de Amazonas en el extremo sur del país, y su ciudad hermana brasilera, Tabatinga. De allí salimos hacia La Pedrera, un pueblo del que sólo había leído hace unos años en el libro de Germán Castro Caycedo Perdido en el Amazonas y con el cual había tenido una leve obsesión desde entonces.

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Amazonas map 2

location of La Pedrera

In May 2014, I had the opportunity to return to the Colombian Amazon, this time working as a translator for a documentary film on mining and the significance of gold for the indigenous ethnic groups of the Yaigoje-Apaporis territory and National Natural Park.

Below, a selection of photographs of the journey that took me, along with the film’s director, Jess Phillimore, and our guides and companions from Gaia Amazonas, to the Colombian jungle. I travelled from Santa Marta to Bogota, where I met them, and we then journeyed together to Leticia, capital city of the state of Amazonas in the southernmost part of the country, and Tabatinga, its Brazilian sister city. From there, we left toward La Pedrera, a small town of which I’d only every read about a few years ago in German Castro Caycedo’s book, Lost in Amazonas, and developed a mild obsession with it since.

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Para ver las galerías completas, haz clíck en los subtítulos / Click on the subheadings to see the complete galleries

Leticia, Tabatinga, La Pedrera

De aquel pueblo a las orillas del río Caquetá, levantado sobre puentes de madera, siempre preparado para las lluvias y la creciente del río que obliga a algunas personas a usar canoa para salir de sus casas, viajamos 10 minutos más para llegar a la sede de la Fundación Gaia, El Cocotal, donde pasaríamos la mayoría de nuestro tiempo en la selva.

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From this town on the shores of the Caqueta River, a town lifted above the water on wooden stilts, ever-ready for heavy rains and the rising of the river which forces some residents to use canoes just to leave their homes, we travelled another 10 minutes to El Cocotal, headquarters for the Gaia Foundation, and where we would spend the majority of our time in the jungle.

El Cocotal

Estábamos en el Amazonas para entrevistar y hablar con los jóvenes investigadores que participaban en el IV Taller de Sistematización de las Investigaciones Sociales Locales y el Proceso Régimen Especial de Manejo (REM) para el Resguardo/Parque Nacional Natural Yaigojé-Apaporis.

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We were there to interview and talk to the young researchers who were participating in the fourth edition of the workshop to digitalise the ongoing local social research to complete the Special Management Regiment process for the Yaigoje-Apaporis indigenous territory and National Natural Park.

Talleres / Workshops

Seleccionados de las siete etnias del territorio, estos jóvenes continúan su trabajo de aprender y compartir la sabiduría tradicional de sus ancestros y con ella conformar los puntos del REM que se le presentará a Parques Nacionales para consolidar la cooperación entre la entidad gubernamental y las tradiciones antiguas de los indígenas para el manejo del territorio.

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Selected from the seven ethnic groups of the territory, these young men continue their work to learn and share the traditional wisdom of their ancestors, and with it create the management plan that will be presented to National Parks to consolidate the cooperation between the government-run agency and the ancient indigenous traditions for the management of the territory.

Entrevistas / Interviews

También visitamos varios lugares sagrados durante nuestra estadía, como el Cerro Yupatí, un monte a las orillas del Caquetá. Desde la cima, se ve el río Caquetá y el departamento de Amazonas por un lado, y el río Apaporis y el departamento del Vaupés por el otro.

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We also visited several sacred sites during our stay, such as the Yupati Mount, a hill on the shores of the Caqueta. From the top, you can see the Caqueta River and Amazonas state on one side, and on the other, the Apaporis River and Vaupes state.

Cerro Yupatí / Yupati Mount

Caminamos por la selva espesa, llena de colores, sonidos y sorpresas, desde arañas hasta cerdos salvajes (los cuales oímos pero no vimos), y claro, muchos mosquitos.

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We walked through the thick jungle, full colours, sounds and surprises, from spiders to wild boars (which we heard but didn’t see), and of course, a lot of mosquitoes.

Chorro San Francisco / San Francisco Fall

Presenciamos los atardeceres amazónicos sobre el río, fuente de inspiración para quien los vive, y hora mágica para ver delfines.

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We witnessed Amazonian sunsets over the river, a source of inspiration for those who experience them, and a magical time to see the dolphins.

Atardecer / Sunset

Pero el lugar más especial que tuvimos el privilegio de visitar fue La Libertad. Este chorro sagrado es considerado el punto de origen de las siete etnias del territorio: es donde la Madre Tierra se convirtió en tierra, y de donde nacieron las poblaciones indígenas del Yaigojé-Apaporis.

También es uno de los lugares que la minería de oro busca explotar, ignorando las palabras, creencias y peticiones de las comunidades indígenas, quienes aseguran que la extracción del oro y otros minerales sagrados de la tierra traerá graves consecuencias para ellos y el equilibrio del planeta.

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But the most special place we had the privilege of visiting was La Libertad (literally The Freedom). This sacred fall is considered the place of origin for the seven ethnic groups of the territory: it’s where Mother Earth was turned into earth, and where the indigenous communities of the Yaigoje-Apaporis were born.

It’s also one of the places sought out for gold mining, an action in complete opposition to the narrative, beliefs and requests of the indigenous communities, who believe the extraction of gold and other sacred minerals from the earth will bring grave consequences to them and the balance of the planet.

La Libertad

El río estaba crecido por la lluvia y muchas de las piedras estaban sumergidas, pero La Libertad emanaba magia, pureza y fuerza. En todos los lugares sagrados parecía haber animales fascinantes; el más increíble para mí fue la raya que encontramos en una playa sagrada.

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The river had risen after the rains and most of the rocks were submerged, but La Libertad exuded magic, purity and strength. There seemed to be fascinating animals at all the sacred places; the most incredible to me was the stingray we found on a sacred beach.

Apaporis

Para llegar, debimos subir por el río Caquetá hasta una trocha, que después de cruzarla, nos llevó al río Apaporis. De allí fuimos hasta La Libertad y luego a la comunidad de Ñumi, donde pasamos la noche y hablamos con un curador tradicional, el viejo Jorge Makuna.

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To get there, we had to travel up the Caqueta until we reached a land crossing which led to the Apaporis. From there we rode to La Libertad and then to the community of Ñumi, where we spent the night and spoke to a traditional healer, old Jorge Makuna.

Apaporis & Ñumi

Regresamos al Cocotal y a los pocos días, con demoras por el clima impredecible de la selva, estábamos otra vez en Leticia y Bogotá (y yo, en Santa Marta).

Esperen el documental!

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We returned to El Cocotal and, a few days later, after some delays due to the impredictable weather of the jungle, we were back in Leticia and Bogota (and Santa Marta for me).

Wait for the documentary!

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Amazonas: Talleres & Entrevistas / Workshops & Interviews

Los jóvenes indígenas a quienes acompañamos durante las dos semanas del taller, fueron escogidos por sus comunidades para realizar el trabajo de investigación y digitalización de la formación del Régimen Especial de Manejo (REM) para su territorio, el resguardo y Parque Nacional Yaigojé-Apaporis.

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The young indigenous men we stayed with during the two weeks of the workshop, were chosen by their communities to complete their research and digitalisation work for the creation of the Special Management Regiment for their territory, Yaigoje-Apaporis National Park.

Talleres / Workshops

Varios de ellos fueron entrevistados para el documental por el cineasta británico, Jesse Phillimore, sobre la minería y el significado del oro en las tradiciones indígenas.

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Several of them were also interviewed for the upcoming documentary film on mining and the significance of gold in their traditions by British filmmaker, Jesse Phillimore.

Entrevistas / Interviews

Regresa a Amazonas: Visiones de la Selva / Back to Amazon: Jungle Visions

 

Amazonas: Apaporis, Ñumi, La Libertad

They said the gods smiled upon us long enough to complete our task. Then the rain came. We sailed down the Apaporis River, away from La Libertad, a sacred waterfall considered to be the origin of life for the seven ethnic groups of the Yaigojé-Apaporis National Natural Park in the Colombian Amazon.

 

As we made our way over the dark waters, a storm quickly approached, its white, wet air creating a blanket between the thick jungle on either side of the river. Small raindrops covered us in a refreshing mist, cooling us down after the long hours spent travelling upriver under the sun in the fifteen-horsepower engine boat.

 

Before arriving at a sacred sandbank, we passed other sacred sites like the Pork and Star Falls, their rocks almost completely covered by the risen river.

 

Edgar, our guide, advised we all have mambe when entering or leaving a sacred site. Mambe is a bright green powder made of toasted coca leaves and ash from the Yarumo tree (Cecropia peltata); the combination becomes a basic conductor to spiritual contemplation and learning—and in this case, a way to appease the gods for stepping on their sacred places.

These places, thought of as natural malokas (communal houses central to indigenous communities in the area) are said to have been where the gods lived before they were turned into rocks, water, sand and precious minerals.

 

This beach looked like any other sandbank would, but to me, it was magical. I spotted a river stingray, who was vacuuming nutrients from the soft sand only centimetres away from my face. Seemingly a chance encounter, I’d like to attribute it to the blessings of the gods; a reward for not overstaying our welcome at La Libertad.

 

As we were leaving, Edgar said we must mambe (in Spanish, it’s a noun and a verb: mamebear) so we could leave the place peacefully, a way to continue without bringing punishment on ourselves. We were told our visit to La Libertad was special and rare. Communities seldom allow outsiders to step foot on the rocks, let alone to photograph the water, which the indigenous people themselves may not look at for long as it is believed to be the very loins of Mother Earth.

 

Traditional narrative tells the story of a woman who tried to take men’s power with her own spiritual strength, so they used their combined power to turn her into the Earth, into the Mother, the provider. Her head is upriver, where the falls start, and her legs downriver, where they end.

 

After her transformation, she regained her power in a new way: she now dictates how men must care for her in exchange for her bounty. If her rules are disobeyed, it is said she will punish and even kill, manifesting her displeasure through displays like thunder, disease and the deaths of children. Two researchers came with us and Edgar to see this place. Jaime, another elder, was meant to come with us but was mourning the death of his five year-old granddaughter from a snake bite a few days earlier.

“Each sacred site has an owner,” Edgar explains,”it is their home. It’s not correct for anyone to come into a home and remove something without permission: it’s stealing.”

 

Extracting sacred minerals from the earth like gold, petrol, emeralds, uranium, diamonds, or any other mineral, is seen as mutilation and destruction of the gods, their malokas and the people’s instruments for communicating with them. They see mining as a clear sign of disrespect, theft, violence.

 

We were allowed to witness this beautiful place and to photograph it because the short documentary film being produced has no commercial purpose and is meant solely as a vehicle to share the indigenous communities’ traditional knowledge with the outside world; a platform for their voices to be heard; a message to the mining companies and the magistrates of the Constitutional Court, who are yet to make their final decision determining whether the national park that safeguards the Yaigoje-Apaporis remains or if the illegal mining license the government granted the multinational after the creation of the park will allow the destruction of these sacred places for the extraction of gold.


 

We made our way back to Edgar’s wooden house in Ñumi, a small community of seventeen families, where his four young children played with rubber balls with FC Barcelona’s logo and watched pirated Dragonball-Z DVDs on an old TV set hooked up to a diesel-powered electric plant, the dubbed voices at an excruciating volume, the kids’ faces aglow with blue flickering light.

 

Once the power was switched off, the only sounds were those of frogs and nocturnal birds; the only light the reflection of the full moon. I don’t know that I’ve ever slept so deeply.

 

The house came to life with dawn, at around 5am, as the air filled with the voices and cries of children, pans clanking in the kitchen and chickens clucking outside. The morning started slowly with the kids going to school and breakfast being served: a communal pot of steaming hot, very salty fish broth, casabe (yucca starch) and farinha (yucca flour). Bones and unwanted bits were thrown through a hole in the wooden floor, below which chickens waited anxiously for leftovers. After we ate, we went to the maloka to mambe with Edgar and his father.

 

We sat in the dark, round house, the packed dirt ground creating a cool, wet atmosphere. Outside, kids and women cleared the basketball court of weeds with machetes under the oppressive overcast sky for an upcoming mothers’ day celebration.

 

We heard ancient stories passed down over generations through oral narrative. Jorge spoke of the birth of the Apaporis—once a great tree which was cut down and became the river as it sliced through the mountain. He was lively and energetic, switching between Spanish and his native tongue, sitting on his thinking bench, proudly displaying a generations-old necklace with eight jaguar teeth and a heavy wooden staff.


Amazonas map 3

land crossing between the Caqueta & Apaporis rivers

We left Ñumi and headed back to the land crossing that would take us once again to the Caqueta River, about two and a half hours away. We stopped for lunch at a small house that guards the entrance to a chain of seven sacred lakes and exchanged bags of rice and sugar for smoked fish which ate on the sand with some casabe Edgar’s wife had packed for us.

 

Once at the crossing, we walked through the jungle with our packs and gear while we fought mosquitoes and waited for our boat to pick us up.

We had succeeded in our mission: we saw places many indigenous people themselves only ever hear about, returning wet with rain and sweat, our equipment foggy and threatening to break down, but happy and satisfied.

 

The great rivers of the Colombian Amazon and the communities who inhabit the thick jungles are under threat from multinationals seeking to extract their sacred minerals, backed by an undecided government who oscillates between protecting its people and fattening its pockets.

 

Gaining a deeper knowledge of the culture and the jungle has only made the threat seem more real and the possibility of the ancient territory and traditions disappearing even more tragic.

 

Although they’re hopeful for the future conservation of their land and traditions, the local communities are aware of the commercial wealth their territory represents for both the miners and the national government. They can only ask the spiritual and cultural wealth it represents to them is understood and respected by the outside world, and that righteousness prevails over greed.

*All views and opinions are my own.
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Amazonas: Cerro Yupatí, Chorro San Francisco y atardecer sobre el Río Caquetá / Yupati Mount, San Francisco Falls & sunset over the Caqueta

El Cerro Yupatí es otro lugar sagrado para las etnias indígenas de la región de los ríos Caquetá y Apaporis, en parte porque desde su cima se ven ambos ríos. Cubierto por una espesa selva que atrapa la humedad, el Yupatí no es fácil de subir, pero la vista justifica el esfuerzo.

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The Yupati Mount is also considered a sacred site by the indigenous people of the Caqueta and Apaporis rivers, partly because you can see both rivers from the top. Covered by a thick jungle that captures the humidity, the Yupati isn’t an easy climb, but the view entirely warrants the effort.

Cerro Yupatí

También caminamos por la selva para llegar al chorro de San Francisco, pero las rocas estaban completamente sumergidas. Mientras caminábamos acompañados por dos perros, los ladridos de uno de ellos asustaron a una manada grande de cerdos salvajes. Los oíamos corriendo, furiosos y muy cerca, y nuestro guía, un viejo indígena, empezó a caminar rápidamente por donde habíamos venido. Después de unos diez minutos se habían alejado y continuamos nuestro camino.

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We also walked through the jungle to the fall of San Francisco, but the rocks were completely submerged. We were walking along with two dogs, and one of them ran off barking and scared off a large drove of wild pigs. We could hear them running furiously and very close to us, and our guide, an old indigenous man, started briskly walking the way we had come. After about ten minutes they had passed us and we continued on our way.

Chorro San Francisco / San Francisco Fall

Y así terminaban los días (bueno, cuando no llovía).

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And this is how the days ended (well, when it wasn’t raining).

Atardecer sobre el Río Caquetá / Sunset over the Caquetá River

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Regresa a Amazonas: Visiones de la Selva / Back to Amazon: Jungle Visions

 

Amazonas: Leticia, Tabatinga, La Pedrera, El Cocotal

Leticia es una ciudad al extremo sur de Colombia, capital del departamento del Amazonas y habitada por un poco más de 40,000 personas. Comparte su territorio con Tabatinga, un municipio brasilero, y están separadas del Perú por el río.

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Leticia is the southernmost city in Colombia, capital of the state of Amazonas and inhabited by just over 40,000 people. It shares its territory with Tabatinga, a Brazilian municipality, and they are separated from Peru by the river.

Leticia & Tabatinga

La Pedrera es un corregimiento a la orilla del río Caquetá en el departamento del Amazonas donde viven menos de 4,000 personas. Es cercano al departamento del Vaupés y la frontera con Brasil. El pueblo ha pasado por grandes bonanzas, como las del caucho, las pieles, la cocaina y otro comercio ilegal.

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La Pedrera is a town on the Caqueta River in the state of Amazonas and fewer than 4,000 people live there. It’s near the state of Vaupes and the border with Brazil. It has gone through many booms, like rubber, furs, cocaine and other illegal commerce.

La Pedrera

El Cocotal es la sede de la Fundación Gaia Amazonas, quienes trabajan con proyectos de gobernancia indígena alrededor del mundo. Con una mezcla de construcciones tradicionales indígenas y algunos pequeños lujos de la ciudad, éste es probablemente el lugar más cómodo para alojarse en la selva.

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El Cocotal is headquarters for Gaia Amazonas, a foundation working with indigenous governance around the world. With a mix of indigenous structures and some small luxiries of the city, it’s probably the most comfortable place for a stay in the jungle.

El Cocotal

Aves del Cocotal / Birds of El Cocotal

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