Relieved and very happy to finally arrive in the town of Atalaya, at the junction of the rivers Rio Tambo and Rio Urubamba. The rivers flow much faster here as the terrain begins to climb, and to the west, there are forested mountain slopes and crystal clear streams descending from the mountains.
With the rainy season behind me, I can see exposed riverbed and pebble beaches here and along the Rio Tambo. This is the tributary I need to follow now. The people living along the Tambo are mainly Ashaninka, as opposed to the Asheninka living along the upper Ucayali river.
I have managed to learn a few basic words. I’m not sure if the movie ‘Avatar’ took inspiration from their ancient Arawak language, but some words (to my ear) sound like the Na’vi dialect in the movie.
Apart from my guide Quentisha accidentally leaving his bag on the return boat with his new phone, ID, documents, compass, new clothes and other stuff as we were dropped off near the mouth of the Rio Sheshea, the last leg went reasonably well. On one day we even managed to walk 40km along curving, connecting dusty roads to a small town. Our speed on that particular day was motivated partly by hunger, and the prospect of having a large dinner on our arrival.
As I predicted earlier, returning to the point where I had previously stopped, on the Rio Sheshea and completing the route to Atalaya (see earlier blog), proved to be time-consuming, expensive, risky and very challenging logistically. It took a toll on me physically and emotionally, as well as depleting most of my meagre expedition funds. Once again, I find myself hoping to be able to source some financial support for the next sections along the Rio Tambo and Rio Ene and up into the mountains. All the documentation & permits are in place apart from one, and my Ashaninka guide Is waiting back in his village for me to contact him when I am ready. The only thing I lack is a permit and permission from the Ronderos, as they have upped security in light of a recent terrorist massacre in a village near the Ene in the VRAEM area.
Quentisha (full name Quentisha Miqueas Levi) is my latest walking companion and guide. He is Ashaninka and lives quietly with his family in a small village on the Rio Urubamba 3 hours boat-ride upriver from Atalaya, He works occasionally for FABU (Federación Asháninka del Bajo Urubamba). He speaks the native language and was able to quickly explain my mission to people we encountered along the way, which was vital for a smooth transition through the multiple Asheninka pueblos along the upper Ucayali and its smaller rivers.
In one of the communities we passed through, we were invited to drink Masato, amid general excitement about the fact that I was the first gringo ever to enter their pueblo. Most of the villagers were informed in advance of our arrival over VHF radio, and this was important as I did not want to create fear or startle people. They understandably live in a constant state of vigilance due to historic and ongoing invasion and exploitation of their territory.
At one point on the 125km + trek, we were walking through a section of jungle that appeared pristine, until we encountered cut tree stumps probably from ten or more years ago. I looked at my satellite map again and said to Quentisha I can’t see any tracks for at least 5 kilometres ahead – only jungle.” But to our complete surprise, about 30 minutes later, we stumbled out of the natural cooling protection of the canopy into a huge, maybe 15-metre wide fresh-cut road extending into the distance. Squinting our eyes as the scorching sun hit us, I said “I don’t think we’re going to need our machetes anymore today.” Quentisha stood in silence. “We won’t need the compass either – these roads will probably lead us straight to the main road, and then close to a village on the Ucalayi.”
On the wide, freshly-cut, reddish clay road, our brisk walk under the canopy changed to a laboured shuffle under the scorching midday sun. Along the way, we saw piles of huge, newly-cut tree trunks stacked on either side of the road, waiting for collection. Quentisha remained silent, and I asked him if he was okay.
He explained that he felt very sad to see the road and the destruction. “Mi corazonTiene dolour” (I have pain in my heart) he said solemnly. He remained silent for the next few hours until we met a group of Asheninka villagers including children walking, some barefoot, on the long road. They looked thin but strong. They were from the village we were heading for, on the banks of the Rio Ucayali. To allay their fears, Quentisha quickly explained our mission in his language. They told us “we now have to walk for many days to find jungle to hunt in – much, much further up this road. All the animals have now fled deeper into the rainforest. They also told me that not long ago they would only have to enter the forest behind their village to go hunting and be able to return the same day. We gave them some food and biscuits, wished them good luck, and carried on.
Later on, we passed more fresh roads connected to the main road we were walking on – part of what’s known as the fishbone effect, where one initial main road eventually branches out into many side roads cut into the jungle. As we got closer to our destination on the last day Quentisha knew various people, friends and family he had not seen for years in different pueblos we passed. Quentisha calls other Ashaninka and Asheninka “my brothers”, and in fact the original meaning of the word Ashaninka is ‘Brother to all’ or ‘our kinfolk’. He was called over to drink Masato with most of them, whilst explaining our mission. It is apparently rude to refuse the offer, and consequently, he must have drunk gallons of the stuff. I only had an occasional sip, using Covid as my excuse, and I have no idea how he actually managed to stagger all the way to Atalaya!
Thanks to Guillermo Rosas and the Supreme President of the Ashaninka people, Susana Silva Morales, for helping me to find a suitable guide and official documentation. It was and will be my golden pass through various places, aided by Quentisha patiently explaining my mission in his native language over and over to all the people we come into contact with.
Again, if anyone would like to help me out with a donation to my Fundrazr page or Paypal account to keep things going, please use the Paypal link below, which will take you to my support page. Any donation over £25/ $30 will earn you a signed, sealed and delivered (two year) Amazon calendar (when I get back home!) with exclusive photos from the trek and a listing on my partners’ page. Any technical problems donating, or if you prefer to help via a bank BACS payment, details are now on the support page also.
Here’s another excellent Netflix Our Planet documentary – ‘Jungles’ – generously published online. Copyright Netflix; source Youtube.
Header image. Ashanaka chief Guillermo Rosas helped me with acquiring various documents in Atalaya.©️Casey2021
Looking south. The Rio Tambo meanders & climbs into the distance. Image ©️Casey2021
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”Native American proverb
Children getting coconuts to drink the water. Rio Sheshea Ucayali. Image©️Casey2021
Asheninka villagers working together to make a new roof. Ucayali Peru. Image ©️Casey2021
An Asheninka family walked with us 5km through the jungle to the next village. Mother and baby at the back. Image ©️Casey2021
Asheninka family. Cushma robes are still used in the pueblo. Image ©️Casey2021
Garmin tracking map 1. Rio Sheshea to Bolognesi
Garmin tracking map 2. Bolognesi to Atalaya
I’m just learning to write a blog on my mobile opposed to my now worn out laptop so apologies for any spacing errors etc.
Pan and zoom map to see more detail Also change to ‘bigger map’