Blogs sponsored by Piotr Chmielinski
It’s summer here now (verano), and dry season. I haven’t seen rain for at least three weeks. The night skies have been crystal clear as have the small streams and rivers flowing down from the mountains.
At some of the Ashaninka villages that we stayed at along the Tambo River, I’ve opted to sleep without a rainsheet, so I can view the heavens from my hammock slung between the trees. With zero light pollution, everything was so pin-sharp that one night I even saw the international space station pass directly overhead.
This is Cacao harvest time for the Ashaninka. The cocoa bean is a cash crop that many pueblos depend on, and whole families are involved in harvesting, drying and transporting the sacks of dried cacao beans to sell in the nearest big towns.
A short film by France24 about how Cacao is helping the Ashaninka. Source – Youtube ©️France24
The Rio Tambo, with its hidden clear, fresh waterfalls, cool rivers, rock pools and deep lagoons, set among the forested mountains, is often stunning. The uninterrupted views and calm, spiritual tranquility of the area is only spoiled by the sound of a few cars and lorries going up and down the newly built road. One place in particular, Betannia, had amazing fresh water rock pools and a multitude of waterfalls cascading out of the rock face. (See photo below). This would be a very good location for the Ashaninka to maybe construct a few eco-tourist lodges this could be another source of income for them, and I for one would certainly return to visit and take in the amazing scenery and surrounding ancient forested mountains. This has been home for the Ashaninka for millennia.
Central Selva Verde (Green jungle centre)
On completing the traverse along the banks of the Tambo, as planned, I had to get a return boat to Atalaya to collect all my spare gear stored there to move it forward, I also needed to withdraw cash to pay Quentisha as Puerto Ocupa had no banks. These are time-consuming logistics I could really do without, but I have no choice. On our return I was invited to visit my guide Quentish’s village, and to accompany him back home to Central Selva Verde, on the lower Rio Urubamba – a three hour boat trip and then an hour’s walk through the jungle. I was surprised to see just how hard-working and under-resourced the small community was, growing all its own food, fishing and hunting in the forests surrounding the village. There were no tin roofs, TVs, or petrol generators here, and the school is just a simple shed with a mud floor. (See photos below)
After helping out with a communal minka, I interviewed Quentisha, and he answered in both his original language and then in Castellano (Spanish).
He had originally only planned to walk to Puerto Ocupa with me, since he has various important meetings coming up with other Ashaninka from the lower Rio Urubamba and Tambo region in connection with his and other new-ish villages. He explained that together, they are working urgently to try to get the title deeds to protect the surrounding forest and their territory in defence against the recent encroachment of various outsiders, including loggers, coca growers and farmers who want to use the surrounding land. These invaders are already armed with the knowledge that the Ashaninka in Quentisha’s village still have no title deeds, nor the money to secure the deeds for their land.
The problem inevitably comes down to the money the communities need in order to pay lawyers in Lima to complete the legal forms and prepare the documents to register their official ownership. Once they have this, their surrounding terrain becomes more secure and the forest can be more effectively defended from outside intervention and exploitation.
What they need are individuals or an international charity to support and help them save their village and other nearby villages and then preserve the surrounding forest. Balanced against some of the huge sums spent on political lobbying, the relatively small amount needed to make a big impact here represents a real opportunity for anyone who cares about our planet and our future on it. Please spread the word by asking anyone you know involved in charity work at any level to contact FABU’s hardworking & dedicated organisation led by President Susana Silva Morales here at email@example.com for more information.
A blocked trail
The original trail, perhaps many hundreds of years old, that runs four kilometres inland from the Rio Urubamba through the forest to Quentisha’s and other villages further inland, was only last week blocked by a company that has bought a section of land along the banks of the Urubamba river and started to clear the forest. We struggled to navigate our way through the tangle of freshly cut trees now blocking a section of the trail.
At dawn, Quentisha´s family and some of the villagers accompanied me along the three kilometre jungle trail to say goodbye at the main river where i caught the daily passing passenger boat. It was sad to see a mother carrying her baby, and the young children clambering over or under the cut-down section of forest to get to the bank of the Urubamba river.
Quentisha values the tranquillity of where he lives and doesn’t want to see the forest cut down or be forced to live in a city, which could eventually be their only option if the local habitat is destroyed. He understandably wants his children to have a secure place to live and a better future in this area where they live quietly now.
Connected at last
This week was perhaps a turning point for his village, as they now have one house with internet access for the first time. Previously, they have had no means of communication with the outside world apart from the radio station in Atalaya which broadcasts messages to the remote villages.
With the Rio Tambo behind me, I now need to hire a native-speaking guide who knows and lives along the Rio Ene to accompany me through the red zone (the former Shining Path area) with its deep fast-flowing rivers and high forested mountains and many villages I’m sure it will be an interesting but challenging traverse to reach the junction of Apurimac and Mantaro rivers.
For anyone interested in how i am navigating since i’m not now carrying any physical paper maps, i use the Fatmap app on my mobile phone in conjunction with the Garmin Earthmate app. All my expensive topographic maps were unfortunately stolen before i entered Peru.
Once more, the biggest delays for me – apart from the covid lockdowns, logistics and frustrating cash flow issues – have been caused by organising and waiting… and waiting… and waiting for guides. I am unable to move without these companions who are the only people here authorised by the indigenous communities to negotiate my path through and between villages. The problem is compounded by the need to secure funds to pay them and move forward in the final stages of my journey. All the cash raised via the Fundraiser has been applied, and I want to extend my thanks again to everyone who has contributed. The page is still open and the fundraising continues, so please remember to share the blog and the journey with anyone and everyone you can 🙂.
Again, if anyone would like to help me out with a donation to my 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.
Header photo. A house in Quentisha’s village, illuminated by a single lightbulb powered by a small solar panel. Rio Urubamba, Peru.
The picturesque meandering Rio Tambo is surounded by forested mountains. Home to the Ashaninka for millennia. ©️Casey2021
Urucum plant This is the plant Ashaninka use to paint their face red. ©️Casey2021
Quentisha drinking Masato at every opportunity. This also supplements the Ashaninka diet when food is in short supply.
An unusual rock formation. Rio Tambo Junin Peru.
Young Ashaninka boy skillfully extracting the ripe Cacao beans ready for drying to eventually make chocolate. Rio Tambo, Junin, Peru.
One of many natural cool clear flowing freshwater pools surrounded by rock. Rio Tambo, Junin, Peru. ©️Casey2021
The run-down mud floor school at Central Selva Verde, Rio Urubamba, Peru. ©️Casey2021
Quentsha’s young daughters in Central Selva Verde drinking fresh coconut water. Urubamba, Peru.
Ashaninka chiefs of the lower Rio Urubamba at their bi-annual meeting in Atalaya, Quentisha back row third from left. Atalaya, Ucayali, Peru.
Fresh cold water cascading out from the rock-face. Rio Tambo, Peru. ©️Casey2021
Quentisha Miqueas Levi at his village, Central Selva Verde. Rio Urubamba, Peru.
Garmin tracking map Rio Tambo, Atalaya to Puerto Ocupa
Pan and zoom below to view more.