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“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” — Joseph Campbell.
I can honestly say that I was fearful of entering this section of the expedition – especially the lower Rio Ene. I had been warned many many times not to walk along the riverbank, but I wanted to be as close to the river as possible, which meant walking through all the villages on my planned route, meeting the people face to face, and at times walking or climbing along and over the boulder-strewn rocky beach only just made possible by low, dry-season water levels.
My preparation took a long time, yet again! Acquiring the financing, collecting the correct documentation, and informing as many local tribe chiefs as possible all took a lot of time and effort. Also, finding the right Asháninka-speaking guide to accompany me was a crucial part of the plan as always.
Unbelievably, after weeks of visiting various Asháninka pueblos on the lower Ene River while based in Puerto Prado, I could not find any local from the Ene who wanted to walk with me. As a last resort, I managed to contact my previous guide Quentisha (see previous blog) and asked if he would accompany me, and thankfully he agreed without hesitation, I asked him if he was as fearful as some of the locals I had contacted, but he assured me that “I have no fear at all – the Ashaninka are all my brothers and sisters.”
The rivers Ene, Tambo & lower Apurimac, and the Ashaninka people who live there, have had more than their fair share of troubles in the past. From the invading conquistadors over 400 years ago, to the rubber Barons of the early 20th century, and more recently conflicts with the Sendaro Luminouso terrorists, cocaine trafficking, land-grabbing oil and timber companies etc etc., the people are understandably vigilant, still very wary of outsiders and their motives. Only 4 months ago the peaceful mixed-race village of San Miguel on the east bank of the Ene was attacked by terrorists. Eighteen people, men women and children, were killed.
A few years ago, a huge proposed dam (for the Pakitzapango hydroelectric project) was due to be built on the Ene – ironically, to supply energy for Brazil.
This dam would have flooded and displaced many of the ancient Asháninka villages, but thanks to the young president of the CARE organization for Rio Ene, Ruth Buendía, who protested relentlessly, the project was finally abandoned. As a result of her efforts, in 2014 she won the prestigious international Goldman environmental Prize. We met her niece, who looks remarkably like her, in a village on the upper Ene. We had some trouble passing through, but she intervened and welcomed us with open arms and a lot of Masato that Quentisha enjoyed.
“On my back, I carry my culture, my territory, my family, and my ancestors that came before me, which I need to defend” ~Ruth Buendia.
©️Goldman Environmental Prize. Video Source YouTube.
Source of the Amazon.
Keeping to my original plan to walk to the Apurimac source of the Amazon River (the most distant point of uninterrupted flow) was a difficult decision, as the Mantaro River is now believed to be the most distant point from the mouth of the Amazon (read more the info here)
As we walked past the mouth of the Mantaro and the beginning of the Apurimac, I kept looking west across the Ene at the Mantaro wondering whether I was making a mistake and missing an opportunity to get more publicity and maybe much-needed sponsorship to fund the rest of the expedition. In the end, I decided I wasn’t. I´ve come this far without any offers of corporate sponsorship, I figured it’s unlikely they´ll suddenly roll in now. So I kept to my original plan and to a route that I think may be the more interesting route for me and for those with an interest in the whole project.
Having said that, if and when I do finally reach Nevado Mismi, and given the funding, I’d like to return to the mouth of the Mantaro and walk to that source also – another adventure, and another first, perhaps!
Out of gas.
After passing hills covered in cacau and coca leaf plantations, we continued following the Apurimac along dusty winding roads, to the amazing sound of the seasonal cicada beetle chorus (you can hear it here or scroll down for the embedded MP3 file) echoing loudly across the valley. We walked close to the river, passing Pichari, until we reached San Francisco, at which point I had no more money to pay my guide Quentisha, so I arranged to get him back home to Atalaya and then to his village on the Rio Urubumba.
Many of the people speak Quechua here, so if I do manage to get funding to move forward, it will be either on my own or with someone who speaks Quechua.
I would like to thank again Piotr Chmielinski, Stuart Avery, Fatmap, englishworx.com and a few others for generously helping me fund this last leg along the Rio Ene and onto the Rio Apurimac. It takes me out of the Amazon basin and to the foothills of the Andes. I can finally ditch my machete and Wellington boots and put on my new mountain boots kindly sent to me by Altberg.
I would also like to acknowledge the help of Angel Pedro Vallero, President of CARE Ashaninka, for granting me permission to pass all villages along the Ene.
Of course, I cannot forget Miques Quentisha Levi, my Ashaninka guide and walking companion on and off over the last several months, who expertly negotiated and explained my mission in his native language and arranged meetings with the chiefs and peoples of the villages we passed – as well as teaching me some of the language as we walked, getting us through the historically notorious Red Zone area, and opening up the pathway to the Apurimac (“The god who speaks”) and to the foot of the Andes mountains. Pasonki, Miques!
Listen to the cicadas as we walk along the Ene River
Amazon tipping point
On a final note, it would be remiss of me not to mention the many scientific reports of recent months stating that the Amazon is close to an irreversible tipping point – you can read one such article here.
Let’s stay hopeful despite the obvious greenwashing that will certainly take place, and see what solutions the world´s movers and shakers come up with, when they attend the COP26 in Glasgow UK. Can they help turn the tide on the potentially terrifying consequences increasing global temperatures could bring for all of us?
©️LandscapeTV source YouTube
“We are here by the grace of trees & forests. They make our atmosphere, clean our water & sustain the cycles of life that permit us. Just begin to see them. Notice the million complex beautiful behaviours that have slipped right passed you” ~ Robert Powers
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