Back in the day, they told me, the Napo used to be filled with fish. All you had to do is go to the shore and you catch hundreds of them. At Gregorio and Blanca’s home, the carachamas floated among the yucas and made up the simplest, tastiest soup. After breakfast, everyone drank “chicha,” a beverage made out of yuca and offered at all times of the day. To not accept it when offered is an insult to Quichuas. When you first enter their house, chicha is like a strong handshake. It is a covenant, allowing strangers to build a trusting friendship.
This is how we came to know the Kichwas of the Napo. Very shy and reserved, these indigenous groups live fairly isolated from big cities. A lot of their houses can only be reached by canoe making it hard for most to reach the roads. They survive in tight communities where helping the other is not an option but a philosophy of life. Gregorio, or “Tocota”, the name of a type of tree in their Kichwa language, was a master with the chain saw. One day, he took us to his brother in law’s house to help him build a canoe. They found the appropriate balsa tree, and after a few hours, a long carved out canoe was ready to ride the Napo. They don’t like anyone in their community to be left behind. The Kichwas prosper together.
Things were different now along the Napo, but the basic principles of living in a community remained the same. Kids wore jeans and listened to reggeton but they still helped the family with all the daily chores. Like their parents, they were shy, kind and full of wisdom. They understood medicinal plants, could stand in a one-person canoe as they rowed up river and deeply respected their elders. They played everyday in the Napo as it flowed down to the Amazon carrying fish and gold in its veins. After a week of bathing in the river every evening and listening to a symphony of insects every night, our Quichua friends sent us on our way with plantains and yuca tied to the top of our jeep.