Thank you for joining us for Part 3 of Col. Blashford-Snell’s Amazon expedition report. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 here.
(A summary of the Colombian Amazonas Expedition 2017)
Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE FRSGS
At dawn on 19th May a fisherman brought in a weighty catch including a large paku which Ester speedily butchered for supper.
To Alastair’s joy the camera traps recorded a video of a rarely seen tayra, rather like a giant stoat, with her pups, and one evening a hunter named Oscar came to tell us all he knew about the legendary water tiger, which we had been led to believe was a black jaguar. From his description it seemed this creature is a large giant otter.
Our work at San Pedro continued with clinics, distributing school books and spectacles, and the study of the Ticuna culture. All was happy until John Arathoon’s hammock and sleeping bag were stolen. Joel rang the school bell to call a meeting and an investigation was held at once. By consulting the Shaman the Curaca said he had identified the thief and humble apologies were made to John, but alas his property was not returned.
We heard tales of a magical tree and a party went to find it. A mysterious half-human creature known as La Kurupira, said to live in it, was believed to have strange powers. However, it transpired that the particular tree had been cut down and, although our team saw another with a 12-foot diameter trunk in a flooded area, there was no evidence of the mythical creature said to live there.
Morten Risberg, a Norwegian Army officer, was in charge of navigation and used his Iphone GPS and the excellent Splash maps, printed on fabric that provided valuable physical details of the area.
Moving on 12th October to another village, we saw a government project to construct 20 concrete houses underway, but the people still needed a clinic. It was here we encountered the Mother’s Day celebrations and dispatched Simon House with a camera trap party deep into the jungle. Sleeping out in their hammocks, they were glad to be away from the noisy village!
In camp, Dr Hilary Napier had two serious cases to deal with. The first was nine-month-old Santiago Alonso, brought in by his distraught mother with a raging temperature whom we dispatched in the ambulance boat to Puerto Narin҃o with Yoli. Later the baby was sent on to the clinic in Leticia with suspected malaria, but happily survived. Hilary also stitched up a young girl who had fallen from a tree and sustained a deep gash in her arm.
Threats of more celebrations for Mother’s Day drove us on, but Yoli found that in San Juan del Socco the Coraca was prepared to postpone the party until after our visit, so that became our next base. It was a fortunate choice, for here we found the battered remains of an eco-hotel that the people hoped could attract visitors. These Ticuna were keen to improve their standard of living and wanted our advice, guidance, clinics, school books and glasses, and indeed anything we could do to help them.
The young Coraca, Gilberson, offered us a large Maloka (meeting house) with a thatched roof that could accommodate 40 hammocks, and the old eco-hotel’s huts still had ceramic loos and showers that worked, most of the time!
Ester set up her kitchen and was joined by another smiling lady named Lidia. Alvaro, the local Pastor of the Evangelist Church, turned out to be the leading hunter and offered to guide teams in the forest to set up the camera traps, whose images will be used to make a booklet about the wildlife for the schools.
Our dentists, Varinder Bassi and Jackie Ansic, were soon busy extracting teeth and advising on dental hygiene, whilst our doctor and surgeon Yasmin Jauhari coped with a great many patients, many of whom suffered from worm infestations. The younger patients were comforted with a gift of an animal puppet or a teddy bear to encourage them to protect wildlife.
The children paraded to receive the school books, pencils, rubbers and rulers, whilst our engineers studied the water problems. Amazingly a contractor had built a ten-metre tower with a water tank and put in pipes to all the houses, but had not installed a pump to bring the water up from the river.
The deputy Curaca, Dago, was keen to tell us of his people’s history and he set to work to create a wall painting showing the origins of the Ticuna. Adriaan and Maya Boyd, our quartermaster, were fascinated by this remarkably talented man and spent time filming him at work. The wall painting depicted the relationship of the people with the anaconda, lord of the underworld and strangely, snakes began appearing all around us.
Simon House, a keen angler, went off on dolphin quests, hoping these highly intelligent creatures would guide him to some good fishing spots. Morten Risberg, a lieutenant in the Norwegian Army, had completely taken to the jungle and led another camera trap party out on an overnight trip. Colombia has the highest bird diversity on the planet, with over 1,900 avian species, so John Mackenzie-Grieve, our birdman, was in demi-paradise.
At supper one evening Gilberson brought along a 14-year-old girl who was a trained Shaman to talk to us. She had attended a shaman’s school and, for one so young, addressed us with great confidence. I noticed she wore a crucifix and questioned her. “There are bad shaman and good shaman,” she replied. “I am a good one and cast good spells.”
Juan Alan Mun̕oz of MMI, and his wife Leonor, came to visit us and see their old Ticuna friends. Through their knowledge of the area we learned much of the culture and lives of these friendly people.
Sergio Leon, our guide and naturalist, was keen to show us the use of herbal medicine and took a party to the village of San Martin where a course is run to teach the Ticuna about traditional medicine. Indeed, everywhere one went in this area, there was much to learn.
Join us on Monday for the final instalment of John’s expedition report!