Alone in the forest


Pete Oxford with the Huaorani tribe

Although I have a powered paramotor at home here in Quito it is just too high and unfortunately I became quickly out of practice. So, working on a book on the Huaorani people of the Ecuadorian Rainforest, I decided to get an even bigger propeller on my back by way of a helicopter!  I needed to get into a remote village and stay with the tribe. The chopper pilot was reluctant. Indeed, the Huaorani have a fearsome reputation for spearing uninvited visitors. We had no GPS coordinates but simply a rough idea of compass bearing and distance. Flying low over a sea of rainforest canopy we saw nothing so decided to climb. The two of us searched diligently for a football pitch sized clearing. Almost at the point of having to return we finally saw what we were looking for  and made our approach to land. The pilot was screaming into my headphones that he was not going to shut down the engine and hovered with the skids just above the grass. I had to jump out and face the consequences! An elder approached, I stood my ground, and when we were face to face (more correctly his face to my chest) the pilot was ready to yank the joy stick and leave me to my fate. To my eternal relief the old warrior took off his feathered crown and placed it, in a gesture of welcome on my head! It is now a prize possession on my shelf at home.

The pilot shut down, we unloaded and the helicopter left. I was now alone (for weeks) with the Huaorani and was immediately accepted as family. And, as you can see from the second picture it was fun to be a novelty! In their culture what was theirs was mine. Everything was a pleasure being around them, the comedy, laughter, generosity and just being close to nature – immersed in primary rainforest. I had my cameras, my solar panel and my computer as trappings of the culture that I quickly felt distant from but I was unable to fully reciprocate their welcome. I slept in a tiny tent that I had brought but had to keep a small padlock on it. You see, to me a computer cable was just that and highly necessary to my work being a success, to a Huaorani it is a pretty cool thing, strong enough to be able to tie up almost anything, from dead peccaries or monkeys to hanging a blowgun on the wall of the hut! I learned so much from these people, referred to as uneducated savages by many. We could all learn from them!

Pete Oxford

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