Travel E-Logs: Amazon Rain Forest

Travel E-Logs #4: Limoncocha - A Quichua Community

Dear Students,

Alichishi (good afternoon) from Limoncocha in the largest and most biologically diverse rain forest on the planet, the Amazon! I’m going to start this report with a poem I wrote about rain forest diversity back when I was a teacher here over nine years ago:

Inside a Rain Forest House

If you lived in the rain forest just like me
You'd quickly discover "diversity"
You wouldn't need to explore, nor wander, nor roam
For you'd find great variety right in your home

Since moving here and settling in
I've had so many visitors, I couldn't begin
To tell you of all these marvelous creatures
Leave alone their habits, their manners and features

Crunching cockroaches in my plate when I eat
Tank-like tarantulas on my toilet seat
Tentacles and wings whizzing 'round my night candles
Tiny tree frogs seeking nooks in my sandals

Termites making a meal of my door
Mildew and moss on my walls galore
I'm beginning to know what it's like to be
A sloth living high in the canopy

A rain forest cat is what I need
Because a rain forest rat's just a rat indeed
And if I don't get rid of that rain forest mouse
Next the boa will visit to exterminate my house.


Although the tone of the poem is slightly exaggerated, each line was inspired by my actual experience here in the Amazon -- and it is true that you must make peace with lots of creepy, crawly creatures if you want to live comfortably in the rain forest. Do you think you could live here? (We’ll tell you more about bugs and other rain forest creatures in upcoming reports.)


Limoncocha, where we are now, is a Quichua community in the Amazon Rain Forest region of Ecuador. (Limon means ‘lemon’ in Spanish and cocha means ‘lake’ in Quichua.) I taught here for a year over nine years ago and Lilia taught here for half a year three years ago. The community has an escuela, elementary school, with around 130 students and a colegio, high school, with over 160 students. Some of the high school students take two additional years of study at the colegio to become certified escuela teachers. The colegio’s mission is to provide teachers to the indigenous communities along the Napo River of Ecuador, many of which would otherwise have no teachers.

The town Limoncocha is situated along a beautiful lake with the same name. Out of the lake flows a river that flows into another lake, Yanacocha (yana means ‘black’ in Quichua), out which flows another river, Yura Yacu (yura means ‘white’ and yacu means ‘river’ in Quichua), which flows into the Napo River. Many years ago, scientists claim, the Napo River flowed through the area where Limoncocha and Yanacocha are now located. When the river changed course, the lakes formed in its place.

Yanacocha, though only a few miles down the river that connects it with Limoncocha, is a mysterious place. The people of Limoncocha believe there are many anacondas, jaguars and giant caiman that live there and that the lake itself and the forest around it possess a supernatural power. Most of the people believe that bad things will happen to people who go there, so the lake and the forest around it remain shrouded in myth and mystery. (I’ll be telling you more about Yanacocha and the stories people tell about it in upcoming reports.)

About twenty years ago, Limoncocha was a famous tourist site. People especially went there to see the many birds in the lake, including some that are very rare. However, after oil was discovered in the region, oil companies built a road to the community and established several oil wells around the lake. Slowly the tourism industry declined. Today, there is still some tourism in the region, but many tourists prefer to go to regions where there are no oil companies.

Quichua and Huaorani People

One thing the oil companies have brought to Limoncocha, for better of for worse, is modernization. Almost all of the people here have televisions and some have computers in their homes. The colegio has several computers and the escuela has one. Since last year, the community has had 24 hour electricity (though sometimes it goes out for a day or two). (Before that, they had a town generator which they turned on from 6:00 to 10:00 every night.) A few people in town have cars or motorcycles and a group of teachers just recently started a business building roads for an oil company. Many people in the community work with oil companies nearby and others work at a as teachers.

So, Limoncocha is somewhat modern, but things have changed very quickly here. Only ten years ago, there was no road. The only way to get here was by airplane or by the Napo River in canoe. When I first came to Limoncocha, seven years ago, there were only a few TV's in the whole town. The TV's were located in the shops. The shops have like a big porch in front and a separate large room with a huge, glassless, front window facing the porch. All the items, like cookies, crackers, powdered milk, cooking oil, eggs, onions, potatoes, toilet paper, instant coffee, toothpaste, soap, rice, sugar, salt, canned tuna fish and sardines, ketchup, light bulbs, flour and oatmeal, are lined up neatly on shelves along the walls of the inner room. Usually there's a large cooler on one side filled with water, soda and beer. The shopkeeper always stays on the inside to tend to the shoppers. The shoppers walk up the steps onto the porch and go to the window. They look through the window and tell the shopkeeper what they want and the shopkeeper goes and gets it for them. When I first lived in Limoncocha, the people would also go to the shops to watch TV at night. The shopkeeper would set benches on the porch and the people would watch TV through the large window. From the shopkeeper's perspective, it was very good for business -- and nobody argued about what to watch because, back then, there was only one channel!

Across the Napo from Limoncocha is the territory of the Huaorani (Wow-o-raw-knee) people, the Yasuni National Park. (Maybe you can locate it on the map.) For the Huaorani people, things have changed even more rapidly than for the Quichua. Don Gervacio, an elder in Limoncocha who I have made good friends with over the years once told me a very interesting story about the changes the Huaorani have been through. He explained to me that just fifty years ago, the Huaorani lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from one place to the next looking for animals to hunt and plants to eat, never settling in towns. They used blowguns and spears for hunting and made simple temporary shelters. Although they lived in harmony with nature, it was a very demanding lifestyle with lots of uncertainty. Not only did the forest harbor lots of natural enemies, but also human ones and, the people believed, supernatural ones, too. The Huaorani were especially feared among Native American groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon for their ferocity and their zeal to protect their own territory. Many people who dared go to Huaorani territory were killed.

Don Gervacio explained to me that the Huaoranis, in the old days, also had a custom where, if one person died, another had to die too to balance things out. If the first person were killed, usually the person who did the killing or a member of his family would be killed. Of course, this created a never-ending cycle of killing. Don Gervacio explained further that if someone died of natural causes, in some cases, a live person would be buried with them. For example, if a mother died, they would bury the oldest daughter alive with the dead mother. If the father died, they would bury the oldest son alive with the dead father. When he was young, Don Gervacia worked with American missionaries who were trying to teach the Huaoranis and other rain forest peoples about the Christian religion. Once when the missionaries were first trying to make contact with the Huaoranis, several missionaries were killed. Later though, other missionaries, including the wives of some of the men who were killed, visited the Huaorani and made friends with them. According to Don Gervacio, it was the first time that people had entered Huaorani territory and stayed friends with them. Some were even invited to remain. Since some of the Huaoranis could speak a little Quichua, Don Gervacio went with some missionaries to talk with the Huaoranis. He explained to them that we all have constructive and destructive aspects of our culture and sometimes we need to change our destructive behaviors to make our lives better. He suggested that the Huaoranis try to make peace with their neighbors, stop killing for revenge and not kill children. Since then, the Huaorani have changed very quickly. They still practice some of their traditions, but they have given up the destructive custom of revenge killing, they do not kill those who enter their territory and they no longer bury children alive. They also live in towns, have schools and are beginning to experience things like cars, TV's and computers, too.

Since the missionaries entered the Huaorani territory, oil companies have also entered. The companies are now building a big pipeline and several roads straight through the Yasuni National Park. They are making deals with the Huaorani people, promising to help build classrooms, donate trucks and contribute to the development and education of the communities. The Ecuadorian government is encouraging the companies to explore the park because the country would like to gain income from the oil that is under the ground there. But, many people are mad about the pipeline. They think it is wrong to force the Huaoranis to change and modernize. What do you think?

The Amazon River Elementary School

This week, Lilia and I worked at the Amazon River Elementary School in Limoncocha, Ecuador. Each morning, we showed the students videos featuring students in Africa, China and the U.S. After the videos, we worked with the each of the seven 1st through 6th grade classes to create artwork, picture books and videos. (Most students in Ecuadorian schools are one year younger than their grade-level counterparts in the U.S.) We made a video with a first grade class called ‘Around Our School’ and picture books with fourth and sixth grade students about how people use rain forest plants and about rain forest habitat. We’re including photos of a fourth grade girl working on a page for a picture book and the fourth grade classes showing their work.

Candy in the Trees

After school each day, instead of heading home, many students would head straight for uva, machitona, zapote and guaba trees. That’s because the sweet fruits of those trees are in season and are considered a special treat – like natural candy. Uvas are like sugary grapes with a big white pit, but they come from tall rain forest trees. Machitonas and guabas are like giant peas that hang from trees, only the pods are filled with purple seeds, covered with a fluffy, white, fibrous coating that is oh-so-sweet. Zapotes are like little, hard brown footballs. Inside they have squash-like, but sweet, fibrous substance surrounding two big oval seeds. We’re including photos of students eating all three fruits, plus a photo of a fifth grade boy getting machitonas from up in a tree.

What Goes Up …

Children in Limoncocha are excellent climbers, as we discussed in an earlier report. But sometimes children, especially the youngest ones, DO fall from trees. On Wednesday, a first grade student named Gabino was climbing a small machitona tree next to the school during recess and fell, about thirty feet, from the top of the tree. He landed hands first, then plowed his face into the soft leaf-covered ground below. Luckily, he only dislocated his right wrist. A teacher immediately brought him to the community health and he emerged a short while later with his wrist back in place, a sling on his arm, a piece of bread in his good hand and a smile on his face.

He was luckier than pobrecita Yeseña, a girl who had a similar accident last year. Below is a flashback recounting her story:

Flashback: Pobrecita Yeseña

So, we’ve been having fun at school, but today something happened during recess in the escuela that wasn’t fun at all…

I was walking back towards school, planning to visit a classroom, when suddenly, all of the students and half of the teachers came streaming out of school and down the road towards me. As they approached, I noticed that in the center of the mob was the second grade teacher, Rosa, helping a sixth grade student, Yeseña, along. Yeseña’s pretty face was squeezed with pain, tears rolled down her cheeks and her left arm hung limply and oddly distorted at her side. Rosa said to me, ‘Venga (come), Paul,’ and explained as we walked: Yeseña had fallen from a chair and dislocated her elbow. I wondered why they were not bringing her to the health clinic in the opposite direction where there was a doctor, but Rosa explained they were bringing her to a yachac, a traditional healer, instead.

Don Niconor is one of the oldest men in town. Sometimes younger people make fun of him because he doesn’t speak Spanish very well or because he’s very old fashioned, but when someone gets hurt, he’s the first one they turn to. The teachers and I walked in to Niconor’s house and a couple dozen students poured in after us, with the rest of the students positioning themselves so they could see in through the windows. Don Niconor sat Yeseña down on a bench and then sat beside her. You could see her pain reflected in his face as he blew on her arm and then massaged it with an ointment. He spoke gently to her then suddenly stood up and yanked her arm: ‘U-yu-yuuuuuu!’ Poor Yeseña screamed in pain. He yanked again and again and Yeseña screamed again and again. Then he sat her back down. ‘The bones have not returned to their place,’ he said. ‘We must try again.’

The students in the room and in the windows winced. A woman, one of Niconor’s daughters, came in with a handful of round papachina tubers, sat at the table and started to peel the skin off the small potato-like balls. Niconor yanked Yeseña’s arm again - ‘U-yu-yuuuuuuuuuu.’ The bones did not set.
Again and again, Niconor tried to pop Yeseña’s arm bones back into their elbow socket, Yeseña’s pain intensifying each time, but he just couldn’t seem to get it back into place. As he yanked, three teachers held Yeseña down and stopped her from kicking. Finally, another of Niconor’s grown daughters arrived. She also tried and failed twice or three times. By now, some of the students had diverted their attention. Some were swinging in the hammock inside or playing hopscotch outside. Others continued to observe the process, with quiet, sympathetic faces. The first daughter grated the peeled papachina tubers into a paste.

It was hard for me to watch pobrecita Yeseña endure such pain over and over again, without results. I wondered, again, why they didn’t bring her to the health center. But the teachers were calm and confident. Niconor and his daughter, this time working together, yanked on Yeseña’s once more -- ‘U-yu-yuuuuuuuu!’ -- and, POP, Yeseña’s bones were back in place. Niconor called for a cardboard box and, since I was staying close by and had one in my room, I went and got one. As the older daughter continued to grind the tubers, the second daughter sliced up one flap of the box top into four strips of cardboard. Niconor applied a suave, and then applied the ground papachina root all around Yeseña’s elbow, forming something like a wet, white cast. The papachina paste, explained the older daughter to me, helps reduce the pain and the sauve helps circulation and healing. Then Niconor and the second daughter made a cast out of the cardboard and wrapped Yeseña’s arm with an ace bandage.
Yeseña, of course, went home and, with the drama over, the students returned to school and to their classes.

(Yeseña’s story, I found out later, did not end there, though. I’ll tell you the rest of it in the next report.)

Introducing Teresa

This week, Lilia and I were joined by a volunteer from New Jersey, Teresa Acevedo Robinson. Teresa was born in Brazil and her mother is from Argentina, so she speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador for two years and also taught English in China and worked with a youth-exchange group in Brazil. We are very happy to have Teresa working with us. Here is a photo of her washing her clothes here in the Amazon.

Swimming with Piranha

Today, Lilia, Teresa and I went on a hike with a family from Limoncocha to pick uvas and go for a swim in the nearby Rio Jivino, a branch of the Napo. After walking and collecting the fruits for a few hours, the swim was very refreshing. Teresa, though, was a little shocked when I told her, after we got back to the village, that the river also has piranha, caiman, anacondas and rays in it. Of course, the animals usually do not bother people who swim there. In fact, the swim was so enjoyable that Teresa said she would like to go swimming again tomorrow, despite the other things swimming with her. Would you want to swim in rain forest rivers? We’re including photos of me swimming with children from the family we went on the hike with; one of the girls with a spider; some bananas from a garden we passed; and a flower we found along the way.

Guess Who

Here are two more guess who animal poems I’ve written, taken from Amazin’
Amazon Mystery Animals.

Mystery Animal #1and 2:

Flower on Flower
Petals on petals
Wings on wings
Beauty on beauty
Nature sings
Gloss on gloss
Glow on glow
Grace on grace
Spectacular show
Flag on flag
Flicker on flicker
Flame on flame
Nectar sipper
Delicate on delicate
Shimmer on shimmer
Symmetry on symmetry
Pollen skimmer
Brilliance on brilliance
Bright on bright
Flower on flower
Taking flight
Guess who.


Blue Moon Shining Through the Trees
My silky scales sparkling like glitter
My delicate sails going flutter and flitter
In the wind I wax and I wane peacefully
Sailing the waves of my empyrean sea
I flash and I dazzle
Like a scarlet macaw
Then blend in
Like a cowering fawn
I flash and I flicker
Then I disappear
I was over there
Now I'm over here
Full moon - my sails are a bold bright blue
New moon - the sky's a disguising hue
I'm here, I'm there
But invisible in-between
Blindingly brilliant
Then utterly unseen
Blue moon shining through the trees
New moon hiding, gone with the breeze
Who am I, this blue moon in the sky?
None other than the ______________.

We’ll tell you the answers in the next report. I'm sure you figured out that the animal in the last report’s poem was the sloth. You can find all twenty-one Amazin’ Amazon Mystery Animal poems with photos and facts here.

Math Puzzler

Here's a math puzzler about the sloth taken from 'The Song of the Harpy Eagle'.

"OK friends, ready to strrrrrrretch your minds? At its widest, the Amazon rainforest is about 3000 miles across. How many hours would it take you to cross it in a small airplane that traveled 100 miles an hour on average? Sloths move at 1/3 of a mile per hour. At that rate, how many hours would it take a sloth on one side of the rain forest to reach a cecropia leaf on the other side? How many days is that? How many years? Take your time figuring it out!"


Here are some answers to your questions. These were answered by sixth grades at The Amazon River Elementary School in Limoncocha.

1. What kind of pets do you have? We have dogs, cats, monkeys and parrots.

2. What kind of chores do you do? We fish, sweep the house, clean the patio, take care of our younger siblings, help our mother make chicha and make juice.

3. What are your favorite foods? We like fish, rice, beef, fruit, and chicken.

4. How long is your school day? We go to school from 7:30 until 12:30.

5. What is the weather like where you live? It is very hot and rains a lot.

These are from the fifth graders at the Amazon River Elementary School in Limoncocha.

1. How many students do you have in your class? There are twenty students in our class.

2. Do you have to do homework, if so how much? We have one homework assignment each day and it lasts half an hour.

3. Would you rather live somewhere else, not close to the rain forest? We love living in Limoncocha because it is where we were born and it is in the rain forest.

4. What holidays do you celebrate? We celebrate Christmas, New Years, Mother's day, Father's day, and kid's day (dia de los ninos).

5. What subjects do you study in school? We study Spanish, applied sciences, Quichua, history, mathematics, technology and gym.

========================== ==========

That’s All for Now

Well, that's it for this report. Shuj punja gama (Till another day.)

Paul, Lilia and Teresa

Teachers: Visit The Amazon River Elementary School Web Site to learn more about its students.
Note: Ali chishi, yachac and shuj punja gama are Quichua words. Limoncochans are rain forest Quichua people.

Here are some activities (taken from the Curriculum Connections pages of Amazin' Amazon Mystery Animals which you might wish to use with the sloth poem from the last report and the math puzzler above.
Curriculum Connections Page: Sloth

Language Arts/Science Connection:
A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. The alien-like sloth, an impossibly slow, arboreal cousin of the ground-bound armadillo, is a paradox of nature. So it only follows that our poem about the sloth should begin with a number of rhyming paradoxes. Have students try to identify them and explain how they can be true. For your reference, prose versions of the questions they pose and the answers are as follows:

Line 1: When does a home have a home? Hundreds of moths, ticks and beetles, not to mention algae and fungi, live in the furry home of the sloth, while the sloth, of course, takes up residence in a tree. So the sloth is a home and has a home.
Line 2: When does a clinger have clingers? With its hook-like claws, the sloth clings to the branches of its home, while the insects in its fur cling to it.
Line 3: How can something be gray and look green at the same time? The algae growing in its fur makes the gray sloth look green.
Line 4: How can a coat be coated and, if it's coated, how can it make the wearer be 'unseen?' The sloth's fur is coated with green algae, which makes the sloth blend in to its leafy environment.
Line 5: How can something be hooked on limbs and hooked on leaves at the same time? The sloth's claws literally hook it to the branches from which it hangs, and the (three-toed) sloth eats leaves containing a poisonous substance, which, while neutralized by the sloth's slow digestive process, may have an addictive effect on the seemingly anesthetized creature.
Line 6: How can one dangle comfortably? The sloth makes a living of it, hanging upside down practically its whole life long.

What other rain forest creatures are almost inconceivably odd? Have students research then write rhyming paradoxes about these impossible creatures.

Language Arts Connection:
In addition to end rhymes, lines 6-12 contain alliteration and internal rhymes, making the poem more musical and more fun. Have students identify instances of both. Note that lines 7 and 8 have three internally rhyming words each, and lines 9 and 10 have five pairs of matching internal or end rhymes. Can students identify all five? Better yet, can they define the words? If not, have them predict the meanings based on context, then check their predictions with a dictionary.

Language Arts/Science Connection: Sloths' arms and legs are designed for hanging upside down, which renders them unable to walk if they ever have cause to be right side up. Their closest cousins, anteaters and armadillos, however, while fine walkers, are lousy hangers (armadillos are floor-dwellers, while some species of anteaters look for their creepy-crawly prey on the ground and others climb trees to find it. Have students write a fictitious account of how the family members went their separate ways and how they got their particular talents.

While some species of sloth only eat leaves, anteaters predominantly eat, well, ants (and termites), and armadillos will eat almost anything they can get their snouts on, including both plants, insects and other animals (preferably with the due date expired, in the form of carrion). Have students write another story explaining how the 'family members' got their different tastes.

Discuss scientific explanations for how other related animals got their individuality. Students might be interested to know that about 35 million years ago, a variety of giant ground sloth species roamed North and South America. Most of them did not climb trees - probably because they were so huge! The largest was about the size of an elephant, reaching 20 feet long and weighing about three tons. Now that's a lot of sloth!



E-Travel Log #1: Introduction to the Project and the Adventure Team
E-Travel Log #2: Quito, Banos and Flashbacks of Christmas Celebrations in Limoncocha
E-Travel Log #3: Banos - Where the Rain Forest Begins
E-Travel Log #4: Limococha - A Quichua Community
E-Travel Log #5: Limoncocha and Communities Around - Traditions and Cultures
E-Travel Log #6: Getting Ready to Leave for Cuyabeno
E-Travel Log #7: Rain Forest Animals
E-Travel Log #8: Rain Forest Stories and the Mysterious Black Lake
E-Travel Log #9: Trip to Playas de Cuyabeno
E-Travel Log #10: Trip to San Pablo - a Secoya Community


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