Travels in Guayusa heartland: Part 2 of 3

Posted by James Elliot on

In Part 1 of this series we covered our Guayusa adventures in Quito.

Read on to learn more about our arrival and experiences in the rainforest and meeting the Kichwa and living trees for the first time.

Day 3: Tena and Archidona

The next day, we set off early, leaving Quito at 08:00 with another member of our supplier's team.

We were so grateful to them for driving us all the way from the city to the Amazon - it was an incredible journey.

The fast road from Quito to Tena had been closed due to landslides, so we had to take a longer, more scenic route, to get there.

Following our stop for lunch in Baños and short walk around there we carried on the last leg of the journey to Tena.

Once out of Baños the landscape changed dramatically as we made our descent into the rainforest region.

It was fascinating to watch the transformation not only in sight, but also smell and temperature as we powered forward on the road - waterfalls :)

The road to the rainforest from Banos 

As soon as we arrived in Archidona we parked up near a local shop and picked up a bottle of locally brewed fresh iced Guayusa.

It was very different in taste and quite fruity almost. They put in a lot of sugar so it was also deliciously sweet.

Here's a pic of us enjoying a well-deserved cup!

Enjoying a cup of locally brewed cold Guayusa

We had stopped in Archidona so we could we meet up with Nancy, who also works for our supplier.

Nancy is Kichwa and works with the communities and our supplier to co-ordinate many things.

Together we all headed off to visit our first Chacra. A Chacra as many people who enjoy Guayusa know, is where most Guayusa is grown.

Chacra's are carefully managed agroforestry plots, containing many other commercial and subsistence plants used by the Kichwa farmers.

Guayusa is planted among the like of Cacao, Coffee, Lemongrass and other products they sell for a living.

This is why buying Guayusa is a solid eco-friendly choice - it is planted in sympathy with the landscape and the process of managing a Chacra ensures the soil stays healthy and that lots of animals, reptiles and insects keep coming back to drive up the biodiversity.

We pulled up at the local community's main area where lots of the children were out playing as the late afternoon rolled in and met with one of the families who grow Guayusa for our supplier and commenced on our first trek into their rainforest Chacra to meet Guayusa for the very first time.

It wasn't long before I spotted my first tree and I was so happy:

Meeting my very first Guayusa tree

We then kept on trekking, seeing Guayusa trees planted everywhere amongst the other species, all the way to the top of a large hill.

Along the way we got to enjoy sucking the pith off some fresh cacao pods (they taste so good - who knew!) and along the way saw some very large, old Guayusa trees that had been planted by the farmer, George's, parents many years ago.

Mature Guayusa tree

By this time the sun was starting to set, so we headed off for a well-earned evening meal and then set off for our home for the next couple of nights at the lovely Casa de Abuela in Tena.

We had a very early start, so it was lights out as soon as possible.

Day 4: Cotundo

The next day was a really special one.

We woke at 04:00 in order to travel to Cotundo where we were to attend a traditional Guayusa ceremony with the Kichwa.

The Kichwa have used Guayusa for hundreds of years and its use is deeply interwoven into their daily life.

Most of the Guayusa available commercially is purchased from the Kichwa who are happy that a plant that's so important to their way of life, now's getting such global attention.

It's become a new source of income.

We entered the hut and were welcomed by a group of Kichwa women who were busy preparing for the event.

They were dressed in beautiful clothes. What I really loved was the noises they made when they walked which responded with the rattle of beads which they had strung around the waist of their clothing.

We took our places as instructed by the fire and one of the Kichwa ladies began explaining, in Kichwa (an Amazonian dialect of Quechua the lost and original language of much of South America), all about their relationship and use of the leaf. Nancy was able to translate the Kichwa into Spanish for us so we were able to understand.

They told us all about Guaysua and how it was so important to them and the purposes they use it for.

The lady in the most elaborate dress who was sitting on a special, almost throne-like chair, began to draw some tea from the boiling pot of fresh leaves.

Guayusa ceremony Kichwa women by the fire

The Guayusa in the pot was scooped up into one pilche (traditional gourd cup) and then transferred it quickly back and forth to another one, pouring from a height, to allow the brew to cook a little.

It was still completely dark the only light being the fire which was boiling the pot of the Guayusa.

They then passed the pilche to one of our crew and repeated the process until we all had a cup.

Then we drank. It tasted like really nice super fresh Guayusa.

It’s the first time we had experienced a drink of it made with completely fresh leaves. It took on some smoky undertones because of the fire.

Drinking Guayusa from a pilche - a traditional gourd cup

After a short time we felt really awake and energised and another member of the Kichwa community began to explain how Guayusa can help with dream insight and recall so they asked us to tell them about any dreams we’d had that night, or recently.

So, as the sun began to rise and shafts of golden light poured into the hut, we spoke about the dreams we’d had and the Kichwa provided some valuable feedback as to their meaning.

To round off this amazing morning, 6 of the Kichwa women performed a traditional song and dance and we were invited to join in, which we did, and naturally enjoyed it so much. Here's a little video we posted to our Instagram page:

It was a privilege to spend time with the Kichwa and draw closer to Guayusa's story.

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