Amazon medicine

Banos Travel Blog

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We spent Tuesday in the Amazon rainforest. We canoes out to a wildlife sanctuary, where we were greeted by playful squirrel monkeys and rehabilitated woolly monkeys and Capuchin monkeys. Capuchin monkeys are meant to be the most intelligent of the New World monkeys, and are know to rub their fur with Pipers (a plant from the chilli family) and millipedes, to coat themselves in the toxic chemicals that keep insects away. We also saw captive Macaws, parrots, peccaries, capybara, ocelots and jaguarundi, which had been rescued.


We went on a short hike through the rainforest. We saw Hairdresser bees (so called because they can’t sting but they swarm into your hair and pull on it), tiny poison arrow frogs, rubber trees (locals make toy balls from it), Drago’s Blood (the sap of the tree is used to treat sore throats), Santo Maria Palm (boiled and used to treat bruises), palms that are used for weaving and termite nests.

The poison arrow frogs are my favourites, I’ve always wanted to see them in the wild. As well as being beautiful brightly coloured animals and incredibly toxic they have really interesting and diverse methods of looking after their young. One species carries a pair of tadpoles around on its back, returning to bromeliad pools to keep them moist, while other species carries the eggs on its back but drops them in a pool when they hatch. The most interesting is a species that deposits a single tadpole in each pool so they don’t have to compete for food - if the pool already has a resident tadpole in it the tadpole wags its tail at her to prevent her dropping another. She then returns to each pool and deposits an unfertilised egg as food.


The forest around here was not the old growth rainforest of the deep Amazon, but 25 year old secondary forest, although there were some older iron wood trees that housed bromeliads.

The bromeliads are important because even though the forest gets rain regularly, the small pools in the base of the bromeliads clinging to the trees provide the only source of constant water in the canopy. They actually make up a miniature ecosystem with 470 species of small frogs and insects living in them and others, such as Vine Snakes and Crane Hawks, living just outside to prey on the inhabitants. Even the trees, with a ready supply of water at their base, take shortcuts and put down roots into the pool. The pools can hold up to nine litres of water, and are so common that 1km2 of forest can hold two million litres of water in bromeliads. This provides a significant strain on the trees, such that some have evolved to self-prune by cutting off water to bromeliad-bearing branches, severing both branch and bromeliad in an attempt to save the tree.

After our walk we went back to the boat and drifted down the river in rubber tubes, watching eagles soar above us, river turtles basking and squirrel monkeys playing on the shore.


We had a swim in the pool after lunch, and then visited a local tribal house where they gave us a demonstration of their cooking, skill at the blow pipe and their pottery making (while the kids were distracted playing with a rhinoceros beetle). The most famous craft of the Amazon Indians was the creation of shrunken heads, which were made by cutting off the heads of enemies, opening the scalp and removing the skull and other bones by crushing them and withdrawing them. The flesh was then filled with hot sand, sewn up, and coated with the juice of a local berry to preserve it. As the skin dried and shrank, the head was reopened, a little sand was removed, and it was resealed, keeping sure to preserve the features by reworking the flesh into the sand. When it shrank to 1-2 inches it was finally smoke-cured. Rather than shrunken heads we bought a small pottery bowl and a bottle of Drago’s blood.

thenewextrememimi says:
Sounds so fun! I miss the Amazon!
Posted on: Dec 07, 2007
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photo by: timbo