Napo Wildlife Centre

Burgundy droplets spoiled the shiny surface of the Swiss Army knife, as its constant stabbing motion caused a trickle and then a positive flow. The blood was rare and despite the oppressive humidity, we had to work quickly using a sully-free container to avoid contamination.

Blood from a Drago (Dragon) tree is used to treat many ailments in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous tribes believe that the power of its mystical ingredients can heal anything from gastroenteritis to skin disorders to diabetes. Together with our two guides: Ernesto a biologist who travelled with us from Quito, and Domingo: a local Quichua Indian, we had come to Amazonian Ecuador to embark on a medicinal and holistic quest.

Our base was the Napo Wildlife Centre, situated on the edge of the Anangugocha lake. A non-profit eco-project funded by charitable contributions, Napo conserves 82 square miles of pristine rainforest in its private reserve on the northern edge of the Yasuni National Park; a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve based on a conservation partnership with the local Anangu Quichua Indian community. Framed by large candy-pink ginger plants, the thatched roofs of the lodge have been beautifully crafted to synergise with the tropical landscape.

Taking turns to paddle a dugout canoe, we navigated our way down the Amazon waters; sometimes the colour of milky tea and other times black espresso due to the extremes of vegetation. The eerie call of the howler monkeys overhead and the prehistoric grunts of the eccentric Hoatzin birds provided the incessant jungle chatter, but once accustomed, the mind changed frequency and instead, tuned in to the Amazon’s genuine repose.

Squelching through the ankle-deep chocolate coloured mud in search of medicinal plants, treks through the rainforest propel one to a heightened sense of connection, not only with surrounding nature and fellow travelling companions, but to oneself. As we marvelled at the truly spectacular iridescence of a giant butterfly’s wing known as the Blue Morpho, or the unnaturally brilliant white fungi, we were aware of being completely in the moment. Occasionally we paused as my guides would take it in turn to demonstrate the health-giving properties of plants such as the Madri Caspi whose roots are boiled in a pot and the resulting mixture used to treat pneumonia, or Sacha Cebolla; a wild onion when chopped up and applied to wounds, miraculously aids healing in a matter of days.

No visit to Amazonian Ecuador would be complete without a visit to a local Shaman or Medicine Man, as the the locals usually refer to him. Identifying the need to rid our editor of evil spirits, he performed a ritual called Sacha Guarmi which means Lady of the Wild. Drinking a cup of Yage which is made from a hallucinogenic vine, he used his “magic wand” (a bunch of  Suru Panga leaves), as his main tool for the cleansing. Lasting around five minutes, the ritual involved the Shaman sweeping the wand across her head and shoulders, blowing circles of smoke onto the crown of her head, inhalation, and lastly the beating away of evil spirits.

Feeling purged with an incredible sense of balance and well being, we took our seats at the back of the canoe in readiness for the long trip back to the lodge and applied Drago blood to some nasty looking mosquito bites.

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Images by CELLOPHANELAND* and Napo Wildlife Centre.


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