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Exploring Authentic Indigenous Culture While Visiting Villages in the Amazon Rainforest

Some don’t want your money. But those who do seem as interested in looking at you as you do at them. It is a forty-minute upstream ride in a peci-peci outboard through the vast water world to visit the 100 residents of the Santa Rita village, an authentic indigenous culture in the Amazon rainforest. The sacred 600-year-old Ceiba tree can be seen long before arriving. At 300 feet tall, it towers above other trees.

A giant Samaúma tree seen by two people on a boat in the river on the way to an authentic indigenous culture.
Sacred sight. The Samaúma tree can be seen towering above all others.
Girl hugging the Samaúma tree.
Take your shoes off. Hugging the 600 year old Ceiba brings energy and clarity.

The Samaúma tree, as the Portuguese call it, is a ceremonial destination for the indigenous people. They come to ask questions of a shaman who, like the caiman, manatee, and woman, is a resembling growth on the side of the tree. Hugging the tree gives energy and clarity, especially if you do it with your shoes off so the energy can pass through you to the ground.

Buying a necklace from an indigenous woman.
Tourist economy. The Santa Rita village sells handmade jewelry in front of most homes.
Man walking into house with laundry on line outside.
Simplicity. Residents live a self-sustaining life style by growing sugar cane and food.

Walking down a well-trimmed trail brings you to a row of simple dwellings raised on platforms above the rain-soaked ground. Women and children sell bracelets and necklaces from seeds, shells, and piranha jaws. And like the 150 residents of the downstream Palmari village, they live a simple self-sufficient life, growing commodities like sugar cane and yuca, fishing, and hunting. They cut down trees and mill the wood into perfect planks with nothing more than a chainsaw. But they only take what they need, which is the way of their past and their future, as they discover that their culture and landscape are important and interesting to many people.

Baby clothes hanging in a window.
Modern gear. These days the indigenous people wear the same clothes as westerners.
Men and boys on the side of the river.
Daily life. Kids fish while men mill lumber with a chainsaw.

For most of history, the arrival of strangers meant the arrival of problems. It has been a long time since they lived in the jungle with the skills to hunt without guns or heal without medicines. They have a tragic history, with 90% of their population eliminated through slavery, war, and, most recently, the cocaine industry led by Pablo Escobar. It is not a unique story. Most of the Americas saw the same fate as European colonization forever changed the native way of life. Explorers believed they were bringing benefits of religion, wealth, and civilization. For these reasons, some villages accept strangers and their money, but others do not.

Man and son fishing with a net from a boat.
It takes balance. Fish are a dietary staple, and most take only what they need.
Man outside a bar.
El barro. Men behave themselves at the only pub in town probably because it is owned by a woman.

While these villages are remarkably different from a western city, it is hard to say which is better. The kids are not on cell phones, adults are working together, there is no crime or homelessness, and they accept their gays. A visit to their villages sends your mind racing with questions. And they seem to enjoy watching the tourists with equal curiosity.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

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