To access the large version of each photo (only about 60 K) simply click on the thumbnail photo. These were taken by Ethan Russo, a neurologist who spent two months in Eastern Peru, searching for treatments for headache. Russo travelled with Glenn Shepard, a PhD candidate in anthropology at UC Berkeley, and local guides.
En Route to the Machiguenga
Map of Peru
The Machiguenga live in the valleys of the Urubamba and Manu Rivers in Southeast Peru near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia. The village of Yomuibato is on a small tributary in a remote section of Parque Nacional del Manu, a World Biosphere Reserve.
LANDSAT image of the Parque Nacional del Manu.
In the foreground, the Andes present a bold relief. The large sinuous river with adjacent oxbow lakes is the Rio Manu. Quebrada Yomuibato, or "the creek that rises and falls" is visible as a thin ribbon through the cloud cover.
Brugmansia sp. Solanaceae
Photo taken on the grounds of Explorama Lodge, near Iquitos, Peru. This and related species are employed as hallucinogens, tools of divination and healing by the Machiguenga and numerous other Amazonian tribes. The beautiful trumpet flowers exude an intoxicating scent.
Orinoco Goose, Neochen jubata
A rare and endangered species elsewhere in Amazonia, others like this pair are not uncommonly sighted on the beaches along the Rio Manu.
Black Skimmers, Rynchops nigra
They are members of the tern family, and share their graceful beauty in flight. Their method of feeding is unique, however. They glide just above the water's surface, trolling with their longer lower mandible submerged. When the bill strikes a fish, it snaps shut with the prize.
Baby turtles, probably Sideneck Turtles, Podocnemis unifilis.
In the dry season, females lay their eggs in the dry sand of the river beaches. These are visble as depressions in the sand, often marked by the eggshell shards of the precocious hatchlings. We used these as an indicator, and were able to dig out this pair, that quickly threw off their early morning torpor.
We collected four hatchlings to test their instinct.
They soon made turtle tracks to the water---
---and made good their escape.
Benito, the Machiguenga schoolteacher in Yomuibato was raised in the Urubamba Valley, and educated by priests. Glenn Shepard is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Berekeley, and was one of four outstanding young scientists featured in the Discovery Channel video "Spirits of the Rainforest", which won two Emmy Awards. Glenn has worked in Yomuibato for nine years, and is fluent in Machiguenga, as well as eleven other languages. The rainforest tortoise, Geochelone denticulata, was introduced as our prospective dinner, but survived the river trip and ultimately fled surrepticiously one day two weeks later, much to my relief.
Log jam on the Quebrada Yomuibato. This one took 2 1/2 hours to negotiate. Although it is only about 30 km. as the condor flies from Tayakome village to Yomuibato, this journey required a cumulative 28 hours, including pushing the canoe a good portion of the way through the shallows.
White Caiman, Caiman crocodilus
The camain burst into the water of the quebrada as the boat approached. The Machiguenga tend to kill them when encountered, although they are not eaten. This was a healthy specimen of about 1.5 m. length, or nearly full-grown. Other species may exceed 6 m., although in modern times, such examples are largely memories.
Machiguenga hut, of the open type.
People and creatures comes and go at will. Some villagers favor split-level designs with a sleep-loft to minimize exposure to the ubiquitous jigger fleas, a type of sand fly.
Pet Brazilian Tapir, Tapirus terrestris
This tapir is modelling next to my solar panel. Although she appears diminutive, she probably weighs in excessof 200 kg., with a prodigious appetite to match. Although initially thrilled with her sporadic visits, my impression changed when prized plant specimens became tapir fodder, and the Sun Shower tube was chewed up for an illicit drink.
Boatful of fish.
The Machiguenga catch some fish with hooks and handlines using shrimp picked from under rocks as bait. However, during low water, large numbers of fish are hunted by the method of barbasco fishing. The roots of Curarea toxifera or other species are pounded and diffused into the water. The fish are seldom killed outright, but rise to the surface to gulp air, where they are shot with arrows. Though seemingly politically incorrect, the effort requires great skill, and in 20 years of local residence, the fish supply has never been depleted. All the local fish are delicious, but many would be considered inedible by Western standards due to the abundance of small bones.