The Amazon: It’s Happening & the Matsés
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
If you missed the first Amazon segment, click here: P1: Making it Happen.
Before we get on to the exciting bits, let’s chat a little about the Matsés. I knew very little about them and the information I’m sharing is based on my experience during this expedition and information subsequently found online.
I have to tell you that my experience is as good as what I could interpret given my guías, at best, limited knowledge of English, the Matsés with no English and my limited knowledge of Spanish and zero knowledge of the Matsés language. Communication throughout the expedition was an ‘experience’ in itself, many times hilarious and sometimes frustrating. Additionally, I’m only providing surface level highlights but I’ve included some links throughout if you’re interested in learning more.
The Matsés are an indigenous tribe who reside in the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon Rainforests in the region of Yavari, Chobayacu and Gálvez rivers. My expedition was mainly along Río Gálvez in the Peruvian Rainforest.
Their exact origins seem to be unknown, however they have been semi nomadic and are hunters, fishers, gatherers and harvest crops such as bananas/plantains and manioc. Population estimates range between 2,000 – 2,500 but this information varies by resources.
The Matsés traditionally lived in ‘long houses’ known as ‘maloca’, known to accommodate up to 100 people.
The Matsés were once known for fiercely protecting their isolation and communities, killing outsiders and also for raiding outside communities for women.
Matsés were known to be polygamists. The father of my local Matsés guía, Armando, had eight wives and I was told had 48 or 49 children in total. Needless to say, I got to meet quite a few of this family.
The Matsés isolation ended in the late 1960’s when they finally accepted outsiders in their community. In my view, I see this as the beginning of significant change to their traditions over the past 40 years.
Online resources note their traditional religion is known as ‘animists‘, but as you’ll see later, this has also changed.
Bëso, Tupa, Canë
The Matsés are sometimes referred to as ‘cat people’ given the decorations the females use which look like cat whiskers.
[For more in-depth info, click the links embedded and/or those below].
The BIG Day…
As you might imagine the Amazon Rainforest is vast and in order to go deep, you must travel by boat and / or hike.
Lucky for me, there is now a military plane which, at best, flies a couple of times a week from Iquitos to Angamos.
It gets us a portion of the way there in a shorter time, using a lot less calories than hiking.
From Angamos, we will take a peca peca down river to Buen Peru and other locations.
To try an put some perspective on it, take a look at these views. Do you notice the ‘green’?
The morning of departure is touch and go, it’s all about ‘waiting’ and ‘patience’. Our best case scenario is that we take off sometime during the day; worst case, we never leave the ground.
I met Hector from and my local guía, Marden, at the Amazon Explorer office where they loaded up two motocarros full of food, equipment, and other necessities such as toilet paper and ourselves.
We head to the military airport.
We wait outside the base entrance…and wait.
We are finally cleared to go inside the Air Force base and to the terminal…we wait.
Hector processes paperwork…we wait.
Our goods, Marden and myself are weighed. In addition to your airfare, there is a per kilo charge. Anyone flying to Angamos would be remiss not to bring food and basic supplies to this remote region…we wait.
We are finally cleared to board. All in all we were very lucky.
WOW, Marden & I are in the air, all we can see is lush, green forest! Oh my god ! I’m actually going to the rainforest, I’m so excited ! My heart is jumping like mad!
Click these for video aerial views:
After arriving on this dirt airstrip in Angamos, we meet our Matsés guías, Armando and Wagner [father and son].
Click here for videos views of landing field:
As we walk through Angamos with our belongings, profusely sweating, we make it to our five star [not!] accommodations for the night; I’ll call it ‘Ruth’s Place’. Ruth’s Place is one of the ‘best’ accommodations in Angamos, but bring a lock for your door, keep your valuables on your person and be prepared to hear the guests next to you snoring through the night.
The population of Angamos is approximately 600; the Matsés being the minority with approximately 50. As you might guess, Armando’s family is generally quite large, given he has about 47/48 siblings and step siblings. They’re spread across Angamos, Buen Peru and other parts of the Amazon.
During the walk we could observe the children being released from their classrooms and the boys enjoying their football/soccer games.
Given the heat and humidity, I was ecstatic when Wagner suggested a swim in the Río Yavari. We hopped into the peca peca, and after seeing Wagner and Marden paddling the water with their hands and shoes, I realized we were just crossing to the other side of the river. We jumped in and swam against the current in order not to be swept along.
Later, Ruth invited us to her ‘other’ place, which turned out to be an absolute gem. Hidden within the remoteness, we discovered her oasis of a lagoon and it gave us another opportunity to cool off once again. Definitely a great place for silent meditations!
After a home cooked meal by Ruth, the night closes in. A few locals have generators which they will turn on, for about an hour or so some evenings, at which time the entire community gathers around to watch whatever program they can find on the television. Hard to imagine we’re getting basic tele out here!
The best [so called] showers came in the form of our swim in the river and lagoon. Showers at Ruth’s Place was subject to the water being turned on and then it was filling a bucket with water and dumping what you could over your head, sound familiar, I think being at Hridaya in Mexico was practice and definitely much more sanitary and clean. It only gets better from hear…cough, cough!
With no electricity, in complete darkness and an early start planned for the morning, we hit our rooms early, however, sleep takes a long time to come in between the neighbors snoring, dogs barking, fighting and the roosters cock-a-doodling. Who knew they cock-a-doodle at all hours of the night!
Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
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Landing in Angamos: