For my 11th Birthday, in a flash of parenting brilliance that sadly didn’t set a precedent, Dad thought it would be a good idea to take a trip down into the jungle to visit one of the obscure tribes out in the middle of nowheresville. It would be a personal growth exercise; seeing how other people live, how they deal with their own personal growths etc. This particular tribe had only just been discovered by ‘civilization’ some years before and as such could only pick up basic cable TV and had no High Definition. Certainly no luxuries like HBO or C-SPAN. New Tribes Mission had been working with the Yuqui people (not sure really, but it rings a bell. Let’s run with it) and took Cesna flights down every few weeks for medical supplies with room for a few tag-alongs like ourselves. We got to sit on what were the most uncomfortable plane seats ever. No wonder the Yuqui never left. All these advances in our culture and you get Spina Bifida from simply sitting down for 30 minutes. The Chimoré is best translated as ‘remote,’ a detrimental geographical position that isn’t helped at all by a complete lack of infrastructure in a 2000 mile radius. In perspective, Utah is remote, but of course nowadays they have roads so people can leave for someplace decent. I would add a link to Google Maps so you get a rough idea where the Chimoré region is, but it’s totally wrong since there’s like a city there and a national highway and everything. So that obviously wasn’t where we went. Maybe just ignore Google Maps, or aim several inches north. Sadly, I don’t actually remember much of the trip at all, so you’ll have to make do with whatever floats back to the surface after 20 years.
So the flight was only about half an hour long, which is incredible to think such a remote, untouched area could be so close and yet so distant. Kind of like the first time I discovered I could wash behind my ears. When I was 17. Flying lower, we could see the tiny village below, only a few small huts really, next to a brown river snaking it’s way back-and-forth through the forest. Jim the pilot was kind enough to let us know the tribe hadn’t killed anyone for a while, and so as long as we didn’t make any sudden movements or startle anyone we should be fine. Great advice from the guy landing the thundering giant metal bird from out of the sky. Some of the missionaries there did have scars from arrow wounds but everyone was pretty good about it and had a good laugh. Touching down on the grass airstrip we chanced upon a scene reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. If you happen be one of the Yuqui, or live in Utah and haven’t yet seen Return of The Jedi, when Threepio is seen by the Ewoks for the first time he is presumed to be a deity of some kind and is consequently worshipped. Dad’s form appeared through the tiny cesna door and out into the light and a hush fell over the crowd. Some may have screamed and fled. It gets hazy. The thing was, the Yuqui down in the Chimoré had a lot of trouble growing facial hair. The guys mostly. Something in their DNA just meant most of them had a little mandible moss but nothing substantial that would strike fear into the next anaconda you saw coming towards you at great speed. I had more fuzz on my big toe than even their fiercest warriors and most of that was only there because I spent most mornings microwaving my socks for toasty feet. So anyway, Dad stepped down
onto the grass out the plane like a giant Howler Monkey and blew everyone away with his mane. The glory of it all. I mean, historically, none of us have actually seen Dad without a beard; I just assumed he’d been born with it. I think if you dig deep enough you may find Elvis hidden in there somewhere. It’s been cultivated for hundreds of years like a Bonzai tree, or Ivana Trump’s face. Every year he cuts half off to give to the armed forces for pillow stuffing and you still can’t tell you difference. One of the tribe was so taken with Dad’s facial foliage he held onto it all day like a fistful of alfalfa and followed along at his side like a siamese twin. The Yuqui were incredible artisans and made all kinds of things like bags woven out of rope which they’d twist from tree bark, and arrows which could pretty much puncture the side of a Ford Explorer but were apparently just made ‘for the tourists’ these days. Our guide was disturbingly vague about what ‘for the tourists’ meant however. They used Tortoise shells for bowls but I wouldn’t have a clue what they ate. Other than when they needed fresh bowls. It was a good thing missionaries had found the tribe though. At one point a woman in labour came sliding past on an upturned table, dragged along by a tractor. Just par for the course I suppose, but if I did that to my wife, I’d be extracting larger and sharper things than a baby from my bodily orifices I kid you not. At least maybe my spine would be straight again.
On a more serious note, the remote tribes of the Amazon like the Yuqui would have been completely wiped out were it not for the work of New Tribes and others. Deforestation, overly protective Cattle Ranchers, and other threats would have totally decimated their entire culture where it not for intervention. Sure, now they wear jeans and use rope for belts. Better than no longer existing altogether.