The Lost World of Vaupés

The Lost World of Vaupés & Sacred Ceremony in the Maloka

Sacred Ceremony in the Maloka

The Thundering Heart of Vaupés

Jul. 16, 2021 - Nicolas

It's there; a sheet of white in a world of green.

The stall warning screeches as our Cessna drops below the treetops of the jungle.

It's a soft landing onto rough grass. Mud flicks up over the black tyres.

We race down the runway and I see Johnny waiting on the side with the people from San Jose.

Johnny shares a cigarette with Thomas and hands him a tub of mambe- ground coca leaves.

We stay a night in the village before heading downstream on the Cananari river, towards Johnny's village- Altamira.

They're waiting for us; kids on the banks, mothers cradling infants.

The women smile and laugh while children splash in the serpentine river that far-away meets the Amazon.

The hum of insects rises off a myriad of complex plants. Some are shaped like wings, others like multi-headed creatures.

Lines of ants crisscross the pulsating earth.

Alireo, the shaman, is ready for us, as is the great mother.

Stained deep blue hands and ankles serve to protect the energy.

There will be a ceremony tonight.

A steady beat and the song of songs- the song of the universe, that lifts the spirit when it begins to fall.

This is the way home to where we all began.

Yage- the vine of the dead, the spirit of the forest, the great revealer.

The music plays, generated only by breath and the moving of hands and the stomping of feet.

It's a way to reconnect in a disconnected world.

The energy that bubbles up and wants to create wars is reduced back to the basics of life and love.

Yage can make you hear this song. It's an amplification of volume set at a million times.

Once people hear this song again then they see with the eyes that they were born with and not how they have been told to see.

The ceremony lasts until dawn.

From darkness, light and colour return to the naked Earth and we can begin a new day.

We leave Altamira with Alireo's blessing.

We travel to a sacred waterfall and a portal where the gods met to make peace.

Cerro Morroco

Macaws fly in pairs across the great expanse of the jungle as torrents of rain return the seeds of life to this dense verdant world.

We go further to the pounding falls on the Apaporis River.

I gaze at swallows pursuing insects through the rising mist.

Only the strongest rocks survive the pummelling.

The water carves them into shapes of least resistance.

The Brazilian border lies not too far away.

We travel back up the river under moonlight and then through driving rain and invade a little lean-to camp which some of the Altamira boys have made as a base to cook fish.

Their thin dog twists between flames and raindrops.

The storm abates and we make the final push back to Altamira.

Tomorrow the real journey will begin.

Into the thundering heart.

With our blessings for a safe journey, we set off again from Altamira- this time- upstream.

We're a party of seven, with Mauricio acting as our spiritual guide.

A conga ant bites Mario. Some medication eases the pain. We have some freshly caught fish with us.

Penetrating the jungle and scaling a hill we arrive at a cerro- a tabletop mountain. This one has an ancient cave beneath it.

In Venezuela, these same formations are over three billion years old.

These younger brothers are impressive both from far away and up close.

We make camp with jopo in our sinuses- a powder of tobacco, and mambe rammed and dissolving between our cheeks and teeth.

Our hammocks hang at the foot of the cerro, protected from the rain.

As darkness falls Johnny and Mario prepare rice and fresh fish.

It's then that we discover that we have no salt or coffee.

As such, the purity of our mission is assured.

The screech of nesting macaws marks the dawn.

We enter the main cave and go back to a time when silence ruled the Earth.

Ancient artworks depict the development of life and within that, thought itself.

The shedded skins of long snakes sit in sandy tunnels of the cave.

Out of the darkness comes a rushing wind. It's the wings of thousands of bats flying above.

Generations of both bats and humans have shared this cave.

Both have sought refuge here.

Even in this darkness there is an abundance of life.

We push on and descend into a valley as we make our way to the distant towers of New York- a group of tabletop mountains which rise up from the jungle like an isolated megalopolis.

We walk through swamps and thick leaves, across blood-coloured rivers and over natural stone steps and fields of fluffy lichen.

We bathe in rich water and under blasting cascades.

Then we find ourselves between the towers.

The subway is a labyrinth of tunnels which cut right through one of the towers.

On their summits are lost worlds, miniature forests, havens for undiscovered species.

Some have no way up. They are perfectly eroded remnants of when this place was at the bottom of the sea.

I turn over a shard of old pottery at the mouth of a cave, which is our next campsite.

The paw-prints of a jaguar are evidence that there is still the wildest of wildlife roaming here.

In the dull haze of the afternoon we attempt to summit one of the mountains.

It's a struggle through thin rock shoots and cutting leaves.

This route cannot support any more people. Beneath my feet is a thin layer of vegetation. Beyond that is an abyss. If a third set of feet step on the scrub, it will collapse.

I stand on the rocky summit with Mario. My heart races, not with exhaustion but with adrenaline, something I haven't felt for a long time.

Off in the distance is the waterfall.

That is our objective. Somehow we must find a way there.

It's dazzled us from the air. It's a catchment for about six cerros and then a great wall of cerros beyond that.

It must be the biggest waterfall in this area.

I look over at another tabletop mountain near me. I want to go there, just to see.

On top is a completely isolated world. It's a miniature forest with draping foliage that spills off the vertical walls.

It's a world for macaws, ants and agile monkeys.

The next day we try to get our bearings from the spirits and by climbing trees and using a compass.

It can be easy to lose your way in the jungle.

Machetes cut through a virgin world.

At last we find a river with bare rocks to walk down and it leads us to a dropoff of over a hundred metres.

Waterfalls tumble into a gigantic green canyon.

Joy fills my heart. I am back in the wilderness.

We keep descending until we reach a tannin-stained river.

We must decide to go left or right. We feel that it is left.

We're looking for a powerful flow of water.

As we go further upstream I can feel the energy coming off the river. This is it. The water moves as if it's being fed by that waterfall we saw from the plane.

I cry out as I see a huge sheet of white, tumbling through the trees. Mario and Thomas high-five each-other.

This sixty five metre miracle tumbles over eons of rock.

It's one of the great beauties of Colombia.

Darkness falls and we have no time to return to our campsite.

We have no supplies.

Dario and Pancho catch about forty fish in half an hour.

These waters may have never been fished.

Dario cooks them over a fire and we eat them in the rain. We consume the pure energy of the rainforest.

The team, Johnny, Mario, Dario and Pancho all work together to build a traditional leaf hut.

Mauricio has blessed this place and watches over us.

We are fortunate that barely a drop of rain falls in the night, because the night air is cold.

The next day, we make it back to New York and our campsite.

We leave after a short rest and camp again by a river on our way to the Manteca river.

Rain pummels down as the Altamira team throw up a plastic sheet for a roof over a wooden frame they've made.

We head out early the next morning for the final leg.

Mauricio thumps against the flanges of a towering tree to announce our arrival.

As we approach the Manteca river a gunshot rips through the jungle.

We arrive and Johnny's son is waiting for us with his friend. They tried to shoot a bird.

We ford the river even though it seems too strong to cross.

The current rips at me and for a second, knocks me off my feet.

Then we are there.

We kayak through small rapids and tangles of trees until we reach the Cananari again.

The women and children are waiting.

We talk of our adventures and play soccer and dance.

Soon enough I'm waving goodbye.

Far up the river we call in a plane by satellite phone to pick us up.

The pilot puts it down on the soaking grass.

We're strapped in and ready to go.

The stall warning screeches out again as we graze the tops of the trees and fly over the Cananari river.

Between sunshine and clouds rivers twist off into the distance and the tabletop mountains sink into the green expanse as we head back to a place they call civilization.