“Those are not indians” , one client exclaimed after he accused me of ripping him off. “They are all wearing shorts, boots and wielding machetes”
My jaw dropped, never in eleven years has someone accused me of tricking them.
“listen friend,”I said, “if you want to feed your false perception of how natives live in the Amazon, please go to the tourist trap just outside of Iquitos. There you will find men in grass skirts and topless girls. They will act like they have never seen a white person and will marvel at your shiny watch. Remember though, the moment you leave , the chief is going to go count the money he just made selling trinkets to tourist. *by the way do not buy any trinkets with feathers on them.
Years ago, the first tour operators in the region decided to organized different ethnic groups to live close to Iquitos and put on shows of their culture for international guests. If it weren’t for these first interactions with tourists, the ethnic populations would have assimilated even quicker into the Peruvian social structure. This allowed the elders to pass their knowledge on to the younger generations that otherwise would not have thought twice about leaving their culture to demise.
I know some people will be angry with me for writing the truth because of the flow of cash that comes from tourists, but those shows should be properly labeled as a REENACTMENT, because that is what it is. Yes they have Native heritage but no, they do not live and dress as portrayed in their “Indian Village”. They wear normal clothing when not working, because their work is a reenactment of how their grandfathers lived.
On our website it says you may visit real native communities. Here at Otorongo Amazon River Lodge, we give you the real deal, no fake shows or set up experiences. The Natives that live close to Iquitos (within 300km) rely on modern day appliances, motors, machetes, pills, beer, satellite TV and in some cases a flat screen smart TV.
The tribes you have in mind are close to nonexistent, distant (a week of travel away), and should be respected and given space (not objects to be sought after).
The people living on the river are Natives just not the way you imagined. The year is 2017 and the Iquitos region has been under the influence of colonization for over 100 years. Does this make them less Native? Are their parents not of Native decent?
I once was a tourist in this wondrous land, I too thought that the locals lived as portrayed with the grass skirts and huts, it took me a while to come to grips that I had been fooled. It really hit me when a group of Yaguas came and visited me at my lodge, they came in their grass skirts with drums, flutes a sloth and tortoises tied around their necks. They did a quick dance and then offered to do the same when tourists visit, just let us know a few days before they arrive. I thought, what do you mean , do the same?
“Can you give us 50 soles for the show?”
Wha wha What?!!! Whoa, wait a minute Uribe (the “Chief”) If this is how you dress year round, thats great, but if you think I am going to fool my guests into thinking you guys live like this year round, its not going to happen. We want to show the Amazon as is so it would be sufficient for you to visit without the show aspect.
The family of Yaguas still visits us at the lodge but without the show. They bring trinkets, small paddles, sculptures of animals or small paintings to sell. This is perfect for me, no one is trying to fool anyone, everyone is authentic.
I may be shooting myself in the foot with this one because we do not do sensational activities like shows, ayahuasca ceremonies or hold a sloth program.
There are a hundred new lodges offering all that sensational stuff at half price (unless it is an ayahuasca lodge) and at half the distance so it makes it that much harder to present the authentic Amazon as it is.