NAPO REGION, ECUADOR
Hi everybody, this is Ian, Riley, and Christina from Napoleona Tea Company. We’d like to introduce you to guayusa, an herbal from an Amazonian holly tree that has been consumed by the indigenous Kichwa tribes for centuries. Read on for more details about our trip to the Amazon to learn about guayusa and Runa Organization’s efforts to help the Kichwa people maintain sustainable farming while preserving their culture.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Day 1: We had a long flight to Quito with stops in Houston and Panama City. Thirteen hours later, we finally arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
Cass, the internship director for the Runa Organization, met us at the airport and we all took a taxi to our hotel. It was a gorgeous, traditional Ecuadorian inn called La Casa Sol. The walls were brightly painted in blue, yellow, red, and green, with fresh flowers planted all around. The weather in Quito was a lot like a cool, autumn night in Chicago, about 55°F and slightly windy.
Day 2: Today we got up early to explore a little bit of Quito before heading out to Archidona. Our contacts with Runa came to pick us up around 11am for a 3-hour road trip into the Amazon, and down the mountain to Archidona. While walking around Quito, we stopped at a small cafeteria for breakfast. They served a simple meal with white rice, fish, tomatoes, fried bananas and guava juice for only $2.50 a plate. Pleasant, simple, and delicious!
We made our way back to the hotel and were picked up by Cass and Elliot, the executive director of the Fundacion Runa, to begin the long drive down the mountain to Archidona, where Runa’s headquarters are located. We got to see some amazing scenery; the day was so beautiful and clearthat we were able to see Antisana – a snow covered volcano that is rarely visible because of the thick clouds surrounding it.
For lunch, we stopped at a rural restaurant that sat high on the side of a mountain road. It was pretty spartan inside and they asked if we wanted to fish for our lunch. Naturally, we said yes! So, we made our way to a small pond behind the restaurant and were each given a bamboo rod with a fishing line attached to it. Thankfully, the pond was pretty stocked; we brought back fresh trout and the cooks made us a delicious meal!
After lunch, we continued deeper into the jungle. Along the way, we watched the surroundings change from small shrubs and dirt to luscious, tall trees, waterfalls and deep forests. It was amazing! The sights were unbelievable.
In Archidona, we met Nick, the regional manager in Ecuador, and the rest of the Runa team. Shortly afterwards, we left for Santo Domingo where we were scheduled to stay at the parent’s home of Silverio, the field technician. This was a truly awesome experience. We arrived around 8pm to a small Kichwa village where Silverio’s parents’ home is located.
The village had about 80 families total. It was pitch black outside and we were invited inside a wooden house with a tinroof. We sat around an open fire used as a stove; the dark jungle surrounding us. Members of the family began preparing guayusa (why-you-sa) by stripping the leaves from a small guayusa branch that had been gathered from the jungle. Guayusa trees can reach up to 50 feet tall and the smooth evergreen leaves are about 8 inches in length. The leaves were then placed in a large pot of water to boil over the fire.
Ecuador is a pretty traditional country where the women prepared the meals and the men hunted. So I (Christina) went upstairs with the women to prepare Maito – a chicken dish with salt, red onions, palmetto, and other herbs, wrapped in palmetto leaves and slowly cooked over the open fire for about two hours. In the meantime, we all socialized, drank guayusa, and were joined by an elderly shaman.
We listened to legends and folktales about Ecuador and the jungle. One of the stories about guayusa is that it is a fertility drink – it is very common to find Kichwa families with 10 to 12 children! They say that because they drink so much guayusa, it keeps blessing them with children. Guayusa is very much a part of their everyday life and traditions, and is consumed several times a day. After eating our dinner, we drank more guayusa, and listened to some of Silverio’s stories, then headed to bed to prepare ourselves for an early morning.
Day 3: It’s 3am and we woke up to the sound of a man playing a wooden recorder. We are about to take part in a traditional guayusa ceremony. Every morning the Kichwa women wake up around 3 and 4am to prepare the guayusa for the men and children. Once the rest of the household was up we all gathered around the open fire and discussed our dreams for guidance and to determine whether or not they will have a good day hunting. They wash their faces and their children’s faces in guayusa to refresh their skin and to be one with the jungle. The men also do this so that the jungle accepts them for the hunt. While we discussed our dreams and their meanings, we drank guayusa to prepare us for our jungle hike. Like tea, guayusa leaves naturally contain caffeine, which gave us the energy we needed to survive the morning. We explored the jungle with Silverio. He brought us to several guayusa trees growing wild in the jungle. These trees were about 30 feet tall. He showed us a few hunting traps he had set up nearby and some of the different medicinal bushes they commonly use when they are sick, along with the original form of chocolate – cacao- and the guayusa nurseries belonging to each family working with Runa.
*The stones in the photo above are very important to this Kichwa family as they are passed down from each generation to the next and represent their ancestors.
Runa helps the Kichwas to plant and grow organic and high quality guayusa. The ultimate goal of the Runa Organization is to eventually buy the guayusa leaves from the farmers and their families to increase the overall quality of their life while maintaining their culture.
After our jungle hike, we headed back to Archidona for lunch where we tried iced guayusa. Iced guayusa is similar to iced tea except guayusa is used instead. Sugar is added to the iced guayusa to give it a sweeter flavor. (Plus we were told Ecuadorians love sugar!) After lunch we headed out to tour the Runa facilities. In this past year, Runa purchased 15 acres of land to grow guayusa and study the different effects that take place in order to find the best possible method of growth. About 95% of guayusa is grown in Ecuador, with the other 5% in Peru and Colombia. Runa purchased these 15 acres not only to test the different ways and methods of growing guayusa but to gain a better understanding of its background and roots. We were able to visit one of these gardens. The guayusa saplings were cut from a mother tree in order to maintain quality. These plants were fairly young and not yet ready to be processed. Then we toured Runa’s processing facility used for preparing the guayusa for consumption.
After finishing the tour in Archidona we drove to the small town of Tena where we stayed in Runa’s internship house. The weather in this part of Ecuador is the complete opposite of Quito. It is extremely humid and hot all day until about 9pm. The only relief seemed to be in the river to cool off and thankfully we were going rafting in the Napo River tomorrow!
Day 4 – Today was rafting day. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We got to see so much of the area – rafting and swimming in the glacial waters of Antisana, exploring between ancient rocks on the sides of the river andoccasionally seeing children panning for gold along the river banks. After going 25 kilometers, we were exhausted! But we would totally do it again in a heartbeat. After a much needed nap, we got a chance to hang out with the Runa team. They took us to a local restaurant in Tena for drinks and great food.
Sunday, October 16th 2011
Day 5 – Time really went by fast. Our trip was just about over and we drove back to Quito today. It was a long ride home with Riley and Ian riding in the back of a truck. The views were breathtaking and the air
was fresh. We didn’t arrive in Quito till nightfall but a few shops and restaurants were still open in the historic district with a nice view of the city. So we were able to enjoy a bittersweet last dinner before our 6 am flight back to Chicago.
Our heartfelt thanks and wishes for continued success to all the folks at Runa, to Silverio and his family, the Kichwa people, and to everyone who helped make this a memorable trip for us.
We also invite everyone to try Amazonian guayusa, all organic and available in traditional, spiced and peppermint blends. Guayusa has been consumed by Kichwa communities for many centuries. According to Runa, it contains more caffeine than most teas, but less than coffee. Combined with many of the healthful and clarifying compounds found in tea, guayusa offers a more steady and balanced energy without any jittery and jolting side effects. In addition, guayusa contains 50% more antioxidants than green tea. Try a cup and let us know what you think!