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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trip to the oriente - 4 - Rain Forest

Dear family and friends,

This blog entry about the trip that Brad and I took to the Sacha Lodge will focus on the rain forest.

We enjoyed our walks in the deep, dark, almost impenetrable forest.

But we enjoyed the tranquil, gliding, silent, canoe rides even more.

We learned a lot about medicinal plants, but I can only remember two. This tall tree is called "Sangre de Dragon", we would call it Dragon´s Blood. The medicinal use is to collect the bright red sap and rub it on cuts or wounds to promote healing. I think it may also be taken internally for post-partum bleeding and menstrual irregularities. Later, we found small bottles of a snagre de dragon solution with a medicine dropper for sale for $1.25. Fortunately, I have not had an opportunity to test it.

The other plant which I remember is the "unas de gato", cat´s claw. The bark of this vine is used internally to treat a large number of conditions, especially those related to the kidney. You may remember that I bought some unas de gato bark before the trip. I had read that it also has the property of making one smell bad to mosquitoes, and thus act as a natural mosquito repellent. Our naturalist guide was unaware of this supposed property, but on one of our walks, he pointed out a horizontal unas de gato vine near our trail.

Clinical Trial

I could not figure out how to prepare and consume unas de gato tea in the jungle. I could have prepared a traditional decoction by boiling one part of bark in 10 parts of water until it was reduced to one part. However, I did not want to stand over a hot stove all day, so I made a tincture by placing the bark in a bottle of very inexpensive Ecuadoran whiskey about a week before the trip. I shook the bottle each day and observed that the alcohol was extracting tannins (and hopefully, medicinal properties) from the bark. By the week´s end, the whiskey was black.

I took a few drops of this vile looking solution in a cup of water three times a day while I was living in the rain forest. It tasted like medicine. I DID NOT GET ANY MOSQUITO BITES THE WHOLE TIME.

To be completely honest, I should add that no one at the Lodge got any either.
It turns out that there is so much organic matter from falling leaves that the water that it is too acid for mosquito larva.

However, there are biting insects which bother the guests. Brad used DEET every day, and still occasionally had to brush them away. I also observed the guides slapping their necks to discourage insects from landing. Because I smelled so bad, I DID NOT GET BOTHERED BY INSECTS the whole time.

So, there you have it, my proof that a tincture of unas de gato is an undiscovered wonder drug. I will let you know if I decide to go into production - you will be eligible for special reduced prices.

We saw an interesting fungus called the devil's cup. There are stories that the ancient forest dwellers drank exlirs and potions from the devils cup in the dark of the moon (or something like that). Next time, I will try my unas de gato tincture in one.
We did not hear any stores about the ancient forest dwellers using the termite nest - you will have to make up your own.

Here is an example of the roots of a walking palm. These trees can move up to 30 cm per year as they send out roots toward the side. Thus, the crown of the palm can get more sunlight.

The largest tree on the Sacha Lodge property is this kapok.

The root in the foreground is mostly above ground because the useful soil is very shallow. There is an impenetrable layer of clay about 50 cm below the surface.

To give you a sense of scale, here is the same tree with tiny me standing in the spot where all tourists are made to stand.

I have included some random shots taken on our canoe rides. I hope you get a small idea of the tranquility and beauty that Brad and I experienced.

Finally, what would the rain forest be without some rain. (It rained so hard on this lake that I could not take the camera out from under my poncho.)

Next time, I will share pictures of the animals we saw in the rain forest.

Your friend and mine,


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