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Filming Adventure: Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador - Meet the Head Reducers ...

We were greeted at the gate of the Shuar civilization, ancestors of the Head Reducers, by experiencing a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. This clearly announced that our first experience in the Amazon rainforest would remain etched in our memory forever ...

Mike et Cameron jouant les explorateurs, forêt amazonienne à Macas, Équateur
Mike and Cameron the explorers, Amazon rainforest in Macas, Ecuador


Macas is not a very touristy city, we were certainly the only gringos in the place during our stay. We like it, but you have to expect to be stared at, it's normal. It is a rather ordinary city but I strongly advise you to go and see its brilliantly landscaped park with an exceptional viewpoint, "Mirador del Quilamo". We also tried a funny Chinese restaurant (commonly called the Chifas there!) And also the guinea pig (cuy) ... In my opinion it is far from delicious, it was the second time that I was eating it and I haven't changed my mind yet haha!

We had read somewhere on the internet that we could meet the ancestors of the Shuar civilizations, those famous head reducers ... this subject fascinated us and I could not miss knowing more. The only way to do this is through the power of communication, and we get to work right away. We ask the hotel guy. He refers us to a cousin (Latinos always have a cousin who works in the field you are looking for, it's very funny, and sometimes very practical!) Who has a tourist agency. Very helpful, he finds us exactly what we want and even changes his tour plan a bit to accommodate us! In addition, for the modest sum of $ 50, meals, 1 night and activities included ... I will give you the contact details of our guide and not of the agency, hoping that he will answer you (contact details taken from his business card): Danny Ayuy, tour guide: Tour a las cabanas ecologicas etza, Macas, Ecuador For Booking: ecologeetza@hotmail.com Well! At least you'll have more information than me, already. Also he mentioned to us that the money he makes with these tours goes directly to pay for his daughter's studies, so we are also doing a good deed!

Since we were the only gringos in the place, as I said, imagine that we end up with a private tour of the Amazon rainforest and as a bonus, knowing the customs of the Shuars!

La vue de notre hébergement en arrivant sur le site Macas Équateur Shuars amazonie
The view from our accommodation when arriving at the site in the Amazon rainforest

Shrunken heads ?!

The Shuars knew the Amazon rainforest like the back of their hand, which gave them an advantage over the Spaniards and kept its culture alive. As the Amazonian populations do not have writing, their culture is based on the oral transmission of their history. So you can understand how pampered we felt that Daniel, our guide, passed it on to us. And on the other hand, how happy Daniel was that I captured it all on camera to pass on his tradition afterwards. Today, the practice of shrunken heads is obviously no longer practiced (and fortunately ...) But why were they shrinking? It was a shamanic ritual, to take hold of the strength and spirit of their enemies. When gutted and boned, the head was dried with ash and hot stones, filled with sand, sewn and reshaped. It was then used, hung around the neck of its owner, in a ceremony intended to show the ancestors that revenge had indeed been accomplished.

Daniel, notre guide, nous expliquant tout des coutumes Shuars et de la forêt amazonienne
Daniel, our guide, explaining us all about Shuar customs (head reducers) and the Amazon rainforest

Here is an excerpt from the film I made, AURORA, showing here the start of our exploration in the Amazon rainforest as well as exclusive shots of real shrunken heads! Be sure to subscribe to my channel to follow the progress of my challenge of making 10 travel films around the world!

The Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest

Daniel taught us which trees, plants and insects were once most useful to his ancestors, while also showing us some survival secrets: Trees that bleed and that offer an ointment against cuts and stings; ingested, its red sap calms stomach aches. Another type of tree is used for its bark to make clothes. Plants that are edible. Here, this huge tree is a great way to communicate without alerting the wild beasts ... by hitting it with a stick, we can signal our tribe that we are lost and attract attention. Because by shouting, carnivorous creatures with the slightest intelligence would associate this noise with food! By scratching with a stick on the bark of this other tree and with the help of a match (obviously he explains to us that it is a little faster now to use matches, after all we are not in survivor haha !) we obtain an excellent fuel to make a fire. Daniel finds a termite mound hanging on the bark of a tree and begins to trace the letter E on it. So we can see them in action, it's impressive. Termites are excellent for feeding ducks and were of great benefit to the Shuar civilization. He tells us that the termite mound will be rebuilt as if he had done nothing before the end of the afternoon ... He even shows us a typical Shuar game, the hummingbird game. Difficult to explain in writing, I invite you to rent my film to see what it looked like.

Learn more about the Shuars civilization by renting my feature film on South America, AURORA! All profits will be used to finance the next shoot on the Black Sea tour in Europe.

It was a very mysterious walk, as our host listened to the forest. It seemed to be guiding him through what he was going to show us next, and we felt overwhelmed by this amazing ecosystem. We felt that it was not us who breathed the forest ... but the forest who inhaled us. Satisfied with our exploration on foot, Daniel invites us to take a boat ride! We get along by boat we mean logs of wood tied together with a wooden cube as a seat on top ... I ask him, if there are crocodiles or alligators in these waters, he tells us well calmly that yes. Okay! If the guide is calm, so are we ...

Le radeau dans l'Amazonie équatorienne à Macas shuars réducteurs de têtes
The raft in the Ecuadorian Amazon in Macas

The River Walk

The only problem is that we can't be 4 on the raft. Daniel wants to show us a cave with bats in it. He suggests that we bring Mike and me first, then come back to look for Cameron and then come join us. (The cabbage, the wolf, the goat!) We accept, it seems quite simple as a solution. It's actually rather smooth, and a little further, Daniel drops us off Mike and I in the Amazon rainforest ... alone. Aye! We never thought we were that nervous. Absolutely nothing was happening, yet ... we waited, looked at the plants, we didn't dare to venture too far, just in case! It was quite amazing just looking at the nature around us, because you have the impression that everything is moving! I mean there are so many bugs, ants, etc., that subconsciously you feel like the whole ground is moving under your feet. Besides, when I went to bed at night, I still saw the movement of insects like a light wave, imprinted in my subconscious. Daniel and Cameron finally arrive, it was probably the longest 10 minutes of our lives! We did well not to venture too far because a few steps later, Daniel shows us an extremely poisonous spider! The look Mike and I gave each other when we learned this ...

La fameuse araignée dans la forêt d'amazonie équatorienne
The famous spider in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest
Les chauves-souris dans une grotte d'amazonie équatorienne
Bats in an Ecuadorian Amazon cave

You probably thought that we had done the same principle to return to camp by raft, but no! Really not stressed, this guy!

To end the day, a surprise awaited us! Daniel's daughters made bracelets for us with dried seeds the size of a red and black chickpea, originally found in the forest, following the Shuar artistic tradition. Then, Daniel took out his guitar and pan flute to perform a song for us in his original language. But what we actually discovered during our stay was this openness and generosity of Ecuadorians, their infinite kindness. It was incredible to hear Daniel explain to us his close connection to mother earth, and at the same time to feel our powerlessness against the forces of nature ... an adventure which still animates our conversations and which we are far from forgetting.

Watch the first three films of the 10 films of travels around the world series ! Your donation to our NPO will fund the next film in the series currently in pre-production, about the Black Sea tour in Europe.

To be continued ... the city of Baños, a tourist trap? ↬Share to someone who loves to travel ...✈🌍💛

Mimi Tremblay

Filmmaker Entrepreneur

On Instagram | Facebook | Youtube @Filmsoiseaudenuit Films Oiseau de nuit is an audiovisual NPO based in Bromont, Quebec, Canada, since 2015. ↠Our Challenge: 10 travel films around the world. ↠ Our Mission: To create a community of fulfilled and passionate people who advocate the discovery of oneself and others for a more open and peaceful world.

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Daniel, notre guide, héritier de la culture Shuars, les réducteurs de têtes
Danny (Daniel) Ayuy, our guide, heir to the Shuars culture, the head reducers