Traveler Soul | Chapter 6 – Full Documentary


I’m on the Guyanese Massif between Venezuela and Brazil, in the largest remaining virgin jungle we have left. One hour on the Canaracuni River takes me to meet the Sanema people, a nomadic offshoot of the Yanomamis. When the game is exhausted here, the Sanema move on to other areas where they find more “animal company”. Their houses have walls of mud or poles and they’re topped off with palm leaves. They dig a fire pit in the middle. The men are hunters while the women garden and gather wild plantain and manioc. Manioc is a huge meaty tuber. Once it’s dug up they wash it and grate it with a very clever invention: the remains of a DC-9 fuselage that crashed in the river years ago. Once the manioc is grated they put it in a flexible basket called a seucan in order to extract all of its bitter juice, which contains the highly poisonous hydrocyanic acid. Now the tapioca is ready to be used in making a bread called cazabe that’s eaten in this part of the jungle. It’s hard to admit, but we’re all addicted to something… The Sanema are addicted to tobacco, but in the form of leaves and ashes mashed together. The mineral salts in this delectable paste make it useful as a dietary supplement. This startling look is the result of having stuffed a wad of the paste between the lower lip and gum. Tremble, tremble, little animals. These young Yecuanas are preparing their blowpipes for the hunt. They splinter the trunks of palm trees and roll cotton around one end of each shaft to make small darts. They wet the cotton with the sap of the tunare tree, which contains a poison so strong that it can kill a man before the cock crows thrice. And if the cock doesn’t crow, the young hunters will take care of him anyway. They’re experts at imitating birdsong either alone or with the help of their handmade whistles… That’s how they manage to attract their prey, to deceive them and to take care of them with a poison dart without a second thought. Horrified at the poisonous spectacle, I decide to hit the road. And I land at the mouth of the Ebro, the mightiest river on the Iberian Peninsula. This is an ideal spot for European migratory birds to take a break along their lengthy journey. There’s a wide variety of ecosystems on the delta, and this is where our heroes the flamingos like to stop for a rest. The only places in Europe where the flamingos regularly raise their young are the Camargue in France and the Fuente de Piedra Lagoon in Spain. The Ebro Delta is a pleasant spot where they can spend some down time along the way. Baby flamencos aren’t born pink. It takes time and pigment to develop their characteristic adult plumage. Their unusually rosy appearance is neither permanent nor inherent to the species. They acquire it from microorganisms in their food that contain natural pigments. Without those microorganisms “the bloom would be off the rose” and they would inevitably revert to a pale shadow of their splendour From the look of things these leggy birds don’t skimp when it comes to hygiene The truth is I’m surprised by their meticulous bathing habits. They are born neither pink nor long-necked. As chicks they have “normal” necks but they grow rapidly in adolescence and their necks stretch out to an amazing length. Rested and refreshed, the flamingos continue on their way I’m also ready to travel, this time to find a group of people so tied to the water that they can’t imagine any other kind of life. The Bajau live on the waters of the Gulf of Tomini off the island of Sulawesi. These nomads have lived on the sea for centuries. They live on these small boats called leppas. They’re born on them, they grow up on them, they marry and have children on them… and they die on them. Their relationship to the sea is so close that they’re unhappy to step on land, where they really do feel like fish out of water. If they leave the leppa, it’s only to visit the underwater depths. They can dive to a depth of up to 50 feet and stay under water for a full five minutes. And they always bring home a souvenir after an underwater excursion. We still don’t know how the Bajau came to live here or how they came to this way of life. Some anthropologists say that they fled from inter-tribal violence in Malaysia, but they believe otherwise. They say that they went to sea in search of their lost princess. It seems that a storm took her by surprise whilst she was bathing and dragged her to sea as far as Sulawesi. The Bajau came after her and when they found her they decided to stay. They rarely venture far from shore, though. They stay close by, fishing in the coral reefs. What more could anyone ask? In the evening the Bajau bring their boats close to the mangrove swamp for protection. They meet all their needs on these houseboats made of api wood, but there is so little room to move that older people’s legs actually atrophy! Even so, up to five people can live on the boats, which have bedrooms, pantries, kitchens and living rooms. Between the leppas and the airplane, I can’t feel my legs either. Lucky me, though; where I’m going next there’s more than enough room to stretch them out. Amboseli Park occupies an area of almost 150 square miles. Located very close to Kilimanjaro, it has unusual weather patterns and a fantastic orphanage for young elephants. The elephant herds come out into the open after the rains. Almost 700 individual elephants have been counted here. Staying cool is crucial to them, and since animal’s bodies are designed to meet their needs, they have numerous blood vessels in their huge fan-like ears. Just by moving them once in a while they can cool a lot of blood. Elephants have always been protected here. The Masai keep poachers away, and the Department of Wildlife keeps an eye on the herds. Baby elephants can get sunburned during their first six weeks of life, especially their ears. That’s why they flock to the mud baths. A healthy coating of mud and sand helps protect them. It’s not easy to feed these babies. For the first three months after they’re born, the orphans get baby bottles of coconut oil as often as they want, night and day. Coconut oil happens to be very similar to elephant milk. When they’re a little bit older, they begin to be fed vegetable matter combined with milk. This is at about nine months. However, they won’t be entirely weaned until they’re four or five years old. That’s when the young elephants are ready to live in their natural habitat. I fly away and back again like the star of the show at our next stop: the boomerang. Ever since people began to hunt, they’ve racked their brains to invent ever more efficient weapons to bring down their prey But some of them came up with solutions before the others… Deep in the rainforest they cut lengths of flexible bougainvillea to make spears and harpoons for fishing. They took up the spear against the white men who invaded their country and made them prisoners in their own land. Back outside the forest, a fire is built and the flexible new shafts are heated for straightening and hardening. Back outside the forest, a fire is built and the flexible new shafts are heated for straightening and hardening. When the tide goes out they hunt the dangerous sting rays. These rays can hide in the sand and give you a painful, stinging surprise… but this hunter is watchful and attentive. After capturing the animal, he holds its tail in his mouth and pulls out the poisonous stinger. Sometimes, of course, a spear can be a little too short That’s why they invented the boomerang. A simple piece of wood formed into a slight curve that makes it more accurate when thrown. The heavier it is, the more crushing is the blow when it hits its prey. The most skilled hunters can hit an animal from a distance of more than 175 yards. Yes, yes, 175 yards. Don’t look at me like that. And contrary to popular belief, the boomerang doesn’t come back after it’s thrown. That story was made up for tourists, my friend. I do fly back though to meet an animal that would gladly swallow the boomerang as an appetizer. I’m back in Cuba’s mangrove swamps, a mysterious world of light and shadow where a mixture of salt and fresh water is fed by ocean tides and river estuaries. All sorts of creatures are to be found both outside and inside the water. Of course given his impressive dimensions our protagonist is sure to be found. Where could he possibly hide? A voracious manatee combs the area for nourishment, propelled by its enormous fin. Just 10 % of its body weight in food will satisfy its hunger. Of course we’re talking about a mere 150 pounds of food a day. No worry, that’s just about 200 heads of lettuce. A group of fish escorts the manatee, since everywhere it goes it stirs up the seabed This also helps keep the canals free of vegetation. Of course it’s better not to get in the manatee’s way These peaceful creatures live underwater but periodically come up to breathe. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus sighted them in 1492, and in his astonishment he confused them with the mermaids described by Herodotus. Mermaids indeed, genuine mermaids… well no, I guess not. And from here we go to terra firme to visit the aristocratic macaques of Borneo I’m in the tropical rainforest on the island of Borneo. It’s very primitive and over 150 million years old, which is saying something. Until recently, these huge trees called dipterocarpos populated the second largest jungle in the world, surpassed in size only by the Amazon basin. Ninety percent of the photosynthesis on the planet takes place in forests like this and 31 species of primates live in this lush habitat. Twenty three of them can be found only here. This macaque looking at me in surprise is of a variety called “pigtail”. Pigs or not, there’s no question that these primates are fabulously social. They live in clans of up to 40 individuals with very hierarchical ranking and a genuine aristocracy that’s very much in charge. Their status ranking is handed down from parents to children. It can change, but the individual would have to earn merit One way to win favour with the chief is to clean and groom his coat Females spend their whole lives right where they were born. Males, on the other hand, will go to other families to mate. Mothers from traditionally powerful families care for their heirs very lovingly and take them for play dates with children of other “good families” Some day these youngsters may work together in a governing coalition. These darn fleas xThe macaques have a lot in common with us, so much that hundreds of them die every year in cruel laboratory experiments testing medicines or cosmetics that we value. We are the real beasts of the story together with the fleas. It seems to be cooling off. I’m on my way.

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