Otorongo, part 4

Walking in the jungle


There was not one day that I did not go into the jungle to be embraced by the incredible richness of nature. For hours, my eyes rested in the uncountable shades of green with constant changes of light and shade. They could not get enough of this ambrosia for the soul. My feet were in heaven by being able to touch the ground barefoot, feeling the richness of the surface from the softness of leaves to the coarseness of grooved wooden logs. The whole of nature was in constant communication with each other and my ears could be part of this melody of sounds ranging from crickets, frogs, birds to the whisper of the wind high above in the canopy of the trees.  My “I” disappeared in this world and became just listening, just feeling, just seeing.

I only went barefoot on the main path to the village because this path was free of any fallen trees and other hindrances. When I walked alone, my pace was very slow, almost like walking meditation. I had to watch the ground I was stepping on and also wanted to be fully present with all my senses.



Walking on these logs always hurt a bit…





On the path to the village, I passed many little creeks, ponds and swamps. Due to minerals, the water had a red glow.






Magical reflections



When walking barefoot, often little ants crawled up my feet with a little sting. It did not bother me very much and I brushed them away. I never encountered a poisonous animal when I was alone. However, they crossed the path when I was with others – like a centipede, a yellow viper and a huge, black tarantula.  Over time, I learned how to be prepared for jungle adventures on my own. I always walked with a stick and took a strong flashlight and a 100% insect repellent with me – just in case I would get lost.



Isabelle was walking in front of me when we came across this yellow viper. She was afraid of snakes and killed it with a stick.






A very long centipede




My favourite walks were with Dr. Himmelbauer, who knew the jungle and showed me the giants of the forest (he owns about 600 acres of pristine rain forest).  I was in awe of the beauty of these trees. These 500 to 1000 year old trees radiate incredible vigour and strength, a power that is even more enhanced by their giant wave like roots, which elegantly spread out and appear to whirl and swing around the trunk like the robe of a dancing Dervish.



A 1000 year old ficus tree with buttress roots. The buttress roots give the tree stability and provide nutrition, which is found mainly in the upper soil.


Suzanne Simard describes in her newest book, “Finding the Mother Tree. Discovering the Wisdom in the Forest”, the intricate connection between trees and plants and the crucial role of an old tree as a teacher for the younger ones. Trees talk to each other, they communicate.  Although trees do compete (especially in the rain forest) for light and nutrition, their main connection is cooperation. Old trees are crucial for the forest.

It broke my heart when I saw giant trees cut in the jungle of the Solomon Islands.  Deforestation goes back thousands of years. In the epos of Gilgamesh (written 4000 years ago), it was considered a heroic act to cut down the cedar trees of Lebanon. This forest was believed to be the home of gods and protected by the monster Humbaba, a composite being with paws of a lion, claws of a vulture, the head with horns of a wild bull and the tail of a snake. By tricking Humbaba, Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu killed the monster. Logging started immediately after the murder of Humbaba by 50 men Gilgamesh brought with him. The gods  where infuriated by this act (especially Enlil, the god of earth, water wind and storm) and took revenge by deciding the death of Enkidu, the half human and half animal friend of Gilgamesh.

We still live this powerful myth of the hero overpowering nature by brute force and it became a nightmare for our civilisation! We domesticated animals and plants and industrialised agriculture and destroyed our natural forests  There exist hardly any primeval forests anymore in our world. In places where it still exists, illegal logging is done out of greed and the deep illusion of separation from nature. With that we lost our deep connection to nature like Gilgamesh lost his friend Enkidu.

Mankind needs to become again aware of the sacredness and immense complexity of nature, where everything is interconnected. There exists a translation of the Gilgamesh epos where Humbaba is seen in a different light on a tablet owned by the museum of Sulaymaniyah. It describes him as follows:

“Where Humbaba came and went there was a track, the paths were in good order and the way was well trodden … Through all the forest a bird began to sing: A wood pigeon was moaning, a turtle dove calling in answer. Monkey mothers sing aloud, a youngster monkey shrieks: like a band of musicians and drummers daily they bash out a rhythm in the presence of Humbaba.”


Humbaba can be seen as an enormous, intricate network of organic and inorganic beings working together in harmony. He is the complexity of a healthy, self regulated forest. It becomes a demonic force when the harmony is threatened and destroyed. A face carved into a vertebrae of a whale reminded me on the Solomon Islands of Humbaba as a demon. This face was a diabolical face, fierce and full of revenge. Brutal logging (often illegal) is going on in the Solomon Islands caused by the Chinese demand for tropical wood. The effect is the destruction of the jungle and the death of coral reefs caused by the loosened soil swept into the ocean.

We create the demons of how we treat the forces of nature. Indigenous people knew this and met those forces with respect. They got rewarded by receiving the wisdom of the forest. Plants and trees spoke to them, taught them and told them their secrets. An obvious  exception where the people on Easter Island.



















The Amazon rain forest in Peru also has a protector of the forest called Chullachaqui, the Lord of the Forest. He is described as a dwarf with two different feet, a human and an animal foot (deer, turtle, …).  His legs are different in length (chulla=dissimilar and chaqui= feet in Quechua). Chullachaqui is a trickster and can manifest in many different forms. When somebody gets lost in the jungle, it is often said that this person was tricked by Chullachaqui. He often appears to people who are mistreating the forest. I have even heard a story about a Peruvian man being killed by Chullachaqui because he mocked him and did not believe in his power.

Chullachaqui has a home and lives in the Chullachaqui-caspi tree, a tree of most peculiar appearance. It is a tree on stilts where the inner space contains unusual knots and lumps. When Dr. Himmelbauer showed me this tree, he asked me not to take a photo. The same happened when we came to an unusual and strange clearing in the middle of the jungle with only one tree on a little hill (Caimito Fruit tree).  “Chullachaqui is resting under this tree”, he said.

These two places had one striking similarity – they both pointed to free space in an environment which consists normally of dense, impenetrable vegetation. Neither words nor a photo can even remotely capture the magic of this web of visible and invisible connections, where all the 5 elements (earth, water, air, fire and space) work together in harmony. Shamans feel it and work with it. I was just in awe.




The most unusual formation on a tree was near a Chullachaqui-caspi tree – it looked like a giant, brown beard hanging down from a tree trunk







Tree on stilts










Due to the lack of visitors in Otorongo because of Covid, the smaller jungle path were not cleared for over a year. Sometimes the path was stopped by many fallen trees and we had to either climb over or under, or walk around. I loved this challenging activity.










Dr. Himmelbauer crawling between two tree trunks to the other side






Lianas were one of my favourite things in the jungle with so many different shapes and forms




Bundled lianas






A blossom directly growing out of a tree trunk






A flower with fruit looking like red lips













Another great shape of a vine



One morning I heard an unusual sound when on a walk – it sounded like a motor saw in the far distance. I mentioned it to Dr. Himmelbauer and he heard it too. He wanted to check it out and I decided to go with  him. The path was hardly used anymore and we balanced over creeks on narrow tree trunks and crawled under fallen trees in the direction of the sound. Dr. Himmelbauer was always far in front of me and I had hard time to follow him. We came closer and closer to the sound and suddenly we saw – two loggers were cutting a several hundred year old tree without his required permission. He was so mad! He told them that he will report the incident to the court in Tamshiyacu.









Those workers were innocent (however, they worked for somebody who was responsible). They just fulfilled the order they received. Cutting trees in the middle of the jungle is very hard and dangerous and requires lot of skills. Boards are directly cut out of the trunk and carried by hand to the next road. However, it tore my heart apart when I saw this giant lying dead on the ground.







After we left the scene, we went back to the path where he had set down his basket and we departed. He went to Tamshiyacu and I back to the camp. I was a bit familiar with the path and just followed it back. I remembered some significant things like the nests of wasps looking like white tubes and a red leaf leaning against a tree. I was enjoying the walk.





  Nest of wasps


Suddenly a huge chaotic mass of fallen trees blocked my path! I knew immediately that I was lost! Where did I lose my path? What should I do? Nobody in the camp would realise that I did not come back! Thoughts like that entered my mind like shooting stars.




Fallen trees


I was determined not to panic, thought about different possibilities and decided to retrace my steps back. After several minutes walking back, I found a tiny track through the forest leading in the direction I thought I had to go. I followed it!  It led me to the main path back to the camp. What a big relief! The next day I told Dr. Himmelbauer what happened. He smiled! It was Chullachaqui who confused you, he said.

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Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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  1. I have just finished reading an article in the Atlantic magazine about the author you mentioned Suzanne Simard. I
    too have become fascinated with discovering the wisdom of trees and the resource sharing in the woods. I anticipate hearing about all your walking adventures. Please take care of yourself as I selfishly want to learn and explore with you.
    Stay safe,
    Meri Friedman

    • Yes, the article in the Atlantic really points out the networking, Communication, sensitivity and intelligence of trees. Patty made me aware of this article. I think that there is so much more we do not know- did you hear the talk of Monica Gagliano? She spoke for „ Spirit of the Senses“. If not, it is worthwhile to listen. It will blow your mind away! Much love, Traude


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