Rain Forest Musings

By: Clay Gordon
Posted in: Travelblogs

Context: These are journal entries I made as a guest at the Kapawi eco-lodge in 2005. Kapawi is located on the Kapawari River which feeds into the Rio Pastaza which is in turn a major tributary of the Amazon. Southeastern Ecuador. Miles and miles and miles from any roads. The only ways in and out are via canoe on the river or small plane.

More Context: These were written just a day or so after taking part in a shamanic ritual in Quito that involved consuming ayahuasca which put me in a very interestingly receptive state of mind and influenced my taking of the following photo, which is iconic of my tramping through the rain forest:

1) The Achuar [the local Indians] can walk through the forest silently. Even along a path I cannot help but make some noise. I concentrate on maneuvering quietly, carefully placing my feet, avoiding brushing against plants. Soon I am striding confidently and what I think is quietly through the forest. Exactly at these moments, when I feel I have attained some mastery, my foot catches on a vine or root and I stumble, trying to catch my balance and not fall. And I realize (for the umpteenth time today) that I am not a master of the forest; it is saying to me, 'If you are to be my friend there is much, much, more for you to learn.'

2) In the forest on the hike today, Sarah asked, 'If a tree falls in the rain forest and there is no one around to hear it, is there any sound?' And it occurs to me that that that viewpoint puts man at the center of the universe. I am not the only creature in the forest that can hear. I can walk through the forest and make no visible impression. The forest was here long before I arrived and will be here long after I leave. I alone cannot bend the forest to my will. I can destroy the forest but I cannot bend it to my will. If I am to be here in the forest and flourish I must become a part of the forest and listen to what it has to tell me. There is room in this world for both of us - the forest and I - but only if I, with humility, allow the forest to be my guide.

3) On our hike today, Felipe [our naturalist guide] pointed out the interconnectedness of the trees and vines in the rain forest. High above us, often hard to see, vines connect the trees together helping them to stand up. When one of the trees falls it takes down with it many of the other trees it is connected with, leaving a 'light gap' in the forest. On the forest floor lies a scattering of seeds many of which can lay dormant for decades or more, waiting patiently for enough light to grow. A tree falling, pulling others down around it to create the light gap, gives these seeds their opportunity to flourish. However there is no way to predict from what has fallen what will grow to take its place. During our lives, we are all connected. Directly in many cases, but often in ways unknown to us. When we fall, we cannot control what grows in the 'light gap' we leave behind. The seeds that we have planted during our lives will grow ... but which ones and how their lives will proceed we have no influence over.


Nicole Gnutzman
07/27/15 12:53:16AM @nicole-gnutzman:


So lovely to know that my words brought new meaning to you. Apologies for my delay in responding. I only dip into the Chocolate Life every so often :). I'm sure there's a way for me to receive auto-notification of messages, I just haven't looked into it yet. 

There's certainly a lot about the history of cacao out there as you know, but nothing seems to have been published on actual ceremonies. The ancient Maya actually had a word, Chocolaj, which means “drinking chocolate together,” which reflects how integral it was to their daily lives. They revered cacao for its capacity to offer healing and initiation through ritual, its energetic and aphrodisiac properties, and its ability to connect them to their deeper selves through a state of bliss.


I believe ceremonies differ from cacao-growing region to region and very often can only be experienced by treking into the rainforest and finding a "shaman" who will share the lineage. That would be an amazing journey. One I would love to do myself....

In my course of studies on cacao ceremony, taught online by a plant medicine practitioner in the UK named Annu Tara, we watched this video shot at Burning Man of Brian Wallace, a chocolatier and ethnobotanist, who has travelled to many cacao-growing regions in Central and South America in his quest to understand the uses of cacao by indigenous peoples: 

In my own quest, I was advised by Jim Walsh, a chocolatier in Hawaii, that if I wanted to experience authentic cacao ceremony, I should visit the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama as they are one of the few indigenous peoples that have maintained their connection to cacao and drink 5 cups every day. I have not yet made that trip :)

In Guatemala, the fellow who has spawned the growing cacao ceremony movement in the US and abroad, Keith Wilson, nicknamed the "Chocolate Shaman," was trained by indigenous shamans and has held innumerable ceremonies both from his home near Lake Aititlan and around the world. His blogspot is intriguing and he exports raw ceremonial cacao:

There are ceremonies to be had here in the US although they can be difficult to find and I'm not sure how authentic they are. I have held many personal ceremonies and for small groups of friends, using Keith's cacao, so if you are ever in the Bay area, I'd be delighted to hold ceremony for you. 

Clay Gordon
07/22/15 01:48:48PM @clay:

Nicole -

Thanks for the kind words and I am happy to know that my words had resonance for you. Getting your note reminded me to read these again. As my daughter is heading off to college in a few short weeks, there were new meanings in these for me.

I have not taken part in a cacao ceremony. I will be on the lookout for one. Do you know anything about the history of them? While in Ecuador I was looking for a historic ceremonial connection to cacao and couldn't find one. Cacao does not show up in the folk iconography - but maize and yuca do - in textiles and pottery, for example.

Nicole Gnutzman
07/22/15 09:53:07AM @nicole-gnutzman:

Wow, Clay. I know I'm reading this post way past its posting date, but it touched my heart. Your thoughts on the rainforest and how we are all connected is both timeless and timely. Have you ever done a cacao ceremony? Another plant medicine, much less intrusive than the one you tried, but the raw ceremonial cacao drink has provided me with beautiful journeys and profound insights. There's a whole community of practitioners and followers emerging out there. Anyway, I just wanted to comment on the beauty of your post and acknowledge the connection :)