By Diego Cortijo
The jungle is a place too inhospitable to allow large human settlements, or that’s what we have always believed until now. New archaeological discoveries tell of highly developed cultures that have lived in the heart of the jungle. The myths of ancient cultures and places lost deep in the jungle may no longer be myths in light of these new discoveries.
With this proposal I began my second expedition to the Amazon rainforest as a member of the Spanish Geographic Society, to try to learn about and document unknown places in the jungle. Members of native communities I visited in the past had spoken to me about ancient settlements, and now I wanted to locate them.
This was a grueling expedition that began in Brazil and ended up in the Peruvian Amazon. We came across undiscovered archaeological sites that were mystical to the native communities who were their unofficial caretakers, and isolated tribes that received me as a total stranger, but always with a smile. I tried to document their traditions and legends so that they wouldn’t be lost forever with the passing of time.
But through all this, I never imagined that a simple pause in the jungle to visit our good friend Nicolas Flores would initiate a global media frenzy. The good-natured Nicolas, who is a native Matsiguenka Indian we all call by his nickname Shaco, invited us to his humble straw-roofed cabin where he lived alone. He took us downriver the second day to a neighboring community from where we could roam the area. Always in good spirits, he described how his life was so far from everything, far even from his own people.
On the second day in the community, Shaco heard a noise, as if he had been summoned. We left the hut and walked to the river’s edge, and there on the opposite bank of the great Alto Madre de Dios River was a group of natives that Nicolas immediately recognized as from the “Mashco-Piro” tribe. I had heard of their existence as an ‘uncontacted’ tribe that live totally isolated. They had been spotted only a few times by other natives of nearby communities. In fact, Shaco had experienced contact with them previously when tending to his crops on their other side of the river. The Mashco-Piro are in a delicate situation. The activities of lumber and oil companies that encroach illegally on these territories has displaced them. Shaco knew that this wasn’t the first time they had appeared on the river bank. The besiegement that they were suffering made their attitude towards strangers unpredictable.