Jungle Medicine

On a trip to the Amazon basin in Ecuador in January of 2000 Drake visited the tribe of a winner of a prize in the International Creche Festival contest (see above).  Jorge Vargas, the cacique of the tribe and father of the creator of the prize winning creche, asked Drake to help the tribe earn money so they could stay in their community.  Members of the tribe were trying to emigrate to Spain and the US to earn money.  Soon the jungle inhabitants would all be city dwellers and the rich cultural tradition of a jungle people would be lost.

Since Vargas was the local curandero (medicine man) he introduced Drake to the wonders of the medicinal herbs that are to be found in the jungle around their village.  With Vargas’ cooperation Drake designed a seminar on jungle medicine oriented toward pharmacists, medical doctors and persons interested in herbal medicine.  Drake took the first group of seven seminar participants, all from the Bellingham area, to the jungle for four days of lectures and adventures with members of the tribe (the Indichuri clan of the Quichuan Indians in the State of Pastaza, Ecuador).

Seminar participants paid $400 for the four-day seminar, all of which went to the tribe.  Ordinarily travel agencies in Quito charge tourists from $50 to $100 per day to give them a jungle experience but pay the local native groups only a dollar to two for hosting the visitor.  Since the Indichuri now tell the tourist agencies how much they want for the program they will get most of the money, not the travel agents.  The Indichuri selected a foundation in Quito that works with the poor and native people to handle the tourism aspects of the project, i.e., meet the seminar participant at the airport, arrange hotels for them when not in the jungle, etc.

Drake met with the head of the Ministry of Health in Quito as well as with representatives of the United Nations and leaders of various non-governmental organizations working in Ecuador.  The Minister of Health was excited about this program as it paid the natives to retain and share their culture and would earn them more than they ever could by moving to the city.  He was especially interested, as it was a way for the nation to preserve the incredible intellectual resource of native knowledge of local medicinal herbs to be found in the jungle.