Journey Along Rio Babanoza, Part II
After chatting about aromatic plants with a local family, a fifteen-year-old boy took us in his long canoe to look for Ocotea trees. The canoe was hand hewn out of a single log that was 40 feet long and four feet wide. It was tricky sitting in the center as still as possible so that it didn’t rock over—especially going through the rapids.
We docked on the bank against some logs, trying our best to avoid the barbed bamboo hanging all along the river edge. The barbs are like giant fish hooks that can open a raft or an inflatable canoe like a can opener. Then we made our way into the jungle until we found what I was looking for: the beautiful Ocotea.
The tree was 30 inches on the stump and 60 feet tall with an umbrella-like canopy of branches and leaves that entirely blocked out the sun. The leaves were rich in fragrance and the flowers were just starting. There were thousands of these trees. Picking the leaves would not be an easy task without scaffolding or ladders. As I was anticipating the difficulty in harvesting the leaves, the boy shimmied up the tree with ease. After retrieving my samples, we headed back to camp to prepare for our journey on down the river. The rain had stopped and the clouds were gone. The sky was completely blue with sun temperature of about 96 degrees and 100 percent humidity. The tent was dry but we were wet as we loaded the canoes, ready for another adventure.