- 27 Nov 07, 03:12 PM
Posted from: Catunga.
Catunga is a weird place. Two years ago a local logger built a road through the forest and roads change things quickly around here. In return for the right to log the forest around Catunga, he built them wooden houses, probably made out of their own wood.
Catunga is now a strange hybrid with little two-storey plywood houses rubbing shoulders with traditional thatched huts around the ubiquitous football pitch.
Early next morning we had a meeting. The Ashaninka are quite like the BBC in that they like nothing more than a good meeting. Everyone gets to say their piece and then a group decision is made. As this involved translating backwards and forwards through three languages, it was a long meeting. We told them what we wanted to do and that we had certain gifts for them in return. They said thanks very much, machetes and medicines are very nice, but how about leaving one of your cars as well.
Eventually we reached an agreement and amid a flurry of hand-shaking and back-slapping they told us we couldn't have arrived on a better day - it was the village's twelfth birthday and they were having a party and a football tournament. Everyone for miles around was coming and it would be great if we could enter a team.
First prize was a cow, second prize was a sheep and third prize was beer!
Initially this sounded like a Good Thing. We'd get to know our hosts, meet a few people, film the party and get some good sequences in the can. It did however mean that we'd have to play football. I'm from west Wales where football is regarded as the work of the devil. I have never played football in my life, but the Red Zone seemed like a good place to start.
By some strange stroke of luck or prescient forward planning, one of our cooks had packed football shorts for us all, ghastly maroon synthetic things that make you look like an idiot whilst simultaneously propagating fungal infections in intimate places.
We took to the pitch with some nervousness. Our opposition looked like they were taking this quite seriously, they even had football boots, which seemed unfair. It was hot and humid. We were playing football in the wet season, in a rainforest 12 degrees south of the equator. Fifteen minutes each way. This was going to be a nightmare.
Zubin doesn't rate the BBC's defence.
The pitch sloped alarmingly into a bog at the far corner. The rest was thick brown mud. While we lumbered, slipped, splashed and fell, our nimble opponents danced round us with the grace of figure skaters. We lost the first game 6-0. If it hadn't been for the acrobatic bravery of our sound recordist Zubin Sarosh, it would have been double figures. The next two games were equally catastrophic. Our dreams of winning a cow were over. Let alone a cold beer.
Almu commentates on 'the beautiful game'.
Unfortunately, this was the least of our worries. The village was packed with outsiders - colones, the invaders - the people we were meant to be avoiding. We were hardly keeping a low profile,seven silky-shorted TV types, covered in mud, some on the verge of cardiac arrest. People were asking questions about why we were here.
By now Ruth had arrived. This morning she came to see us with three grave-looking Ronderos carrying guns. These were the guys we were meant to be going out on patrol with. They were concerned, they said. People wanted to know why we were here. They had had a message from the Colones to say that if the Ronderos came, they were armed and would fight back, whether we were there or not. Bruce asked if we were in danger and they replied 'Si'. He then asked if were putting their community in danger by being there. Again they replied 'Si'.
So that's that. We have to leave first thing tomorrow morning. We cannot possibly stay if we are putting our hosts' lives at risk. It's difficult to know how real the danger is. Catungo is such a strange place it's impossible to know who to trust here.
But it was worth coming, even for a short visit. It perfectly illustrates what is happening in this part of the Amazon, how tribal lands are being taken, how loggers and drug producers are moving in and cutting down the forest as they exhaust the land further up. The Ashaninka will soon be a minority here and then they will move somewhere else and this part of the forest will be lost to them forever. If we were to come back here in five years, I doubt Catungo would be an Ashaninka village at all.
I'll be glad to leave. It feels like a bad place. I just hope we can get back to the river without any incident. I pulled so many muscles playing football that I can barely walk, let alone run for my life.