KOGI part 2 and another jungle visit many years ago

Dear friends and family,

Here’s the story of my visit to the KOGI village PART 2

Rukmini, my guide, wore a turban and had a bindi on his forehead. He explained that he studied meditation and yoga in India for ten years and now is a meditation and yoga teacher here in Colombia. He carried a peaceful, calm energy within  him.

He asked if I was interested in meeting the Mamo, the spiritual leader of the group, and of course I answered in the affirmative. We asked a young man we met if the Mamo was available. This young man disappeared for a few minutes and then returned saying that the Mamo was indeed available and would meet us. So, off we went in the direction he pointed, to the Mamo’s hut. A call of “Hola” brought the Mamo to his entrance, not speaking a word, but appearing to study us and our energy. We must have passed his test as he then asked what he could do for us, very slowly. Mamo was a striking figure, with jet black hair to his waist and eyes that appeared to see into my soul… I don’t want to make things up here, but there was something about his calm and quiet look that sure felt deeper than surface impressions. 

We ( all Rukmini at this point) asked if he might give us his blessing. Mamo, after hesitating to think about his answer told us that he would. He told his wife, standing inside the hut, to cut four strings of cotton for him. She handed him the strings and without speaking, he tied them to each of our wrists and held our hands, while deep in thought. He then took 20,000 COP ( Colombia pesos, equivalent to $5 US) as our offering.

He told us that this blessing would keep us safe. 

I learned both from Rukmini and later research that a Mano is not a shaman, but a spiritual leader of the community.

Mamos undergo strict training. A boy is taken at birth and put in a dark cave until age 9. In the cave the present Mamo and the child’s mother care for the boy and teach the boy to attune to “Alina”, Mother Earth.

Through deep concentration and offerings, the Mamo supports the balance of harmony and creativity in the world. Then he is tutored by the Mamo until he is deemed a Mamo.

I’m not sure of the timing or age.

Mamos say that the balance of earth’s  ecology has been suffering due to modern day devastation of resources by Younger Brother (the non-Kogi) and that their work as Elder Brother is instrumental for prolonging and protecting life on earth. ( see Wikipedia on Kogi for where I filled in the gaps of Rukmini’s knowledge.)

A fascinating thing I learned was about the Coca plant and it’s uses here. At the ceremony to recognize a boy becoming a man, each is presented with a guord to (theoretically?) keep for life. The gourd is hollowed out and refilled with a cooked mixture of crushed seashells gathered from the beach below the village. The shells provide an alkaline to mix with the coca leaves that all the men ( only men)chew all day long. Without the alkali, the leaves have no impact, but activated with alkaline they give their “grounding energy”, according to Rukmini. This allows the men to work hard in the hot sun raising cattle and pigs and farming mostly cassava root to eat and sell. 

The men, post workday, gather in a special men’s hut ( we walked into it, since no one was there, but soon a young boy asked us to leave as it was sacred-oops). It is believed that chewing this coca instills knowledge, just as reading a book or going to college!

There the men discuss men things until late into the night, or according to what Rukmini had heard, often for days without sleep ( even with the activated coca, I find this a bit hard to believe).

When we walked through the village I noticed the men with a mouthful of leaves, chewing slowly while rubbing their dipstick, wet and coated from the spit and shell mixture, along the sides of their gourd. Turns out that this leaves a record on the gourd of all of their thoughts they are having, both good and bad, and reminds them to control their thoughts toward the good side. At any point, the Mamo can check out anyone’s gourd  and see the record of their thoughts. I found this fascinating as a tool for thought control. As soon as I get my gourd, coca leaves, and shell mixture I’ll try it!


Visiting this village reminded me of a visit to another group of people in huts, in Venezuela. A young woman who was guiding me to visit off-track places around the country told me of a mountaintop retreat owned by a Fruitaterian former Harvard professor. We took a bus inland from the coastal city of Cumana, where I was living on the boat. We then proceeded to hike upwards, through the high tropical jungle to our professorial visit. The rough dirt path wove directly through the mud and stick dwellings of families. In this age before satellite communications or smartphones, this was the form of communication. Each family would report to us what news they had to deliver upwards and took the news we gathered from huts below. I noticed that inside the hut I could see all their belongings which included a couple of changes of clothes, tools for farming and in the cooking area, a minimal amount of cooking supplies. Food was stored in plastic bins to keep the abundant wildlife from it.

We learned that professor was away, possibly for a long time, but we were welcome to visit his fruit farm.

After a few hours hiking and crossing several strongly flowing creeks, we arrived. At one point, this intrepid adventurer was using a walking stick to balance myself on slippery rocks for my hiking boots to grip and was passed by a young woman wearing flip flops, carrying two infants, hopping from rock to rock. Amateur adventurer meets the real world!

We stayed overnight at the fruit farm, sleeping high off the ground in hammocks, so we wouldn’t be bitten by snakes. I observed by watching, that  the proper way to sleep in a hammock isn’t by laying in the middle, but to straddle it, giving more support to your whole body. I still think it takes practice, as I didn’t sleep well.

About halfway down, as we passed through the house and yard of a family, the man of the house was sitting in his yard and asked me and my guide if we wanted to join him for a  “ frio cerveza” , which I thought meant cold beer, but here?

Really, a cold beer high up in the mountains, hours away from the nearest store? Not wanting to disappoint him, I said “si” and sat down near him. The beer was ice cold and could go down as one of the best treats ever. He explained that on every Saturday he took his donkey down to the village below and returned with a big chunk of ice attached to one side of said burro and a couple cases of beer on the other, adding groceries to the middle.  Must really like his cold beer to do that much work. A couple of beers in and he asked me ( mostly ignoring my female guide) if I was hungry. I saw the food stocks these people had and didn’t know how to answer. They had very little and still were being generous, so I answered “si”, which prompted him to grab a chicken from the yard , twist its neck, and hand it to his wife, saying “Cook this for mi amigos” ( in Spanish of course).

I was curious as to the preparation, and wanting to donate, so I took the avocado and small bag of rice from my backpack and walked to the “kitchen” area. That seemed to disturb him, and probably his manly status, and he strongly urged me to sit and continue drinking with him, as the preparation was women’s work.

Not my mission to disturb a custom in this family, so I obeyed.

In about an hour we shared a chicken dinner with rice and avocado and lots of  fruit. I, being a lightweight in the drinking department, was half in the bag, so barely remember the meal, but sure do remember the kindness from people whose entire belongings could be carried in both arms. Was quite a lesson to me in giving.

I somehow, using gravity to help, made it down to the bus stop and back to the boat. I had a lot to reflect on about my life in comparison. 

Sending love,


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10 thoughts on “KOGI part 2 and another jungle visit many years ago”

  1. Wish you an Adventurous New Year!!
    We had similar experiences with chewing Cocoa leaves wrapped in charcoal
    I guess the alkaline part you described, on our trek in Peru. Our guide (a local) had all the ingredients in a addition lots of Cocoa tea.
    Stig and Aleta

  2. Wow, your story made really appreciate a bunch of things I take for granted, like running water, grocery stores and central HVAC. Ride safe and thanks for sharing!

  3. When we were in Peru we all drank coca tea to stave off altitude sickness. It worked. Those who didn’t got sick. Love hearing the stories of the native people. Still living in the back lands of the mountains. Pretty soon they’ll have cell phones.
    Happy New Year! Love,

  4. What fantastic adventures Charley! I look forward to each post and so appreciate you taking us along not only this journey but your tales of past adventures!

  5. ¡Feliz Año Nuevo Charley!

    Thanks for sharing your adventures [past and present], experiences and impressions. What a summer you are having…

    I look forward to reading more of your equatorial meanderings as you have time and connectivity…

    Be well. Cheers, Bill

    PS: Hongvi is enjoying a very mild winter so far, and has yet to be dusted with snow…

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