by: Juan David Gómez (Co-Founder), 2019 - Translated from English
I remember the first time I had the opportunity to visit a real guayusa chakra (here guayusa is grown in mixed cultures). I was so excited as we rode in the back of an old truck to a local church near Archidona in Napo Province. The sky was clear and cloudless this morning, but I knew that could change quickly. Within a few hours, the rain fell like a waterfall from the sky and could continue for the rest of the day. The weather in the Amazon rainforest is unpredictable, so I always have a rain jacket and boots with me.
That day I didn't care about the extreme heat and high humidity because I wanted to know where this mystical leaf, guayusa, really came from. As we approached the local community, which consists of a cluster of 10 to 12 wooden houses clustered around a sports field, I felt the peace and connection with nature that only the Kichwa Indians experience as this is their daily life is. Most of these indigenous communities are several hours away from major cities and a few more hours off the road into the jungle. There is no cell phone signal, not even for phone calls. There are no pipes that transport purified water, because they use the water that flows down the mountains via rivers. The only visible trace of modern life is a flimsy pole from which hang two wires that supply electricity to households. "There aren't many job opportunities here," a local Kichwa told me.
We can only live from the harvests in the jungle, that's our only source of income.
I was struck by the irony that these Kichwa families do not have enough income to support the basic living standards of the Ecuadorian economy, yet they live in the midst of our planet's richest treasure: the Amazon jungle.
The farmer led us on a walk into his chakra, off the muddy road on a path surrounded by lush vegetation, thousands of plants and life in every inch. We went down a hill and our guide used his machete to hack our way through the wilderness and reach his family's Guayusa plantation. Suddenly my hand started to hurt. "Something bit me!" I said and felt a lot of pain. The Kichwa kindly came to me and after looking at my hand he said: "It is poisonous and you will be dead by tomorrow". My heart froze for a few seconds and my face turned white as snow until the old man burst out laughing along with other members of the community. "I'm just kidding," he said, "you just got stung by an ORTIGA leaf. You'll be fine." I tried to join in the group's laughter, although I thought the joke was a little dark since we were in the middle of the jungle and I wasn't used to seeing the dangers around.
After trekking between mud, shoals and vegetation for about 45 minutes and also feeling the extreme heat mixed with my own sweat, we reached a small hill. There it was, right before my eyes. Thousands and thousands of Guayusa trees in the middle of the forest in the shade of big old trees. I recognized Guayusa immediately. I had longed for this encounter for so long, and now it had become a reality. We took lots of photos and sampled the Guayusa trees. The farmers showed us how to harvest the leaves and place them in the traditional "canastas" (leaves folded and threaded onto a string).
Now it was time to get back to our truck because without us realizing it the sky was full of clouds and we could feel the rain coming. We quickened our steps but could not prevent the water from falling from the sky. A few drops in my face and then there was a huge storm with thunder. It wasn't scary or cold. It was refreshing and it felt good, but we knew we had to go back as soon as possible. We walked up and down, crossed small rivers and climbed over rocks in a few places, and I was soaked from the Amazon rain. Finally, after a long walk, we reached our starting point and jumped in the car to head back into town. Before we left, the Kichwa man thanked me for visiting them. He asked when we could buy Guayusa from him and I replied "Very soon, in the next few weeks. We are working hard to bring Guayusa to places in the world where it has never been before". He said we could come back anytime and that he would wait for us. "The trail you just hiked is our daily route to the guayusa harvest. We carry the heavy sacks all the way a couple of times to sell the produce and provide an income for our families." After this experience, I will never forget the uniqueness of Guayusa tea. Every time I take a sip of hot and freshly brewed Guayusa tea, I think of the distant and remote places this magical leaf came from. Being able to recharge your batteries and wake up through nature is simply amazing. This is what every Guayusa leaf needs to reach millions of consumers in the world.
This is the journey of each Guayusa leaf.