The shrill cry of cicadas and the squelching of wet mud around rubber boots fill my ears, as six of us trudge uphill through pitch-black jungle at 4:15 in the morning.
Arriving 20 minutes later at a neighbor's hut, which is enormous and hand-thatched with palm leaves, we quietly venture across the threshold, offering greetings of winyahai, and perch on a single wooden bench facing the man who'd invited us to his home for this: the traditional Wayusa tea ceremony that many Achuar still participate in every morning.
An orange fire flickers behind the man, whose Spanish name is Juan, leaving him completely backlit. Behind him and facing the fire, Juan's wife tends a tiny baby. At the far end of the hut, three small platforms draped with mosquito nets protect their other sleeping children, who will eventually stir and come over to watch.
On the ground between us rests a bucket, brimming with brown liquid and steeped leaves, that Juan's wife had prepared the night before.
One by one, we accept a large hollow gourd, which we take turns dipping into the bucket, and from which we'd been previously instructed to drink quickly.
The tea slides down my throat and into my belly, cool in temperature but feeling warm and expansive. I can feel it filling my insides, its effect disproportionate to the amount I've consumed.
With less than a gourd-full in my belly, I stand, exit the hut, stride to the edge of the clearing, and vomit.
Everyone else, including Juan, our Spanish guide Cuqui, our Achuar guide Nuham, does the same.
This, the Achuar believe, is an act of cleansing, of purification; of making way for the conversation to follow.
We re-position ourselves in our seats, and begin to share our dreams from the night before.
Bruce shares a dream he'd had about someone in his family -- which, to a casual listener, might seem worrisome or stressful -- a nightmare.
But Juan and Nuham listen and clarify that when we dream of family -- even when it seems negative -- it's a good thing; it means our loved ones are thinking of us, worrying for us, hoping we are safe.
In my dream, I'd been standing on the edge of a cliff alongside a person, or some kind of entity that felt like an ally or a friend. We had joined hands and leapt off the cliff together.
After listening, Juan nods and says in Spanish: "This means you will have a surprise."
Maybe, he says, the surprise is how flooded the jungle is now.
(After the plane had landed on an orange-dirt airstrip, and we'd schlepped the long way through the muddy jungle to the river, and been thoroughly drenched by sudden rain on the 40-minute canoe ride; we'd arrived at the trailhead to camp as night fell -- only to discover that it was under several extra meters of water. Thus, we had to duck and dodge while the canoe was steered via flashlight by intrepid villagers under tree branches through the flooded forest, until we arrived at a place from which we could hike. Then midway through the hike, a river appeared in the trail and swallowed the tops of our rubber boots, rising all the way to our waists. It was quite the dramatic start to the experience.)
"Or maybe," Juan continues, "the surprise is yet to come."
Our friend Kim, who came from Oakland to visit with her husband Barry, shares a dream she'd had about a white bird, which represents a baby or new person arriving in her life, as well as some visual patterns that Juan relates to the power animals, much feared and revered by the Achuar, of the Anaconda and the Jaguar.
Nuham shares a dream he'd had once, wherein his sister (who lives with her husband in Puyo, the closest city, near the airport we'd flown from) had appeared to him covered in strange tattoos, all over her arms and face, and she had refused to greet him.
He'd known, from the geometric pattern of the tattoos, that this dream meant danger on his path, in the form of an Anaconda.
The very next day, in real life, an aggressive Anaconda crossed his path, and Nuham was forced to kill it.
We discuss other dream meanings -- for example, if you have a sexual dream involving someone who is NOT your spouse, who is trying to tempt you, and you DON'T know that person in real life -- it means danger is about to cross your path in the material world.
However, if you DO know the person, and they appear in the dream to tempt you -- it means that they are disappearing from your waking life; that you won't ever see them again.
Hours later, we emerge from Juan's hut as the blue light of dawn seeps in across the threshold, and trudge back to camp through brightening jungle.
Later that day, we would accompany Nuham on a silent walk and watch him weave crowns out of palm innards with great concentration, placing them ceremoniously atop our heads; a craft his grandfather taught him for impressing a young woman you wish to make your girlfriend.
Nuham would explain how the forest is all things, supermarket and pharmacy; and everything is free.
He would demonstrate how to swiftly construct a backpack out of three different plants for when you have a bunch of fish or yucca to lug home for supper.
Back at camp, Bruce and I are sharing a hammock, which is strung up on an elevated platform a meter and a half above the mud.
Suddenly, the hammock snaps.
I tumble off the platform, striking the side of my butt on the wood before landing, miraculously, on both bare feet -- soft mud oozing gently through my toes.
Standing there braced and disoriented, I start to laugh, realizing that I am fine and have landed rather gracefully, like a cat.
Then my laugh becomes a yelp, as freshly disturbed fire ants sink their mandibles into the skin between my toes.
I pick them off and dance away; hours later, the top of my foot has swollen all the way up to the ankle.
Perhaps, I muse as I rub menthol on the puffy red skin, this was the surprise my dream had predicted.
The Achuar people are among the last tribes within Ecuador's borders to have successfully resisted big oil for more than 20 years.
Just across the border, they've seen how their Peruvian neighbors have been completely devastated after giving in to this pressure -- the forest and their way of life destroyed, forced to live in tiny shacks, one on top of the other, in exchange for a meager monthly income.
If you want to ensure that Nuham might one day be able to teach his 4-month-old son the same things he learned from his grandfather, and support the brave stewards of this incredible and generous place on which so much depends -- please gift your support to our indigenous brothers and sisters via the Pachamama Alliance today, or participate in their Awakening the Dreamer free online training.