Jungle Journey: Living With an Isolated Amazon Tribe

ABC News anchor lives in Amazon village where no reporter has been before.

ByABC News
September 21, 2008, 1:58 PM

Sept. 22, 2008— -- `We're about three hours into a 10-hour boat ride up a tributary of the Amazon River when it really sinks in that we're entering a different universe.

One of our guides is using a machete to kill a pair of poisonous snakes slithering around on the riverbank, right where I'd been standing moments earlier. And he's laughing about it.

We're heading upriver to a place no reporter has ever been before: a remote jungle village, home to isolated Indians who, in many ways, live now as they have for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

We got the idea for this trip after seeing pictures that came out in May of "uncontacted" Amazonian Indians. The aerial photos show naked warriors, painted red, aiming arrows at a plane flying overhead. The pictures caused a sensation, giving millions of people the feeling that they were staring across a chasm at their ancient selves.

(There was some controversy about whether those photos were legitimate. The paper that started that rumor recently ran an apology.)

We obviously couldn't visit the Indians in the pictures. They clearly don't want visitors. What's more, we carry germs to which they are not immune.

However, when we reached out to the group that publicized the photos, Survival International, which advocates for Indians worldwide, they were able to get us extremely rare access to another isolated tribe, called the Enawene Nawe.

Voyage to Remote Village

The members of this tribe have had enough exposure to outsiders to develop immunities. They have also had enough exposure to know that allowing in a reporter might help them get their story out -- because the Enawene Nawe believe they are in mortal danger.

My producer, Almin Karamehmedovic, and I take the interminable journey up the river to the tribe's village with a representative from Survival International, Fiona Watson, who will be translating for us.

En route, we're assaulted by blinding heat and enormous, dive-bombing insects. We have no idea what to expect when we get there.

We're hoping to arrive at the village during daylight. But as our boat chugs along, the sun gets low in the sky and it gets completely, utterly dark.

At one point, using only flashlights to see the way, our drivers pull over to the side of the river to kill a sleeping crocodile.

Fish jump out of the water and whiz through the air. One of them lands in the boat.

When we finally arrive at the village, it's the middle of the night.

In the exhilarating early moments, we see Indians emerging from the darkness in various states of undress. We see a tree full of green parrots. We see the obscure outlines of the huge, communal huts in which the Enawene Nawe live.

For a people who deliberately shunned the outside world until recently, they are remarkably friendly.

One of the first people we meet is nicknamed "the Bear." It's not for nothing that he got this name. He's a strapping young guy with a big, easy smile and a high-pitched laugh. The Bear grabs a bunch of our bags and announces that we'll be staying with him.