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    What’s The Jagua Story?—Part III

    What’s The Jagua Story?—Part III

                                                             Pascal helps with jagua extract preparation

    When we left off last week, Pascal was running around trying to find a few more items to bring as offerings to members of the Matsés. The next morning, departure for the Matsés village was set for 5AM. That’s when he realized that the “boat” was nothing more than a dugout canoe outfitted with a motor. And thank goodness for that motor because, without it, the 8-hour ride would have lasted three days!

    In the foggy, gray dawn, several men worked furiously to load the canoe with all of Pascal’s supplies, Mr. X’s supplies, as well as Daniel’s own bulky packages (when you live in the heart of the jungle, there is always lots of shopping to be done when you go to the city). Upon completion, everyone noticed that the canoe was sitting way to low in the water. There was nothing to be done but to transfer everything into another, slightly larger canoe and hope for the best. When the task was done, the canoe sat just 4 inches above water. Still, this was an improvement over the 2 inches in the other!

    The next 8 hours on the mythical Amazon river were a combination of very hard benches as seats, humidity, extreme heat, and a breathtaking jungle landscape made up of, you guessed it, trees, trees, trees, majestic and endless, punctuated by flocks of exquisitely colored butterflies. A magical journey, for sure. Pascal said he felt like he was in the most remote place on Earth.

    There’s lots to tell—the welcome he received, the community meeting, where he handed out all the offerings, the food he ate while there (basically mashed plantains, rice, beans and very tough, gamey chicken every day), his rugged sleeping accommodations, the negotiations for pricing of the fruit and the associated work of getting it down to juice form, and other aspects of life in the Amazon, which cannot be condensed here.

    Next came the expedition into the jungle by two groups of Matsés men to look for the jagua fruit. As Pascal waited for the men to return, there wasn’t much to do except relax, take siestas, shoot photos and video, hang out with the kids, watch the guys play soccer, and interact with the resident monkeys and parrots. Upon their return, both men and women set to work peeling, squeezing, sifting, and then boiling and re-boiling the juice to reduce it down to extract; then bagging the juice for transport back to the States.

    After three weeks, Pascal arrived back in the military outpost, and was greeted with the news that there would not be a plane leaving for Iquitos for another week! He reluctantly headed back to the crappy hotel with the filthy mattress and hot, stinky room, but was saved at the last minute, when Daniel offered to put him up at his brother’s place. Five very slow days later, he heard that an aid group returning from the jungle had chartered a plane to Iquitos, and he was able to buy a seat. Yay!

    The next day found Pascal on a flight back to Lima, a gorgeous trip over the Andes, past mountains and an infinite sea of clouds. That night, to kill time, he visited his hotel bar and ordered a traditional Peruvian cocktail called Pisco sour, which made him sick, and he spent the whole terrible night throwing up. At the airport the next day for his flight back to Los Angeles, shockingly, he got no trouble from the customs agents. And why should they hassle him? After all, he was only carrying several large, bladder-like bags filled with a strange black substance!

    What's The Jagua Story? - Part II

    What's The Jagua Story? - Part II

    Last week I posted about how we got started in the jagua tattoo business, and about our introduction to the Matsés people, who live in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon jungle and harvest the jagua fruit we use in our Earth Jagua kits. I gave the condensed version, and promised more details for those who might want to know more.

    So let me start by filling in some holes on exactly what it takes to get to the Amazon. The flight from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru is 8 ½ hours with a four-hour layover (in the middle of the night) in the Lima airport before the next flight out to Iquitos. Pascal was met in Iquitos by the American facilitator, whom I referred to as Mr. X in my book, Jagua—A Journey into Body Art from the Amazon. I shall continue to call him Mr. X because, well, if you can’t say anything nice… He did provide the all-important introduction and vital information needed for the formalities involved in doing business with indigenous peoples, and for that we are very grateful; but suffice it to say that he was very challenging to deal with, engaged in some unsavory practices and for several years now, for good reasons, the Matsés no longer have anything to do with him.

    The most important advice Mr. X conveyed to Pascal was The List. Upon first meeting with any indigenous group, you must come bearing gifts, otherwise you are considered extremely rude, especially if they view you as an “important visitor.” The list was long. He suggested that Pascal arrive with much-needed antibiotics, anti-bronchitis, anti-flu and stomach flu medicines, as well as anti-malaria pills, aspirin and more medial supplies. In addition, he needed to show up with some basics, like machetes, files, fishhooks and fishing lines, as well as t-shirts for the kids, pots and pans and jewelry beads for the women, hammocks, netting, rubber boots and other gear considered valuable to the community. Pascal’s time in Iquitos was mostly spent running around in mototaxis, going from one pharmacy to another and to the Belen open-air market, which is packed with pickpockets and back-to-back stalls selling a mind-bending variety of wares, including food and second-rate merchandise from China.

    After three days in Iquitos, Pascal’s next destination was a military outpost and launching pad for the motorized canoe, which would take him into the Matsés village in question (he thought he was going there by boat, but it turned out to be a dugout canoe). When he arrived at the airport, even though he had reservations, he was told the flight was booked solid. He had two options: 1) Wait one week for the next scheduled flight, or 2) charter a plane himself, which means shelling out the money for 12 seats. Reluctantly, he went for option #2.

    Pascal and Mr. X boarded the flight, and after two hours of nothing but green, impenetrable jungle, a clearing appeared and they landed on a tiny, deserted airstrip. Next up was a half-mile-long hike (with all the gear) to reach the military outpost, whose one hotel was filthy. The only furniture in Pascal’s room was a foul-smelling mattress with no sheets! But his first meeting with Daniel, Chief of the Matsés, went very well. They hung out and talked for a couple of hours, but it was getting dark and there was more shopping to do, this time for foodstuff like sardines, eggs, bread, cooking oil and rice, along with water and gasoline. If you’re planning to do business in the Amazon, don’t forget your wallet!

    Tune in next week for the next and final leg of the journey!

    In the meantime, do check out our brand new website (we’re so jazzed!), where you can find Grrrrreat deals on our Earth Jagua black temporary tattoo kit for the holidays. And while you're visiting our site, do sign up for our newsletter so you can receive notifications of these weekly blog postings, and special stuff like our upcoming Holiday Specials!

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    What’s The Jagua Story?

    What’s The Jagua Story?

    People so often ask how we came to be involved with jagua and the Amazon that I thought I’d write it down and point people to our blog! To my husband Pascal and me, we were just doing what we always do—walk through a promising door when it opens. But people keep telling us how unusual the story is, so here goes. I’ll give you the condensed version.

    We were minding our business selling our Earth Henna tattoo kits when we heard about the jagua fruit. Always on the lookout for a natural stain that would look like a real tattoo, I Googled to see what I could find. I happened onto an article written by an American ecologist and conservationist living in the Peruvian Amazon. In it he had posted pictures of himself hanging out with members of the Matsés people covered in what looked like tribal tattoos, but the caption mentioned that the body art was made with jagua.

    I emailed the author of the article and explained that for 12 years our company had been buying the entire harvest of one family of henna farmers in Morocco. I said we would love to establish a relationship with the Matsés people as our source for the jagua fruit. He was eager to help the Matsés establish economic viability, and readily facilitated the introduction. No trees are cut down to create our product. If not for us, the jagua fruit—which grows in profusion there—would just fall to the ground and rot. Win-win!

    Not long after, Pascal found himself on a plane headed for Lima, Peru. From there he took another plane to bustling Iquitos, the gateway city to the jungle; a tiny military transport plane then flew him to another village; from there an 8-hour, hot, humid and mosquito-filled canoe ride deposited him in the village where 200 Matsés people live. Daniel, the 38-year-old chief of the group, spent the next three weeks showing Pascal how they harvest the jagua fruit and turn it into the juice we use as the base of our Earth Jagua gel. He and Pascal established a system for how they would ship the juice to us, as well as a communication protocol since there are no phones or internet available in the Amazon jungle!

    The jagua tattoo business isn’t always easy, and is quite often tricky—luckily Pascal and Daniel both speak Spanish (the older, and uneducated Matsés only speak Matsés!). Still, nuance sometimes gets lost and misunderstandings occur; shipments can get delayed by the famously capricious Peruvian customs agency. This is a major concern since the juice must be as fresh as possible when it arrives to us in Los Angeles (this is why we use citric acid, a natural preservative, to keep it that way while in transit). Once here, we have each batch tested for bacteria and parasites, then we send it to a facility, which freeze-dries the juice so that our Earth Jagua kits can have a shelf life while they wait to be scooped up by customers in retail stores and online.

    The trouble is worth it, though, because people lovelovelove their jagua tattoos! It’s a sustainable product, which helps support a very economically challenged people. We help pay for the group’s malaria medicine each year, and help them out with other issues, when necessary, and they provide us with the means to make people happy, pay our bills and keep our staff employed. All good stuff.  I’ll expand on the story in my next blog!

    If you’d like to try out an Earth Jagua Black Temporary Tatttoo Kit, do it now! You can get 15% off and Free Shipping on all henna and jagua kits, just in time for the holidays.

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