2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

A Cure for Colds and Jungle‑Induced Salt Deficiencies

A Cure for Colds and Jungle‑Induced Salt Deficiencies

Chicken Soup in the Pãirepã indigenous Reserve

Morning had come, beckoning the elders to return from their cosmic travels. As the fog lifted from the treetops around the clearing in the jungle, the aging men removed the feathers from their septums, took off their ceremonial necklaces, and set down their wooden flutes.

None of us had slept. The <em>yajé</em>, or ayahuasca ceremony, that the elders of the Pãirepã community had invited me to document had lasted through the night.

It couldn’t have been any later than 7:30 in the morning, but I was already sweating again. I had arrived at the indigenous reserve in the Colombian Amazonian region late at night, hiking through the pitch black forest under a steady rain before arriving to the clearing where the ceremony took place.

I had wanted to see my surroundings as I hiked through the jungle in the dark, but was quickly told to keep my flashlight pointed down: shining it upwards into the canopy was sometimes used as a form of communication among the guerrilla groups hidden in the area.

As we hiked back down to the village, away from the thatch-roofed <em>malocas</em> in the clearing, I took in for the first time the beauty of my surroundings. One of the elders laughed and nodded as I expressed my delight in the flowers of every shape and color, the unidentifiable fruits, the monkeys and birds decorating the forest.

Eventually, we arrived at Aguas Negras, the village in the center of the Pãirepã indigenous reserve. I was led to a small, dark hut. Wood smoke drifted through the cracks in the walls; breakfast was waiting, I was told. I sat down at the table draped with a silky magenta tablecloth. A little woman emerged carrying a plate, which she sat before me. <em>Caldito de pollo</em>, chicken broth, and an arepa, a corn meal patty, fried to a golden brown.

Though this is a typical breakfast in many parts of Colombia, I can’t say I have ever enjoyed it as much as I did on this occasion. The flavor of the broth was complex, slightly sweet and smoky from the wood fire. The arepa, as always, provided excellent company to the soup. My host watched as I ate, pleased to see me suck every last shred of meat off of the small piece of chicken she had chosen for me.

It is hard to say what made the broth so delicious. It could have been the unique setting of the meal, or the generous hospitality of my hosts, the Pãirepã community. It could have been the chicken, raised on jungle insects and kitchen scraps. Or it could have been that I was most likely suffering from a salt deficiency after sweating so profusely in the jungle. Either way, it was a breakfast that I will not soon forget.

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