Meeting the Quechua people in the Amazon jungle

Over this past year, I’ve begun to realise what truly matters to me. Friends and family top the list – it’s certainly true that distance makes the heart grow fonder and being away from those you love makes you realise who’s important in your life.

I’ve also noticed what doesn’t matter to me. I used to be so obsessed with buying a new dress, a pair of shoes, or even a candle each week. Our bedroom was full of crap and our house in London was overflowing with objects that we’d collected over the four and a half years we lived there.

Eco tourism goods Amazon

Handbags made by the Quechua people in the Amazon

I previously believed all those things really mattered and when we sold some of this junk to fund our travels I felt sad to say goodbye to all those dresses and shoes I’d spent my hard-earned money on. And yet now I try to picture those clothes and objects and I can’t even remember any of them at all.

I spent so much time on things I thought improved my life only to find out they didn’t. I realised without these objects life’s a lot less complicated… and un-cluttered.

Life’s simpler without material things

I know that if we’d visited the Quechua people in the Amazon at the beginning of our nomadic lives, I would’ve pitied them. They live in huts they’ve built themselves and they sell handmade jewellery and bags to tourists to earn a living.

Poor them.

Quechua woman makes handicrafts

A Quechua woman twists natural fibres to make a handbag

I would’ve looked down my nose at them and thought that I was so much luckier to live in a two bedroom flat in the middle of London, surrounded by my materialistic stuff that I spent all my money on.

I wouldn’t have envied the Quechua people’s remoteness in the middle of the Amazon jungle, living in the wilderness surrounded by snakes and jaguars. I would’ve been smug that I have a kitchen that features a food processor and a large fridge.

But material objects are just that – material items that you ‘own’.

Thankfully though, we didn’t meet the Quechua people at the beginning of our trip, we met them 14 months in.

And my attitude on the way Dave and I live our lives is so different now. All we own is whatever we can carry on our backs, and far from feeling unlucky we feel as though we’re extremely fortunate to be able to live this way.

Two days ago our travelling buddy Kristin asked us if, because we’ve been travelling for so long now, we still have to pinch ourselves hard to be able to appreciate our lives.

Our answer?

Every day we’re pinching ourselves because we can’t believe we get to wake up every morning in a different corner of the world – a corner we’ve had the freedom to choose – and explore sights we’ve never seen. Whatever the opposite of mundane is, that would be the word to describe our lives.

Quechua food Amazon

Traditional Quechua food the locals fed us

And aside from having the freedom to choose where we venture, we also feel an immense freedom about not having material objects to tie us down.

It might sound ludicrous – I mean, how come something that’s an object tie you to a place?

But it does.

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to us, “I wish I could live your life but I have a mortgage / rent to pay / car / job that doesn’t allow me to travel,” I’d have thousands in the bank by now.

And the somewhat ironic thing is that people can still have these possessions in their lives and travel. It was only 18 months ago when Dave and I thought our own objects tied us to London. But boy, have our lives changed.

Quechua woman cooking fire Amazon

A Quechua woman cooks on an open fire

Meeting the Quechua people

When we met the Quechua people there was no doubt they lived a life without ‘luxuries’. As I said, a wooden hut was their home, they make their living from farming and eco-tourism, and hunt and harvest some of their food.

There wasn’t a smartphone or computer in sight when we visited.

And the old me would’ve pitied them for this

Isn’t it a shame they don’t have the latest gadgets? I would’ve thought.

Isn’t it a shame they can’t watch a movie on a flat screen TV or go on Facebook chat to talk to their mates?

But now I realise – they’re perfectly happy.

And perhaps they should be the ones pitying those of us living in the West with our so called ‘luxuries’.

We think Smartphones and a continuous internet connection make our lives better. But most of the time we’re so busy with things filling up our lives that we can’t appreciate the good stuff that we haven’t had to pay for.

Quechua child Amazon

The happiness of the Quechua people

I’ve got to say, the Quechua people were a happy bunch without the latest technology surrounding them.

Who would’ve thought a life without ‘luxury’ could bring so much joy.

They cooked on an open fire and had a toilet in a separate outdoor hut, and yet all I heard when I was there was the sound of children playing and adults laughing.

Nobody’s eyes were glued to their phone’s screen and there wasn’t a child in sight playing a game on an Xbox or on an iPad.

People were talking to each other and appreciating the life in front of them.

And then it hit me.

These people had so much ‘less’ and yet their lives were all the richer for it. 

And to me, that’s true luxury.

We could learn a lot from the way the Quechua people live their lives.

So go on, put down your phone now, or shut your laptop, and enjoy the people – not the items – that are right in front of you.

Have your own little slice of luxury. 

Thanks to the Sani Lodge for hosting our stay. As always, our opinions are our own.

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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