The jungles of the Amazon are one of the last great wildernesses of the world, and have served as the siren’s call for explorer’s since time unremembered. Many have come here to never return, and just as many have come back with amazing tales of adventure and discovery, and it is a place steeped in legends, intrigue, and the unknown. It is a realm of lost tribes, strange mysteries, and weird beasts that roam the gloom, a place perpetually in a sort of shadow and existing unto itself. One very odd account that comes from these wilds is that of an intrepid explorer who came here looking for mysteries, and would soon get more than he bargained for, embarking on a quest that would include lost, uncontacted tribes and strange powers of the mind.
Loren McIntyre was a seasoned explorer, photojournalist, and writer for such esteemed publications as National Geographic, Time, Life, Smithsonian, GEO, Audubon, and South American Explorer, and was in many ways a sort of real-life Indiana Jones figure, spending much of his life doggedly exploring the forbidding, uncharted, and most impenetrable reaches of the Amazon rainforest of South America. Indeed, it was he who would be the first one to discover the source of the mighty Amazon River, when he made an expedition in search of it in 1971. He would make history when he found that the largest, longest, and most powerful river in the world began with a runoff of snow at a mountain in the Andes called Mismi, some 6,400 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, which trickled down to pond now called Laguna McIntyre, which in turn emptied into a brook named Carhuasanta, in Peru, after which it began its inexorable growth and meandering journey through some of the most remote wilds on earth. Yet, although this is McIntyre’s most famous discovery it certainly wasn’t his only one, and he would have a very mysterious encounter out in those jungles that he would keep to himself for years.
In 1969, McIntyre embarked on an excursion into the unexplored depths of the Amazon jungle of Brazil. His target was the little-known Mayoruna tribe, also called the Matsés, who were so elusive that they had never been successfully contacted by outsiders and were known as “The Cat People,” due to the arrays of imposing spikes that they wore implanted into their faces. Next to nothing was known about this enigmatic tribe, and they were only ever fleetingly glimpsed. They were like ghosts, and McIntyre had little to go on when he was basically dumped off on the shores of the Amazon River in a place called the Javari valley, on the border between Brazil and Peru, and left to continue on his own, penetrating into dense jungle that no outsider had ever set eyes on in an attempt to find these mysterious people. Little did he know that it would be they who found him.
As the brave, seasoned explorer made his way through mosquito infested jungle he got perhaps too focused on finding the lost tribe, and soon realized that he was hopelessly lost. His journey then turned into aimlessly wandering through the perilous wilderness, and it became obvious that he was not going to be in time for his scheduled pick up at the point where he had been dropped off. He began to resign himself to the fact that he just might end up another mysterious lost explorer, like his childhood idol Percy Fawcett before him, a fellow explorer who had mysteriously vanished while looking for a mythical city he called “Z.” Making this trek more ominous was when at some point McIntyre would stumble across a clearing littered with the bodies of what appeared to be four lumberjacks, half devoured by ants and with arrows sticking from their silent corpses.
This grim discovery had the explorer watching the trees carefully as he aimlessly wandered around half expecting death to come for him at any moment through the shadows, and more sure than ever that he would not see civilization again. It was as he was in this fog of panic and fear that some figures crept out of the forest before him, spikes embedded into their faces, necklaces made of bones, possibly human, around their necks, and looking upon him with a mixture of apprehension and surprise, but not aggressiveness. These were the Mayoruna, and this was the closest any outsider had ever gotten to them. At least any who were still alive.
The frightened explorer immediately and very slowly pulled out some gifts that he had brought in the event that he actually made contact. From his bag he produced some cloth and mirrors, which he dropped before the tribesmen as they looked on with inscrutable expressions on their pierced faces. They stepped closer to accept the gifts, and then seemed to beckon for him to follow them as they began to melt back into the forest. The weary McIntyre stumbled after them, barely able to keep up with their nimble navigation of the jungle, and so would begin the next chapter of his strange adventure.
They arrived at what seemed to be a makeshift camp full of other members of the tribe, and they seemed to show a strange mixture of curiosity and aggression towards him. Upon examining his tennis shoes they went about burning them to ashes, and his watch they found fascinating, but they destroyed that too. Indeed, most of his possessions would be either stolen from him or destroyed, and even his camera, which they oddly showed no interest in, was broken when a monkey descended from the trees to take it from him. Although there was no outright aggression against him, there were some grim reminders that he was very much in danger. He would claim that they possessed trinkets made of human bone and that they drank out of hollowed out skulls. They were also very well armed and never far from their bows, and one tribesman with red face paint, who he called “Red Cheeks,” took to menacing him and scowling at him.
McIntyre would end up staying with this lost tribe for two months, and during this time made many observations. He noticed that they were constantly on the move, perpetually moving to a new camp, sometimes suddenly and without warning, and they clearly had a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They also seemed to have no concept of individual possessions, freely sharing everything with each other and taking or using whatever they liked without repercussions. Even odder still, he noticed that these people often moved quite bizarrely in sync, knowing what the others would do or acting in precise tandem without speaking to each other. For some time, he pondered this anomaly, but he would soon learn that the explanation was far odder than anything that he had ever guessed at.
One day he was approached by the one he took to be the chief of the tribe, an ancient looking, sinewy and grizzled tree trunk of a man, covered in warty growths that would earn him McIntyre’s nickname “Barnacle.” When the chief approached he spoke to McIntyre, and the explorer found that bizarrely, after weeks of being unable to understand anything any of them had said, he clearly comprehended what Barnacle had to say. This utterly perplexed him, but he soon realized that this chief was not moving his mouth when he spoke, and that he was talking directly into his mind, using a sort of telepathy that McIntyre would later call “beaming,” and which Barnacle called “the other language.”
Barnacle explained that the tribe existed as a sort of hive mind consciousness, and that their thoughts were all linked to each other, although only the tribal elders were proficient at focusing this telepathic power and truly using it to its full potential. Here he learned that there was no real “self” as Westerners would think of it, and that to them the concept of an individual “self” made little sense. The chief also telepathically explained that they were under constant threat from loggers and other outsiders, and that the reason the tribe moved so often was that they were on a spiritual journey to what he called “The Beginning,” or the literal beginning of time, where they hoped to be beyond the reach of the intruding outside world. Indeed, the tribe seemed to have a very strange grasp of how time worked that was rather alien to anything the explorer was familiar with. A 1991 article in The Los Angeles Times about McIntyre’s bizarre experience explains the tribe’s philosophy on time as follows:
The main feature of time, by western definition, is its passage. But for the Mayoruna, time is at once mobile and static. It moved with man, stopped with him, advanced and retreated with him. It is not the implacable judge, condemning man to a tragically brief life. Time is a shelter, an escape into safety and regeneration, a repository whose chief function is not piling up the past, intact yet dead, but rather keeping it alive and available. And, in the face of violent encroachment on their land by white settlers, that past assisted them with an alternative to a menacing present.
The chief invited McIntyre to come along with them on their journey to “The Beginning,” and for the next few weeks he followed them on their mystical quest and engaged in their rituals, often taking psychoactive jungle concoctions that warped his perceptions. He found that if he concentrated he could pick up on a sort of static fuzz that contained the interlinked thoughts of all of the tribe members, through processes he could never hope to fathom. However, he knew at some point he would have to part ways with them and try to leave this land of jungle, telepathy, and time travel behind him to get back to the civilization that was no doubt convinced he had vanished. The only problem was that he had no idea where he was, and on top of this, although he had been invited and was not physically threatened by the Mayoruna in any way, he had no illusions that he was anything other than their prisoner, and wondered what they would do if he tried to flee. However, in the end the decision was made for him, a flood swept through during a torrential rain, and McIntyre would be whisked away as he clung to a balsa raft, emptied into the river and incredibly found the next day by a pilot flying over.
Upon getting back to civilization, McIntyre would keep what had happened to him a secret for years, and it is quite likely that the whole fantastical tale would have died with him in 2003 if it hadn’t been for a Romanian-American writer, director and movie producer, by the name of Petru Popescu. In 1987 Popescu met McIntyre by chance while on a river boat trip up the Amazon River. The two men hit it off, and for some reason McIntyre confided to him about what had happened all of those years ago with the mysterious Mayoruna tribe. It was all rather amazing, and when Popescu asked why he had never told anyone about it, McIntyre said that he didn’t think any one would ever believe him, and he had been worried about maintaining his reputation as a respected explorer, writer, and photographer. He would say of this:
I’m pretty reluctant to voice very much about the beaming experience because I didn’t want my friends to think I’d gone around the bend. ‘What is this? The guy’s hallucinating?’
Popescu would finally manage to convince McIntyre to let him write a book on his adventures, and in 1991 released The Encounter: Amazon Beaming. The explorer would claim that in his dealings with dozens of other tribes in the same region he had never before or since experienced anything like he did during his time with the Mayoruna, and he did not know what became of them. We are left to wonder just how much of this account is true, and if it is just what was going on with these elusive people of the jungle. The tribe itself has sort of disappeared, they have never been formally studied, and since McIntyre passed away in 2003, we are left only with Popescu’s book as a window into this strange tribe and their world and ways. One wonders if they are still out there, or if they managed to make that journey to “The Beginning,” finally at peace and forevermore out of our reach.