FROM CITY TO JUNGLE:
THE STORY OF JOANA AND THE NUKINI
Meet Joana, the young woman from Rio de Janeiro who left her life in the city in exchange for the jungle. It was her baffling story that led me to the Amazon, where I would learn about life with the Nukini tribe.
Meet Joana, the young woman from Rio de Janeiro who left her life in the city in exchange for the jungle. It was her baffling story that led me to the Amazon this past summer.
Rio de Janeiro is a city caught between water and rock, a place where nature and concrete violently compete for space. Sleek modern architecture lines the streets, ramshackle homes erupt along the mountainsides, roots and leaves creep through any crevice they can find. Together they form an organically shaped beast, breathing and pulsing in the sweltering heat. This is where Joana grew up—on the very streets where I spent childhood summers with my grandmother.
In Rio, nature will not be tamed, but neither will pollution, corruption, or traffic. As a little girl, Joana dreamed of seeing the Amazon before it was destroyed. As an adult, studying pharmacy at the Universidade do Brasil, she envisioned leaving the city to raise a family in the countryside. But something held her back: picking up and moving to a place where she didn’t know a single person—a place she had no connection with—held no appeal for her. Rio offered more than just good job prospects: it was home to a close-knit group of adventurous friends. It’s with this band of Romantics that she satisfied her desire for the great outdoors: any chance they got, they'd camp out on deserted beaches or retreat to the Atlantic forest.
In 2013, their wanderlust lead them to the Amazon: to the state of Acre, near the Peruvian border. A unique opportunity presented itself: they met someone who worked with native communities in the area, and they were invited to visit one of the local tribes, the Nukini. They would stay in their village for three weeks.
Flights alone won’t get you into the dense jungle of the Nukini lands. Out here, travel times don’t follow schedules—they’re dictated by the river’s mood and the size of your boat. Joana and her friends set out for a twenty-two-hour journey upriver. When they finally arrived, the boat pulled up to the shore in pouring rain and pitch-black darkness. Joana was exhausted and trying hard not to be afraid. But then she laid eyes on four muscular, painted men lined up on the river bank, and her fears promptly made way for curiosity. One of these men was Pedro.
Two years later, I find her living among the Nukini, pregnant with Pedro’s son.