Here is a narrative about a few days in Ecuador I spent in July of this past year. I wrote it for a magazine, who is having problems at the moment and have delayed the pub date.. Here is a sampling...
Dug out canoes, piranhas, remote Indian villages and pristine tree canopies are all the images conjured up when someone mentions the Amazon. The Amazon is usually associated with the grand country of Brazil as it’s the cornerstone for much of the myth and lore associated with this immense environment.
I was seeking something even more off the beaten track and far away from the packed boats of tourists and honeymooners making their way up the brown waters of the mighty Amazon River. I researched a bit and settled on a trip into the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. An area so remote that the nearest skeleton of a town is a 10 day walk through some of the most remote forest on the planet, which is home to the Achier Indians who live here among the elements as they have for hundreds of years.
Nestled deep in the community is the Kapawi Lodge, a truly immersed experience co created and now fully managed by the Achier community. Solar panels and organic food are just some of the methods to keep this lodge friendly to the environment and supportive to the local community, who called this their home long before the notion of eco-friendly travel.
I began my journey into the out there, from the capital city of Ecuador. Quito boasts a bustling, young city with an energetic mix of Indian and Mestizo culture. It rests at over 2800 meters and just 20 some odd kilometers from the equator.
I hustled a taxi from downtown and made it to the airstrip where I would catch a small plane on the first leg of what proved to be a long ordeal, which made my journey that much sweeter.
I had a few hours wait in a small room, drinking coffee that I still believe was not meant for human consumption. Clouds had formed and were preventing any planes from taking off from Quito, so I continued taking in the java and waited for an update. The alternative, as a perky Latin woman briefed me on with poetic Spanish, was to take a five-hour bus ride to the small town of Shell. This again was not so unattractive as it would give me an opportunity to smell the smells and see the eyes of some local’s enroute, so I was cool with settling in and letting fate take care of me. As it turned out, the sky cleared just enough for us to shoot through a window of blue and begin my first leg to a town on the edge of the Amazon Basin called Shell.
The flight was empty, aside from myself and three of my crew who were working with me to film a spot for Travel Channel about Sustainability and Tourism. The Kapawi was just the kind of place we were looking for because aside from the energy and food elements, there is a huge focus on integrating local community, which is where many “eco-lodges” drop the ball.
The clouds seemed to have closed up quite fast while in the air and all I could see was rain and gray as the plane jostled through some Latin American turbulence. After about an hour and a half, I could only feel our nose point down for a descent as the pilot garbled something about fastening our seatbelts and thanking us for flying with him today. I peered out of my window some more and was finally rewarded with a view of beautiful trees and forest just at the perimeter of a ramshackle town named aptly after the oil company which made this their base for a good many years; I was in Shell.
After a two-hour wait nibbling on papas fritas, our 4 seat Cessna was given clearance to take off into the drizzle. This smaller plane was more suitable to make the landing onto the tiny, dirt airstrip, which welcomed us to an Achier community called Wachirpas, on the banks of the Pastazas River.
Our landing was smooth as the cold beer I was imagining that might quell some of this tropical heat. We hit the strip and the props roared while the blank stares of the local Achier followed our plane down the rest of the runway. We taxied back up to the edge of the river and were met by some of the Kapawi staff that took the backpacks and flashed a few smiles as they shuttled our bags to the riverbank, where canoes waited to whisk me and the crew on the final leg of our journey into the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Finally, feeling the spray of one of the largest tributaries to the Amazon River hit my face. We had about a 45-minute jaunt up a side river to the lodge and I was enjoying every second, while thinking how this area has remained unchanged for a millennia. I felt as I was traveling through time, seeing trees, lush forest and the never-ending flow of Amazon water lap against the dark banks. I was in the Amazon basin.
We arrived upon a non-descript dock where we unloaded gear and were led into the forest by some of the Achier. The lodge itself was perched on the edge of a lagoon of the main river and was made of all natural material and local wood. I was also told that not one nail was used in it’s construction as it was built in traditional Achier fashion.
I must say, I have visited many lodges, resorts and eco dwellings in my day, and this lodge really blended in with the environment as natural as can be. The huts were on stilts over the lagoon water and all faced out to a beautiful expanse of trees and foliage. I felt as if I was staying at the home of one of your Achier hosts. Simple, clean and unique were the adjectives stuck in my head as I was shown to my cabana.
The sun began to set and I was sitting on my small veranda gazing into the trees’ reflection on the lagoon and listening to the pure silence only broken by the passing chirp of a bird or croak of a toad. It was clear I was part of this eco-system and not just looking at it from afar.
I woke up to a beautiful coffee and watched the mist rise from the lagoon straight out of a prehistoric landscape. The next couple of days were filled with fishing for Piranha on one of the many small tributaries near the lodge, hiking through the pristine forest, and hanging out with a Achier elder who spoke in his native dialect and revealed through a translator some of his wishes for the Western World regarding this, his home the Amazon.
One experience on my last night will stay with me forever I’m sure. Myself and a few of my crew went out in a dug out canoe with a couple Achier, to experience the river under a full moon at midnight. We began from the lodge, heading out through the narrow tributary through the forest, which was mysterious and beautiful, but nothing compared to the feeling that hit me when we reached the main Pastazas River. All of a sudden the expanse opened up under the light of the moon and we were dwarfed by the size of the river and her sounds. The river stretched 10 football fields across and disappeared into the darkness at each end. We drifted under the natural light and listened to the wind and the strange happenings beneath us.
The strange hydrology of the river was a bit spooky as we drifted about three miles with the current. These large boils of water would surface with a loud pop and a line of white water would follow a line into the darkness. It was explained to me that these boils are created from the ever-changing sand bottom of the river along with the unpredictable currents moving under us.
The Achuar believe these boils to be large Anacondas swimming about and the noise of the boils are the gnashing of the teeth from the underworld. It is easy to imagine that Anaconda when one hears the sound created by the water in the dark of the night out here. This was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life and I will always wonder about how alive this river is, coming off the Amazon.
As our time wound down and we prepared for our canoe trip and two flights out of the Amazon basin back to Quito, I could only try to digest all the amazing sights and sounds had from this glimpse into such a pristine environment. I have always subscribed to the idea that travel changes people and that everyone would benefit greatly by their own search for experience.
I have lived a lifestyle of travel and fortunately created a career from it, yet I am always thrilled from each new experience that comes my way in a far-flung place like the Amazon.