Into the Heart of the Amazon ~ How Long Will it Remain?

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” ― Rachel Carson

Yasuni National Park

Leaving most of our luggage behind in Quito, Ecuador, we packed only what we needed and flew to Coca on a puddle-jumper plane. It was definitely a jungle frontier settlement, wild and unruly. Locals in trucks cruised around the tiny, dusty town square looking for something to do, or hangout at one of the many bars or pool halls, also a gathering place for oil workers. Pick-up trucks served as taxis and the roosters had the right of way. Noisy monkeys dangled from the trees in the small park ready to pounce on any litter left behind.

Located in the Oriente region, Coca, is the gateway into Ecuador’s upper Amazon and gives access to the rainforest down the lower Napo River. It is an area of incredible biodiversity and home to two indigenous groups, the Hauorani and the Quichua.

We arrived at the landing and soon after, climbed into a motorized canoe with a tattered canopy and off we went. Lunch sacks were handed out to us as well as ponchos. It was suggested we put our rain gear on immediately and no sooner were we told that when the heavens opened up. It came down in sheets and the tarp hardly helped. I moved my backpack under my poncho and hunkered down while getting pelted by sharp stinging rain as the wind was driving it in on my side. If anything was left on the floor it was floating or waterlogged.

Motorized Canoes

I noticed how high and muddy the Napo River was and the debris and logs we had to avoid. A Quechua Indian sat on the bow giving the helmsman hand signals as to his steerage. The rain continued to pelt my face, but nothing compared to what the man on the bow was feeling.

Motorized Canoes

We docked at a small outcrop of thatched buildings and were transferred into two dugout canoes paddled by Quichuas.

Transferring to Dug Outs

We met our naturalist guide, Andres who was from Columbia, a young man, educated and knowledgeable. By now the rain stopped and the river had noticeably narrowed. Our small group of eight was under the same spell. We remained quiet and conversed in hushed whispers, not wanting to disturb the wilderness. Andres slowed the canoe to point out the magnificent scarlet macaws flying overhead and the Amazon kingfisher perched on a limb close by.

From the Dug Out Canoe

Tall heliconias and large ginger flowers were abundant along the swollen creek. Palms hugged the banks while shadows danced on the water from the light of the setting sun.  The jungle was raucous with monkeys announcing their presence. I had to pinch myself that I was here, so far from the civilization I know.

Wild Ginger Heliconia Rain forest Monkey

And then suddenly, our jungle laden creek opened up to a small, pristine lake…the Añangu Lake, surrounded by more rainforest.  Thatched cottages dotted the shore with a small boat dock jutting out. We had now arrived at The Napo Wildlife Center located in the Yasuni National Park, which was to be our home for the next several days. How fortunate I felt to be visiting this area, an important UNESCO Biosphere Reserve containing the largest tract of tropical rain forest in Ecuador.

Napo Wildlife Center

This trip occurred in 2007.  The same year that President Rafael Correa launched the Yasuní-ITT Initiative to protect the park’s natural resources. In other words to leave the estimated 850 million barrels of oil untouched in the Yusuni’s northeastern section known as the ITT block (named for the three oil fields it contains:Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini). What Correa wanted for this preservation of incredible rainforest was $3.6 billion in compensaton from the world by 2013 to not drill.

It is now 2013. After an evaluation of the plan, Correa announced on August 15th that he would dissolve the ITT initiative because only $336 million had been pledged, and of that only $13.3 million had actually been delivered.

This announcement has been such a blow to environmentalists around the world. It has stirred emotions and created outcries from the Ecuadoreans many of whom organized and or participated in marches recently.  Many know firsthand the effects of road building, deforestation, the moving of indigenous people from their native grounds, the endless oil spills into the Napo River, the life line of Ecuador’s Amazon, let alone the horrendous impact on wildlife and their ecosystems. Drilling for oil is nothing new in Ecuador. The fear is that it will continue, section by section and we know the rest of the story.

Tug Pushing Barge

In May, 2013, some friends of mine were coming back to Coca along the Napo River. The water became black as they came upon an oil spill. Slowly their boat plowed through the sludge while anyone with a cell phone was calling to get information. Plumes of smoke and fire could be seen off into the jungle. Eyes teared, lungs choked. She said that every emotion was shown: anger, tears, disgust, and sadness. Using the boat as a water taxi, a Quichuan family hitching a ride was close to home. This is the river they live off of. Not very promising.

There are two bloggers that I want to call attention to who jarred my memory of what is going on with the ITT. One is Sylvana, a passionate young college student, an Ecuadorean who loves her country and participated in the march for life for the Yasuni. She for one doesn’t want to see oil drilling in the ITT block. She feels there are other ways to address poverty. I applaud her efforts and loyalty to this cause.

The other blogger is Z of Playamart. She is an American expat who lives in Ecuador and has written about the ITT and has rebloged Sylvana’s blogs on the subject.  She also emphasizes how all nations have exploited their resources and environment, but how complacent we have become. Z reminds her readers that the Yasuni contains the last of the world’s magnificent jaguars.

And then of course there is National Geographic. For their 125th year edition in January, 2013, they featured the Yasuni National Park. In this 36 page spread they covered the  controversy with the ITT initiative, and  the lure of oil in the richest biodiversity area in the world. Their team of writers and photographers spent a month at the Napo Wildlife Center and surrounding area to do their research. They also covered the indigenous and their relationship with the land.

I am including a link here to a video of the photographic team in the field, how they gather data and photograph wildlife.  Very interesting.

The few days we spent hiking with naturalists, climbing an observation tower to look out over this incredible rain forest and to visit a clay lick that attracted hundreds of cobalt-winged parakeets was just part of our experience. By the end of two days, I had filled up three pages in my journal with names of insects, animals, birds and bats, not to mention the huge strangler figs, flora and fauna of the jungle. Night excursions on the lake in dugouts put us up close with caimans, spotting their red eyes in the glow of the flashlight. Bats hurdled themselves over our heads as they headed out for their night time feasting on insects.

Naturalist

Cobalt-winged Parakeets

Lizard

On one of our days, we observed a Shaman applying his art and knowledge of the mysteries of illness.  One of the women in our group, who was not feeling well and suffered from migraines, volunteered to be his subject. As he was chanting, he used a leafy branch to wave over her body. He even pretended to spit on her head, making deep guttural sounds. At the end of this exercise, she felt somewhat drained and then rejuvenated from the session.

Shaman

According to Scott Wallace, the National Geographic writer who wrote the article, Rainforest for Sale, relates that “jaguars are ancestral spirits that visit shamans in dreams to tell them where game is plentiful in the forest.”

We never encountered a jaguar, but the Yasuni National Park and this biosphere is rich with hidden secrets of undiscovered species.

How long will it remain that way?

Sunset on Anangu LakePhotos by Ron Mayhew

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About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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27 Responses to Into the Heart of the Amazon ~ How Long Will it Remain?

  1. What an amazing wilderness and it is horrifying to think that it will be churned up for the sake of oil revenue. We are facing the same fight here in South Africa. Oil companies want to start fracking in the Karoo which is a unique area of biodiversity. These oil companies seem to seek out the most beautiful places to destroy in their efforts to find oil and gas. Lovely photo record, Lynne! Thank you.

  2. silvana1989 says:

    Thank for share this important information Lynne, I appreciate so much did it, wonderful photos and great post

  3. You have worked hard at wanting to stop this, Silvana. I applaud your efforts. How is school going?

    • silvana1989 says:

      I’m not at school right now, I got scholarship to get a master degree but I have not started yet I still need decide Where to go (I´m still looking for universities) I will probably start next year, I´m managing my family´s restaurant and I have not had much time lately. I hope you and Ron are going well

  4. Lynne, I am saddened, disgusted, and also bewildered by the power of money, the displacement of the indigenous people, and the greed of a few. Your excellent article made me cry. Ron and I were thinking of going to the Yasuni National Park next March. We, too, planned on flying out of Quito. I guess we had better see for ourselves before all is gone. Maybe we’ll be too late. This is horrible. Thank you for your description of this unique and glorious place. Looks like we better hurry.

    • I do hope you and Ron really decide to go.What is going on shouldn’t stop you. There is still much to see and marvel at. Yasuni is quite large.What is sad is that my grandchildren and great grandchildren won’t be able to see it in this natural state. Thanks, Debbie for your comments and support.

  5. adinparadise says:

    The Rachel Carson quote is so poignant, Lynne. Ron’s photos are wonderful, and your narrative is spellbinding. How tragic that today’s so-called leaders have the power to totally wreck what Mother Nature has built up over eons. It’s shocking that Correa should hold the world to ransom on this for the sake of money. Greed is definitely one of the seven deadly sins.

  6. restlessjo says:

    It’s a totally surreal world to me, Lynne, and I cannot imagine myself there. But I totally applaud the efforts of Zee, Silvana and yourself to bring this situation to our attention.

  7. What a travesty… Ugh. I have to share this.

  8. Pingback: Deciding Yasuni´s future | monoaullador.

  9. vbholmes says:

    A moving article, Lynne, accompanied, as usual, by Ron’s spectacular photos. I have only been to Venezuela, but have always wanted to see more of South America and its natural wonders. Your posts make me even more anxious to check off some items on my wish list. Thanks for enlightening us about the probable disastrous results of Correa’s policies–very sad.

  10. When I began recounting our trip to The Napo Wildlife Center, I realized that the trip was just a springboard for covering environmental issues and responsibility. The irony of taking the trip in 2007 when Correa’s initiative took place and what is going on today really became my focus. I’m thankful we visited when we did. I would like to get to Venezuela, one day. I always appreciate your comments, VB.

  11. Tahira says:

    Not only moving but truly truly important, Lynne. The header quote by Rachel Carson is on point as well as touching – especially to this post. The pictures are truly a marvel, highlighting Mother Nature at her ultimate best. Exploration & greed indeed will always be around. I am grateful people like you are there to counter and stand in the truth.

  12. I appreciate your kind sentiments, Tahira. Seems like all we can do is write the truth. I sure can’t change policies or governments. Rachel Carson’s quote was a perfect one for this. I agree.

  13. Lynne, your posts take me on such wonderful adventures. Stunning photography, vivid colors and details, amazing tales of different people and places. I don’t even need a shaman to spit on my head to feel rejuvenated!

  14. What a kind thing to say, Marilyn. I’m pleased I can transport you along with me on these adventures…without the spitting. :) Thanks for you visit and support.

  15. Madhu says:

    Your opening quote packs a lot of punch! I hope i will see it someday and soon. It would be such a tragedy if we don’t ensure it lasts for generations to come. Thank you for spreading awareness with this special post Lynne, and thanks to Ron for the marvelous images.

  16. Acre by acre it disappears and we don’t even know it. My 11 year old grandson sat on my lap and went through this blog with me and asked me if it was too late for him. That is a sad thing to hear. Debbie from Retired in Nicaragua blog is going in 2014. It will interesting to hear her update.Thanks for you comment, Madhu.

  17. Bravo Bravo Bravo, amiga! I too have tears in my eyes – what a lovely and heart-felt post.. How lucky I am to have stayed up all night at this hostal (where I spent the night strictly for some internet time!)

    Am leaving in a few hours to visit the “Tulipe” archaeological site about an hour from Mindo.. I have about one more week of helping my friends,and I think I might be heading home to the riverhouse.

    Thanks again for this great post, for tipping your hat/pen/keyboard to Silvana, and for calling attention to the Yasuni.

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