Amazon Adventure Part I

The word Amazon conjures in the imagination wildly primitive, exotic images – lush, dense tropical forests, steamy days bathing in wide anaconda infested rivers, grass huts, exotic foods, colourful and diverse wildlife, and some of the most preserved indigenous civilizations on the face of our planet. Those images are spot on!

The Amazon is one of the largest, most stunning, biologically diverse, most complex and highly endangered ecological regions in the world. Spanning over nine countries – Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Venezuela – its basin covers seven million square kilometres and represents half of the world’s forests.

It is said to be home to 2.5 million insect species,  and at least 40,000 plant species, 2,200 fish 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles species have been scientifically classified in the region.

The Amazon is in trouble. Ecuadorian Amazon’s 12,000,000 hectares of humid tropical forest is under particular threat from resource exploitation – mainly from deforestation and oil drilling and extraction.

Yasuní National Park Biosphere Reserve is one of Ecuador’s largest ecological reserves, is so rich in biodiversity that it is known as ‘the lungs of the world’. Like much of the Amazon, Yasuní is under threat from oil drilling and now the race is on to save of one the world’s greatest natural reserves.

The Save Yasuní fund was established last year by an Ecuadorian Government special envoy set up to raise the funds required to establish renewable energy programs in the aim of lessening the impacts from petroleum.

Our stay in Cuellaje was one of the highlights of our entire trip to South America, but we had heard so many good things about experiences in the Ecuadorian Amazon that we decided we just had to go, see and experience it for ourselves. Speaking from our recent experience, what better way to experience the ‘real’ Oriente than to lend our time, volunteer and stay with a family in a remote community.

The sustainable development and tourism issues in that part of the world are many. Too many to even touch the surface in one week’s worth of volunteering.

Tena is also touched by unsustainable practices, reforestation and cultural disparition, but the recognition of such outside of Ecuador is at a far lower virtually nill, while the majority of international efforts focus on Yasuní and Brazilian Amazonia.

Before arriving we contacted Ramiro Aguinda, coordinator of a project in Jatun Yacu, to express our interest in volunteering and homestay options. He told us there was an urgent need in the Amazon for help in sustainable tourism and environmental education, and so we were off to Tena.

As we passed over the Cordillera de las Llanganates, the topography and flora rapidly changed from high altitude, sub-tropical mountain ranges to dense, lush jungle swaying to a chorus of birds and insects. We had arrived in the Amazon.

Tena is the capital of the Napo province in Ecuador’s Oriente – Amazonia Ecuatoriana. It’s nicknamed the ‘cinnamon capital’ after the enormous amount and diverse types of cinnamon trees found here and its surrounding areas. The two main rivers to run through here are the Napo and Pano rivers. An Amazon tribitury, Napo is the largest at 1,075 km long – it can take you all the way to Peru.

Tena itself is nothing special, but it’s the people, jungle, rivers and waterfalls that surround this city that we came for. It is a hub in the Amazon for foreigners. Although far from being touristy, it has a large expat community of mostly French and Germans. The city and its communities also serve as a base for many volunteers (like us) that come here to work on reforestation, ecotourism and capacity-building projects.

We only stayed in Tena one night before heading out to the indigenous Kichwa community of Jatun Yacu where we would be staying for the next week or so with a lovely family, living by their customs and eating their food.

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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