Amazon Adventure Part II

We arrived at our host family’s home by taravita (Spanish for rusty and life-threatening cable car) late the next afternoon after walking through sweltering heat and pouring rain from the bus drop off point a few kilometres away.

Apparently few volunteers venture out this way, preferring the creature comforts of life in the city. All the better for us.

Our hosts were a Kichwa family of 17 children (yes that is no typo!), that live in a traditional timber, raised house on their land by the Jatun Yacu River. They live with their cheeky parrot, two cats (that are now five after one had kittens), three dogs and the cutest puppy I’ve ever laid eyes on. There are only four children left at home, but two of them live here with their small children too.

Their first language is Amazonian Kichwa but they make an effort for our poor ignorant souls to speak Spanish, and even a little French.

They introduced us to Wayusa, a potent medicinal plant used to make tea (traditionally the women of the house would wake up at 4am to make a pot for the men before their day’s work), and we spent the rest of the week living as local Kichwas. There is only bare bones electricity for light, natural air conditioning (i.e. open walls), they do have a gas stove but also cook a lot outside on the open fire. And the toilet and shower are the great outdoors, au natural.

Almost all of their food, save rice and the occasional treat for the kids, comes from the terrain around them. All families in this community have their own finca (small farm) on which they cultivate all type of vegetables including yuca, yuyu (a green herb eaten mainly with rice) and palmitos. Just about every tree, plant and herb is eaten here. The father regularly spends his afternoons catching something that resembles a catfish from the Jatun Yacu River.

One day as we were sitting around by the fire carving out morocco fruits to make artisanal cups, we had a craving for chocolate. Whereas we might normally go to the supermarket and buy a block with a small amount of cocoa and the rest sugar and preservatives, this time we ventured into the jungle for our chocolate fix. With Ramiro and the father we headed into the scrub in search of cocoa pods.

We gathered the pods, took them back to the house, roasted them slowly over the fire and when they were a deep brown, shelled them and took them inside to grind them. Once the beans were ground into a fine paste, we added them to some canela (cinnamon) leaves we had brewing on the stove, to make spicy, delicious liquid gold. It’s not exactly the traditional Maya recipe, but it was absolutely scrumdidilyumptious and 100% organic. Try buying that at the supermarket!

Kichwa People are the main populace in Tena and surrounding communities. The first thing we learnt was that the little Quechua we learned in the Andes was not going to be of any use here. Amazon Kichwa is an entirely different language. Here the Kichwa language is actively being preserved. Although Kichwa is their first language, most Amazon Kichwas speak Spanish.

The people are proud of their language, culture and heritage and for the most part fight to preserve the language and cultural traditions by speaking the language at home, teaching it in schools, and living traditionally. There are still concerns though that with globalisation, international tourism and education in big cities, the youth of Kichwa communities are starting to loose certain traditions.

The Kichwa People have inhabited this part of the Amazon for thousands of years and still practice their traditional ways of life such as agriculture, hunting, fishing, and collection of trees and plants for food, construction materials, and medicine. Until colonisation, they were able to maintain a productive subsistence within the diverse ecosystems the Amazon offers.
When the Spanish arrived here in the 16th century, that’s when the large-scale exploitation of natural resources, and changes to traditional lifestyle started.

These days many of the communities around Tena contribute (albeit on a much, much smaller scale to the multinational companies) to the pollution and resource wastage in this part of the Amazon. Since industrialization, there has been a lack of education about things like waste disposal, and water and timber usage, which has consequently led to human and other waste being disposed of in rivers and other water ways, excessive water use and tree logging for timber.
Ramiro explained to us that in the past when they have been approached on these issues, the general response is “Por qué? We have the river to our disposal”…literally, it seems. So during our time here we brainstormed with Ramiro about ways to implement a campaign on environmental education and basic hand-washing hygiene amongst the schools and Kichwa communities outside of Tena.

Environmental awareness may not be high in these parts of the jungle, but the traditional Kichwa ways of living (exploiting natural resources) are under threat in the age of climate change, and jobs outside of the big cities are hard to find. So some are turning to eco-tourism as a way to conserve the environment around them ensuring economic stability.

Vicente Andi is one of those people. He established his eco-cabañas in Pano as a way to preserve and protect the environment, while providing his children with stable work.

The Cabañas Ecologicas Atuny are located on Vicente’s enormous 80 hectare property of lush virgin forest. It’s the perfect place for any nature lover. Within Vicente’s property there are waterfalls, nature trails, natural swimming pools and an abundant of native flora and fauna.

It was Ramiro that put us in touch with Vicente and his family. Living in the remote community of Pano, the Andi family aren’t exactly in touch with the digital world but are in need of marketing support for their venture. So that’s where we stepped in, to create a blog and other publicity for the eco-cabañas.
“Protecting or environment is important, said Vicente.

“We love animals and the environment, so we come up with the idea of the cabañas to help preserve that. Conservation is our main goal.”

The cabañas have limited electricity, run only by a generator, but Vicente ensures that its practices are as sustainable as possible with recycling of organic and non-organic waste, rain water capture for consumption, waste water going to a sceptic tank, and the majority of food served at its restaurant grown organically onsite.

We got to taste some of their yummy produce on our visit to the cabañas, as the family served us up some traditional Ecuadorian cuisine, followed by chichi, a fermented yucca drink. Then we were off with Vicente and his son as our guides to explore the surrounding forest on his gigantic property.

The forest is home to many species of birds including the famous toucan and mammals including bears, jaguars, armadillos, monkeys, tapirs, boars just to name a few. As we walked along the eco-senderos to the lookout point the two showed us the many plants and herbs they use from the forest to cure certain ailments, like very sour cat’s claw, also used to ward off bad luck.

Then night started to fall and our pleasant hike up through the jungle turned into an obscure, downhill adventure through the mud and trees and hoping not to put a foot or finger on any of the jungle’s giant snakes, spiders or congoes. The latter resembles an innocent bull ant, but invokes life-threatening fever, vomiting, body aches and swelling, much like a snake bite.

Back at the cabañas, Vicente put us up for the night in one of their log cabins. We were happy to help out with such a project and we wish Vicente and his family all the best.


2 Responses to “Amazon Adventure Part II”
  1. alvaro juan says:

    gracias por estar en nuestro programa de turismo comunitario atuny los voluntarios que estan en este programa sigan adelante con el proyecto invitamos a feriados de ecuador en tena napo a viajar y hospedarse en cabanias atuny pano de aventura de selva y rio ect. si desea estudias aves esta bien venido al lugar en natura libre gracias.

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