Few places on Earth seen as exotic as the Amazon rainforest. It is a place where danger lurks everywhere and a painful death is not far from one's imagination. It remains largely unexplored, exotic and even a bit scary.
So, of course, we had to go. But we went in style and luxury spending five days at a jungle lodge just off the Napo River, which starts in the eastern Andes (with Cotapaxi, the erupting volcano, as one of its sources) and is one of the tributaries of the Amazon River.
Kerry has already done a pretty detailed description of our time in the jungle. Rather than repeat everything he said about it, if you're interested, you can find his post here, complete with some photos.
The rainforest is a fascinating place. Before going I knew it absorbs much of our carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. I also knew there was a wide variety of plants and animals, many of which have benefits we could use in our lives, and that what we knew about is likely only a portion of what's there. And, I knew there were some awesome animals.
But even though Kerry and I have been in the Amazon rainforest before, this time we learned so much more, due entirely to our guides, who were beyond fantastic. We had with us, both a naturalist guide and an indigenous guide. The naturalist guide knew so much about everything in the rainforest, and his English was perfect - he had lived in the US for six years. There's no better way to keep kids engaged and interested than speaking their language with their cultural references. Our indigenous guide was quiet, patient, and had a fantastic set of eyes. How he could spot a wee frog that looks like a leaf hidden among leaves astounds me.
I know people go to the rainforest expecting to see jaguars, caiman, tapirs, monkeys, macaws, toucans, and a wide variety of other animals, but after this trip I've realized that's not where the magic of the rainforest lies. To me, the magic can be found in the minutiae of this giant area. There are the nonstop sounds that surround you if you take a moment to listen, which at night, in the pitch black, can't really even be described. The good work that the beetles, grubs and other insects do breaking down the dead and decaying wood. How the lemon ants clear out a wide area for the specific trees that provide the lemon ants a home. How the indigenous use the soldier army ants as stitches to mend cuts. How the indigenous know and use so many of the plants to cure what ails them. How the falcons have learned to come up under the trees to catch squirrel monkeys rather than soar and dive from overhead.
|Lemon Ants: clear the land for the trees upon which they make their home. |
And they taste pretty good too - little explosions on lemon with each one.
What also struck me on this journey into the rainforest was the development. And not just tourist development, the oil development. All along the river there were clues - and not so subtle ones - that oil companies were leaving their mark: big trucks parked on the river banks - you know there's a road in there for these diesel beasts somewhere, ferries filled with oilfield equipment or vehicles and pushed by tug boats, flares, odd development that looks industrial surrounded by fencing. And I guess with oil being the main export of Ecuador, with the substantial reserves in the Amazon, it's not surprising to see this development - even within their National Parks.
More surprising to me though was learning about an uncontacted indigenous group in Ecuador. There is a group of about 200 people, maybe?, who speak a language with no known origin. They don't live close to a river, but rather deep in the jungle. Sadly, as the oil companies come and develop they impact food sources and supplies for other indigenous groups. These groups then slowly start to move and relocate to be closer to food, but that movement brings them closer to the uncontacted group who prefer to remain uncontacted. It's no surprise then when skirmishes erupt between the indigenous groups.
I appreciate that's an oversimplification. And as tempting as it is to want to prohibit all development, why should we keep Ecuador from developing its natural resources when the first world happily does so. But it seems different somehow when the resources are deep within the Amazon rainforest; a place where you can see first hand the delicate balance among plants and animals and people. A place worthy of protection, but seemingly without it. I know I don't have the answers, but I wish someone did.
If you're interested in a few more details, here are a couple of links to stories about the impact of oil development, indigenous groups, and the uncontacted tribe in Ecuador that I found rather interesting.