The Amazon Amazes: river adventure, exotic birds and indigenous connection
From Quito, Ecuador, a small plane takes us into the heart of the Amazon jungle.
Our story of adventure is about to begin. Here, on the Eastern edge of the great Andes Mountain range, the Amazon’s vastness expands seemingly in all directions. This is truly one of the world’s great ecosystems. If we are to feel truly refreshed, even changed, by our travel experiences, what better way to do it than to get off-grid, and paddle into otherworldly places. When we land we meet our river guide, Diego. He is a sinewy man with generous eyes. He smiles in our direction, with an easy confidence. You get the sense that he has done this many times before: taken adventurous souls into Ecuador’s Amazon.
While we have arranged a river houseboat for our journey (with comfortable sleeping quarters), it is the canoe portions on the river that seem to set the scene and tug at our hearts. Canoes are as old as civilization itself, dating back to around 8000 BC. There is something about plying one of the Amazon’s great rivers under manual power, led by guides whose families have lived here for 1000s of years. We are on the Rio Napo, one of the many tributaries that feeds the mighty Amazon River. Endlessly recharged by its source in the Andes, the Napo flows east, crossing through Peru and then into the Brazilian jungle.
Canoeing on Rio Napo at sunset
It is remarkably quiet here.
When no one is talking, you hear only the soothing sounds of paddles in water. But it is never long before a bird takes off from a branch and cuts high, or cuts low across the water. With over 1500 species of birds, Ecuador offers more bird diversity than any other country in the world. Before arriving, we talked much about Ecuador’s incredibly colorful macaws. The brilliant reds, greens and blues of their plumage, and how they like to fly in twos. It would seem even birds enjoy “the buddy system”.
Red Macaw in flight
Diego points at some section of jungle. A rustling, low in the tropical branches. Is it a jaguar I ask? Could be, he says, but probably not. Historically, Ecuador’s jaguars lived in large numbers along Ecuador’s Pacific coast, but loss of habitat (coastal deforestation) has stressed these populations. With a hint of pride, Diego notes that efforts to protect jaguars on the Amazon side of the Andes mountains, as well as in the Cloud Forest, are working. Perhaps we will yet catch site of one of these majestic cats at water’s edge.
A journey to a place like this has become more desirable in the last couple of decades, as we seek out untouched places. But still, it doesn’t get the numbers that, say, Costa Rica does. Perhaps the longer flight and the “exoticism” of South America are perceptual barriers. This place though. It’s the real deal. It’s about as remote as you can get in the Amazon. It transports you to planet Earth millions of years ago. Before Twitter. Before the wheel. Before language.
The Amazon has over 1100 tributaries; 17 are over 1,500 kilometres long.
One thing is for sure, without our guides, we wouldn’t last a week. But this serves to heighten the magic of it all. From the moment we hopped into the small plane that spirited us from Quito, over the Andes, we have been trusting others. And at the heart of this trust, lies the very best of us all. It has a way re-orienting your soul. We are being welcomed and shown around. And this is a special honour, a new bond. Which … foreshadows an amazing thing that will happen in the days ahead. An indigenous community will host us in the jungle. The Huaroani people. We will get to meet and spend time with a great story teller whose family has lived here for thousands of years.
The Huaroani people in ceremonial garb
How will it begin? A casual meeting and an exchanging of sacred words?
Will we eat meals together? Will kids be running about and perhaps show us their jungle backyard? Will we share in some daily tasks? How do the Huaroani maintain their way of life, despite the vigorous encroachment of industry? Perhaps above all, how to orient our minds so that we are being respectful.
All of these questions go to the heart of why we are here. To reckon with the modern world and reconnect with the needs of the planet. This delicate balance that so many of us walk – being both part of the modern world with our devices AND trying to be better citizens of the world – this balance has so much to do with kind of stories we tell ourselves.
If the future health of our planet hangs in the balance, then perhaps we ought to be listening to those who have found a way to respect and care for the natural world.
This is why we have come here. To rediscover what ails and heals us. Behold …. The Amazon.
Talk to us about incorporating The Amazon into your journey to Ecuador or Peru.
Begin a Conversation