With Ecuador finally off the UK’s travel ‘red list’ now is a great time to explore its ‘Wild East’, writes AES Committee Member, David Horwell…
About a third of Ecuador lies within the vast Amazon basin. For most of history it has been home to indigenous tribes and a huge variety of flora and fauna. Until recently those tribes hunted and fished as they had for millennia. In the mid twentieth century the discovery of oil in the Oriente changed the status quo. Agricultural settlers cleared land, and missionaries arrived from North America. In the 1950’s warriors with spears killed some of these evangelists. The Spanish called the tribe Aucas, meaning ‘savages’ but they prefer Huaorani. The next decades saw a conflict between a traditional way of life and development of Ecuador’s oil. Further south, the head-hunting Jivaro lived, (now known as the Shuar). Indigenous Quichua people from the mountains had settled as farmers along the riverbanks. By the 21st century oil was Ecuador’s main source of income. The extraction of oil created health problems for the local population. This was due to poor environmental control with spills and toxic waste dumped.
My first trip there, more than 40 years ago, was all about adventure. We saw insects and frogs that mimicked leaves, watched busy leaf-cutter ants. We watched scary big conga ants that can knock you out with their bite and avoided stepping on pit-vipers. We learned about medicinal plants and swung on vines like Tarzan. Locals showed us how they trapped guatusas or agoutis. We slept in very rustic lean-to’s and felt like explorers for a few days.
Later trips took me to the Aguarico river further north. This Amazon tributary is reached through the oil town of Lago Agrio. Evidence of oil production is everywhere and not the sort of place to linger. Roads are made by pouring crude oil from tankers. The Aguarico snakes its way through the most amazing area of pristine wildlife. This is the Cuyabeno reserve. Much of the region are forest lagoons where time seems to have stood still. I will never forget when I spotted a rare black jaguar strolling along the riverbank or getting up-close to an anaconda curled on a log.
The indigenous groups that have turned to tourism are mainly Kichwas who descended from the mountains, and the Cofanes and Sionas. One group of veritable Amazonian inhabitants that offer a tourist experience are the Ashuar, who operate Kapawi lodge. I visited this lodge in the 1990’s, a logistical nightmare for groups as you can only arrive by light aircraft, with a dirt airstrip one can get stuck for days if the weather turns nasty. Though an intense Amazonian rainstorm, with thunder and lightning, is an unforgettable experience. We got to see how they fish and had a cleansing ceremony with the shaman. I must admit I was nervous about drinking ‘chicha’ a brew made by chewing manioc and spitting into a bowl.
The headwaters of the Amazon are the most biodiverse region on the planet – where Andes meets Amazon. The region is most accessible in Ecuador, via either a day’s journey by land or a 45-minute flight. More than 600 species of bird exist and innumerable insects and other creatures. Tourist lodges provide a sustainable future for generating income for the forest dwellers. There is a lot of talk about how not flying around the world is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Yet, these small communities depend on visitors. So don’t feel guilty about it, make sure that you book a trip that works with local communities in a responsible way. Ecuador is one the best places to visit – one of the world’s true eco-tourism destinations.
To see more spectacular photos of Ecuador and learn about the country’s hidden touristic treasures click here.
An alleyway at Elephant & Castle has been renamed in honour of the Ecuadorian scientist Pedro Vicente Maldonado.
Maldonado – born in the city of Riobamba – was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, topographer, and geographer who died unexpectedly in London in August 1748. He is buried at the church of St James’s Piccadilly where a plaque in his honour was unveiled in 1983.
Maldonado Walk runs along the west side of the railway arches between the Strata SE1 tower on Walworth Road and the Crossway Christian Centre on Hampton Street.
In its most recent edition, Latam Investor publish a complete report on Ecuador. The in-depth feature began with a letter of President Guillermo Lasso in which he stressed the importance of investments to support Ecuador’s economic growth and development.
The report covers a broad area of Ecuador’s economy covering analysis for different sectors such as indusoil&gas, mining, energy, climate and exports. It also provides exclusive interviews with the Minister of Energy, Juan Carlos Bermeo – who outlines the investment opportunities in Ecuador – and the Minister of Production, Julio José Prado – who outlines the opportunities in the country, and with HM Ambassador to Ecuador, Chris Campbell.
Canning House and LatAm INVESTOR will present a virtual conference on business opportunities in Ecuador following the election of Guillermo Lasso.
Ecuador has rich reserves of oil, exciting mining potential and world-leading agricultural exports. President Lasso’s challenge will be to attract the international investors needed to turn those natural resources into economic growth.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the team at JUCONI Ecuador has been able to stay in contact with the children and families on their psychosocial programme. In March 2021 there was another lockdown but in order to continue to give emotional support and monitor progress, communication has been maintained via the telephone, online or in person where possible. When they visit families, JUCONI workers always wear PPE. The contents of the monthly food baskets for families have increased to include tinned tuna, oil, milk, masks and antiseptic hand wash.
The lockdown was lifted in June and the organisation is doing all it can to get the team vaccinated. The community safe space continues to be used for meetings and workshops. The team is now working with smaller groups of children but has increased the number of sessions that they hold each week. This community safe space was built by JUCONI staff and continues to have the support of local people, the children and their families, who have organised themselves so it is kept clean and is not vandalised. In May 2021, JUCONI’s family psychosocial programme restarted with twenty new families and their children becoming part of the ‘family visits’ process.