Ecuador: Day 4 & 5

One of the main reasons for the trip was a visit to the Amazon.  Although Brazil is famous for it, we knew our budget would not allow for a Brazilian vacation during a World Cup year. So we looked at a map and looked to see where else we would be able to affordably see the Amazon. 

I loved it and I hated it. I hated myself for loving parts of it. It's complicated to wrestle with the images of extreme poverty and my own participation in the middle of all of it. What could I do? (I'll explain later.)

From altitudes of 3,300 meters in the Andes, we travelled down to sea level the following day. We saw the landscape change from mountainous terrains with vegetation growing from the strangest of angles to forests of flat, lush green. The morning was cool and we had our spring jackets on tight, but by the time we arrived to the jungle, we couldn't wait to rip everything off. The humidity was thick. Everything stuck to skin.

To get to our lodge in the rainforest, we boarded motorized canoes. Not the canoes I had in mind, but it sped through the brown waters of the Napo river with great ease. It was a 5 minute uphill climb to the lodge, but once we got there we were amazed. Keep in mind that this is in the middle of the rainforest....

Not what I was expecting at all! I've never been a resort person. I figured that this was something I could do when I got older and my body could no longer endure day long hikes or sleeping on thin camping mats. Still, that cold shower felt incredible and I was not complaining when I sipped pina colodas from the pool. I started to hate myself for enjoying this. I'm in the Amazon, and THIS is what I was doing? How incredibly excessive and needless to flaunt wealth in such extravagance. 

By afternoon we took a short hike through Ahuano as part of a cultural tour to meet a local Quechua family. It was very interesting to see the style of homes built entirely of wood on stilts. Our host made jungle beer and offered everyone a taste. We blew dart guns and asked questions. 

Asking the right questions and you get the wrong answers. The land was owned by the resort. The house was built with funds from the resort. The wonderful host family farm and hunt as a pastime. Their income comes from the cultural tours and souvenirs they make for the tourists. 

For the families in the area, their way of life was taken away from tourists like me who wants to see "authentic" indigenous people. And now, they need tourists like me to keep surviving. I hated myself at that moment.  Here I was, looking at these people as though they are a museum exhibit or worse, a creature at a zoo. These "cultural experiences" are marketed as authentic and immersive. Being there felt like it was the further thing away from that. It was fabricated to create an illusion for tourist money. It's a manufactured experience.   

The next day we went for the full day hike deep into the rainforest. I wish I had photos, but I was a sweaty mess and put the camera away to enjoy the surroundings. We weren't deep enough to see animals, which we only saw at a nearby rescue centre. Did I mention that that part of the rainforest was also owned by the resort? The government of Ecuador commonly sell off parts of the rainforest to resorts who promise in turn to keep it safe for tourists. It's a bit like killing two birds with one stone. 

After our hike, we boarded logs strapped together with rope. It was the most literal manifestation of a raft that I have ever seen and been on. We stuck our feet in the water and headed back in time for dinner. We had American-styled food with a touch of Ecuadorian flair. There was plenty of meat piled onto plates and all the different kinds of tropical drinks you could think of. Dessert was offered in 3 different varieties every night.

A 15 minute walk away from the resort lives all of the workers and their families. They eat meals of rice and beans, mostly. Meat is common for times of celebration. The man who drove our motorized canoe, took our bags, led us on our hike, and steered the raft worked from sunrise to sunset. Although we didn't see him in the evening, it's very likely he was in the back cooking our meals. 

I didn't buy any souvenirs while I was here because it didn't feel right to support the resort. On our last day, I left a very large tip to the man who worked like a horse and hoped that at least he could find better use of my money. 

A little part of me is fairly certain that when my legs could no longer walk long distances and my shoulders could no longer carry enough weight, that I won't likely find myself at a resort again.