Ecuadorian Rainforest

After a spectacular five-hour bus ride from Quito I arrived in Tena on Wednesday. On the way we climbed high in the Andes and passed through volcanos and a tropical rain storm. The landscape spanned from Páramo to dense cloud forests, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes. It was difficult taking pictures from a moving vehicle, so most of those images remain only in my memory. The bus was comfortable and the roads were full of twists and turns.

During the ride, I sat next to a nun traveling to meet two other nuns and share “los palabras de Dios” in small towns near Tena. She was friendly and we had a simple conversation.

Ecuadorian Butterfly

frogTena, known as the “cinnamon capital” of Ecuador, is a jungle town of about 13,000. It’s a popular launching point for kayaking and white water rafting tours in the Amazon rainforest. The Tena and Pano Rivers merge in the center of town at a pedestrian bridge and eventually join the Misahualli River which flows into the Napo River.

The Napo continues east into Peru and Brazil and is the 9th largest tributary to the Amazon River. Some parts of the river have dolphins and manatees but we didn’t see any.

Gray-Winged Trumpeter
Gray-Winged Trumpeter

The entrance to Tena is marked by a statue of the indigenous hero Jumandy, who led an uprising against the Spanish colonizers in 1578 and was later executed. Tena’s indigenous communities are a base for volunteers working on reforestation and related projects like bio-piracy, ecotourism, and capacity building.

Ecuador has one of the best politically organized indigenous populations in Latin America. Tena houses two major confederations, Fonakin (Federacion de Organisaciones de la Nacionalidades Kichwa de Napo) and Ashin (Association de Shamanes Indigenas de Napo).

Cocoa Tree Seed Pod
Cacao Tree Seed Pod

Thursday morning, I joined two other guests at the lodge – Sally and Richard from Australia – for an all-day tour of the rainforest with Tony, our guide. Tony and his wife Inga are co-owners of the eco lodge Pakay Tours.

Our tour included a visit to a Kichwa Tiya Yaku community where indigenous people were panning for gold, cooking, and making pottery. Tony’s mother is Kichwa and his father is from higher in the Andes in a northern part of Ecuador. He gave us an impressive blow gun demonstration!

Next, we boarded a dugout canoe and floated down the Napo River to Amazoonica, an animal rescue center, where we saw a variety of exotic birds, plants, snakes, frogs, turtles, and mammals. Our guide was a young German girl volunteering at the center.

A beautiful gray-winged trumpeter followed us throughout the tour. Sometimes she stayed close and mingled with us and sometimes watched from a distance. Animals we saw included parrots, toucans, monkeys, peccary, sloth, tapir, and caiman. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a beach along the river.

Many of the animals at the rescue center were unmanageable domestic pets that owners relinquished. Some of the stories are very sad. When they can, the rescue center frees animals and returns them to the jungle. More often than not their brief captivity with humans makes that impossible. The Ecuadorian government is involved in deciding what animals can be released back into the environment. Many of them will spend their entire lives in captivity because they aren’t capable of surviving in the wild.

The last part of the tour was a hike through the dense rainforest where Tony gave us a thorough description of the plants, insects, and butterflies we saw. We hiked in the thick of the jungle on a very hot day, and parts of the terrain were not easily manipulated. Some of the trails were steep, muddy, slippery, and hard to pass. As part of the tour we borrowed gum boots to help us get through the mud and wet parts of the trail and protect our feet. I’ve been in jungles in Malaysia, Africa, India, and Sri Lanka but nothing is like the pristine Ecuadorian rainforest.

We saw some incredibly colorful butterflies and moths but I wasn’t able to get many photos as they moved so quickly. The rainforest is peaceful and the sounds, especially in the morning and at night, are magic.

The quiet time spent here is enjoyable. Internet access at the lodge is in one common area and doesn’t work very well. Several of the volunteers at the rescue center are staying at the lodge. One interesting young German man was born in Berkeley where his father was a physicist teaching at UC Berkeley. He plans to return to the Bay Area and is studying to become a veterinarian. I will be here for a week and then possibly on to Cuenca, Loja, and Vilcabamba before entering Peru. More later….

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