Amazon: Tucan is calling… far away!
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
The finalization of our time in Ecuador is the trip to the Amazon rainforest. And that right after the incomprehensible Galapagos Islands. We realise that this highlight hopping cannot continue like this. But while we are here... we just gotta do it. In the east of the country, the "Oriente" lies the rainforest of the Amazon basin. The region is about 120,000 square kilometres in size and the Amazon can be reached from six provinces in the Oriente. We choose the province of Francisco de Orellana next to the 850 km long Rio Napo, one of the direct tributaries to the Amazon. From there, it goes to Yasuni National Park. Our Camp Madari Panga is located on the much smaller Rio Tiputini. Our journey can hardly be any longer. In the morning at 5:00 a.m. we start by boat on Isla Isabela, at 7:00 p.m. we arrive at the airport in Quito. There, we enjoy an extremely boring stay in the waiting hall until a driver picks us up at 3:00 a.m. The hope of catching up on some sleep in the car shatters quite quickly, because the journey goes through the serpentines of the Andes. Driving down there at a speed that felt like 100 km/h - one curve and one pothole follow the other. Significantly shattered by the car ride, we arrive in El Coca at 8:00 a.m. in the morning. Fortunately, our meeting point is a restaurant And we do have some time left before we get picked up there, so we treat ourselves to a hearty local breakfast. We don't fancy a sweet breakfast that much.
Therefore we have fish & maggots.
Strengthened by the nutritious breakfast, the journey continues. By car only a short while over paved roads then again potholes and dirt roads. (Editor's note: Is there a word in the German language for the type of street?). Overall, we are rumbling further and further into the Amazon region for two hours. At a bridge of the Rio Tiputini, we change to the motor canoe and then drive up the river for another hour and a half. Simsalabim we are there. Only 32 hours after we have entered the boat on the Galapagos.
The more well-known and more touristically developed Amazon areas in Ecuador are Pujo and Cuyabeno, which are much easier to travel to. However, we deliberately chose the long journey. Mandari Panga Camp is the only one in the region and pursues sustainable and well-dosed tourism. The founder of the camp and the associated Mandari Panga Project is Freddy. Together with his brother Ramiro, he pursues the goal of improving opportunities for the local people of the Kishwa community by encouraging them to appreciate the special and unique place they call home and to preserve and protect it for future generations. All profits are privately managed by Freddy and his wife and flow into projects that primarily serve to improve the education and health care of the inhabitants of this remote area.
The team at Mandari Panga, the cook, our boatman, our guides, the cleaning ladies, the kitchen aids and gardeners, all are members of the local community. Their shift rotates weekly, so more people of the community benefit of the camp. This offers them a way to improve their quality of life as they often have no other income. The only alternative would be working for oil and exploration companies. At the same time, the project emphasis the importance to maintaining the rituals, roots and local language of the Kichwa. The camp can accommodate a total of 20 people, is beautifully landscaped and we spend the nights in a tent directly at the river bank. Well, what we consider a tent is actually only one night. More on that later. The accommodation in the camp is still a tent but rather luxurious. We have neither mobile phone reception nor hot water or toilet. We share a super sophisticated sand plump toilet and the bathroom with a tarantula. Electricity is only available in the evenings from the generator to charge our batteries. And yet we feel like we are in paradise. In addition to the modern and forward-looking views of the brothers, we always notice the spirituality and inseparable attachment to indigenous roots and nature. And so, in addition to the fascinating plants, wildlife and the countless exotic sounds, it is especially the people who remain in our lasting memory and touch.
Our permanent companion. Growing up in the rainforest himself, he has learned everything about the jungle, the animals but also about his culture since childhood. As one of the few younger people, he still speaks his mother tongue, which is more and more fading away. When he doesn't work in the camp, he also studies economics. There is no bird voice that he cannot imitate perfectly and he determines countless birds already from hundreds of metres away. That inspires even us as not so passionate ornithologists. While eating, we are discussing many interesting topics with him. He provides to us many impressions and also explains the contradiction of tradition and modern life style. For example, the oil business in the region. On the one hand, it has opened up new possibilities for the inhabitants that were previously unthinkable, at the same time it rapidly destroys the habitat and accelerates the demise of indigenous cultures. His initial very friendly but politely distanced manner changes after a very short time into absolute cordiality and openness, which we already like to think back to. We laugh a lot and his continuous evening motivation for the next day will be the motto of our trip.
„Everything is possible. All you need is good Energy“!
For us, the epitome of nature. The whole person seems to consist only of strength. Everything that bothers us is the lightest thing in the world for him. Whether in rubber boots, surrounded by mosquitoes, tramp through the swamp or to paddle upstream by canoe against the current; including Sanni in his luggage. No problem. To cool down, he just jumps briefly into the river. He doesn’t bother about the piranhas at all. For the various trips we do, he is our eyes and ears. No animal remains undetected by him. We cannot understand how he discovers a sloth in the dense leaf crown from 200 metres away. Or a river dolphin that navigates around us during pouring rain and full speed of a boat. He know it even before the dolphin appears for a few seconds on the surface. He knows every plant, its medical use and every myth about it. Never before have we tried so many things from a "forest". Ants included.
Our cook. We can't get out of the raving anymore. Apart from the fact that Ecuador has not offered us any great culinary highlights so far, here we are enjoying 3!!! meals every day. It is simply unbelievable how the young man cooks. There wasn't a meal that didn't elicit us Mhhh... Ohhhh... Ahhhh... Everything is artistically and extremely stylishly. Traditional dishes are combined with European and (for us flavoured) Asian influences. In Berlin, this would probably be called fusion kitchen. Only that Lisandro has certainly never been to Berlin, but has spent his entire life at the river so far. He is always shy and modest. During the group selfie, we can at least elicit a little smile from him.
Julie is the founder's daughter and works in service during our stay. She is also part of the community and there is no exception just because she is the boss's daughter. At the same time, she wants to improve her English and it is always so nice, when she introduces the different courses of the meal very professionally. Her great shyness is not always quite helpful, but we realise that the more we speak with her, she dares. Her goal is to go to the University of Tena at the end of November to study ecological architecture. On the day of her departure, it is still not clear whether it will actually work out. And as a farewell, she even asks us in perfect English for a photo together! We keep our fingers crossed for her more than everything else.
During the first two days we explore the river by motor canoe. Here our patience is properly tested. Because we are accompanied by a Swedish couple. Caroline and Peter. Two very nice people; the latter an absolute bird nerd. And that in combination with Ramiro. You remember: our guide with the bird voices. So you can imagine that it is all about birds. We constantly put our head up looking at birds in the sky or trees. Too often we hear Ramiro saying:
Tucan is calling… far away!!!
For us, all birds look black due to the light conditions it was also super difficult to take proper pictures. Or as Gerriet says, "You don't have to stop at every throttle and every sparrow." All right, we admit, viewed them closely, there are already some cool copies. Lucky us, that we also see other animals like a funny troop of monkeys on their daring jumps.
The tours in kayak are particularly beautiful. Silently we glide down the Rio Tiputini. The perspective in kayaking is quite different from that in the motor canoe. One time even Gonzalito accompanies us. The tapir is Sanni's birthday present! Because he showed up really close to the camp for the first time on that day. He was reintroduced to nature from the El Coca Zoo and now lives completely free in the national park. He is used to people and bribery. For a few bananas, we were even allowed to cuddle with him! However, he undertook the swimming tour voluntarily. Tapirs are incredibly good swimmers and love the water. What is new for us is how long Gonzalito can dive. He disappeared several minutes before he keeps showing up again just behind our kayaks. Under water he moves similar to a hippo, Ramiro explains to us.
We explore the side arms of the river, which have an almost magical effect with their dense vegetation. The search for the queen of snakes, the Anaconda, unfortunately remains unsuccessful. However, we are very lucky to see a cayman and two sloths. One of the two sloths can only be recognised as a wool dumpling. How Valerio discovered it while driving by is a mystery to us.
*The English version of this blog is supported by automated translation*