- Aguano, Ecuador
= AHUANO ECUADOR =
Population: 13,927,650 Land Area: 283,560 km2Capital: QuitoCurrency: US dollar (USD)Latitude / Longitude: 2 00 77 30 WGDP (PPP) per capita: $ 17,200
With so few independent travelers stopping here, tourist facilities are thin on the ground. On the main street the east end of town is a budget travelers’ paradise, offering hiking and camping expeditions into the forests. If your time is limited and it's within your budget, the easiest way to see something of the Oriente, as Ecuador's Amazon basin is usually called, is to buy a package tour from a reputable operator, either in your own country or in Quito. This way all arrangements will be made for you. You will be flown from Quito to Lago Agrio, Coca, Tena, Shell [near Puyo] or Macas, and then it will probably be a rough road ride for a while, and then a motor-driven dugout canoe to the lodge where you are staying. In this way, you will experience the rainforest but won't suffer too much hardship.
Alternatively, you can fly in independently and arrange a tour when you get to one of the gateway towns, all of which have hotels, tourist facilities and agents who can arrange jungle trips that are less expensive than they would be if you arranged them at home or in Quito. In this way you will probably save some money but it will take more time. The least expensive way is to go by bus. Of the four main land routes into the Oriente, the shortest is from Quito over the Papallacta Pass down to Baeza. From this old colonial, but somewhat by-passed town, you can head on to Lago Agrio or Tena. But the bus journey is long, bumpy and uncomfortable, and many people who go out by bus under their own steam decide to fly back.
One of the key factors in choosing a tour is the guide. If possible, meet the guide who will be taking you through the jungle to see if you get along with each other, whether he or she is knowledgeable about the things that interest you and, most importantly, how well you share a common language. Also ask to see the guide's license, as there are many stories of people being cheated by unlicensed guides. And check the terms of the agreement carefully to see what you have and have not paid for. Rubber boots, for instance, an essential item, might not be included in the deal. The usual rates for guides is between US$25* and US$50* per day, half of which you should pay at the end of the trip. Before leaving downriver you must show your passport and register its number at the port captain's office on the waterfront.
Operators might seem charming and plausible when you talk to them in their offices, but when it comes to equipment, food, routes and other facilities they might be a bit shaky. One trick is for guides to say they'll take you to their home village, but once there they have nothing to do with you. They've simply used your tour as a way to visit their family. Untrustworthy operators, it seems, will go to any lengths to win your confidence, even falsely using the name of a well-known guide. The best way to find a guide is by word of mouth. Talk to other travellers and read the comment books kept in some of hotels and cafes.
Places to sleep
Accommodation is limited to a few basic hostels, family houses with clothes lines running from wall to wall and children running beneath them, cheap rooms with shared bathrooms and electric showers. You can get breakfast, lunch or dinner at the simple restaurants.
The local youth party the night away in the village disco, bopping away to a selection of Latin and pop hits in the strobe lights of a bamboo hut.The bird watching here is as almost as impressive as the mighty falls themselves. There's a good chance of spotting the brilliant Andean cock-of-the-rock. Look out for a cross in memory of a Canadian photographer who fell to his death in the area in 1988. It might deter you from a risky climb to the foot of the falls that is steep, slippery and treacherous.A bit further east on the other side of the main road is the hard-to-find head of the trail to Volcan Reventador, a relatively small mountain by Ecuadorian standards [3,562 m or 11,872 ft] , but nevertheless a two- to four-day hike to the peak. Take a guide if you plan to climb this recently active volcano because it's easy to get lost.
There are two ways to get to Ahuano. A daily canoe runs from Misahualli to Coca passing the village. Otherwise you can take a bus from Tena or Puerto Napo along the southern bank of the Napo as far as La Punta, where canoes wait to ferry you across ($0. 20*). There may be a camioneta on the other side to take you the 2km to Ahuano. La Punta has a couple of restaurants and a basic hotel if you should get stuck here.
CUYABENO FORESTAL RESERVE
Location: Sucumbios, crossing into the Napo province. Founded: 26 th July 1979 Area Size: 603,380 hectares ; 1,490,931.56 acres Altitude Range : 200- 280 metres Life Zones: Humid tropical rainforest One of the principle objectives of the Cuyabeno Fauna Breeding Reserve is ongoing conservation of the Amazonian ecosystem- the most complex ecosystem in the world. This protected area is characterised by its high biodiversity and interaction and cooperation between the species inhabiting the area. The Reserve’s geomorphology is a consequence of the rivers carrying sediment and materials from the Andes , principally by River Aguarico, which is considered as white water due to the sediment it drags raising water levels and therefore ensuring that the river is navigable all year round.
Ecuador is one the planet's top 17 most biologically diverse nations. The nation's drastic geographic and climatic variations have led to evolution of thousands of species of flora and fauna, most of which thrive in habitats protected by the State and by private organizations.Despite its tiny size, Ecuador is home to rain forests, jungles, mountains, islands, deserts, valleys, and snowcapped peaks. One of its main attractions is the Galapagos Archipelago and its marine reserve, which contain endemic species unique to the area.
THE AMAZON [EL ORIENTE]
Nobody knows how many species of plants and animals live in the tropical rainforests. Conservative estimates suggest a figure of about 30 million species. But as they continue to probe this mysterious and largely unexplored realm, some scientists believe that the figure could be as high as 80 million or more, and that rainforests could account for more than half of life forms on earth.
Roughly speaking, species already accounted for in the rainforest include 80,000 trees; 3,000 land vertebrates; 2,000 freshwater fish; almost half the world's 8,500 species of birds; and 1,200 different kinds of butterflies. Among these diverse life forms, many of them endemic to the region, and some of them endangered, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures: a monkey small enough to sit in the palm of your hand [pigmy marmoset] ; the world's largest rodent [capybara] ; the world's biggest snake [anaconda] ; and the world's noisiest animal [the howler monkey, whose voice can carry as far as 10 miles] .
Some of our favorite foods come from the Amazon: chocolate [cacao] , cinnamon, cola, ginger, cashews, black pepper, cayenne pepper, avocado, eggplant, sugarcane, vanilla and figs. Many medicinal plants have been found in the rainforest, such as quinine for malaria and curare, used by Amazonian hunters to paralyze prey, and in western medicine as a muscle relaxant during operations and for Parkinson's disease. Hallucinogenic plants, such as ayahuasca, used by shamans in religious and curing rituals, are being studied in the west for possible medical and psychiatric use. Many more such herbs from the rainforest medicine chest are bound to be discovered in the future, as long as miners, loggers and farmers don't destroy it: Ecuador enjoys the grim fame of the Amazon Basin's highest rate of deforestation.
The above facts are important because they indicate how vital the Amazonian rainforest is to our planet. But they don't tell us how important the rainforest is in human terms. The guardians of this natural cornucopia are the indigenous inhabitants themselves. In the Amazon basin, some 200 tribal groups guard a priceless biological heritage contained in an area of about five million sq km [almost two million square miles] of tropical forest. Over a period of about 10,000 years, generations of these peoples have lived on the wettest place on earth, which has an average rainfall of 25 cm [100 inches] a year. They know the rainforest. They know its plants, its birds, its animals, its rivers, its rhythms. They have not destroyed it because this jungle is their home where they have learned to live full and meaningful lives in an environment that gives them everything they need. They are the true masters of the rainforest.
The rainforest is also important for people who visit, like you and I. While we may marvel at the richness and beauty of its nature, at the same time it is completely alien to us. We can try to make some connection with this strange world, by swimming in a river, walking in the rainforest or spending a night in a hut in the jungle. Even if we share no common language, we can sit with people who rely totally on this natural world, who don't separate the physical from the spiritual, whose way of life as jungle nomads contrasts sharply with our own material concepts of materialism and possession. In the rainforest we can travel back in time to a world of hunting and gathering, a world in which our species has lived for 99% of its time on earth. We in the west have forgotten that life, but the people of the rainforest haven't.
In the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon basin there are many such indigenous peoples, the biggest groups being the Siona-Sequoia, Cofan, Huaorani, Quichua, Shuar and Achuar. Some of them have only recently been in contact with people outside their forest environment, and it is thought that there are still small groups that continue to be totally isolated. Others, however, have either been in touch with the world outside for years and have adapted to it, or have been destroyed by its alien diseases.
Many Amazon peoples don't like visitors, who come as miners, colonists, travellers, tourists, photographers, travel writers, anthropologists, botanists, priests or policemen. But some realise they cannot remain isolated forever, and that tourism is a lesser evil than the logging and mining that destroys their forests. But wherever you go in the rainforest, it is wise to do so with a sensitivity and a respect to the peoples whose home it has been for thousands of years.
These 665,000 hectares of flooded forest are characterised by the incredible biological diversity of the reserve. Pink dolphins, the Amazonian manati and four species of caymen [alligator] , plus a multitude of birds [tangaras and cotingidos, mainly] inhabit its lakes.
A small protected area of 56,000 hectares, Panacocha straddles the Napo and Aguarico rivers. It's a paradise for walkers, as birds, butterflies and even freshly printed footprints of jaguars are easily spotted.
Biological Reserve of Limoncocha
Limoncocha Reserve was created in order to prevent the area's fragile ecosystem from damage caused by oil exploration activity. Located in El Coca province, Limoncocha is a haven for birds.
As the name suggests, the island's most common inhabitants are the howling monkeys. The howls of these noisy creatures can be heard from more than a kilometre away. While visiting the island you can't miss these monkeys thanks to their noise and their reddish behinds.
Hatun Sacha Biological Station
Near Misuahualli in the Napo province, Hatun Sacha is dedicated to conservation and to the investigation of the forest's species. Visitors learn about the station's projects and organisation.
"Amazonico" Animal Rescue Centre
The rescue centre welcomes volunteers from every corner of the Earth who come to help with species' "re-habilitation". The objective of the centre is to release the animals into the wild after their recovery.
The Huaorani Reserve
The Huaorani tribe has always lived and hunted in the Napo area. In the past few years however, their land and lifestyle have been damaged and disturbed by the petrochemical and tourist industries. The Huaorani reacted by imposing tolls on the use of their rivers and charging entrance fees to their communities, most of which are now part of the Huaorani Reserve south of Coca.
Yasuni National Prk
Ecuador's largest mainland park, Yasuni extends over a whopping 962,000 hectares [2,376,140 acres] . It protects a range of rainforest habitats from forested hills to periodically-flooded and inundated lowlands. Although it was first established in 1979, the boundaries of the park were extended eastwards following the creation of the Huaorani Reserve in 1991. The park is renowned for its huge biodiversity, although to date little of it has been studied. Recognising its importance, UNESCO declared it a biosphere reserve and many conservationist groups have been involved in its protection. The park faces serious threats from the oil industry: the Maxus consortium enjoys exploration rights in the park for instance. Thankfully, the road Maxus and its predecessor Conoco built has been maintained off-limits to colonisers, and environmental damage from exploration has been kept to a comparative minimum. The park is extremely remote and seldom visited. However lengthy tours can be arranged with guides from Coca agencies, as well as the Quito-based ones.
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