Smiling faces welcome me back to the Achuar village of Wichimi in Ecuador.
Making a Return Journey Into the Amazon Rainforest
The winding road was familiar as it hugged the edge of the valley. The green sides that dropped straight down to the river below were densely covered with vegetation. Occasionally, a waterfall would punctuate the green with a long white strip of water that crashed to the bottom below.
I had been down this road before, but usually I was in a bus. Extra time and a private car afforded the opportunity to explore a little on the way to Puyo, Ecuador. There we would catch a small plane and fly into the Amazon Rainforest.
“Go right,” said Cristina Serrano to the taxi driver. Instead of taking a tunnel into darkness, we drove on a narrow road made from the side of the valley wall. The round smooth stones of the road were indication it was old. Remnants of old Incan roads can still be seen in some of the highlands of Ecuador; these roads once served as the connecting threads to the mighty empire located in Peru.
Serrano has been guiding people into the Amazon Rainforest to visit the Achuar people for over 15 years. Without her, this idea of taking school materials to remote villages would never have happened. It is her foundation of trust built over many years that I coattail on into the Amazon.
“When I started coming to Puyo, it would take us five hours to do this stretch of the road,” Serrano said. “Now it only takes two hours.”
Serrano reminisced about seeing trucks cascading off the narrow road, which at times was barely wide enough for one car. It was a scene I wasn’t interested in repeating.
We made a brief stop to hike a path that allowed us to view a beautiful waterfall. Water is central to Ecuador in many ways. It is why the country is so green and over 50 percent of the electricity generated in the country comes from hydroelectric power plants. The Andes Mountains ring out the moisture from the air, most of which then flows into rivers that end up in the Amazon rain basin.
As we drove from Quito to Puyo, I could see the change in ecosystems happen right before my eyes.
Quito sits at 9,350 feet, cool and moist. To get to Puyo, which sits at an elevation of 3,000 feet in the Amazon Rainforest, we passed through the cloud forest. These magical ecosystems are found at higher elevations and get their name from the clouds they trap, which envelops the forest with a fine mist.
The trees are surrounded by white clouds that seem to dance through the canopy like spirits from a mystical world. Looking out the window of the taxi was a view that begged my imagination to come play. But a trunk full of notebooks, pens, pencils and soccer balls served as a reminder of the task at hand.
I had promised to bring school materials to the people of Wichimi, an Achuar village deep in the Amazon Rainforest near the border with Peru. They were expecting me, and I was looking forward to seeing them.
As I stepped out of the taxi in Puyo, the warm humid air of the tropics filled my lungs. It felt good to be warm again.
The next morning a call came; the plane was leaving earlier than scheduled. After a quick packing job, we pulled up to the airport that is located in the neighboring small town called Shell. It is named after the oil company that used the place as base for its oil exploration.
The early call came because we now were sharing a larger plane heading the same direction. This allowed us to carry our stash of school materials. I found out later the plane had problems after it dropped us off and those aboard ended up spending the night at a remote village deep in the forest.
As our plane landed on the brown dirt airstrip of Wichimi, outside my window I could see people lined along the edge of the runway. Once we stopped, I saw the faces of the children who gave me that smile that comes from the recognition of a familiar face.