Stories from the Amazon

  • Bobanasa River
    The Bobanasa River winds through the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.

    A Familiar Green Scene Greets My Arrival to the Rainforest

    The early morning fog started to lift from the winding highway. This made me happy.

    Several times I’ve been a passenger on this road in buses or taxis, but I had never driven it. My frequent visits in Ecuador gave me the courage to attempt driving on the roads.

    The fog was an extra challenge, along with the winding roads and crazy drivers. Some Ecuadorian drivers have this desire to pass on uphill curves, a habit that I am still trying to get used to.

    In spite of all this, the drive to Puyo, Ecuador was a beautiful one through the cloud forest. The highway connects to the eastern part of the country where it meets the Amazon basin.

    Close to Puyo is the small community of Shell and the location for the regional airport. This is where I would take a small plane into the Amazon Rainforest to one of the remote villages of the Achuar people.

    In the back of my vehicle were several boxes covered with black plastic bags. Inside were school materials for children living in one of the Achuar villages. My relationship with the Achuar goes like this: (1) they make a list of school materials they need, (2) I do my best to get the items on the list, (3) when I deliver the materials they spend time teaching me about the Amazon Rainforest, (4) I bring this knowledge back to school students in the United States. Seems like a fair trade and it is a lot of fun.

    Part of my intention is to communicate to the Achuar that their knowledge and wisdom of the rain forest has value.

    Airline worker with luggage
    A staff of a local airline in Shell, Ecuador, loads the schools materials destined for the Achuar village of Tiinkias.

    At the airport in Shell, all bags designated to make the journey into the rain forest were weighed. My bags tend to be a little heavy because a computer and camera gear add weight quickly to my backpack.

    In the airport loading area, I overheard a conversation between Cristina Serrano, who is my guide, and the airport staff. Apparently we were 90 kilos overweight, or about 200 pounds. This was not really a big issue, unless they kept piling on boxes or people.

    Apparently, someone was trying to catch a ride into the forest on our plane.

    Serrano responded firmly, “We are already 200 pounds overweight. We are not taking another passenger.

    “Sometimes they don’t think I understand what is going on, and it makes me mad,” Serrano told me. I was happy she was on top of the situation. Just a week ago, a small plane crashed in the rain forest.

    Flying in a small plane is always a risk, but it is one I am willing to take in order to move forward with my mission.

    The plane took off with no other issues. Within 10 minutes, outside the window of the plane, a sea of green stretched in every direction. Occasionally, a brown river meandered through the green like a vein leading to the heart.

    The Amazon is such a special place. Scientists estimate 30 percent of all living species are inhabitants of this sea of green. Most of what hasn't been discovered isn’t sensational – frogs, insects or plants.

    After flying for an hour, the pilot lowered the plane’s altitude for a flyby over our intended runway. This signals those below our intention to land. The flyby gives them time to remove any animals or children from the landing strip.

    We flew right above the canopy until we entered the small clearing made for the landing strip. Then the plane dropped even lower. Outside my window I could see the trees were higher than the wings. In front of us was a brown dirt runway with water puddles scattered across it.

    Achuar village from the air
    Our plane flies over the Achuar village below, to signal our intention to land.

    The pilot set the plane down smoothly on the landing strip. The puddles of water were transformed into flying mud that coated the wings.

    As we came to a stop, people with smiling faces surrounded the plane. The small crowd waved to welcome the visitors.

    My friends from the Achuar village of Tiinkias waited outside to help me continue my journey. The door of the small plane opened and the smell of the rain forest filled the cabin.

    It was a long way from Nebraska, but the familiar faces and familiar rain forest felt like home.

    Fremont Tribune

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