We spent 4 days in the Kapawi Ecolodge, deep in
Ecuador's Amazon Basin, near the border of Peru. It took two
flights on small planes and over an hour on a canoe to reach Kapawi,
which resides on the land of the Achuar people. The lodge was built without nails, in the Achuar style of architecture.
concept of the Ecolodge is to teach visitors about the ways of the indigenous people and
help preserve the Achuar culture. The current owners plan to give the lodge to the
Achuar people at the end of
15 years when they are ready to run it. We had very full days hiking in the rain forest, bird watching,
cayman (crocodiles) watching, fishing, and even visiting a traditional
Achuar community. Every meal at the lodge was outstanding -- some
of the best food we have had on the trip. It rained every day but was a unique and interesting experience.
Year ecolodge built: 1999
Number of days it rained: 4/4
Number of TVs/telephones: 0
Number of people at lodge our week: 19
Language: Spanish, Achuar
Dial-in access: none
Number of tarantula/scorpion sightings
in huts: 3
When we arrived at the ecolodge on the first day,
they fed us a huge snack, and gave us some information about the lodge:
No nails used to construct the lodge.
Tightly bound cylinders of vine/fiber were used in place of nails.
Conceived of concept in 1996, and completed
the lodge in 1999.
Uses solar power for everything,
but has back up generators for use when it has not been sunny enough.
Implement restrictions on how
much power each hut is allowed so you can turn on no more than
three lights at a time in your hut. This rule was somewhat
arbitrary, because each of the 5 lights in the huts was only about
12 watts, and their brightness depended totally on not only how
many lights you had on, but also what other power was being pulled
from other huts. Basically, it was dark at night!
Not allowed to place toilet
paper in the toilets. Separate bins were placed next to the
toilets, and they were cleaned twice a day.
Five gallons of hot water for a
shower was delivered to your room at 4PM each day (only if it was
sunny, since it was solar heated)
We then divided into groups. We
had been lead to believe there would be very small groups, but because
many people wanted to do moderate to strenuous activity plans we were
part of a group of 4 couples. We did all of our activities with this
group all week, so we got to know them pretty well. Richard and
Jane, the British couple, were also on extended travel (3 months) and
had many experiences and preferences frighteningly similar to
ours. We will definitely keep in touch with them.
Our hut was near the end of the lodge,
so we had to walk a long way on the slippery raised path through the
rain forest to get to our hut. On any walk to our hut, there would
typically be one section that would have a swarm of ants on it -- always
a different kind of ant than the last swarm. But within the hour
all the ants would be gone. Since we always wore the Kapawi-provided
knee high rubber boots, walking through ants was trivial. The huts
were very basic, but had water, some lighting, and beds with ever so
critical mosquito nets. Even though there were lots of mosquitoes,
the nets served mostly as a sense of protection from the many sounds and
sights of things in the forest. Because the huts were so embedded
in the rainforest and they were so open in their construction, it felt
like you were sleeping in the very active noisy jungle. We were
very careful to secure our mosquito nets to the edges of our beds in the
light before going to dinner so that we could know that there was
nothing in there with us when we got back later in the dark.
We met each night before dinner to
agree on the activities for the next day.
The activities for day 2 included early morning
bird watching and then a hike in the rain forest, and then cayman
watching at night.
The bird watching started at 6:30 AM, before
breakfast. Supposedly, the Ecuadorian rainforest has 1/3 of all
bird species in the world. Even though none of our group are
'birders' it was interesting to see the really odd and big
birds. We quickly realized that our digital camera does not have a strong enough zoom
lens to take any real pictures of birds. Other groups came to
Kapawi specifically for the bird watching.
The hike this day was very much a "nature" hike -- we stopped
every 50 feet to learn about insects, plants, etc. There were so many unique insects it was kind of freaky. We tasted
some of the fruits in the rain forest -- most of them were not ripe
enough so they did not taste anything like what we expected. We
learned about and saw many 'strangler' trees that engulf an existing
"host" tree. Eventually, the many strangler vines come
together to form a very large solid tree around the host tree, killing
it. We saw huge strangler roots and vines all over the
forest floor, as well as completely grown real trees. We also
saw very long trails of 'leaf cutter' ants that were stripping trees and
taking the leaves to their nest. You could follow the trail of
millions of ants all carrying large leaf pieces for hundred of yards
along the forest floor. It looked just like a Discovery Channel
show. We saw some monkeys, but they were always so hard to
see (they stayed up high in the trees) that it was not that impressive.
The night cayman watching was pretty interesting
because it was pitch black on the water except where the guide's
flashlight was shining. Even though he was in the front of the long
boat facing right and left looking for cayman, the driver in the back of
the boat was still going full speed in the pitch black! The
drivers of the boats are all Achuar and they know the river at all
levels like the back of their hands so they could do it with their eyes
closed, fortunately. We spotted several cayman including a 6-8
foot long cayman, which was barely on the shore. With the flashlight freezing
it, we got very close to it, almost coasting into it, before it jumped
and caused us to almost fall out of the boat -- everyone jumped to the
side away from the cayman and we almost toppled into the water with it!
The activities for day 3 included a longer, faster
paced hike than the day before, and fishing in the late afternoon.
We took the boats to a spot up river, fast-hiked for 4.5 hours, then
paddled kayaks 2 hours down river in the rain.
We did not slow down much on this hike except for
crossing large creeks and deep mud. We did run into an area of
'lemon ant' trees where the ants live inside the hollow trees. You
cannot tell by looking at the trees, but if you break a limb you can see
hundreds of ants and larvae. The ants are supposed to taste like
lemon, thus the name. Dan is the only one in the group to taste the
ants, but he could not taste lemon over the DEET (mosquito repellent)
on his hands, even after eating many ants! One of our group was
stung twice during the trek by what we think were wasps. His hand
swelled for a few days so we all wondered whether it was something else.
We stopped for a hot lunch at a thatched roof hut
beside the river, before the kayak trip. At one point we thought
the rain was falling through the roof onto our heads, until we realized
there was a swarm of ants in the roof and they were falling onto
us. Very unsettling.
Only three of us and two guides went on the fishing
activity, because it was raining and everyone else was tired from the
long hike. Although we tourists did not catch anything, the guides
caught a piranha and some very ugly large catfish. One catfish,
called the 'chainsaw' catfish, had short double spikes along both sides
of its body and looked prehistoric. It howled at us as the guide
was cutting the hook out of its mouth. They kept all the
fish they caught because the Achuar believe if you throw the fish
back, they will tell the others and you will not catch any more.
It rained so much that night that the river rose 6
feet and the lagoon in front of the huts started to fill up. The
said that during rainy season the lagoon would rise another 20 feet and
come up to edge of the hut porches, and people would jump into the
lagoon from their hut (with the piranha and cayman, etc!)
Day 4 was the visit to the Achuar community.
See the next section for details of the visit.
From Quito, Ecuador we took two small planes to get to
second plane landed on a dirt airstrip with mud splashing against the
had 5 seats. We felt like we were sitting in the back seat of a
views of the Amazon rainforest from the plane as we headed to
Kapawi Ecolodge huts were built based on the Achuar Indian
architecture. During rainy season that grass is a lagoon.
standing in the doorway of our luxurious hut.
lighting is virtually nonexistent in the hut, so we had to wear our
headlamps to see anything. Our first self-pic on our trip!
each hut has mosquito nets to protect from the insect wildlife.
standing in the common area of the lodge.
rainforest had some HUGE trees. This is the biggest one we saw.
the most interesting trees, the 'strangler' tree swallows other
trees. Notice the strangled tree in the middle.
our hikes in the rainforest we crossed many streams and mud flats.
crossed a 'black' lagoon, although it was really green!
on the Discovery Channel, we saw a swarm of leaf-eating ants. Click
here to see a short video of the ants (be patient - big file, will
be streaming video in future) !
||Some Achuar locals in their homemade dug out canoe.
our motorized canoe as we travel on the river to our next hiking spot.
paddled back from one hike for 2 hours in the rain.
caymen (~crocodile) watching at night. This is one of the biggest we
saw. It was frozen in the light as we drifted closer to
closer to it...within 18 inches...
it jumped and everyone in the boat jumped away -- therefore a nice picture of
the boat protecting us from the attacking caymen:)
visited a real Achuar community. It was positioned on the river to
see both directions.
is the head of the community. Typically you are not allowed to
take pictures of the Achuar, but Walter was very cool abut everything.
infamous 'ChiCha', the staple drink/foor of the Achuar. It is made
from yucca plant and saliva.
gave us a display of his blowgun, the main hunting tool of the Achuar.
us all to try it. Dan hit the papaya fruit in the field!
was one of the few female hunters!
had some very cool pets. This kinkajou is a nocturnal animal that
Walter woke up for us. It was soooo furry and soft.
parrot was also pretty cool. If you tickled its neck it laughed
like a hyena.
playing with his pet boa constrictor.
got a little too close for comfort!
our main group at the lodge. We had lots of fun! From bottom left
counterclockwise: Vin and Sue, David and Franklin (the guides), Jane and
Richard, Bill and Laura, and Dan and Kristen.
Visit to an Achuar
very special activity during our week was a planned visit to an Achuar
community. The lodge will set up a visit so that people get a real sense
of what the Achuar are like. They visit many different communities so no
one community gets much tourist interaction. There is extensive protocol
and tradition for this type of visit. We were set up to visit the Sua
Community, lead by Walter, a very well known Achuar in the area. Walter
had played a role in building the Kapawi Ecolodge so he was a little more
worldly than many of the other Achuar leaders. He and our guide (David) were
friends so it made it easier, too. The visit protocol states that we all (our
group of 8) are lead into the 'visiting room' and we are to sit quietly until
Walter recognizes us. The visiting room is just the front part of the
hut/house where they allow visitors -- no one is ever allowed in the family
quarters. We all sat around the room for a few minutes while Walter
finished carving a paddle. Then he looked up and smiled, and said welcome
in Spanish (fortunately he speaks Spanish, so our guides only had to translate
Spanish-English, not Achuar-Spanish-English, where much meaning can be lost). Then our Achuar guide (Franklin) engaged in a long melodic
'greeting' exchange with Walter. It was very cool because at one point
they were both talking very fast at the same time and they ended at exactly the
same time. We understood from David that it is a very customary greeting
(an extended 'hello, how are you', 'I am fine, thank you', 'and you', etc) and
since they both know what the other is going to say one may answer the other
while he is talking. The sound of Achuar language made it even more
this exchange, Walter's wife hands out ChiCha, the staple drink of the Achuar.
We were prepared for this by David. The woman of the house makes ChiCha by
repeatedly chewing yucca plant and spitting it into a bowl. The chewing
mixes the yucca with saliva and starts the fermentation process. The drink
smells like bread and vinegar, but looks and tastes just like spit. David
said we did not need to drink it all but we had to taste it and hold it as if we
liked it so she would not be offended. No one had more than a sip.
The Achuar guides all had second and third helpings. Supposedly, the Achuar can
live for days on just ChiCha. But it could also be that because it is an alcoholic
drink, they are too drunk to know they are hungry.
the Achuar greeting, Walter signals that it is time for us to go around and
introduce ourselves (via the translator). After that, he introduces
himself, and asks a couple questions to some of the group (like, what kind of
law do you practice?) After those formalities, he opened it up for any
questions we could think of. We wanted to learn about the Achuar so the
group asked questions about community culture, marriage customs, religion,
etc. Although Achuar men typically have many wives, he has only one, with
10 kids by her. He started his own community just 3 years ago when he left
another community because of family fighting. He started it with his sons
and their families. He is 54 years old. Lots more detail available...
outsiders are not allowed to take pictures of Achuar or their homes, but Walter
had no problem with pictures. When we asked about the blow gun darts he
had on his wall, he showed us how they hunt with the blow gun and even wanted each
us to try it. He had a variety of interesting pets, including a boa
constrictor, parrot, and kinkajou, all of which we played with. We had a a
very interesting time during our 2 hour visit.
We flew out of Quito's 'Icaro' airport terminal -- if you fly from Icaro
everyone knows you are going to the rainforest. We flew on a 16 seat plane
about an hour over the Andes Mountains and landed at a tiny airport. Once
we weighed ourselves and our bags we were divided into multiple little 5 person
planes -- they were tiny! We had already befriended the British couple
that rode with us face to face (literally) in our plane so it was not that
bad. The views of the rain forest were awesome since we were flying low at
only 2500 feet. In our one hour flight we had to skirt a couple
significant lightning storms and flew through rain most the time. There
were only a couple scary stomach jumping moments. We landed on a dirt/mud
air strip in an Achuar Indian community, with mud splashing against the windows
as we hit the bigger potholes. It was still raining, so we hung out under
a hut roof with no walls for about an hour waiting for all the little planes to
land. We donned the ponchos the ecolodge provided and boarded some 25 foot motorized canoes that
held 10 people each. The boat ride to Kapawi was about 90 minutes because
we had to slow down often because of trees/limbs barely submerged in the
water. Since they were just ending dry season the water was low and the
path is more difficult than during the rainy season.
|Very friendly group.
|Lost World Adventures
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best at returning email/vmail..
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