Sun 17 Jan, 2016

We returned to Quito and met with Nana and Vassilis who had arrived from Athens the day before. Our hotel for the night was on La Ronda, the nightlife strip of Quito, but surprisingly the sound isolation was perfect and I slept like a stone.

The next morning we got on a mini van together with Andres, our guide for the next four days, two Swiss ladies – mother and daughter – and John, a retiree from England. The five hour drive to Baños was uneventful. After a short stop in Baños and a visit to the local market market we continued east through a beautiful road, known as the avenue of the waterfalls. We arrived at small airport of Shell, a small town named after the international oil company that serves as a hub to the Ecuadorian Amazon. We were on our way to visit the Huaorani Ecolodge, a remote lodge in the Oriente that is co-owned by the local Huaorani community.


The Accordionist
A blind accordionist player in Banos.
Guinea pigs
Guinea pigs grilled in Banos.
In the Market
A2 booth in the roofed food market of Banos.


The Huaorani is a special case. They first made contact with outsiders – referred as cowode in their language – in the late 1940’s when Shell attempted and failed to exploit the local oil fields and again in the late 1950’s by missionaries. Today they have a population of around 4’000, in a social transition phase. Still, there isn’t almost any segmentation – professions – in their society and they have a very odd and limited sense of time. As of today, as many as five communities – the Tagaeri, the Huiñatare, the Oñamenane, and two groups of the Taromenane – have rejected all contact with the outside world and continue to move into more isolated areas.

Once exclusive hunter-gatherers that lived a semi-nomadic life, they have now settled in several permanent communities. Many missionized Huaoranis moved to the town of Coca. Those living in the communities still hunt and live on ecotourism, but most of the men living in permanent settlements work for oil companies and some in construction and agriculture. The government of Ecuador founded a number of local schools that are understaffed, offer an irrelevant curriculum and have failed to date to educate effectively the Huaorani children.

Huaoranis speak the Huaorani language, a linguistic isolate that is not known to be related to any other language. They are also referred as Aucas, mainly by the Quechua (or Kitswa) population, a term that means savages and upsets them. They became better known through their dispute with the oil companies and the government of Ecuador to exploit the Amazon oil fields and the inevitable destruction of the rain forest in their territory. An interesting article on the social reality of the huaoranis can be found here. Another great source is Savages (Vintage Departures), where Joe Kane tells the story of the tribe and their fight to preserve the environment they live in. He speaks of several persons, among which Moi Enomega, the current Huaorani leader and his brother Enquere, who we later met.

We boarded two small single engine Cessna and after forty minutes of an impressive flight over the impenetrable rain forest we landed in a short runway in the middle of nowhere. We were greeted by the population of Quehuirono, local community of some 30 people and proceeded immediately to our pirogue for a further two hours downstream the Shiripuno river. The ride was a pure delight down the shallow waters of the winding river, among dense foliage and fallen tree branches. We stopped many times when the boat got stuck on the sandy river bed. Our crew consisted of Emme, our local guide that spoke Spanish and Bartolo and Hui, the young drivers of the boat.


Amazon Ride
Our ride to the Huoaorani ecolodge
Amazon Rainforest
The rainforest viewed from the air.
Amazon Rainforest
The rainforest viewed from the air.


The lodge was rather basic, but quite comfortable, with spacious rooms powered by car batteries and solar. I have been before in the rainforest – in Ecuador – but most things about it still impress me. The fact that it always feels like dusk even at midday since there is very little sunlight penetrating the thick canopy. The amazing number and size of insects and bugs, in shapes and colors that beat the most vivid imagination. The sounds, especially at night that make you sit and enjoy for hours. The size and shape of creatures that find shelter in your boots during the night. The ambiance, the solitude and the night sky that is truly unique.


A butterfly in the area surrounding the Huaorani ecolodge.
The Shiripuno
The Shiripuno river.
Going down the Shiripuno river.
Shiripuno River
Going down the Shiripuno river.
Blue Butterfly
A blue buttefly with vivid colors in the Amazon.
Emme, our Huaorani guide.
A big frog we spotted in the dark, on our trek the rainforest.
The Jungle
Trekking through the rainforest.
An odd looking mantis in the rainforest.
Our Ride
Our boat in the Shiripuno river.
The Rainforest
The rainforest in the Huaorani land.
Bee and Fly
A colorful bee with a fly on top, at the Shiripuno river.
Odd looking mushrooms grown on a fallen tree branch in the rainforest.
Mother and Daughter
A mother mantis with her offspring in the rainforest.


We spent the next three days trekking and visiting communities. On the second day, we trekked for three hours back to Quehuirono. Emme went to great lengths to explain the secrets of the rainforest, how they go hunting and how make and use their weapons. It is amazing how precise the 4 meter blowgun can be, but you need to be a bodybuilder or a huaorani to be able to hold it straight without any help.


Emme and the Tree
Emme standing in front of a huge tree in the rainforest.
Emme, our Huaorani guide.
Efie and Nana
Efie and Nana, with a helping hand from Emme, in the Amazon rainforest.
The Rainforest
The rainforest in the Huaorani land.
Emme climbing on a tree with his blowgun.
Emme and the Blowgun
Emme hunting eith his blowgun.
Nana Blowing
Nana blowing the blowgun with a little help from friends.
Spear Man
Yours truly throwing the spear.
Efie and Nana
Efie and Nana in the Amazon rainforest.


We met his wife and children who greeted us dressed in their traditional uniform, meaning she wore nothing but a mini skirt made of plant leaves. I thought that they only dress like this for tourists, but the next day I saw her again by accident when we were going down the Shiripuno and she was dressed exactly the same. The kids though, they usually wear western clothes, i.e. shorts and t-shirt.


Dahua, Emme'w wife with the grandchildren.
Pretty Girl
A young huaorani girl in the Quehuirono community at the Shiripuno river.
Huaorani House
A typical Huaorani house.
Dahua Enomenga, Emme's wife.
Huaorani Girl
A young Huaorani girl in the Quehuirono community, on the Shiripuno river.
Efie and Nana
Efie and Nana in Quehuirono.
Dahua Enomenga in the Quehuirono community.
Dahua to Emme
Dahua, in her everyday outfit, saw passing by with the boat and threw some food to Emme.
Local Beauty
A beautiful Hoaorani girl in the Quehuirono community.
Huaorani Girl
Another Huaorani girl in Quehuirono.
Holding Her Baby
A young Huaorani mother, holding her sleeping baby.
A woman weaving in Quehuirono.


We spent about an hour with Ronel Tapui (aka Felippe), a twenty something old Huaorani that served as the teacher to the local school. He explained all the difficulties he has in teaching the kids things that they will be of use, how he lacks basic teaching tools and that the books they sent him from the government talk about things that are irrelevant to the living conditions of the community. On our way back, we were lucky to meet the local kids swimming and cleaning in the Shiripuno river, apparently the highlight of their day.


Sweet little Huaorani girl.
Ronel Tapui, aka Felipe, the young teacher in the Quehuirono school.
A boy sitting in Quehuirono.
The School
The scool in the Quechuirono community.
Young Huaorani paying volleyball in Quechuirono.
Killing Time
Young Huaoranis killing time in Quehuirono. Killing time is one of the main activities in the Huaorani land.
The Huaorani People
Huaoranis sitting in communal hat reserved for visitors, in Quehuirono.
After the Bath
A little girl after her afternoon swim in the Shiripuno.
The look on this guy says it all. Why is this guy taking my picture?
Three Huaorani kids, swiming in the Shiripuno river.


On the third day we rode for three hours by engine down the Shiripuno to reach the campsite where we spent the night. On the way we visited the Apaika community, where we met Bebantoke, Moi’s sister and Emme’s sister in law. Bebantoke is quite a character, very hospital and never stops talking in her mother tongue. There was no point in trying to understand her incomprehensible blubbering, but it was definitely amusing. She showed us to her house and she even offered us some chicha, a fermented drink, the only alcoholic drink available in the rain forest. The alcohol content is very low and chicha honestly tastes bad, but Huaoranis seem to really enjoy consuming it. During lunch I had an unfortunate meeting with a bullet ant. While I was eating I suddenly felt that something bite me and grew the strongest pain I have ever felt. It went one for about twenty minutes. I never took a bullet but I guess that this is how it feels. I guess this is why they call them bullet ants.


Bebantoke, a strong character that never stops talking, the undisputed queen of Apaika.
Mother and kids in the Apaika community.
Andres, in search of birds in the Shiripuno.
Efie, happy, in the Huaorani land.
Nana and Vassili
Nana and Vassilis, painted by the Huaoranis in Apaika.
Emme leading the Huaorani dance in Apaika.
Bebantoke, a strong character that never stops talking, the undisputed queen of Apaika.
Bebantoke and John
Bebantoke communicating mysteriously with John.
Stung by a bullet ant. Trying to smile but the pain is beyond anything I had experienced before.
Little Huaorani
A young Huaorani boy in Apaika.
Andres offering some chicha that Bebantoke prepared.
Take My Picture
A young guy in Apaika looking straight at my lens.
Huaorani Kid
A Huaorani kid in Apaika.
A young guy in his usual outfit in Apaika.


We continued to the campsite, an elementary installation with wooden platforms where the tents were set and a central hooden hit with a large dinner table. There was a couple of shared toilets that i did not dare to visit and no shower. The feeling was totally amazing, as we were days away from the civilization and our only reminder was a electric generator in the kitchen hut. In the afternoon we visited Nenkepare, another community, about half an hour downstream the Shiripuno.  In the evening I showed the local kids pictures from the Serengeti while Emme was doing the translation. They were totally captivated and I was happy. In short, the experience was once-in-a-lifetime.


Relaxing at the campsite, after an exhausting day in the Amazon.
Having Fun
A young girl and her friends, having fun on the shores of the Shiripuno river.
A baby anaconda in Nenkepare.
My Branch
A young girl in Nenkepare.
Yero, Moi's mother, fixing he hair with a certain dgree of vanity, in Nenkepare.
Huaorani Feet
Yero's feet, deformed after years of climbing the trees of the rainforest.
Enquere, Moi's brother and one of the leaders of the Huaorani community against the oil companies and the government.


The next morning we visited the 20m high waterfall, ninety minutes trek through difficult terrain. The bath under the falling water jet was rejuvenating and one of the highlights of our trip. Emme said that the waterfall was the only place his grandfather would ever go to take a bath.


Nana and the Waterfall
Nana posing in front of the waterfall we visited.
Efie and the Waterfall
Efie under the waterfall we visited near the campsite.
Jungle Trek
Returning from the waterfall excursion.


We continued by boat to the Bridge, an iron bridge on the Shiripuno where the Auca road that connects to Coca ends. We got on a minivan and drove back to Coca passing through a number of oil exploration facilities. Along the side of the road, there is an ancient oil pipe, build in the 1950s where most of the oil is running through. Often it breaks and it takes days before someone notices the loss of pressure, resulting in serious spills and contamination of the rainforest.

We arrived in Coca in the afternoon to catch our return flight to Quito. The airport is located next to the Napo river, a fifty meter wide river that leads straight to the Amazon. Cruise boats leave from Coca and can cruise all the way down to Manaus.


Together with our guides, at the end of the Amazon trip.
Efie and I
Efie and I in the Shiripuno.
The Bridge
The bridge, at the end of the Auca road.
A Petroamazonas oil tank in the middle of the rainforest.
Fires Burining
Fires burning from an oil extraction site near the Shiripuno.
Napo River
The Nap river in Coca, ehre the cruise boats leave to go downstream.


Huaorani Land