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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

An enchanting journey into the Amazon

ECUADOR | Wednesday, 27 October 2010 | Views [2325]

You could feel it in the morning air: this was going to be one of those special and extraordinary days, the ones you hope for but can't engineer nearly often enough.

Here you've got to be up early to catch the soft, gentle light over the rainforest as it doesn't last long here on the equator. It's strong and harsh for the rest of the day, but for 5 minutes past the 6am dawn it's astonishing and exquisite.

Take a deep breath. Enjoy the moment.

Chirping Black Mantled Tamarind monkey's (also known as clown monkey's) cahoot around the forest canopy seeking breakfast and the forest broadcasts the cacophony, drowning out Mohamed's interview. As we wind our way up out of Tena and into the lowland mountains, the air is so fresh and packed full of oxygen while down by the river the air is full of giant azure and turquoise butterflies, which are a sign of great luck apparently.

It's been a dozen or so years since I was on this continent; memories of re-fried beans, passing out and almost being kidnapped from the hospital in Guatemala, Mayan temples, altitude, and the indigenous culture. We never got to explore the Amazon nor did I get to Ecuador, and then the day before I'm due to arrive there's an attempted coup! So very South American.

We are here with Mohamed Suliman (the winner of the 2010 WorldNomads.com travel documentary scholarship), and Bruce Poon Tip (El Capitan of Gapadventures.com) to make a documentary about a couple of local schools funded through the footprintsnetwork.org. It's the the first time I've actually been to visit one of these projects, and faced with the reality, no matter how greatful the local people are, it can be quite daunting what little they have to work with and the size of the challenges they have to overcome. At this particular school, the community had been struggling to educate a broad range of educational levels in just a few buildings so they decided more space was their main challenge. For me it's one thing to read about the difference we make, but quite another to be standing in a school as they put a new roof on or interview the teachers of the school whose classrooms we are helping with. It makes it raw. Everyone should do this at least once in their lives. 

Opportunity. It's something we usually take for granted in our stable developed countries. Yet here, despite the communities enthusiasm and apparent understanding of the value of education and the implications for their children, education for these children is going to stop aged 12. The nearest high school is in Tena, at least an hour away and the costs of transport and school fees are apparently $400 per month. These people don't even earn that much. It's not even an option, no matter how bright you are. 

Everywhere we go, people here tell us that water is a huge issue. How can this possibly be? We are in the middle of a bloody rainforest where they have meters of rain each year! It turns out that despite volume of rainfall, these people no longer trust the rivers for drinking water thanks to a Canadian Gold mining company that was using Mercury to extract it and dumping the tailing in the nearest river. So the wet season here lasts a few months, but for the rest of the year these people can't then use the river water for drinking. They are stuck. Worse, these problems aren't simple ones to resolve. The Ecuadorian government recently suspended the license of said Canadian mining company, and all that then happened was their mining capacity was replaced by lots of small unregulated mining operators doing exactly the same thing. The lesson seems to be enforcing tight environmental regulation rather than suspension or banning. Getting the right outcome for these people is complicated.

The story of how Bruce came to be here, deep in the jungle 20 years ago to source his first trip and start Gap adventures, is an excellent tale. Fate somehow introduced him to Delphine, a local Quichua leader, who today seems the most articulate, perceptive and astute individual I have met in a long while and inherently seems to understand the connectedness of the world, although how, in such a remote location without electricity I'm not entirely sure.

Today the tracks he followed have widened into roads, bridges have been upgraded to concrete, trees have been chopped to create space for power poles and electricity is on the way here shortly with telecommunications arriving a bit later. The quiet of the jungle and the way of life of these people will be irrivocably changed. It won't all be good but these people desperately want access to power and understand only too well the opportunities and knowledge that the internet offers. While it is tragic that there seem to be no more remote parts of the world, you can't enforce wonderful isolation on someone else.

But as with so many places I visit, it's the robust, energetic children whose enthusiasm, delight and strength of spirit create such a lively experience from the most testing of circumstances that remains with you. I plan to return to this wonderful part of the world with my family before it changes too much. What an extraordinary place. 

Regular trips can be organised through Gap Adventures

Tags: documentary, ecuador, footprints network, gap adventures, hope, philanthropy

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