From Coca to Shiripuno, 27 Sept., 2008

From Tena, we have to take another bus to Coca. The ride is supposed to be 5 hours, but in reality it takes more than 6 and a half, because we literally do not exceed the 20 km/hour speed for the first 3 hours and the bus stops at every 50 meters to pick up another person (somehow, Ecuadorians haven’t figured it out that maybe they can flag down the bus as a group…no, they rather stand 50 meters apart at the side of the road.)

For accomodation we pick the Hotel Auca, since that’s where we had stayed last year, also. The rooms are nice and not horribly expensive (24 bucks for 2 persons) and there is the garden, full of animals (to which, in theory, I am opposed to, but in reality it is simply nice to have a little bit of greenery and some animals in this “not-exactly-beautiful” town). So I check out the macaws and tucans and squirrel monkeys and the agoutis, and try to take some pictures.



A curious squirrel monkey

A curious squirrel monkey

blue-and-yellow macaw

blue-and-yellow macaw


Taking wild animals from the forest to keep them as pets seems to be quite widespread around here. I remember last year in Nueva Rocaforte seeing a women pulling a wooly monkey on a leash behind her. Or sitting on a boat on the Napo River and watching families with kids, who brought back parrot chicks or baby turtles as souveniers from the forest. Looking at those small creatures it was clear that they probably would not even survive the journey to Coca. I think it is illegal to capture animals in the national parks, but it is probably difficult to enforce the rules.

The next morning we wait until some of the group members arrive from Quito by plane, then load up the ranchero, and hit the road (Via Auca), which is now almost all the way paved. Via Auca is a major oil access road, that was built by Texaco, which penetrates deep into the Huoarani territory. The road opened up the forest for new settlers, who then cleared out huge areas for farming. From Scott S. Robinson, Fulfilling the Mission: North American Evangelism in Ecuador in Is God an American?, p. 48
“The concessions granted to US oil companies in the late 1960s [in the Ecuadorian Amazon] were easier to explore and exploit due to the evangelical hegemony and infrastructure. The oil companies courted the missionaries; gringos met with gringos. The situation was defined. The moral choices were clear—the oil was needed by America; and the evangelicals, under the strategic leadership of the more politically sophisticated SIL, supported the oil companies and an ethnocidal Ecuadorean government policy of encouraging highland homesteaders to stake out parcels along oil company access roads.”

Alongside the road, you can see the oil pipelines, some of which are almost totally rusted.Dogs, kids walk on them, as if they were part of the natural landscape.

oil pipes running parallel to the road Via Auca

oil pipes running parallel to the road Via Auca

The ride (now, that most of the road is paved) only takes around 2 and a half hours. We break for a short lunch…

on the way to the Shiripuno river

on the way to the Shiripuno river

and by 1 P.M., we reach the new security point at the bridge. The checkpoint was set up this year (2008) around April to put an end to the logging that was going on in the reserve for years. I think the murder of some loggers by the Tagaeri (one of the Huoarani groups that have rejected all contact with the outside world) finally triggered the government into action. Even though everybody seemed to know who were behind the logging (supposedly the organizers paid Manuel, the chief of the Huoaranis for the trees, /mostly cedrus and mahagony/ that were then transported to Colombia, where they magically acquired the “sustainably harvested” sticker), for years the logging went on unchecked (there is always some corrupt official to blame). Anyway, now there are armed guards at the bridge whose job is to control the illegal logging.

To enter the Huoarani reserve, each guest has to pay 20 dollars, which then goes to the community. Our boat is loaded, we climb in, and start on our trip, that supposedly lasts 4 hours to the lodge, but with the water level exceptionally low, it actually takes us 11 hours to reach our destination. There are countless logs in the river that make it almost impossible to go further. At one time, we all get out of the boat, and wait on a beach until they cut the log.

a log in the river blocks our way downstream

a log in the river blocks our way downstream

Slowly it is getting dark, and we are nowhere close to the lodge. A few times we get stuck on a log or on the sandy bottom. The young French people are always the first one to jump into the river to push the boat. I am hugely disappointed in myself, when I realize that I would rather stay in the boat and not get totally wet (it is getting chilly…) Again, it seems to me, that my comfort is more important than my principles. Is it how I operate usually? Wait for other people to do the hard work necessary to get “our boat moving”? But even after the realization sets in, I am still reluctant to step into the unknown, dark river…so I keep my boots on when I do (just in case something is lurking at the bottom…)

It is well after midnight when we finally see the light (of the lodge). Some people immediately fall asleep once they get their cabins, but dinner is worth waiting for…


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Jim said,

    I’m about to sign on for a trip on the Shiripuno River. Would like to hear your comments & recommendations.

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