Yasuni National Park, Ecuador (1. getting there…)

Somehow I keep bumping into articles about the Yasuni these days (like this: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100119133510.htm and of course, about the ITT-proposal : http://www.sosyasuni.org/en/index.php and http://www.laht.com/article.asp?CategoryId=14089&ArticleId=348858) and that just made me realize how much I wanted to write about it ever since our visit.

Giant otters in Yasuni, photo by Ralf Darius

If somebody is not familiar with the issue: on the one hand, according to a few studies, Yasuni is one of the most biologically diverse place on our planet. And, on the other hand, it sits on nearly one billion gallon of oil. In 2007, the Ecuadorian Government announced a plan, to forgo oil development in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) area. “In exchange for forgoing the projected revenue from oil exploitation, Ecuador has sought financial commitments from the international community to support its transition toward a more sustainable economy”. Germany already offered around 73 million USD per year for 13 years, and seems like Spain and Belgium are also in the talks with Ecuador about a trust fund. If the project goes through, then the eastern part of the National Park would be permanently off-limits to oil-companies.

While during our Ecuadorian trips we spent a few weeks here and there, close to the Yasuni, for me Yasuni means that week that we spent camping inside the park with a native guide, Sandro. That was the first time that I stayed in a tent in the rainforest, far away from any human settlement, and it was one of the most memorable trips that I have ever taken – partly because of that 12 hour boat trip, that one has to take from Coca to Nueva Rocafuerte on an overcrowded boat (just kidding…well, not really. It is an awfully long ride.)

So, the starting point, as with so many other trips, was  Coca. We were trying to find a local guide, and at one agency they recommended us a guy, who had a restaurant, not far from Hotel Auca. We met him that afternoon, and he immediately started organizing a trip for the two of us – since the boat to Nueva Rocafuerte was leaving the next day, (on Thursday) we could start immediately. We met our guide, Sandro, and went for shopping – we needed to get our basic supplies for a week in Coca, so we bought meat, vegetables, fruits, oil etc. The next morning, at 7 we got on the boat – with a few dozen other people and their belongings, mosty products that they bought at the market and were taking back home. We got squeezed into a tiny corner – there was a very young looking girl with a baby opposite of me – she did not seem to be older than 14, but she was a very patient mother – or the little baby was an exceptionally good one, because the whole time she did not cry once (sometimes it strikes me, what a huge difference there is between European babies and babies in Ecuador, Peru or Madagascar. They seem to be so much more patient, not to be fussy at all – long rides on buses or boats do not seem to faze them whatsoever.: no crying, no hysterical fits…of course, I might be overgeneralizing…but I am not the only one. Jean Liedloff spent more than two years with a venezuelan tribe, the yecuana, and wrote a whole book about (among other cultural differences) how they treat and raise their children – it is called The Continuum Concept- In Search of Happiness Lost – a very interesting read on this subject – could deserve a whole new blog entry….)

As we slowly make our way down on the Napo River, there is not much to do, just to watch the riverbank (close to Coca quite a few settlements, then after Pompeya their number is dwindling down..) and our fellow passengers, who, after finishing a boxed-up meal or a soft drink, drop the trash into the river with no hesitation. Although, of course, what can they do with a plastic bottle? Take it home to their village and…burn it? bury it? let nature work on it for a few hundred/thousand years? Of course it is much simpler to get rid of it by letting it float away…(to be continued)

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