North by Northwest
Esmeraldas Travel Blog› entry 8 of 115 › view all entries
As we motored our way down the river in a dugout canoe, I finally began to get a sense of why we had made this trip to the North West of Ecuador. The fact is that very few tourists come out here. Those that do are principally brought over from Quito by guided tour.
Of those that travel independently I suspect that very few speak worse Spanish than Andy and me. I"m not saying I"m proud of our lack of language skills, we were lax about the whole thing and we"re trying to remedy the situation, but the fact remains that we escaped the Gringo trail for a while and, with limited Spanish, got ourselves into the middle of nowhere. In a nutshell: It felt damn good to be so far outside our comfort zone, but still making progress.
Playa de Oro is a community (200 people or so) of Afro-Ecuadorians who have chosen not to sell off their land, 25,000 acres of primary rainforest, for deforestation. They live a fairly detached, tradtional lifestyle an hour down the river from their nearest neighbours.
The compromise they have made to avoid flogging the land is that they have embraced eco-tourism as an alternative. I could see the benefits of this, both in terms of the culture they have retained and with the continued survival of primary rainforest and its creatures - notably small jungle cats or "tigrillos."
As we landed at the village, I felt an unease about being an eco-tourist or observer, casting my western eye over the people and their daily life. Of course you are an observer as a tourist anywhere you go, but I think perhaps this kind of uneasiness is accentuated where the community is small and isolated and there are only a small number of tourists to observe. In situations like this it feels to me that the line between tourist (however well intentioned) and voyeur is a narrow one. I felt ill at ease in the village and was glad when we were on our way to the reserve and the lodge.
At the lodge, a beautiful old wooden building, we spent three nights and two days of animal (bats, a flying squirrel thing, fireflies) and bird (humming birds, vultures, colourful finches) spotting, walking, eating, reading and even a bit of swimming at a small and isolated freshwater jungle pool. It was utter relaxation and, after the previous week of ups and downs, it felt well-deserved.
We never did get to see any Tigrillos, but you know in the end, although it would have been nice, it didn"t really seem to matter.