Sacred waters


The Shuar consider waterfalls in their community a source power and respect them deeply. Here, Sebastian, one of the volunteer guides, has a moment of quiet with a waterfall deep in the jungle, after the volunteers finished goofing off.

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Plantas de la selva: Vol. 2

Almost waxen

Our series of interesting and/or weird plants continues. Any botanist out there can feel free to identify.

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Primary forest, sustainable life cycle

Old growth

At Arutam, the Shuar community where I worked, the villagers are responsible for a couple thousand hectares of Amazon, allotted to them by the government. Their model, with the hands and dollars of ecotourists and paying volunteers (me), is to develop a small portion of the forest — cutting for banana plantations and fish ponds and whatnot — while keeping pressure off the remaining primary forest.

The above photo shows a tree reaching into the upper jungle canopy. The tree, by the estimates of our guides, could be 200 years old. In the present model, it’s protected because of, not in spite of, the community clearing land nearer the road and their homes for agriculture and aquaculture.

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Plantas de la selva: Vol. 1

Necesito un libre bontanico

There will be lots of these pictures, of flowers from the jungle, whose name Spanish or English name the local community doesn’t know. Hell, some of them don’t even have Shuar names.

But I’ve photographed them and will wait for word from a botanist, if one is reading.

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Leopard skins and dancing shoes

Shuar dance party

Well, maybe a lack of dancing shoes.

Every Wednesday en la selva is family dinner night. The community cooks a traditional meal of fish, palm hearts and yucca. And then we dance the night away to Shuar music.

Admittedly, there’s only a couple songs on repeat, and the steps — particularly for women who really only do a modified bunny hop — get old quick.

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Vulcan Sangay


The view from the bluff, where I stayed en la selva. This was the only day in almost four weeks that the horizon was this clear. To the left is Vulcan Sangay, in Sangay National Park. The park, home to two of Ecuador’s active volcanoes, is an endangered UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Shuar warriors

Warrior pose

During the three weeks I volunteered in the Ecuadorian Amazon, or “en la selva,” I lived in a Shuar community caught between traditional practices and modernization. Meet our volunteer director, Enrique Vargas, a 23-year-old who is studied in traditional ways, drips machismo and wants, in male Shuar fashion, multiple wives.

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Being Mexican in Ecuador

Hay burrito

My preferred Quito hostel serves dinner family-style every night. One night, Mexican burritos were on offer. They looked damn tasty, though the vegetarian, bean and cheese variety ended up being rather bland (no Joel, I have yet to “cave” as you predict).

However, the guacamole served on the side (see below) more than made up for it.

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Graf love de Quito

Names and hearts

Young people never miss an opportunity to proclaim their affections on monuments. This from high up in the eastern spire of Quito’s national basilica.

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Quito’s monumental basilica

A fun climb

On my first full day in Quito, I went for a walk around part of the old historic district and made my way to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, also known as the Basilica de San Juan.

It’s a huge church with twin fore-spires and a single rear tower with some of the best views over Quito. The stoic grey stone with subtle ornamentation outside, stained glass windows, and towering ceilings: it’s gothic beauty.

I spent most of an afternoon exploring where I could, taking pictures and hiding out from a hail storm. Enjoy the photos below.

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