Farewell to mass tourism // ADV Rider
We may lament the days of cheap flights and easily accessible travel, but how do locals cope with the loss of tourist crowds? Here is my Ecuador travel report focusing on life in Ecuador looks like right now – from the point of view of the inhabitants.
Life in the Amazon Basin
In the small indigenous Campococha community near the Napo River, eco-lodges, boat tours and jungle treks were a major source of jobs and income last year. According to Olmer, our native Quichwa guide at the Grand Selva Lodge where we settled for a few weeks to explore the Amazon Basin, he used to lead rainforest hikes every day, sometimes twice a day, in the fall. and in winter. of 2019. Now there are no more groups to guide and no more tourists to show around. “It’s really quiet here right now, and there aren’t a lot of jobs at the lodges and ranches. Some maintenance, painting fences, fixing roofs, but that’s about it,” Olmer told us as we headed upstream following a small creek in hopes of spotting caimans.
The Grand Selva Lodge, a large wooden house located just on the outskirts of Yasuni National Park, is eerily empty these days. For almost a week, we have been the only customers here; owners Karin and Roberto, an Austrian expat and her Ecuadorian husband, say it’s mostly locals who come to visit for a day or two and then leave. We met an Israeli couple traveling in Ecuador who stayed here for one night, and there were several Ecuadorian families here for the long weekend enjoying a chocolate tour and wildlife sightseeing hike; but for over six days now we have had the place to ourselves. Day in and day out, Roberto is busy fixing the water supplies and working on the house, while Karin helps the children with their homework – even here the children now go to school online – but the hotel business has taken a step back for now.
Plantain and cocoa instead of guided tours
Puerto Misahualli, the nearest town where we buy food and supplies, is also exceptionally quiet. Monkeys still congregate in the town square to extort food from shopkeepers and passers-by, but restaurants are empty, most hostels have closed and no outsiders are stepping out of tour buses hoping to explore the tropical forest. To get to Puerto Misahualli we have to walk two miles, take a bus for half an hour, then hitchhike or walk to town for another few miles; people we meet on the road smile and say hello, but we are clearly an unusual sight.
“We have a small farm that my wife takes care of, and most people here grow plantain, maize and cocoa. So when there are no tourists, there is always agricultural work,” says Olmer. In many ways, rural communities seem to fare much better than city dwellers: here, in the warm, humid air of the lowland rainforest, people grow their own food, homeschool their children and have whole communities to turn to for help. . So while the riverboats sit idly by in the shallows of the Rio Napo, the lodges are empty and the tour operators take an indefinite nap, people get by and life goes on – you might say, much quieter and can -be healthier without the usual crowds of gringos flooding the place.
In cities it’s a different story with many restaurants, hotels and hostels closed – perhaps for good, as few will be able to recover and reopen. On the other hand, with Ecuadorians hitting the road and traveling within their own country, perhaps the tourism scene here will start to shift more towards domestic travel; and maybe, in a way, it’s a new dawn for Ecuador and sustainability.
Back from the rainforest
After returning our bikes in Quito and spending two weeks by the Napo River, we are ready to hit the road again. With friends coming to ride dirt trails together, we will once again head into the Andes, but this time we hope to go deeper into the backcountry, ride more gravel roads, and find out if the Andes do as well as the Amazon.
In the meantime, we still have a few unfinished hikes with Olmer, our guide; we hope to take a night walk to spot scorpions and tree frogs, and explore the local network of creeks and streams hiding all sorts of incredible creatures surrounded by lush, unspoilt vegetation. It’s a strange feeling having the whole lodge to ourselves, the empty lounge chairs strewn around the pool that no one uses, the rains bringing nightly concertos of frogs undisturbed by human activity, the reclaimed ponds by turtles, ducks and tadpoles, the dirt road empty except for a passing truck here and there, the swollen streams engulfing small canoes slowly filling with muddy water.
In a way, it’s like living in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel where magical realism and reality are increasingly difficult to distinguish; the rainforest seems to be taking over, sprouting and budding in every nook and cranny, reclaiming the little gravel path to the lodge, barely restrained by Olmer’s machete and Roberto’s lawn mower; the other day, our landlord found a snake in the washing machine, and when you’re cooking dinner in the outdoor kitchen, Danny the tarantula comes out to watch the happenings. The days merge, hot and humid, and one no longer distinguishes Tuesdays from Fridays; It’s a quiet, green world here by the Napo River, and I can’t help but think we’ve found something rare and valuable amidst the chaos of the outside world.
What will the dirt roads of Ecuador be like without all the adventure bikes going around? There will soon be another Ecuador trip report!