Visiting the Mandari Panga community – Indigenous tourism in Ecuador
In our last post, Happy Travellers Ann and Geoff told us about the lovely time they spent in the small traditional town of La Calera in northern Ecuador. There they enjoyed three and a half weeks staying with a local family and getting into the swing of rural life. After leaving La Calera, Ann and Geoff headed to visit the remote Mandari Panga community, situated within Yasuni National Park. The national park, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon, is a renowned hotspot for biodiversity. In this post, our Happy Travellers share with us the second part of their adventure – their fun, rewarding and wildlife-rich experience of indigenous tourism in Ecuador:
Our journey to Mandari Panga was an adventure in itself! We flew from Quito to Coca (under one hour) and then had a two hour truck ride along dirt roads. Next we travelled for an hour an a half along the Rio Tiputini, a tributary of the Napo River, in a motorised canoe. Our destination was a small clearing in the middle of the Amazon jungle, where a tent on a wooden platform was to be our home for the next four days.
Community-based tourism in the Amazon rainforest
The reserve is run by a small group of indigenous people, dedicated to conserving this pristine rainforest through low-impact ecotourism. The group is made up of family and friends who are all passionate about protecting and preserving this unique and massively biodiverse area of Ecuador.
By educating local schoolchildren about their rich ecological and cultural heritage, and and giving women such as Flora (one of our local guides), the opportunity to have jobs in ecotourism, the people of Mandari Panga are empowering their community. They are helping to preserve this natural way of life for future generations whilst enabling woman to support their families. All of this makes Mandari Panga a really positive example of indigenous tourism in Ecuador.
On the other hand, it is heart-breaking to know that this traditional way of living in harmony with the environment is being threatened like never before. Oil and logging companies are vying to claim vast swathes of this pristine forest, in order to exploit their natural resources.
Fascinating wildlife and jungle adventures
This being one of the most biodiverse places in the world, the majority of the activities on offer focus on showcasing the amazing natural heritage. We enjoyed both a night-time walk and a night-time canoe ride, accompanied by the exotic and wonderful sounds of the jungle. Also, a silent trip along the creek in a dug-out canoe enabled us to spot piranhas swimming within inches of us and a young deer, tentatively emerging on the bank for a drink.
During a long and languid drift downriver, this time during the day, we were spoilt by the sight a group of tiny golden-mantled tamarins as well as wonderfully plumaged birds and stunning butterflies and moths. We even spotted a king vulture, known as the ‘Condor of the Amazon’.
On a more energetic note, we also embarked on a 13 km hike through pristine jungle with Flora, who pointed out fresh wonders at every turn. Under Danny’s friendly guidance, this was Flora’s first ever trip as leader. Throughout all these trips, we hardly met a soul. Only very occasionally did we glimpse the thatched roofs of indigenous settlements hidden behind trees along the river. Here, tribes still pursue their ancient way of life, relying on the bounties of the forest to supply all their needs.
Blowpipe target practice
Some of the isolated tribes along the river still use a blowpipe for catching their food, just as their ancestors have always done. Using materials collected from the forest, including roots from an indigenous tree, the Mandari Panga community have reconstructed such a blowpipe. We had great fun trying our hand in a competition to see who could hit the target of an apple swinging from a branch. The blowpipe itself is about 10 feet long and extremely heavy, so great effort is needed just to hold it in position.
Although my attempts were rather pathetic, Geoff showed an aptitude for it and only just missed hitting the apple. Everyone then tried to prove themselves, with Danny also getting very close. The winner was Marco however, the reigning champion, as he was the only one who actually managed to hit the target!
Visiting the family matriarch and singing in the rainforest
On our last evening, we were invited to visit the matriarch of the family, a lady everyone calls Abuela (Grandmother). She originally lived on the Mandari Panga site but has now moved up-river, with several of her nephews, to a wondrous spot on a hillside overlooking the river and jungle. After a canoe ride and a steep climb, we arrived at her compound. Here we were greeted with warmth and hospitality by the whole family.
We started with a tour of the grounds, to see all the traditional medicinal plants and herbs that are grown there. We then sat down for a chat, using our faltering Spanish and Danny’s translation skills, while passing around a large bowl of ‘chicha’ – the locally brewed fire-water.
We were told that Abuela has a beautiful singing voice, so naturally we asked if she would perform. With a twinkle in her eye, she agreed, but only if we sang something first. Never before has the wildlife deep in the Amazon jungle been subjected to such a cringe-worthy version of ‘God Save the Queen’! Next Danny and Nexar gave a rousing rendition of the Ecuadorian national anthem, and Abuela created her own beautiful song about the birds and wildlife of the Amazon. We spent a magical time relaxing in each others’ company and passing round the chicha. Finally, after saying our good-byes, Nexar steered a slightly wobbly boat back to camp.
In the next post, Happy Travellers Ann and Geoff will share their experience after exploring some of the volcanoes just south of the capital Quito. Along with the story of their quest to see a mist-free Ruminahui Volcano, they will warm us up with tales of roaring fires.
If you want to visit the Mandari Panga community, you can see several tour options and packages on their website. To learn more about this and other activities and adventures available in Ecuador, you can also visit our Ecuador Holidays page and send a travel enquiry.
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