Our August group tour to Ecuador was a lot of fun, and we had a lot of adventure during the trip while also supporting local communities. We visited Playa de Oro of course, but also the cloud forest area of Mindo, and the mountainous region of Intag.
The banks of the Rio Santiago were almost unrecognizable since the devastating flood in February 09, especially along the edges of the village and the banks of the lodge area. During our visit to the village of Playa de Oro, there was still a lot of rebuilding going on from the flood damage. Nine homes were completely lost in that flood, among other structures in the village, and many are still in the process of rebuilding their homes. New concrete stairs had been built up from the river to the village, and lots of rock walls had been completed along the river walls. It appears that these rock walls or dykes are completed at this point, so helpfully this will help prevent further erosion along the edges of the village and hold any future flood waters back. The guest cabanas in the village had been repaired and are now reopened for tourists. The community's spirits were good, despite all the work they still have to do to complete the recovery efforts.
The steps at the lodge's banks were also lost in that February flood, along with our shed that was used to store boat items like passenger seats and life jackets.Playa de Oro was able to rebuild the concrete stairs and put in a new covered building area for the boat item storage with the help of donations from members of NWHS. The community of Playa de Oro wishes to thank NWHS and their members for their generous donations to help them rebuild the concrete stairway up to the Tigrillos Lodge so that tourists may have a safe walk from the river to the lodge. They also used some of the donation money to help feed the 9 families who lost their homes while they have been displaced. It was a community wide effort, other families opened up their homes to share with those who had lost their homes in the flood, and your donations helped to feed the flood victims and lessen the burden on those who were sharing their homes with them. They appreciate your assistance very much.
Our August tour group consisted of a lot of repeat travelers, many of the tour members have been as many as 3 times on our Touch The Jungle tours, along with 2 brand new people for which everything was brand new. As we traveled to Playa de Oro, we were astounded at how much gold mining had been done downriver of Playa de Oro, and how much it has changed the landscape along the Rio Santiago, leaving open scars and wounds in the red earth and piles of gravel and debris piled higher than the tree tops. During our drive to reach the Rio Santiago, we were also astounded at all the jungle that had been cleared and African Palm plantations now stood in it's place since our last visits. It appears while logging may have slowed in the region, it is obvious the African Palm plantations and mineral mining industries have exploded. While we are saddened to see more and more of precious habitats destroyed while we travel by road and river, once we arrive in Playa de Oro, we appreciate Playa de Oro's pristine forests even more.
I am also happy to report that Playa de Oro's Ecotourism has been steadily increasing this summer, with almost constant travelers all summer. During our stay at the Tigrillo lodge, a few more unexpected tourists arrived at the lodge without previous reservations. Just two years ago it was unheard of for tourists to just show up at Playa de Oro, but it is happening more and more often now, thanks to the write up in the Lonely Planet's Guide to Ecuador
giving directions to Playa de Oro. Our tour group had the lodge filled already, but we rearranged some things to make room for our unexpected guests, and before long we had the entire lodge filled including using 2 of the staff rooms for tourists! At the same time, back in the village, a large church group from Italy was staying in the guest cabanas and staying in family homes in the village. I have received tourists reservations almost steadily since May/June to date, keeping Playa de Oro very busy with work all summer. The community is very pleased with all the opportunity to work and extra income being brought into the community--at a time they need it more than ever with all the rebuilding and recovery efforts from that devastating flood in February. I am also pleased to say that all the tourists that have visited this summer have reported back to me that they thoroughly enjoyed their visit and how well the staff took care of them. I was pleased as well with the condition of the lodge and tourists facilities, which is my job to inspect and make sure everything is kept in good conditions. I could see alot of work and maintenance had been done to the Tigrillo Lodge building, lots of floorboards replaced, new screens on the windows, plumbing repairs, things of that nature, as well as the jungle trials were in good shape.
Our tour group also visited the cloud forest area of Mindo, famous for butterflies and hummingbirds. We visited a butterfly farm, and the adventurous members of the group tried some "canopying" or "zip lining", where you are hooked to cables high over the treetops, and you "fly" over the tree canopy at high rates of speed. It was so exhilarating, the group opted to go to another zip line location the very next day, where they found even longer lines at higher elevations for an even bigger thrill. On our way to Mindo we also stopped at the Equator and took a tour to learn about some of the native culture's customs, and see some interesting demonstrations that happen no where on earth but right on the equator!
Another location we visited tour was in mountains of the Intag region. We stayed in cute cabins in a little village called Nangulvi which is nestled in a deep valley with mountains straight up in every direction around us. We visited a natural hot springs, water heated by a volcano, every night to soak our tired travelers in to revive them for more adventures the next day. We went on a exhilarating horseback ride high into the mountains where we could see mountains and valleys going on forever as far as our eyes could see. During our horseback ride, we stopped to visit a small mountain school, where our tour guide Grace donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, and musical instruments to the school. We also visited the property were Touch The Jungle will be building a wildlife rescue center in the near future. The property currently is used for fruit crops, and the wildlife center will be nestled in and around the fruit crops. The property also has a small run down house on the property which Touch The jungle will renovate in order to provide free housing to wildlife center volunteers in the future. We'll report more about the wildlife center plans later, once the planning stage is completed. We also visited the nearest small town, Apuela, where we met some locals and experienced their food and some of their local culture, as well as the organic coffee co-op where we were shown how coffee is produced--from the beans on the plant all the way to the final product ready for sale. Then we bought all the delicious coffee we could as fast as they could package it up! You can buy some of this delicious organic coffee from the Intag area yourself too, and experience some of the BEST coffee in the world, Grace brings plenty back with her to sell in the US and Canada. Go to http://www.bundascattery.com/RioIntag.htm
for how to order the coffee and support this organic coffee farmers efforts in the Intag region.
There were many fun activities we did and places we visited during this tour that I have just hit on some of the highlights, but I am sure some of the other group members will share some of their favorites things about the trip as well along with some photos. I would like to thank our tour group members for joining us on an unforgettable adventure and helping support the communities that we visited on the tours. Thank you to Grace Lush for organizing this whole tour and making sure we were all where we needed to be when we were supposed to be there, and for keeping us all organized! Grace has been planning and organizing the Touch The Jungle tours the past few years, and she has been doing an excellent job at it. She continues to scout out new places to stay, and new activities to do, so the tours are always unique and changing from one to the next. She must be doing a good job because we have so many repeat tourists!
We have two tours coming up in October and November, but both tours are completely full at this point. Touch The Jungle is considering the next tour for April 2010, but the exact dates have not been decided yet. If you are interested in going in April, you should let us know as early as possible so we can put you on the contact list to be notified as soon as the dates are finalized so you can be sure to reserve your spot early! Contact Grace Lush to sign up for a future tour or for tour questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.