Reaching Waorani (also spelled Huaorani) territory deep in Ecuador’s swath of the Amazon rainforest takes time and commitment. From Quito, take a van ride to the lowlands, board a small twin prop plane with one small and carefully weighed backpack, touch down on a narrow grass airstrip in the middle of the forest, and travel by dugout canoe for several hours to a the community-owned Huaorani Ecolodge, which was created to cater to intrepid travelers. Given the logistics to even get there, it’s perhaps not surprising that this elusive tribe of hunters were one of the last ones in the western Amazon to make contact with the rest of the world.
Responsible tourism is considered the least harmful of possible income streams in this part of the world. Oil exploration and extraction leave deep scars and pollution throughout the greater area. Palm oil plantations tear down healthy rainforest and displace wildlife only to rob the soil of its scarce nutrients with the punishing practice of monoculture. It’s quite the stark contrast to how the residents and stewarts of these lands have lived for hundreds of years.
To the Waorani people there’s no distinction between the physical and spiritual worlds. Before and after something as simple as a traditional hunting party or fishing expedition, the community’s shaman will pray for hours for success and to ensure that the spirits of the hunted animals will live on in peace and without grievance.
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