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These Islands Humble Me

These Islands Humble Me

It’s that time of year to look back, reflect on where we’ve been, what the year brought, what lies ahead. This past Spring, I spent two-plus weeks between the Galapagos Islands onboard the M/Y Eric with a number of other adventure travel professionals and journalists, then onto Ecuador’s Yasuni Reserve in the Amazon watershed. Even though I have visited the Galapagos an average of once every two years since 2001, the islands never fail to humble me. The simplicity and clarity of life, carried on without human intervention (or at least as much as possible in today’s world) is both exhilarating and frightening…what if we screw it up?? Where can we find another Galapagos, a place this unaffected by…US? Sure, there are a few population settlements there, and the human presence is growing. But most of the outer islands maintain that magical isolation, the animals are still unafraid of us bipedal creatures passing among them, sea lion pups still tug at our swim fins, inviting us into the ocean for play. Giant tortoises still lumber through waist-high grass on their way to rocky pools, oblivious to the clicking shutters of a cameras. I left after a week filled with the wonder of how this unlikely Eden can still exist, and so very thankful that it does!

Continuing onto Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni Reserve brought this wonder into sharper focus for me. This is my favorite place in Ecuador. I’ve been to the Yasuni several times through the years, and the joint efforts of the Lodge and the Kichwa Anangu communities are what we at Wildland Adventures celebrate and hope to elevate in our work. The dedication of the naturalist guides, along with the ease with which the indigenous guides live within the rainforest, their abilities to track animals just from sniffing leaves still bearing faint musk of a passing peccary, is – again – humbling. On a day-long canoe trip through the winding tributaries of the Rio Napo, we spotted more primates than I have ever seen before. In the space of a few brief hours we saw troops of common squirrel monkeys crashing through the canopy overhead, white-faced capuchins, red howler monkeys, golden-mantle tamarins, dusky titi monkeys, even a nest of elusive night (owl) monkeys, peering out at us from a tree cavity, almost invisible against perfect camouflage. Other guests at the Lodge watched a family of giant river otters fishing and dining in the lake directly in front of the dock. All of this is wondrous and fun and exciting. Until I asked myself – why are we seeing such a marked concentration of these animals now? Is it because the Napo Wildlife Center is most assuredly doing something very right? Yes, I believe so.

But could it also have anything to do with the increasing presence of oil rigs and new roads out of the main rainforest city of Coca, accommodating the increased traffic of trucks and dredging equipment; roads replacing the buffer forests that used to surround the Reserve? The Ecuadorian government has made its plans clear, there will be more “exploration” within this area, forcing wildlife into smaller and smaller protected zones. Protected for now.

In 2014, I was reminded once again: Travel brings us face to face with aspects of the world we both welcome and cringe away from. It can bring out the best in us as guests, and at the same time throw our expectations into sharp relief against the rapidly changing “natural world” we seek. How we incorporate these dichotomies into our everyday lives when we return home, back to our regular Starbucks stop, family gatherings and routine chores, will tell us if we have grown in that brief time away, if we have taken full advantage of the privilege of travel. And how we will travel in 2015.  

Keeping it wild,

Sherry Howland

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