As a tour operator always looking for ever more remote and unusual places, I was thrilled to be invited to the deepest headwaters of the Ecuadorian Amazon last year to test out a burgeoning eco-lodge, owned and operated by the legendary Huaorani tribe. Under threat in recent decades from oil companies and loggers, these villagers were looking to developing nature tourism as a way of protecting their traditional habitat and lifestyle along the Shiripuno river.
The adventure began in a very small plane (just four of us) flying low over the unbroken green canopy, from the tiny airport of Shell. After 45 minutes we suddenly put down in a very small clearing, and a few bewildered locals appeared from the trees to take a look. We had missed the village we were aiming for, so we took off again. Once on target, we were greeted by a large welcome committee of women dressed in bark skirts, and men in magnificent feather headdresses and coiled vine ropes across their chests, and the odd spear in their hands. We were all given rubber boots and were very glad of them for the next five days; the rainforest lived up to its name. We were poled along silent rivers in low-slung dugout canoes and the giant raindrops began to fill the boat, our boots came in very handy for baling out. Our guides fished for lunch around us and we were taught how to use a blow-gun (aiming at a monkey silhouette in bark) and wore crowns sculpted from palms, and rucksacks crafted from leaves.
The highlight for me came each afternoon, sitting in communal areas and sharing our backgrounds with the villagers. Our faces were painted with plant dyes to show we belonged and everywhere we heard the word "waponi" which has several meanings, all on a general theme of happiness. It was completely charming and I felt so privileged to be given a glimpse of such a special and different way of life.
For more information please check the following link: http://www.huaorani.com/