Amazonas 48 x 68" 2001

in the Andes

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Amazonas, the vast region stretching from the eastern slope of the Andes thousands of miles to the coasts of Guyana and Brazil. In Ecuador, it encompasses major tributary rivers like the Napo, indigenous tribes such as the Huaroani who still cling to their culture in small and diminishing groups, and vast ecological “preserves” where rare and endemic nature, in twenty-first century logic, must compete with relentless international exploitation of oil reserves and other extractable resources.

Driving from Quito over the Andes and down through the cloud forest, we spend hours on an unpaved road, winding through endless ranges of cloud-hung ridges, cascading water, trees encrusted with orchids and other epiphytes, verdant meadows where Holsteins from some hamlet calmly graze. The day wanes and the sounds of macaws and unrecognizable birds whistle and tweet in a growing cacophony from the forest: we stop at a copse of white ginger which Eduardo picks for us to perfume our travels.

There are still tracts of primary forest here at the Butterfly Lodge, and our Quichua guide Darío takes us on an hours-long walk through the dripping dark interior of one, pointing out the insects, animals and plants that make this system a world unto itself. We’ve seen a deadly fer-du-lance slip under a log, and Darío points out a tiny frog whose enamel-bright color advertises its poison, and ants which taste like honey. The creeks run the color of tea, the air beneath the high canopy is damply cool: when we emerge into the sunny clearing to meet the road, the heat is the first thing to greet us.

As the day ends, I walk to the bluff overlooking an oxbow of the Napo. Below on the mud flats a small child plays in the bed of a beached dugout canoe. The sky opens out above, the sunset burnishes the landscape to golden, but the elusive Andes are still cloaked in banks of cloud, and the rare views of the snowcapped volcanos from this place called Aliñahui, or “Beautiful View” will not be mine. The nights are alive with the music of thousands of frogs and insects, and surprisingly chill, and I drift to sleep under the wool blanket with the melodic names of the unseen mountains reciting in my mind... Imbabura, Antisana, Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Rumiñahui.