Limoncocha – Into the Amazon Jungle, Ecuador

As the first leg of my Dragoman tour ends, one of the highlights between Quito and Lima was the trip into the Amazon Jungle on Thursday July 30, 2015. In the town of Coca, Ecuador, we boarded a dug out, motorised canoe for a ninety minute journey down the Napo River, with the sun setting under a full moon.

 
Limoncocha, a biological reserve located on the Napo River, is a Kichwa community, protected by the Ecuadorian government. The remote jungle lodge here in this community was our base for the next three nights and two days. (www.limoncochactic.com).

 We spent two memorable days here in the Amazon, hiking the trails with our local guides, who taught us about the local flora, fauna and how to survive by using the jungle’s natural medicines and foods. We also saw some jungle animals too!

One evening, we set off on another motorised canoe to go piraña fishing. As the canoe came to a standstill on the Napo river, our group had a go at trying to snare a local piraña while admiring another stunning sunset and the local jungle birds including the kingfisher.   As darkness fell, the glow worms and fireflies treated us to a light show as we journeyed along the river in search of a black caiman, an aquatic reptile that relates to alligators and crocodiles. At night, their eyes glow red. We were in luck, we spotted one half hidden under the surface of the water. 

 

One of the best things we did in the Amazon during one hike was swing from the vines of a 500 to 700 year old tree. 

One of our guides at Limoncocha was Adonis, a single father to six year old Noah.  

 I spoke with Adonis about the changes he has seen occur in his community when the missionaries and the oil companies first arrived. Although the Missionaries thought they were helping, they tried to change the traditional ways of the indigenous people, including ridding the community of their local Shaman. When they left, the local indigenous Amazons felt ashamed of their culture. But now, they have regained their pride and understand embracing traditional ways like producing art and crafts will not only benefit the local community, but teach people who come to visit the Amazon and Limoncocha about their culture and traditions. 

As a child, Adonis’ father used to work for the oil companies as an engineer, with Texaco being the first oil company to drill in the area in 1968. In the old days, his father used to line the oil pipes with plastic to prevent chemical seepage into the soil. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen anymore. “The people of the Amazon live from the river. As children, you could once drink from the river, but you can’t anymore”. 

All the waste from the oil, which looked like tar, was used on the roads to settle the dust. As children, Adonis and his friends used to play on these roads. Adonis’s parents, along with many of the elders in the community have since died from cancer, perhaps as a result of the oil poisoning. 

The Amazon’s survival is still under great threat with 10,000 square hectares a day being destroyed to logging, oil and agriculture (such as crops and cattle), with big name companies like McDonalds exploiting it’s natural resources. 

 The hospitality of the local people of Limoncocha was superb. The food was delicious and we had all our meals cooked for us. We were treated to an evening of local music, singing and dancing, and all of us were given a glimpse into the culture and traditions of the people and the jungle. It’s definitively a place I want to return to and learn more about.

Thank you to the people of Limoncocha for an amazing time! 

 

Museo Del Sombrero De Paja Toquilla – Panama Hat Museum, Cuenca

Saturday August 8, 2015. Day 12 of my Dragoman tour and I am in Ecuador’s third largest city of Cuenca, the birthplace of the Panama hat! So a visit to the Panama Hat Museum, a UNESCO honoured Cultural Human Hertitage centre was top on the list of things to do.

We were taken on a tour of this museum and workshop, home to the Paredes Roldan-Family for more than sixty years, and learned about the processes of how a Panama hat is made.

Why is it called a Panama Hat?

During the construction of the Panama tunnel, the President of Ecuador at the time sent all the workers hats. When President Roosevelt visited, he was given a hat as a gift. It was then the name Panama hat was found. Genuine Panama hats are made in Ecudaor, not Panama.

What is the Panama hat made from?

The hat is made from a type of Palm tree. The palm is cut from the root, sliced apart, boiled, smashed against the floor to obtain the fibres, then after drying, they are separated into thin strands that are weaved together.

How long does it take to make a Panama hat?

This all depends on the thickness of the fibres. Men and women making the hats split the fibres to weave the hat. The thinner the fibre, the longer the hat takes to make, and the more expensive the hat. The common Panama hat takes one day, but the thinner fibre hats can take 4-6 months. 

This hat costs $800 USD

 

and this hat costs $38USD


How is the shape of the Panama hat made?

There are now different modern devices to create the shape and the size of the Panama hat. In the earlier days, they used the trunk of eucalyptus trees, and before that marble, which was too heavy.  Aluminium  and rubber moulds were also used, before an electronic machine was created. The brim of the hat is then folded in, sewn then the excess is removed.

  

What about the colour?

The colour of the common hat is white. In the old days, peroxide was used to colour the hat, then sulphur which was grinded into dust and grounded into the hat. Now commerical ink is used.

Final finishing touches

After the final shaping of the hat occurs, a process that takes place 5 times

the final details are added including the colour and ribbons.

As tempting as it was to buy a Panama hat, I didn’t (a decision I hope I won’t regret later!). Instead I was happy modelling the hat instead. The museum and workshop is definitely worth a visit, and you can buy Panama hats of various shapes, sizes, colours and designs from inside. For more information, visit http://www.barrancospanamahats.com