Chinese Oil Interests Force Closure Of Indigenous Tribe’s Award-Winning Ecolodge

Huaorani EcoLodge lies deep within the Ecuadorian Amazon in Yasuni National Park. It’s owned and run by the Huaorani (also known as Waudani) people and its sustainability and cultural practices have won it a National Geographic World Legacy Award. The lodge was opened in August, 2007 in an effort to provide an income for the tribe, sustain and share their culture and protect the rain forest. It was a life changing experience to travel there with my son in 2010.

The only way in for visiting tourists is by boat along the Curaray and Napo Rivers or a small 4-seater plane that lands on a narrow grass landing strip in the isolated community of Quehueri’ono where you are taken by dugout canoe to the lodge. Either way you see both pristine rain forest and the wasteland wrought by global oil and timber companies – swaths of polluted land and rivers, the smell and noise of oil drills and hear the silence because the rain forest fauna have died off or left.

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You need permission to visit as you are entering the protected reserve (the largest in Ecuador) of 4000 indigenous people who have been fighting the encroachment of modern life and ongoing destruction of their land.

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Despite years of lobbying by Hauorani leader, Moi Enomenga, in front of Ecuadorian and international organizations; despite the Hauorani having been awarded legal title to Yasuni National Park and despite its status as a UN Biosphere Reserve, their land continues to be impacted by the environmental destruction of global oil and timber interests.

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Today I learned that Huaorani EcoLodge has been forced to suspend operations because of nearby seismic exploration by a Chinese oil company. The Huaorani have asked to negotiate with Ecuadorian authorities to minimize the damage to the lodge and the business that provides income to the tribe. There has been no response and so they’re working with partners resorting to that most modern medium of appeal – a Change.org petition.

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I was forever changed after leaving the Ecuadorian Amazon. I wonder every time I’m at a gas pump (which is far less these days) what was destroyed so that I might have the convenience of driving? I wonder how much longer the indigenous protectors of the rain forests worldwide can continue to be the front line in a battle to save themselves and an invaluable ecosystem? I wonder if I will be able to fulfill the vow I made when saying goodbye on that air landing strip of grass in Quehueri’ono- that I would return again to Huaorani EcoLodge?

 

 

 

India: Dying In The Heat & Pollution

I’m worried. It’s nearly 124 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of India, the highest temperature ever recorded. There’s a drought across much of the country. New Delhi is the most polluted city in the world according to the organizations tracking global air quality. Indians are dying from heat related illnesses and toxic air. These facts would normally become part of the gestalt of international environmental and humanitarian crisis media reports that seem so overwhelming it’s hard to know how an individual person can help. But it’s hard to ignore India these days. I sit on the board of a humanitarian project called The India Group who works with low caste families to provide medical care and education for their children. I was there the month of February. It’s not just a country but it’s individual children and families I know who are suffering.

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I know in Khujaraho where she lives, the wells have dried up and drinking water comes in government trucks. Families line up with containers to get water. It’s so hot inside the small 6 x 6 concrete room her family calls home that family members get heat boils on their skin. And because she and the rest of her family are from the farming caste, their only source of income has withered and died in the heat. More than 400 farmers across India have committed suicide out of desperation since January.

I know the overcrowded New Delhi slum where they live is not only sweltering, but the air quality levels caused by heat and dust are severe and the accompanying toxic ozone gas levels are causing permanent lung damage in some people. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

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It’s hard to fathom what conditions must be like in this Kolkata slum that sits on the city railroad tracks. On a good day conditions are miserable. It’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit there today. To deal with the crisis schools shut down in April until further notice.

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I wonder how my Kolkata friend Roju is surviving. Is it even physically possible to hand pull a rickshaw on the Kolkata streets barefoot in blistering temperatures?

Two nights ago the Seattle local and national news featured distraught downtown Seattle workers who had been inconvenienced when a faulty mechanism shut down electricity to parts of the city for an hour on a day when the outside temperature was a comfortable 65 degrees. In India people died that day from the heat and toxic air. That crisis wasn’t covered by the media. In Seattle the espresso machines were silenced for an hour. That’s the “crisis” the media chose to cover.

 

The Agua of Valencia

It was a Mother’s Day Vulcan mind meld! As promised in my previous blog post,  I started to write about Agua de Valencia, the specialty cocktail of Valencia, Spain. However, fellow blogger Fork on the Road (aka Glenn Kaufmann) beat me to it with a Mother’s Day post on the same topic. We took an evening tapas tour of Valencia compliments of the city tourism bureau that ended with Agua de Valencia at what became my favorite haunt, Cafe De Las Horas.  During our tour Glenn suggested I try another specialty of Valencia called horchata, a refreshing drink made from tiger nuts. His Fork on the Road informative blog about both drinks is posted here. He’s a food blogger focused on the story behind the food. Me, I’m an eclectic travel blogger who was enamored about the ambiance of the place and if I would ever be able reproduce the nectar known as Agua de Valencia once I got home.

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My first foray into the cafe was late at night with a tour guide and Fork On the Road. When trying to find it on my own during the day, it was hard to believe this nondescript exterior housed the magical interior of my first Agua de Valencia experience.

But once inside, Wowzer! There was the crystal bar chandelier and painted blue ceiling with gold stars that I remembered from my first Agua de Valencia night. But it was my second time that had me noticing all of the art deco lighting, the bouquet of fresh cut flowers and the play of light off the well-stocked bar.

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On my third venture in I studied the marble, the historic art on the walls and the lush red coat of paint everywhere. Fork On the Road describes it as a bordello-like atmosphere. Maybe so. I just know I was charmed by its baroque over the top attitude enough to return multiple times during my month’s stay. Literally translated Cafe de las Horas means Coffee Hour, but I never came for the coffee. It was their Agua de Valencia that brought me back every time.

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I asked the bartender for the recipe and he said good bartenders each have a slight variation in their ingredients, but an authentic recipe with advice could be found at SpanishWines.com. Here it is:

Recipe for Agua de Valencia

  • 200ml Orange Juice
  • 50ml Gin
  • 50ml Vodka
  • 700ml Cava (or Champagne)
  • Pinch of sugar

Method:

  • Into a pitcher jug, pour one glass of orange juice – best if it is freshly squeezed orange juice.
  • Add a bottle of semi-dry Cava (or Champagne if you do not have Cava).
  • Add a shot and a half of both vodka and gin.
  • Add the sugar according to taste.
  • Refrigerate before serving.
  • Serve in the jug, and then pour into glasses to drink. Enjoy!

If you are planning on making this drink then you may want to consider these pieces of advice. Do not use orange liquors such as Cointreau to make the drink as it is the fresh orange juice that gives the drink its aromatic qualities. Also, try to use oranges grown in the Valencia region as this will make the drink more authentic.

Naturally, good quality alcohol will make the drink taste better, and Cava is always preferable to Champagne as it is truly Spanish. The sugar is optional, and if you prefer a drier cocktail instead of a sweet one, then you can always use dry Cava or Brut. It is also a good idea to prepare this Spanish drink in advance as it is best served very cold which means time in the fridge. You should mix the drink in the pitcher with a spoon, but when serving the drink, you should try and remove the spoon from the jug without disturbing the mixture too much.

The Urge To Speak My Mother Tongue

I’d been in Valencia, Spain solo for two weeks when it struck me that I hadn’t had a full blown, uninhibited-by-the-constraints-of- my-mediocre-Spanish conversation in 14 days. I was living solo in an apartment in a city that was in the midst of Fallas, their exuberant March three weeks family and friend oriented festival which would be followed immediately by a family and friend oriented Easter. I needed to let loose a torrent of pent up English mother tongue words. But where to find English conversation in a city that speaks Valencia (a version of Catalan spoken in parts of Spain) and Spanish? I asked The Google. And then I asked The Facebook.

INTERCAMBIO EVENTS. Intercambio, which literally means exchange in Spanish are informal language and cultural events sponsored by schools, bookstores, coffee shops and pubs that allow participants to practice a language. It turned out there were many public intercambio English events in Valencia inviting English speakers to come converse over beers and coffee with Spanish speakers wanting to improve their conversational English.

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My first intercambio was at the Ubik Cafe , a coffee shop, wine bar, restaurant, bookstore in the charming Rusafa neighborhood. The evening was advertised as Singing in English and that’s exactly what it was. A local expat musician distributed sheet music of Beatles tunes and led the audience of Spanish and English speakers through a lively and social sing-along concert. On Monday evenings, Ubik sponsors a more traditional intercambio facilitated by a local language school where multiple language skills can be practiced including English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. I was unable to attend because while I was singing in English, a local told me about another intercambio venue:

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Valencia’s Portland Ale House is owned by two guys from Oregon fell who in love with Valencia and brought craft beer brewing and sensibilities to the city. The owners came from a land only three hours south of my home turf. I would not only be able to talk English, I could talk U.S.A. Pacific Northwest English! The pub was decorated in comforting memorabilia – a University of Oregon banner, Northwest Airline antique signs and black and white photos of Oregon. After the owner greeted me, I was seated at the intercambio table and given coupons for any combination of three free drinks and pizza as payment for my time as a conversation partner. I was joined by another English speaking partner (from Seattle no less!) and six locals – all young professionals wanting to practice English. The evening was a combination of informal table conversation and pub trivia contests where our intercambio table competed with the pub’s regular crowd. It was a trivia question that prompted another suggestion from one of the locals:

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IRISH PUBS An Irish friend once told me you can find an Irish pub in every moderate sized city in the world. Irish pubs are generally staffed by friendly Irish bartenders, televise soccer and rugby and are frequented by English speaking tourists and expats. There are at least five Irish pubs in Valencia but I only checked out one to see if it satisfied my need for an English chat. It did. Finnegans of Dublin was conveniently located on my daily walking route back to my apartment. The second time I dropped by for a beer after exploring all day, the bartender recognized me and introduced me to a group of London tourists who were there to watch a soccer match. I joined them and two soccer games later left saturated with English conversation.

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LOCAL TOUR GUIDES  The Valencia tour site Discovering Valencia offers a variety of guided tours with English speaking guides. I took the evening tapas and wine tasting tour with their lively and knowledgeable guide, Irma Mariscal and, as it turned out, another travel blogger from the U.S. That not only gave me an evening of speaking English but I also learned a lot about the protocol and culture of tapas, the history of Valencia and I discovered wonderful restaurants that I returned to during the rest of my stay.

I stayed in Valencia for a month with the intent of improving my Spanish by living there as an immersion into the language. My Spanish did improve. In fact, the rare English conversation I heard while out and about was so unusual it would nearly stop me in my tracks. By the end of my trip I thought I was hearing more English street conversation. It turned out the conversations were still in Spanish, but I understood more of it. Still, I found I needed the occasional relief of hearing and speaking unfettered English. As a solo traveler without the companionship of fellow English speakers, I needed to seek out those opportunities. And by doing that I also sang, played pub trivia, cheered a televised soccer match and sampled the cuisine and wine of Valencia.

Next post: Agua de Valencia.