Why Discovering Ecuador's Biodiversity is an Adventure of a Lifetime?
Traveling the wilderness of Ecuador is a unique experience. Jorge is an adventurer of the sky and a pioneer of ultralight aviation in South America. He's been flying over his country with its limitless horizons for 27 years. It gives you such an intense feeling of freedom.
You can enjoy the scenery and fly wherever you want without worrying about the road or traffic. With this plane, you're free. It's not at all expensive and you can go wherever large planes can't, and land on much shorter runways. You're flying with the wind blowing through your fingers and on your face. Ecuador is a small country with a lot of diversity. You're in these 6,000-meter mountains, and an hour later you can be down on the Pacific coast, on the beach or in the tropical forest.
It's very rich. Jorge is a pilot, writer and High Mountain Guide. A photographer as well. His books on Ecuador From the Sky have made him famous throughout the country.
Now, he's preparing for his next flight into the Paramo, a mountainous zone 4,000 meters up. There, he's going to meet a friend, Armando, a naturalist. Armando called me.
I have to make a flight. He's got a problem with the instrument he uses to locate the wild animals. I'm going to bring him a spare cable up near Ayakache. Then I'll come back.
Jorge, a self-taught aviator, built his first ULM in his own hangar. He learned how to fly without an instructor. He was a pioneer 30 years ago. He flew above the Andes in his ULM, all the way down to Patagonia, the southernmost point of South America. Jorge is flying over the Paramo.
It would be impossible for him to land in these swampy mountains. He spots Armando from the plane and decides to fly in closer. He has to drop a little parachute with the equipment that will allow Armando to carry on his mission. Armando and his team are trying to locate mountain tapirs, the emblematic mammal of the Paramo. Some of them have been equipped with radio transmitters.
This timid animal is an endangered species. However, Armando hopes that by studying its behavior, he will be able to do a better job of protecting them. Without the radio localization, we can't do anything so many thanks to Jorge, who managed to fly up here despite the bad weather conditions, but he's really an ace.
The cable is really very important. Now that we have it, we'll be able to localize the tapir and track them down. I hope we'll be able to observe him without disturbing him. The terrain is tough going with high grass and pockets of icy water.
At last, they arrive at the mountain tapirs sanctuary. It's really close now. It's very important to study this animal because we know so little about it. If we were to know it a little better, we might be able to protect it and save it.
The paramo lies on the fringe of two worlds, between sky and Earth. Armando, in his study of the last mountain tapirs, is merely passing through these age-old landscapes that will remain forever untamed. Jorge on board his ULM never tires of flying over these territories, which he finds so fascinating.
Even though he knows that he's merely skimming the surface of these vast virgin expanses, he is fulfilling his dreams of adventure. Here is the gateway to the vast Amazon basin. This is the world's largest rainforest. One and a half times the size of Europe. The Amazon is a legend. It looks like a vast green Poncho, rolling off into the endless horizon, an El Dorado coveted for its riches, it evokes both a green inferno and paradise lost.
The Amazon is menaced by deforestation and the extraction of oil. For years now, the indigenous communities have been organizing and taking action for the recognition of their ancestral rights. Once nomads of the forest, they've gradually become the main defenders of this green continent. Teo is on his way home to his village after a long scientific expedition on the Rio Napo.
Teo is one of the best guides of the Amazon, one of the few to dare travel these rivers that snake deep into the jungle. He'll be collecting plants from the riverbanks, all along the way home. For me, there's nothing better than living an adventure like this.
We see the wonders of the Amazon, which is like the eye of the world, the center of the earth. If we don't take advantage of it now, all this will be lost with the passing of time. All this vegetation will disappear.
Here, nature's at her very best. When Teo was 20, he had the opportunity to leave his country for England. In Leeds, he discovered another jungle, the city. He studied natural sciences and earned a diploma in biology. Then a few years later, he came back to Ecuador, where he quickly resumed his place in his native community on the banks of the Rio Napo, deep in the forest.
Navigating this river is a lesson in patience and solitude. It winds through the Amazon for over 1,000 kilometers. It takes its source in the west, in the glaciers of the Andes, and meets the Amazon River in Peru.
Teo's pirogue is the ideal boat for traveling down the river. He has christened it, [Spanish spoken audio] Go like the wind. It's a long and dangerous trip down the river. There are many obstacles and they're constantly shifting. Sandbanks and submerged tree trunks become mortal traps. Teo on the prow, keeps his eyes glued to the surface of the river.
He's looking for the best path through the water and guiding Claudio, the pilot. Termites are a delicacy for piranha. The little predators serve as bait to catch bigger ones. Today's menu, Amazon piranha. [Foreign spoken audio] It's over 40 degrees and the sweltering heat beats down like a hammer on the men and nature.
The Amazonian jungle may appear harsh and inhospitable. Yet for Teo and his companions, it's like a childhood friend. A land of plenty, all within easy reach. [Foreign spoken audio] There's no relief from the heat here, even after the sun goes down.
With the darkness, a different world is unveiled. To get back to his village, Teo crosses the Yanacocha lagoon, a labyrinth of channels, lakes and flooded forests. Water. Light. A world of exuberant greenery.
Life is bursting out here in all its forms. The lagoon is an eerie mirror, reflecting the image of an age-old, inaccessible garden. To carry through this kind of adventure, it's really important, first off, that we all trust one another.
You have to have a tightly knit group. We have to be able to anticipate what needs to be done and prepare very carefully for the expedition to be a success because it may look easy. However, in the jungle, you have to make sacrifices and sweat for the group to keep functioning smoothly and to get what you're after.
At the heart of native spirituality are strong links between man, nature and the cosmos. This culture is deeply ingrained in Teo. In the jungle, he feels the force of the spirits that dwell there. He recalls the legends that his mother passed on to him as she would drink guayusa, a brew of forest plants. This tradition is a time-honored ritual. It's the moment for the elders to relate the stories that continue to forge the native culture.
The shamans always invoke Pachamama, the sacred Earth Mother. [Foreign spoken audio] They say that the goddess Pachamama has the power to petrify the animals of the forest. This goddess will return when the earth can no longer bear what we've been inflicting on her. She will come back as a very old person with a long beard.
Then, she will release all the petrified animals who will exterminate the humans. This indigenous spiritual vision allows one to understand how the world was before, and how to live better in today's world as well. These stories tell how at the beginning, Pachamama had blessed our planet.
She's the one who created things as they are for us. This harmony of nature, man and animal. I firmly believe in this vision which has been handed down to us through these stories. Teo's mother has asked him to collect certain specific plants.
For a long time, the communities of the Amazon kept the secrets of medicinal plants to themselves. Even now, all the communities on the Rio Napo still use these natural remedies. [Foreign spoken audio] Look, this one's good.
Go ahead, make a cut here. What we do is collect the sap of this tree. We use it as a natural medicine. It can be used to treat malaria and diabetes. We call it dragon's blood. This is one of the most useful trees in the Amazon.
It has a number of virtues, for example, you can use it to heal wounds. You do like this, and it becomes a cream. It's also good as protection from the sun, plus, with one, two, maximum three drops of sap, you can purify one liter of water. Here we have a very special tree of the Amazon. This species of palm tree grows straight up to benefit from the sunlight. However, if another tree overshadows it and takes the light, it will start to move.
It can move up to 60 centimeters a year. The pregnant women here use it during labor because it helps dilate the cervix and ease the birth. It's one of the best natural remedies we have around here. Nowadays, the younger generation doesn't care about medicinal plants. They want what's easy. They just go to the pharmacy.
If they have a stomach ache, for example, they buy pills. Whereas here, there's so much more, and it's natural, no chemicals. The modern world has been knocking at Amazon's door for quite a while now. Today, Teo's life balances between these two opposing cultures that he would like to unite.
[Foreign spoken audio] I see things from the indigenous point of view. I see a dim future for Pachamama, our Earth Mother. If man doesn't protect her, our planet will explode like a bomb. Look at all the wonders we have here. All this beauty.
We should be careful with it and cherish it, then Pachamama will thank us and take care of us.