Ecuador lodge balances tourism, preservation

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GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador -- Of all the lodges situated in the Amazon, few have received as much notice for their sensitivity to both the environment and the indigenous population as the Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve.

The lodge is owned and operated by Canodros, an Ecuadoran company.

The company also owns the Explorer II, a cruise ship that plies the Galapagos Islands, where a tanker used to fuel ships ran aground Jan. 16, spilling at least 190,000 gallons of diesel oil into the water and endangering the ecosystem of the Galapagos group.

Prior to the spill, Canodros' general manager, Andre Barona, spoke about the company's sensitivity to the concept of ecotourism.

Barona said Canodros has sought since its inception to balance tourism and preservation, providing biodegradable soaps and shampoos, and employing cleanliness and good screening to take the place of chemicals, including insecticides.

When the Kapawi project, deep in the Amazon basin, was proposed in 1993, two of the company's managers, both experts in the fields of ecology and biology, conducted impact studies on the environment and the indigenous Achuar people who inhabit the area.

Also from the beginning, Canodros exhibited a sensitivity to the Achuar community. The project was a joint venture of Canodros and the Organization of Ecuadoran Achuar Nationalities (OINAE).

Canodros rents the land from the Achuar nation and, according to Gabriel Jaramillo, resident manager of the lodge, all decisions must be discussed and authorized by the Achuar federation.

Citing a tower under construction for bird observation, Jaramillo described how Canodros first went to each Achuar community, explaining why the tower would be a good thing and soliciting the opinions and suggestions of the elders.

Also notable is that the information booklet given to guests carries a forward and a greeting, not by the director of Canodros, but by the president of OINAE.

According to Canodros, it will turn over all installations to the Achuar federation in 2011.

Nearly all of the lodge's staff is Achuar. But unlike some Amazon lodges where "natives" don loin cloths to demonstrate bows and arrows and blow guns to tourists, no one at Kapawi is "dressing up or down" for guests, Barona said.

For nature walks, canoe excursions and village visits, guests are assigned both a Spanish-speaking Achuar guide and an English-speaking non-Achuar guide, who remain with the group for the duration of its stay.

Kapawi buys as many vegetables and fruits from nearby Achuar communities as possible and refuses to purchase meat from animals that have been hunted. Similarly, although the lodge sells Achuar crafts, it does not stock anything made of animal skin or bone.

A recent joint project of Canodros and the Achuar federation, with some help from the Ecuadoran government, has resulted in construction of a nearby ecotourism-oriented high school, where Achuar students study English, tourism, ecology and management of resources along with more basic subjects. Each month, a group of students visits the lodge for first-hand observation.

In 2000, Kapawi received two Arts & Entertainment television network awards for excellence, appearing on both its Top 10 Animal Adventures and Top 10 Exotic Destinations lists.

The same year, Kapawi also earned "high commendation" from Conservation International in its first ecotourism excellence awards, and in 1998, it received a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow citation for its commitment to ecology.

For more information, contact Canodros at (011) 593-4-285-711; fax (011) 593-4-287-651; e-mail: [email protected], or visit the Web site at www.canodros.com.

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