Pastaza, sleeping beauty


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Pastaza’s story seems yet to have been written. Like a novel that no one has yet imagined. It’s a story of Man, of a world immersed in nature; a natural history in which everything is ensconced amid the uniform and infinite jungle that stretches as far as the eye can see. A story half-hidden on the dog-eared edges of our country’s map… Pastaza is full of rivers, paths and green swathes that are yet to be traced on paper, yet to appear on Google Maps.

Technically, Pastaza ranks as the most pristine province in Ecuador’s territory: it’s the least-densely populated and, until recently, had suffered less from the greed of governments and corporations. The reason: its remoteness, its indomitable jungle. When seen from space at night, this is the part of our planet that most resembles a black hole amid a sea of twinkling urban constellations. But the reality is much less poetic. Because it seems that all the elements that distanced us from this province in the past are conspiring to be its downfall today. The unbearable hatchet of history come full circle. Our race’s unstoppable zeal to extract and excavate, build, knock down and raze—our entire history—seems to have brought us to this moment, to this place.

The kichwa people’s traditional dance.

Today, in littl’ ol’ unassuming Pastaza, we are at the cusp of a final, inevitable Apocalyptic Now encounter, the moment when the silent history of millennia is wrenched mercilessly into the frenzied clamor and clatter of the Industrial Revolution. Kurtz would be smirking, “The horror”. We are knocking at the door. Trying to bring that door down. Cornering its silence.

That long history without a history, that story that was never written, that epic poem, sung like a Homeric ode in the voice of ethnic natives who have protected this stretch of a country we call Pastaza with spears and jaguar spirits, is now, suddenly, breaking its silence and making the news. A court ruling on April 26, followed by another ruling on July 11, saw the native Waorani community — a community that only half a century ago had never seen a man in clothes — managed to defend a tiny stretch of forest from oil exploitation. The decision forced all Ecuadorians to gaze on that black hole of their own geography.

In a matter of hours, the actor Leonardo di Caprio sent his reaction into the zero-and-one realms of Twitter: “The Waroani people are a day away from saving half-a-million acres of forests from oil drilling.”

Pastaza’s novel is unexpectedly being penned, made real for the outside world (although, Twitter, we know well, is a forgetful feed).

There is probably no other province in the world with a human population so in tune and connected with their natural environment

Two things should be emphasized: protecting 180,000 hectares (the “half million acres”) from oil drilling may sound encouraging, but it is only one of many threats that overshadow the region. The majestic Piatúa River is already being impacted by a hydroelectric complex. Miners are pick-axing and blowing apart every corner of the Amazon… everywhere. And of course, the Waroani victory might well be pyrrhic: we will return, as the insatiable wolves we are, to drill and extract. The stakes are too high and the bucks too big for a measly provincial court ruling to stand in the way.

The logic of mineral extraction is too cold and calculating to be swayed by a mocawa bowl of chichi, proffered by a new friend or by the magic of the morning mist veiling a jungle river. The stock exchanges have never seen the monkey king, the snake goddess or dreamed of the jaguar. They have not danced to the sway of ankle bracelet shells, they have not stood face to face with a real spear. Armed with their maps and GPS’d coordinates, ignorant of these jungles bursting with life, they will deliberate on the fate of swathes of land and the people and creatures (God’s creatures) that inhabit them in order to get their slice, to make their next billion. That’s a fact.

A domesticated Scarlet Macaw, a species much less common than it used to be.

Behind this story, there is still the dream of what remains unwritten, untold. Now is the time to explore the great jungle of Pastaza. Pastaza’s fledgling tourism awakening promises authentic, pristine, autochthonous experiences, where sense of place is an understatement, where families are waiting to share everything that makes them so special to anyone curious enough to visit.

So let’s come in silence. And in peace. Let’s gaze upon and admire this unique world, feel her magical breath of life-giving air, her pure nature, her untouched essence. Let’s hear what her ancestors tell us about her. Listen to the songs that speak of wars and realms peopled by jungle spirits. While the few who know her shout, fight and defend her in our world, let’s not wake her. This sleeping beauty is more beautiful asleep.

Night falls over Lisan Wasi: free of light pollution, we see the galaxy.

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