“Un momento,” says Santiago.  Niyanta and I are walking down the boardwalk towards the second boat dock on our way back to Sani Lodge from a long day in the community with the Sani Warmi, the women artisans’ cooperative.  We turn and watch Santiago turn left into the jungle.  Where is he going?  I am thinking.  A few seconds later he comes back with a wooden paddle in his hand, the Sani Lodge logo on both sides of the board.  He has hidden it there for safe keeping.  How he knew exactly where to cut into the jungle is a mystery to me.

But, the lodge guides know every inch of this vast, dense forest.  Their paddles are seriously important to them, a rite of passage, a source of pride, and, perhaps most importantly, a valuable and necessary tool.  Without a paddle, you have absolutely zero mobility in the rainforest.  The waterways are the highways of the forest.  Without the rivers, streams, and lakes, communities would be isolated.  Canoes can be shared.  Paddles are personal.

Santiago joins us as we make our way to the boat landing.  Niyanta is excited to arrange for us to go on a special excursion tomorrow night – a canoe ride on the lake after dark.  She is animated as she is talking about it, firmly saying, “You will go on a night-time canoe ride.” She says this as if the future is fixed and there are no other possible outcomes for the evening.  I agree with her.

I am exhausted from the day.  Niyanta is not.  She is an endless bundle of energy.  The first day of training with the women was productive.  The women shared with us their challenges and we discussed solutions.  Now, it’s approaching 6:00 pm.  We will board the second canoe, and paddle across the lake for about 25 minutes to the lodge dock.  Niyanta and I will regroup over dinner and plan for another day in the community with the women.

We arrive at the second launch, but the second canoe is not there.

Niyanta turns to Santiago and he gestures to his watch. The guide with the second canoe is escorting a couple of guests back towards the Napo River, in the opposite direction.  No problem, I think.  They will be here soon.  After 15 minutes pass, I’m slightly worried.  Mainly because the night is approaching, and I haven’t experienced the jungle in darkness before.  I’m glad Niyanta and an experienced guide are with us.  If he has to navigate a canoe in the dark through the narrow stream, I have no doubt he could do it expertly.

While we are waiting, I remind myself to expect the unexpected when you travel, especially in exotic places.  With flexibility and an open-mind, pleasant surprises can come your way.  In this moment, while waiting for the canoe to greet us, I turn to Niyanta, and I know she is thinking this too.

Moments later we see our greet-canoe in the distance, coming towards us.  A blur of light in the darkness. We load up the boat and by this time, it’s completely dark.

Paddling down the lake, through narrow jungle-tunnels, in total darkness, the stillness is even more intense than during the day.  The inky blackness of the night, reveals fireflies, with their brilliant, glowing, yellow lights, the size of quarters.  Fish bats fly inches from the side of the boat in their relentless pursuit of dinner.  Dove calls, frogs sing, and crickets chirp.  A howler monkey bellows, the sound similar to blowing wind, just before an intense thunderstorm.  As your eyes adjust, the greens of palm leaves and lily pads take on an eerie quality.

This is a different rainforest.

Niyanta turns to me, smiling, and says, “Well, here is your night-time canoe ride, just one day early.”  Niyanta, prescient as always!



As part of our continuing work with the indigenous Amazonian community of Sani Isla in Ecuador, Deborah Tompkins is sharing a travelogue of her experiences as an American in the Amazon. Deb’s company, Sage Point, works with NGOs in Africa, Asia and now Latin America to develop and execute marketing and communication strategies. She is donating her time and expertise to support RP and the Sani Warmi community. We invite you to join Deb as she introduces you to the people, the community, their Amazon ecolodge, and their forest home.

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