Series on Ecuador: Amazonian Surprise

The real Amazon could not be more different.  It is on the edge of the Andes Mountains and has the most bio-diverse vegetation on the planet.
Dan Smith

Dan Smith

A passion for podcasting to tell the world about the great things Rotary is doing.

by Rotarian Dan Smith on location in Ecuador

When I was thinking about going to the Amazon I had visions of vampire bats and swarms of Malaria infested Mosquitoes (too many movies). Some of my fellow Rotarian’s talked about roving bands of head-hunters. The real Amazon could not be more different.  It is on the edge of the Andes Mountains and has the most bio-diverse vegetation on the planet.

Here everyone lives “outdoors.” The living rooms are open to the world and the kitchen is part of the living area. The furniture is made from sustainable lumber in a myriad of colors, browns, reds and purple.

I only saw one mosquito and the bats were busy eating bugs (ate a roasted grub myself, tasted like bacon, really good).

Downtown Tena is a bustling city of 50,000 people with a new boardwalk along the river. The restaurants and bars are all outside and as you walk from one to the other the music and environment changes with the mood and age of the people.

Mike Mccolm (pictured left), my host and the principal of Yakum (the parrot is not really setting on his shoulder), has worked in the Amazon for decades to protect indigenous forests and build cultural, medicinal and food sovereignty, through reforestation. This is the project the Rotaract Club of Cumbaya is proposing to join and help bring food sovereignty to several villages.

Just minutes from downtown Tena, and a world away, are the Kichwa villages.


Since the early 19th century, the Kichwa have experienced waves of foreign intrusion and exploitation, the most recent being the Amazon rubber boom (1870-1910), oil exploration (1920-1940), World War II and the rediscovery of oil in the early 1970s.” –

Today the Nation is made of smaller villages with approximately 100 – 200 people. They are self-governing. Poverty, malnutrition, and joblessness plague the communities. The Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the desperation. These are people who want to build their own future, not take handouts and give up their culture. With this project they have been building nurseries, planting and maintaining trees.

Every home has a “chakra”, a garden to provide food for the family. They generally include Yuca, Mango and other fruits and nuts. Ecuador has hundreds of “super-foods” that can enhance the nutrition for the families but up until now these have not been available to them. The goal of this project is to improve the bio-diversity of the Chakras and the communities so they can not only improve their nutrition but have traditional plants for medicine, dyes and building materials.

Cacao and Wayusa

Cacao or Cocoa and Wayusa have become my new favorites.  Fresh Cacao comes in the pod. The seeds are in a gelatinous material and don’t look like any chocolate bar. A grower would receive fifty cents a kilo for a cacao pod, without the shell. It takes six or eight pods to make a kilo. If they dry and process the Cacao they cost a dollar a kilo. A lot of work goes in to harvesting them for very little money. Next, they are fermented, crushed, whipped, cooked and processed to make chocolate.

Wayusa or Guayusa (Spanish) is a wonderful drink. It contains caffeine, theobromine (also found in chocolate) antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike coffee there is no peak or crash. Learn more about Wayusa here:

Hope you have enjoyed these articles. Still have more Rotary projects to visit here in Ecuador.  More stories from Ecuador to come in January. Have a great holiday.