The pickup truck turns off the wide gravel road from Misahualli and onto a narrower track, carrying you and four members of your new family in the back. Thirty feet above your head, the trees nearly touch. You’re headed into the jungle. Then, to your right appears a half-constructed house, and chickens scatter back towards it to avoid the car’s wheels as dozens more watch from under its deck. The trees close back in, only to retreat once again to offer a panoramic view of two great, high ceiling-ed buildings nestled in between three large ponds. As you drive around the nearest and smallest of the three, you see that the two buildings and the smaller one that appears on the left are flanked by a variety of palms, flowers, and other plants you haven’t learned to recognize. A sign in front of one stand of tall stalks reads “Cana Dulce” (sugarcane). The taller sign in front of the main building says “Sinchi Aqua Center.”
This was the sight that greeted me on one of my first days working here with Asociacion Sinchi Warmi (which translates to “Association of Strong Women”). Since then I’ve gotten acquainted with the center very well, as my work involves going there at least once a day. It’s a really beautiful place located in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, a few minutes by car outside of the local tourist hub of Misahualli, but secluded by the trees that surround it. The main building is a restaurant and common space with a paja tocilla thatched roof. The restaurant is mostly open on three sides, allowing a view of the well-spaced Morete palms, bananas plants, and balsa trees on one, the gravel entrance road and sugarcane on another, and the jungle stretching back who knows how far on the other. In the center of the first side is a massive palm tree that supports a paja toquilla awning over the bridge that divides the biggest pond into a shallow and a deep side. Beyond that, one of the cabins peeks out from between palms, raised above the far pond by poles and accessible by a little gangplank-like bridge. On the second side, a hammock swings against a backdrop of sugarcane and Lucoña flowers, which obscure the first fish pond that lies beyond. On the third side, barely visible through a dense thicket of intermingled Papaya, Plantain, Albahaca,and more Lucoña flowers, rises the nearly finished Museum of Indigenous Art, the other big building of the lodge. For now, it remains empty, but by mid-December it should be filled with indigenous art of the Napo region, some of it made by the women of the association and some of it by other artisans across the province.
The fourth side is the kitchen. This is where the women cook their pollo maito, patacón, yuca frita, fresh tilapia from the ponds, empanadas, huevos fritos y tibias, and a variety of delicious soups. These they serve along with my favorite part of Ecuadorian cuisine: the juices. Made from papayas, pineapples, watermelons, plantains, oranges, sweet tomatoes, or (my personal favorite) maracuyas, they can be sweet, sour, or in the case of the chucula from the mashed plantains, hearty.
This sounds like a description of a place that would draw tourists and backpackers in droves. But the other thing about the lodge, at least most of the time, is that it’s empty of tourists. And for the association, that’s a problem. With money barely trickling in from the occasional couple tourists, I don’t know how they’re continuing to feed their families, send their many kids to school, buy potable water, and pay their bills. The association ended last month $64 in debt.
The problem is that Sinchi Aqua Center lacks publicity. Just about everyone in Misahualli knows what and where it is, but outside of town, it might as well be another patch of jungle. I’ve been working on getting Sinchi Center listed on various hotel search services, pages about Misahualli, and other avenues that interested tourists would find us, but I’m just one person. If you can publicize Sinchi Aqua Center in any way, your help would be greatly appreciated, by me and all the families that depend on the center. So if you know anyone who’s planning a vacation, please mention Sinchi Aqua Center to them. If you can write a letter to a travel guidebook or your local newspaper, go for it. If there’s some other way you can help, I’d love to hear about it. Thank you!
A very kind Spanish NGO made us a website that has more details about and photos of Sinchi Aqua Center. That’s at http://www.sinchicenter.com/
They also put up a Facebook page for us, which is at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sinchi-Aqua-Center/123702224360648
I also put us on Google maps, if you’d like a little better idea of where exactly the center is. http://g.co/maps/wh7xt
Note: this blog was supposed to have pictures, but my current internet won’t upload any. At some point in the future I will remedy this. For now, take a look at the Sinchi Facebook page for photos.