David Torres is a passionate traveler, photographer, climber and amateur musician. Working at Ecoandes Travel, his family´s travel company, in the marketing and sales department, has given David the chance to explore many destinations all around the world, meet great people, and develop his hobbies wherever he goes. His home country of Ecuador has given him the chance to be exposed to visitors and travel freely within it’s “Four Worlds” since a very young age thus lighting his passion for showing visitors the world he knows, jungle exploration, Mountaineering, and nature. He joins on travel packages with international passengers whenever he has the chance.
How do the experiences you offer at Yacuma EcoLodge give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
To start off, Yacuma was a joint project with EcoAndes Travel, and the Chontayacu Community of the Quichua indigenous race found in the jungles of Ecuador. Bartolome, the person who reached out to my father with the idea of creating and developing his lands with tourism, in a fully sustainable manner, was the chief and Shaman of his tribe for many years.
The place where Yacuma stands now, is the same space where Bartolo used to have his home, living with his family and in contact with the other members of the community that can be found in the area.
The original cabins where all built with the ancient techniques and materials that were all passed down from generation to generation. They used very tough and old trees as the frames for the cabins, meaning that the constant search for these materials would have eventually led to depletion and exhaustion of these fragile materials. Both Bartolo and my father saw the obvious problem with this, and experimented with different materials for building the new cabins, eventually leading to the model we use today with metal framework that can be easily removed if needed. The walls and interiors are made from fast growing palm trees and bamboo, meaning that all in all, the cabins are “renewable”, where the fast growing material can be easily accessible without damaging fragile resources, and from community based plantations where the locals gain from selling these materials. Hot water and electricity both come using solar power, where a series of panels, batteries and tanks are used to store the energy or hot water.
Yacuma takes pride in being one of the most authentic experiences in the jungle, where we do not buy animals to “showcase” as pets, we are an almost 100% self sustainable, emission free lodge. With in-depth training seminars (for free) and constant support from HQ in Quito, the members of the community who want to be involved in the project are free to work, learn and grow personally within the cabins.
Our project proves that jungle activities can be almost impact free, supportive of cultural and historical heritage, and be a great place for the indigenous community to develop their craft, learn from visitors, and continue living within their homelands.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
In many ways, evolving the experiences is absolutely necessary, both as a marketing tool, and as new ideas rise up that will bring satisfaction to the visitors. We try to be as critical with our activities as possible so that we can always make our trips better. We are not the only jungle lodge in Ecuador, or the amazon, and while personally I haven´t seen or heard about other lodges that are so environmentally conscious, at the end of the day, most clients want a fun, safe and enjoyable experience. We have to develop activities and excursions that are all these, while being very careful about their impact, both culturally and naturally.
Unfortunately, many “Western” aspects of modern life simply do not fit with living in the jungle, and this has caused many social and family problems with other communities nearby. Luckily, the community is also very involved in helping us develop Yacuma, and so they also help us developing the activities. A new one which is quite popular is the creation of organic, sustainable Chocolate which in my opinion is one of the best ones I’ve tried. This was originally an idea from the community, that we developed even years before Ecuador had this whole chocolate “boom” internationally.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
It is quite surprising how many of the guests that come to Yacuma, are not very conscious about the impact that their daily activities back home incur. It is only when you see how fragile resources can be, that many visitors feel their eyes have been opened. Long showers, excessive littering, and many more things can be easily replaced with recycling, taking shorter showers, using biodegradable soaps and shampoos, using bikes instead of your car, etc.
I believe the things that go unnoticed the most are: Solar panels are the only source of electrical energy in the lodge. All soaps are biodegradable, and all water used is treated before released back into the rivers. Hot water in the showers comes from solar panels and storage tanks. Food is harvested from parcels cared for by the members of the community, where they are 100% organic, great tasting, and fully sustainable. I find it amazing that we can harness the power of our star. Most people just hear it as a fact, and forget all about it.
I applaud that last year the first child from the school Yacuma built has graduated secondary school, and now wants to go to high school in Tena. We believe that education is the only weapon these kids can have for the future. Education, medical care and sexual advise are things that we constantly produce and support in the community. I Think many visitors do not understand the impact that this has as well. I also love the fact that members of the community have stopped hunting rare animals, and are very careful about which species they consume. This is also widely disregarded, but I believe it is a huge step forward in cultural development.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
Again, I get very excited about 3 things:
- Harnessing the power of the sun and the fact that we are not cutting down millenary trees to build houses that would last for only 6 to 8 years like many other lodges do.
The fact that we have given the kids in our school the opportunity to grow personally, where now they have huge goals and dreams in their lives, as opposed to simply getting an arranged marriage when they are of age.
- The fact that the cabins, the food and the culture of the locals is in many ways “sustainable”. Their habits, their language, their tools and traps have all been not only preserved, but also built upon, as they have improved upon traditional ways.
- To me the jungle is a magical place that demands respect and awe. Many see it with fear, but the intricacies of nature are overwhelming to me. Beautiful things are all around, from the sounds of the forest, to the smell of the flowers. I wish everyone could see it as I see it.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Luckily I see that more and more people are into adventure tourism. The standard “beach, sun, sea and sand” tours are getting old, and that people want something much more engaging. I applaud the fact that going “green” is becoming mainstream, even though there are a lot of fads that come with it, I think the big picture points towards consciousness.
I love that travelers are much more engaged in documenting their experiences, and that travel is now a thing that starts with your computer or cellphone screen.
Finally, I love nature, crowds make me somewhat uncomfortable, and I find peace in learning. I think engaging experiences are taking their rightful place as the main reason someone travels. I am very excited that now people like me can find their ideal tour much more easily than in the past. I love Yacuma and I hope that it has a definite appeal to travelers like me!
What sets Yacuma EcoLodge apart from other, similar, jungle lodges?
Again, we believe that our commitment to developing things consciously can not only be seen, but felt. Inside the lodge most people feel at peace and comfortable, which makes us very happy. Of course we do not promise the most luxurious adventure of your life, but we hope that this is one of the most honest and real adventures visitors might have. To ad onto that, the 300 hectares of primary forest that is the private Yacuma jungle reserve, has loads of amazing things for you to see and experience.
The community is very engaged with us and the love they put into their job, and into showing us their home is something that I find very much unique.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
I believe that the most travelers have a fear of really opening up to the locals, a fear of getting a little muddy, and of attempting something out of the ordinary. I believe that if you show interest in their ways, in their lifestyle and most of all, respect to everyone wherever you travel, you can see some truly amazing things.
I have had the luck of experiencing some of the most special ceremonies, parties and celebrations, not only in Ecuador, but in Africa, in Asia, and even in my home town, all by trying to learn as much from the locals. Everyone appreciates attention, and if you are truly interested in experiencing something real, then get out of your comfort zone.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
I believe that as a company, the values that we have are deeply ingrained into the strategies that we have used to grow. This is the one strategy that we always have: Respect. Not only for nature, but for our clients, our competition, our suppliers, and everyone that is around you. With kindness, punctuality, appreciation, admiration, etc, people will trust you. This is the only way to do business anywhere in the world. I think the industry is littered with stories where people have taken unfair advantage in situations that were meant for the greater good. We believe in fairness and staying true to our word. From Respect we can also derive Honesty, Fairness, and many more aspects that we live by.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
In my opinion, you should always create an environment that will induce creative thought. Be it with color (in your work space), with music, with sports, or a combination of all of them. I also believe that being humble is one of the greatest values anyone can have. Nobody likes pretentiousness!
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
One of the fondest memories I have, of any tour in my life was actually in the jungle. It involves a client from Mexico and her daughter, both searching for the most authentic experience in their lives. I think they had it:
I got the chance to join with them, into our “Huaorani Experience” for my first time. This is a very hard adventure, where a 25 km jungle hike is required to get to the Huaorani Camp after leaving Yacuma, a short car ride and a short canoe ride. This is very, very deep in the jungle, where cell phone reception is only available from a hill about 30 minutes away from the camp. This specific tribe of huaorani had only entered into contact with western culture about 10 years ago, where they have lived in isolation for hundreds of years in balance with nature.
The very strenuous walk into the camp became longer than the average walking time because, as we found out during the walk, one of the clients, had two major operations in her body, one being with her back and the other with her hip. This caused us major delays on the way, as we would constantly reduce the already slow pace to which we were heading, fully packed into our camp. I helped her carry her stuff, helped her pass difficult steps, and even once catcher her mid fall which would have potentially been a very bad accident in the middle of the jungle. A 7 hour walk became a 14 hour walk, in which nightfall had already been cast upon us at around 6:30, and where the jungle truly became alive for me.
The initial feelings of fear and desperation became feelings and thoughts of acceptance and perseverance. I was very scared of everything that could have happened. I imagined poisonous insects, hunting animals, wounds, blood and broken bones. At first I truly struggled with the fact that I would have to embrace any and all decisions had the situation taken a wrongful turn… These horrible thoughts and images, then became appreciation. I truly had my eyes, ears and heart open to the huge sensory overload that is the deep amazon jungle. It was truly the first time I felt that the forest was alive, and not just “on”… I think it was one of the best experiences of my life, as we were very connected to our surroundings. It is even hard to explain now!
In the end, we spent three days at the camp. We enjoyed, learned and lived with the Wentaro Community. The mother, took a different route of return, where she walked in a different direction to catch a flight departing from the only airstrip for hundreds of kilometers in the area. We returned with her daughter the same way we came in. this time viewing the jungle with different eyes.
Among the best experiences of my life.