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Once on the water, we could see the rainforest pushing close to the river. The town of Coca, a depot on Ecuador’s Rio Napo, was already slipping away, disappearing behind a bend. It was early morning. There had been a week of heavy rain and trees had fallen into the river as the bank washed away. With the pressure of the current, branches emerged from the brown water and waved up and down, as if saying goodbye. Older branches, now blackened and leafless, broke the surface and then silently disappeared.

After an hour, we began to see wildlife: toucans and parrots, movements in the trees that suggested monkeys. On one log, I spotted four turtles sitting in a row, each with a butterfly on its head. (I took this as a sign, an offering; it turned out to be the standard post-card image from the Napo valley.) I had been on the lookout for caiman, fresh water alligators, which entertained our guides — sharp-nosed men who grew up along this river. The men were from one of the local tribes, most likely Huaorani, Kichwa, or Shuar. They wore t-shirts and baseball caps.
More… “In Search of Yasuní”

David Bartholomae has taught travel writing to U.S. students in Beijing, Hyderabad, London, Cape Town, Florianopolis, Buenos Aires, and the Napo valley of Ecuador. In May, 2018, he will be teaching in Havana. He is Professor of English and the Charles Crow Chair of Expository Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His current project is an essay on Spain’s Camino de Santiago.
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A smiling cashier welcomed me in the lobby. His arms were akimbo. He wore a polo shirt that read, “Refugio Herpetológico.”

“Welcome!” he exclaimed in Spanish. “How are you?”

I forced a smile and forked over my 3,000 colones — about $6. He handed me a receipt and escorted me through the gift shop, toward the Refugio’s main entrance. Then he pointed to a trim young man in the corner, also wearing a printed polo shirt.

“This is Marco,” said the cashier. “Your tour will start in a couple of minutes.”

Damn it, I thought. It figures.

Robert Isenberg is a writer based in San José, Costa Rica, where he serves as a reporter, videographer and photojournalist for The Tico Times, Central America’s most respected English-language newspaper. He is the author of The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage and the poetry… More…