By John Anderson
Without a doubt, Auburn, Massachusetts has the greatest number of blowguns per household in North America. The many middle school expeditions to the Amazon jungle led by science teacher Mark Blazis are the reason. Students and parents alike have purchased blowguns as souvenirs of their trip. The indigenous Quechuas carve and bore them by hand, and a short (4 foot) blowgun costs around $100.00. Blowguns, of course, are but a small part of an expedition in Ecuadorian Amazonia.
Traditionally, Auburn’s grade 8 students got this travel opportunity along with a chaperone. Every traveler has had the same assessment, “This was a life changing experience.” Leaving the comfort of an Auburn house to spend 5 days in a jungle cabana is a huge challenge. Oh, there is running water, occasionally hot, and electricity, never on all night. The experiences with nature are incredible, but the experiences with the Quechua people are everlasting.
Investing United States money into the Quechua economy has always been a goal of Mark Blazis. If these “Indians” can become more self-sustaining, there is a lower chance they will sacrifice their land to oil exploration that has devastated much of the region. The middle school trips often fill up fast, but next summer, an option for anyone is being offered. Jungle Hearts, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 corporation started by local travelers Nancy Thompson and Mike Harris, is sponsoring a ten-day trip next summer.
A group of 40 will depart from Boston on June 30th and return on July 9th. While you will be deep in the jungle on Independence Day, you may
never feel so free. Jungle life is simplistic, but Sani Lodge makes it comfortable with great food, competent guides, and a location that is second to none. After flying to Quito, guests will spend a day high in the Andes Mountains visiting the equator and a native market in Otavalo where high quality clothing, weavings, and art can be purchased at very low prices.
During 7 days at Sani Lodge, guests will have the opportunity to canoe and hike through the jungle, climb an observation tower in the forest canopy, and see more species of insects, birds, and reptiles than one can count. All travelers will spend some time helping to improve the Sani village and will also be guests on another day when the locals will feed and entertain. Many donations will be distributed on this community day. Projects will include painting and improving the school and medical clinic and introducing solar energy to the village. A medical professional will be on the trip to provide care to any guests and to run a clinic in the village.
The cost of the trip is $3,100 per person and a $500 deposit is required by October 1st. Payments will be required over the next six months, and the entire amount must be paid by May 1st. The cost includes all airfares, all food while in Ecuador, tips for waiters and hotels, and other travel expenses. Guests are expected to give a small tip to their jungle guides. For more information, contact Nancy Thompson at 978-855-0354.
In Part II, we will take a look at the mission of Jungle Hearts, the Sani Community, and a bit about the jungle.