One day in early August, I took a long and lazy canoe trip down the Río Tiputini in northeastern Ecuador. My destination was the village of Guiyero, a remote dot of an Indian community more than a hundred miles downriver from the oil city of Lago Agrio. The riverside hamlet is at the eastern edge of territory deeded to the Waorani, one of the largest tribes in the region. Situated where some of Ecuador’s last unspoiled wilderness meets its oil frontier, it is a good place to see what a resource extraction boom entering its sixth decade can do to a rainforest.
It can be easy to forget the surrounding presence of industry during the slow river ride to Guiyero. As we floated around the bends and buckles of the Tiputini, the jungle beyond the banks looked lush, vast, and untouched, the only sounds bird cries and insect hums. Wooden dugouts tied up along the way suggested the persistence of an undisturbed pre-Columbian culture. But while a fraction of the Indian population along the Tiputini has escaped history, retreating ever deeper into shrinking tracts of forest, the number of these no contactados is minuscule and falling.
I visited Guiyero with three staff members ... Read more