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A solar canoe to travel without oil through the Ecuadorian jungle

A solar canoe to travel without oil through the Ecuadorian jungle

A community of Achuar indigenous people, from the Ecuadorian Amazon, travels with a solar canoe that connects nine isolated populations in the jungle.

The canoe was named Tapiatpia in honor of a legendary electric fish in the area and is the first solar community river system in the Amazon.

A premonition

The dream world plays a central role in the life of the Achuar: it not only guides the actions of the day, but also the long-term plans, the future of the community.

During an ancestral ritual known as guayusada, the elders shared a dream more than half a century ago that ended up being a premonition: through the brown waters of the river they saw “a fire ship” descend.

Myth or genuine story, the truth is that this vision has recently become a reality for a group of Achuar communities.

A sustainable transport

Since April 2017, a canoe powered by solar energy has traveled 67 km along the Capahuari and Pastaza rivers, communicating with each other about a thousand people spread over nine isolated settlements living on their banks.

This sustainable transport model that travels the territory along its ancestral routes, the rivers, not only materializes an old dream: it also responds to the deep desire of this culture to live in harmony with the environment.

It is still in its early stages. But if it is successful, it has the potential to be implemented in other rivers in the Amazon basin, an ecosystem threatened by deforestation, oil exploitation and mining, and on whose future the planet's climate depends.

State-of-the-art technology, ancestral design

“The solar canoe is an ideal solution for this place because here there is a network of interconnected navigable rivers and a great need for alternative transportation,” explains Oliver Utne, the American aid worker who gave life to the Kara Solar project * (Kara means dream in achuar), after living with the community for years.

"As gasoline can only get here by plane, it costs up to five times more than in the rest of the country," he explains.

Made with fiberglass instead of wood to extend its useful life, the canoe borrowed its design from the typical boat of the indigenous Cofan people of northern Ecuador.

After several studies of navigability, it turned out to be the model that best adapts to Amazonian conditions.

Against the roads

Beyond the economic advantages of low-cost transportation for these communities that live largely from hunting, subsistence agriculture and fishing, a benefit they consider crucial is that it does not destroy or pollute the environment.

“We don't want to kill the giant trees. Where else will the animals sleep? What fruits are they going to eat? In addition, I want the children to know the same forest that I know, ”says one of the community's inhabitants.

Villagers have already seen with their own eyes the cultural and environmental degradation in neighboring communities, where the highways arrived with the promise of progress.

"Not having roads helps us to maintain our culture, to have the wisdom not to forget what the Achuar culture really is," says another inhabitant.

Other benefits

The canoe is changing the lives of the community members, it is a service for when the children are sick and need to go to the health center.

It has also contributed to children and adolescents getting closer to school and taking excursions and walks.

Another advantage is that the communities linked by the canoe are thinking of establishing commercial ties.

“There are basic products of the area that can be transported. We can bring clothing and rubber from Peru. And they need green bananas, chicken, peanuts… ”, some members observe.

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