Juan José Olivo is a tourism consultant and photographer from Quito. He´s lived in the Ecuadorian Amazon for more than 7 years now. In this interview he tells us about his adventures in Pastaza and recommends the best spots to visit!
What motivated you to dedicate yourself to tourism? How long have you been working in this area?
Since I was little I was inspired by Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter! He used to travel the world, dedicated to investigation and conservation of nature. This fascinated me. I used to say “when I grow up, I wanna be like him.” Later in school I joined the Ecology club- and since then I have always been involved in ecology. I loved nature!
At the age of 17 I began guiding with a group of friends and teachers from the Ecotourism department at a Foundation named Naturaleza Viva. This was small at the time but it was then when I started working as a tourism guide. I remember my first experience, with a group of 40 international tourists, and my not-so-good english. But I managed, and I learned how to communicate and be understood. That’s when I became fond of guiding.
I graduated from Universidad Central in Ecotourism while I was working with the Pahuma foundation (an Orchid Reserve) and I learned and grew a lot in my field. Today, I have been guiding for 16 years and my knowledge in tourism has grown and strengthened even more.
How do you think that tourism has helped protect natural reserves in Ecuador?
In Ecuador we’ve had an important evolution in tourism, however, I do believe we still have a long way to go in order to practice more conscious and responsible tourism. I believe that tourism is a means of communication where the tourist is the receptor and the tourism guide is the teacher. When you understand this and view tourism as communication, you transmit the message of conservation and the harmony of men and the space that surrounds him/her, space where we live. Only then does the message really stick. The message of conservation, of preserving not only natural reserves but cultural manifestations, traditions, artistic manifestations, and identity.
Tell us of an unforgettable experience in Ecuador
I’m currently living in Pastaza. Well, I’ve been living here for 7 years now, and it never ceases to impress me!
One of the experiences which most impacted me was the first time I traveled in a small plane over the Ecuadorian amazon. I remember being up in the air and seeing the rivers giving life to nature, just like our vascular system feeds our bodies. I was surprised to look around and see so much green. It was truly spectacular! At the same time I felt adrenaline from a trembling aeroplane and the “slight” turbulence.
When it was time for descent the back of the airplane touched the canopy and de-stabilized the airplane. I was very trusting of the pilot but I could just feel my heart racing thinking we might fall at anytime!
Another incredible experience was the time when we were navigating in a canoe down the Pastaza river at sundown. The light of the sun made every color in the jungle vivid, everything came to life! Then, another canoe raced past us lifting the water. But the water didn’t look like water, it looked like gold! Every drop of the sun was reflected in our surroundings. I will never forget this scene.
Do you recommend Pastaza as a destination for anyone traveling around Ecuador?
The Amazon is a gift to the world. Pastaza is a gift to the world. The first reason why tourists should visit Pastaza is because of its rich culture: 7 out of the 14 indigenous groups in the country live in Pastaza. We have the Quichuas, Shuar, Achuar, Waorani, Andua, Zapara and the Shivier.
This means that Pastaza holds 50% of the ethnic diversity of our country!
The second reason why tourists should come to Pastaza is because we have any international nominations such as WWF’s “gift to the Earth,” and “Oral Intangible Heritage of Humanity” for the Zapara tongue.
The third reason: Puyo is a centric location, with great connectivity to the other provinces of the country. In Puyo you have the chance to do adventure sports such as rafting (levels 2-4), kayaking, and canyoning in some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Ecuador.
For you, which are the main tourist attractions of Pastaza?
An impressive location is Chuwitayu (Chuwi means cave and Tayu is a type of bird). This place is not well known by tourists but believe me, it has a charm. The beauty of Chuwitayu is that after a 20 min walk through the jungle, you reach a cave where you do a 72 m descent underground. The way down is enjoyable, you rappel with the necessary equipment and a certified guide.
When you descend you can observe small rivers that fall through the cracks of rocks, and little by little you stop receiving light. Once the flashlights go on, you can truly appreciate the dimension of the gigantic cave. Inside you can observe different animals, including bats! For me the most magical part of Chuwitayu is the moment when you ascend. It’s an enriching sensation, like you’re being born again. I was so moved by this experience that I recommend it to every tourist who loves adventure.
Tell us, when did you venture into photography? Which camera do you use?
I started taking pictures when I was in school. I remember that thanks to my graduation project titled “greenhouse effect” I got my first camera. Since then I began capturing what I saw. Without having much knowledge on photography, I began playing with my camera. I always loved taking pictures of nature but I also loved capturing portraits, faces, expressions. Currently I use the Nikon D7000 camera which has been with me for several years now.
For photography enthusiasts, which place do you recommend?
For anyone who loves photography I recommend the Indichuris Viewpoint because from here you can see the majestic Pastaza river, the mountain chain of the Andes and the exuberance of the Amazon. It’s an amazing place for photographs!
Another place I recommend is the Paz Yaku observation point. From here you can observe Sangay active volcano, and this is truly special because this volcano rarely allows to be seen.
Also, The Tree House in Puyo is a beautiful tower within the forest where you have great 360 degree views. The Tree House is 15 min away from downtown Puyo, 7 km away. (*to get here you have to take the detour in km 6 via Shell, and follow the path marked with the sign “Te Sulay”).
For someone who likes interacting with different communities and engage in cultural exchanges, I recommend a visit to Llanchama Cocha. This Zapara community has a community center where they teach you about their ancestral knowledge, their medicinal plant recipes and the curative powers of nature. This community has all the basic facilities (accommodation, food and beverage, transportation).
Which type of traveler do you consider yourself?
I consider myself to be a responsible traveler, not only in the environmentally-conscious sense but in regards to my surroundings. Wherever I go I try to use the resources that have been made available to me in a rational way, and I am aware of the people and environment that surround me. I am conscious of my interactions.
In the future I would love to start a coworking entrepreneurship dedicated to development in tourism. This company would be formed by many adventurers and professionals, knowledgeable in the areas of adventure, nature and culture. I also have a proposal to work in cycling tourism in Pastaza. I believe we can use bikes for tourism purposes as well as a means of transportation. This means that we can also use bikes for socializing, or distraction. The objective of this project is for the user to reach tourism destinations around Puyo with a bike. Until today we have 10 possible routes that could work! Hopefully in about 2 years, project Cycling Routes Pastaza, will be in full motion.
Thank you Juan José for sharing your amazing stories with us!