by Kerry Vineberg
SAVE THE FROGS! didn’t ask me to write this post. I was inspired as a member of the June 2018 SAVE THE FROGS! Ecuador Ecotour and offered to write this honest review.
SAVE THE FROGS! (hereafter STF!) is a nonprofit that educates people about the widespread threats to frogs and tackles the issue on multiple fronts, from legal cases to wetland construction and restoration.
A chance encounter introduced me to the organization. But I was already sold on their cause: I first fell in love with frogs while volunteering in southern Madagascar years ago. An adorable yellow Heterixalus frog had taken residence on top of my tent. Its small feet padded above me every night, enjoying the dew under my rain shield.
I’d long dreamed of seeing South America and hiking around the Amazon to see wildlife. And I wanted my travels to support the preservation of nature. Ecuador’s culture and wilderness diversity were at the top on my list.
I hesitated to travel there independently, even with my partner, concerned about our lack of Spanish, the challenges of arranging logistics into the wilderness, and having it all run smoothly. Stay in an eco-lodge? Camp out? Arrange boats and buses? Source clean water and food? Having camped in Madagascar with another organization, I knew logistics were no joke. I didn’t want to mess around in a developing country I didn’t know.
STF! began offering eco-tours several years ago in multiple countries. I knew STF! and I were aligned philosophically, but I had travel questions.
How skilled were they at leading eco-tours? Would frogs be the only wildlife we would see? I love frogs, but I also wanted to see mammals, birds, and reptiles. Finally, I wondered if my gluten allergy would be problematic.
Then, the STF! Ecuador Ecotour 2018 was announced in my inbox. The timing looked good for us and in reading the detailed itinerary, I saw that other types of wildlife were mentioned, including monkeys, birds, and lizards. Hooray!
Then they announced a sale on the slots: it was a sign. Now or never. We were going to (after asking important questions) make this life goal happen.
After a Skype call with Dr. Kerry Kriger, the founder of STF and trip organizer, we were greatly reassured. He reviewed city safety and health risks like non-potable water, elevation sickness, and malaria. He also assured me that my food needs would be addressed with each place of accommodation, and promised to send out a list of needed supplies. And he followed through on everything.
We put down our deposit and started preparing!
Our experience traveling with SAVE THE FROGS! in Ecuador was exceptional. Dr. Kriger seamlessly handled logistics while remaining low-key and friendly. Days were packed with great activities, but every activity was optional, so we were free to pace ourselves. We could also navigate in English while on the tour, which was a relief.
The guides STF! hired to come with us on our wildlife hikes, Jaime and Paolo, were experienced, patient, and fun. They knew species’ scientific names and unique adaptations, and they found endless photo opportunities for us.
We saw beautiful emerald glass frogs, industrious leaf-cutter ants, colorful hippie anoles, playful woolly monkeys, stunning motmots… I am terrible at spotting these creatures, so that was a tour bonus!
At all times our safety was kept paramount. Filtered water was available at all of our lodgings. My gluten allergy was on a list of food requirements at each place, and many went above and beyond to make me delicious safe food. Rubber boots in most sizes were provided for muddy and wet terrain. At each lodge, we were warned about specific regional hazards. When a poisonous coral snake was discovered in one lodge, our guide Jaime pointed it out, we took a few pictures from afar, and then he ushered it into a container for safe relocation.
Besides the many hikes, we did many things I wouldn’t have thought to include, from hot springs to chocolate-making, ziplines to Mitad del Mundo, an indigenous tribe blow-dart session to a wildlife rehabilitation center visit in the Amazon.
The other tour participants included both avid naturalists and folks who didn’t know specifics but were excited to see South American wilderness. All were welcome.
Everyone was interesting, interested, and mature, and by the end, my partner and I had made several friends.
Our accommodations were comfortable and modern. I especially loved Anaconda Lodge in the Amazon and Casa Divina in the Mindo cloud forest, both luxurious lodges with gorgeous wilderness.
Anaconda Lodge, on an Amazonian island in the middle of the Napo River, works with the indigenous Kichwa and Huaorani communities to sell their crafts and preserve their wild home.
Casa Divina, of all the lodges we stayed in, had a surrounding wilderness that was the most chock-full of frogs. We went out three evenings, and found a frog about every five minutes! It was crazy. In other areas, we were happy to see a frog every thirty minutes.
One of Casa Divina’s founders, Efrain, helped foster an eco-tourism economy in Mindo (which used to rely on logging). He told us how he and a few others had taken a risk on building the lodge. Others laughed at them. It was slow going at first.
Then an article in an international birding magazine about the wonderful birding in Mindo helped their business take off. Their venture saved the surrounding cloud forest from being logged.
Other businesses like chocolate-making and ziplining sprang up around the eco-tourism, but ultimately, the wilderness keeps the tourists coming.
It’s a story of how just a few people can change the fate of their local wilderness, and a reminder that our tourist dollars were saving the frogs in the area.
Our guide Jaime told us a contrasting tale about his favorite spot in the forest, where he once took clients who hired him for his wildlife photography business. Frogs, lizards, and snakes were wonderfully abundant. But the spot is gone now, along with all the animals, cleared to make way for a lucrative palm oil tree plantation.
We can’t take for granted that such places will always be there.
Thanks, SAVE THE FROGS!, for the trip of a lifetime!
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