“When talking to Raul García, one gets the impression that his wife might somehow be jealous of the relationship he has with his company’s boat on the River Napo. The object of his desire is called the Manatee Amazon Explorer. Such is the passion and fervor with which Raúl describes the boat’s features itinerary, philosophy and guest experience, it’s surprising Martha García hasn’t filed for divorce yet.
The love affair began exactly 10 years ago, when “Capi” –as he is universally know –realised his dream of owning and operating his own boat on this Amazon tributary. He had worked aboard the (almost legendary) Flotel Orellana for 15 years.
While he captained the Flotel, he realised her many shortcomings that made operating in the region -with sediment-carrying rivers prone to create sandbars out of nowhere-could only be overcome with a new boat, whit a far shallower draft. The Manatee floats under a meter (2.5 feet) beneath the water, allowing her to glide from bank to bank along the rivers and tributaries of the Upper Amazon with ease.
The Manatee’s success and popularity lies in several factors, chief among her ability to penetrate the wildest and least-populate regions of the Ecuadorian Amazon –home to staggering biodiversity and soul -enriching beauty-without sacrificing comfort. Her cabins are amenable and air-conditioned, the food served on board prepared by highly-experienced chefs, living spaces allow for relaxation and evening briefings, a top deck is ideal for al fresco dining, and there’s even Wi-Fi on board.
From her base a short river ride downriver from the Amazon town of Coca, the Manatee offers guests two itineraries along the Napo and Aguarico river.
On the longer, 7-day journey, they will get to experience places far beyond the reach of land-based tourism, the boat allowing guests to get a real feel for not only the wildlife but also the lives for the people who inhabit this intriguing region. Throughout her journey, expert naturalist guides lead kayak, canoe or walking exploration of the forest, often in the company of local guides from indigenous communities.
Capi is keen to emphasise the joint ventures he has created and maintained with a number of communities along the rivers, with about a fifth of the company’s operating cost dedicated to these.
Diversifying the Manatee’s offer over the last year, programs now include weaving classes and cooking classes on board with the chefs. Mooring near to the river banks, guests can enjoy barbecues on land, and even spend a night in the deep forest with its version of “glamping” (posh camping).
The Manatee’s formula of exploration, safety, quality service and education has proved so popular that the company will launch a new boat for Amazon discovery in mid-July 2013: the Anaconda, a 40-passenger boat. Wider and longer and offering a more upscale experience than the Manatee, it somehow feel like Capi García is being unfaithful to his first love. But then one realizes that his true passion is in fact not so much for a boat but for the Amazon region itself-and of course, for Martha, his wife of almost 30 years…
Ñan Magazine | tales from the road