Why you should care
Some founders lost their husbands to create this space.
Their husbands tried to stop them. They failed. And now, thanks to the determination of nine Kichwa women, Sinchi Warmi, a jungle lodge in Ecuador’s Amazonian basin, is open for business. Meaning “strong woman” in Kichwa, Sinchi Warmi is a fitting name for a project that took nearly 10 years to get up and running — and left at least six women without husbands.
Surrounded by tropical rainforest, the lodge is an ideal place to experience Kichwa culture. You can take part in a guayusa tea ceremony, which involves drinking the caffeine-filled brew and describing your dreams. You can wander the forest trails as monkeys leap from tree to tree. Or say hello to the 2-meter-long Amazonian fish that comes to the surface when applauded. Yes, clap your hands and the fish will appear.
They said women should be in the house, in the chacra [produce garden], looking after the kids.
Meliza Andy, a Sinchi Warmi member
Sinchi Warmi began as a women’s artesania group in the small community of San Pedro. The women met every week to weave, showcase their art at expos and dream of running their own business. But not everyone was happy about the initiative. “The men didn’t support us because we were all women,” says Meliza Andy, a Sinchi Warmi member. “They said women should be in the house, in the chacra [produce garden], looking after the kids.”
After they secured funding from a nongovernmental organization and built the far-flung lodge, it was not an instant hit. “Some of the women were upset,” Andy explains, as they expected guests to arrive the next day. Of the 12 original members, four left and were replaced by Andy and the children of the founding members. The younger generation quickly started promoting the lodge online, and little by little business improved. From 20 guests in its first year, Sinchi Warmi now welcomes 1,600.
Visitors can drop by to sample traditional Amazonian food — like palmita, smoked fish and blindingly colorful tropical fruit. Handmade jewelry and artesania from local Kichwa communities are also on offer. Or you can spend the night ($40) in a cabana overlooking the fish-filled pools. The accommodation is modest: Expect cold showers, and there are no mirrors, thankfully — who wants to see themselves after a day in the jungle? But you’ll wake up to the trills and squawks of Amazonian birds and have the chance to sway in a hammock under palm leaves the size of small children, or have the resident monkey, Saruya, happily crawl up your leg and sit in your lap. I had to reluctantly pry off her tiny soft hands that clung to me when I got up to leave.
The nine women still meet every week in a minga to divide the tasks and discuss new initiatives. Three men from the community have even joined the group — including one of the naysaying husbands. And just as they dreamed, the women are running a business that benefits all of the community. They buy produce from the community’s chacras and connect San Pedro’s canoers to tourists from the lodge.
The Sinchi Warmi women are also sharing their story with other communities in the hopes that their experience will inspire other women and communities. The message, says Andy, is simple: “Women have to keep going, to be strong because they are always going to turn their back on you — husbands, institutions, neighbors — but you can’t give up.”