Adventures in Storytelling

Chapter 1: The Checklist

Passport. Notebook. Shooting script.

Nikon EOS 50D. GoPro Hero3+

Malaria pills. Mosquito net. Headlamps, as gifts for tribal leaders.

Starting point: Washington, DC

Destination: Sápara territory, Amazon rainforest.

Mission: Produce a video and photo documentary about the use of medicinal plants by indigenous people of the Amazon, who are joining forces with young social entrepreneurs to share the healing secrets of the rainforest — and to protect their culture from extinction.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Sápara tribe numbered around 200,000. About 350 remain today.

That’s my sidekick and son, Nate, on a photo expedition in Tanzania.

I meet my 18-year-old son, Nate, in Panama City. We fly together to Quito, the historic capital of Ecuador, poised on the slopes of an active volcano at an altitude above 9,000 feet.

It’s a 3.5-hour drive to the edge of the Amazon. The ride ends at a town called Tena. From there, our destination is accessible only by light plane.

As we make our way down through foothills of the Andes to the Amazon basin, Nate will endure the tale of my last trip to Quito back in 1990, which came at the end of a six-month trek around South America. I’d been covering political and economic mayhem across the continent as a freelance foreign correspondent, traveling eight countries by bus, boat, train, plane, foot and thumb.

That’s me with my press credentials, reporters’ notebook and point-and-shoot 35mm camera covering the transition to democracy in Chile, 1989

The last leg of that journey was a 24-hour bus ride from Lima to Quito, which passed through the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. I arrived in Quito sore and sleep-deprived, after squeezing into a seat with a woman smuggling sacks of contraband. Slightly homesick and nearly broke, I didn’t really get to appreciate the finely preserved historic center of the world’s highest official capital.

This trip will be different. I return to Ecuador refreshed and ready for a new adventure in storytelling.

Next: The Back Story.