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Exquisite Ecuador, Astonishing Amazon! “Joe McNally Photography

Just returned from the adventure of a lifetime, a sojourn through the fantastic city of Quito, Ecuador and thence down the Napo River to the Amazon jungle ecolodge known as La Selva. Astonishing trip, filled with a sense of adventure and things as yet unseen, certainly for me.

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I’ll never be a wildlife photog, or a birder, but the wildly divergent color and life of this deep jungle was soulful and inspiring. As you paddle the lagoons, or walk the trails, especially at night, you are acutely aware that you are the interloper, out of place, and the creatures surrounding you have an innate connection to and knowledge of the earth you will never possess.

We were a group of 26, hardy souls all, imbued with a sense of adventure and a passionate yen to push the camera in pursuit of the pictures that waited out there in this most green and dense of worlds. Just a fantastic assemblage of generous spirits. It was a group that cohered in the most wonderfully emotional of ways, and laughter and pictures were had in abundance.

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I did my best with the birds and the monkeys, but, given my history, I also gravitated towards the human element of the place, where again, we encountered people with a lifelong adherence to living with this wonderful land, instead of trying to subdue it. Deeply thankful to all we met, especially our La Selva guides, who were unstinting in the sharing of their knowledge, and had eyes like jungle radar.

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For me, the trip was also a gift in the sense that I taught alongside the ever effervescent and talented Tamara Lackey. We made for a good team, and engaged in some lively but lovely disagreements when it came to critique time. Tamara is a nonstop energy source, and our class benefited not only from her picture smarts, but from the ongoing examples in her life where she turns her images to good purpose for the benefit of children and animals; an extraordinary person I am proud to know.

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This workshop was conceived of almost three years ago. We were to travel in March of 2020. The formidable Kim Pollard, on Tamara’s team, set up a website, and the workshop was announced, and we prepared to go as people signed on and the workshop filled. So much for making plans in the age of Covid. Three cancellations and two years later, we finally felt the Amazon breezes on our faces.

In the meantime, someone had to wrangle the tattered details of the original plan and shepherd it home. Annie Cahill, my wonderful wife, possessed of a deep and abiding sense of responsibility, attention to detail and a work ethic that makes an Olympic athlete appear to be a slacker, picked up the ball. Hundreds of hours of detail work later, we went to and from the mighty Amazon – safely. Remarkable. Annie had to balance the equations of photographic opportunity with the cautions and preparations of these days of the virus. The ongoing hashtag of the workshop quickly became #Annieknows, and the grateful class presented her with a medal at the close of the festivities.

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photo by Kelly Fogel

The photographers on the trip did amazingly well, given the rigors of the environment. “Normal” lenses were generally in the range of 400mm, and shooting platforms were often mobile. And those long lenses did occasionally pick up a hitchhiker or two!

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First time for me, teaching flash in the jungle! And working Z 9 cameras, which proved up to the challenge in the unrelenting humidity under the sweltering canopy. The combo of the Z 9 and the new Z mount 100-400mm was the go-to lens, as that lens was the perfect blend of reach and hand hold-ability.

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Another first was sharing my clothes with a member of the trip, Bob. Bob and his wife Nancy are wonderfully talented, and just great folks to travel with, but Bob’s luggage (and all his jungle clothes) got lost in the shuffle on the way to La Selva. Turns out, we’re about the same size, so I handed over socks, and pants, which he made good use of. At the end, having walked in those pants in the jungle for a week, we made, I think, the mutually wise decision that he should just keep them. Autographed, of course.

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photo by Tarja Ruuska

A terrific array of people helped us on this voyage… ..see below.

We relied on the experience and knowledge of the excellent folks at Ecuador Best Tours. Annie was in constant communication with them on Covid protocols and trying to find venues with good ventilation, exclusive bookings, enough space to spread out safely… new challenges.

I’d hear Annie on the phone before 6:00 am with her new friends at our wonderful Quito base of operations – Hotel Patio Andaluz. Super early was the best time to check in since her main contact and confidante for a stretch worked the night shift. So many details to cover with the trip morphing and changing over 2 1/2 years. The staff at Andalus was stellar. They made our stay in Quito memorable.

The fantastic Museo Templo Del Sol was where we traveled to meet and watch Mr. Ortega Maila, a supremely talented artist, whose ability to finish paintings in a matter of minutes was astonishing. Loved the museum tour and ambling around the grounds – picture making galore. And the dancers! Color and life personified.

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Our main objective though, aka our mission, was always to get to La Selva Jungle Lodge. A tranquil place, beautiful people, an ecolodge nestled in a jungle, teeming with life. Hopefully will see it again.

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And speaking of beautiful people….

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Many thanks to Tamara and Annie t .truly beautiful people… ..

More tk….




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