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The Ancient Legend of Uluru

The Uluru in central Australia is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, with its striking magnificent natural form, unpredictable colors, and divine inspiration. These features draw the hearts of explorers to the dreamlike wonderland. The origin of the rock is also shrouded in mystery.

Uluru, a Sacred Place of Origin for Aboriginal Culture

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is one of Australia’s most famous landmarks. It’s located in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and stands 1142 feet high, two miles long, one mile wide, and boasts a circumference of 5.8 miles. Some people have alluded to Uluru as a “land iceberg” because the visible portion is only the portion showing above the earth’s surface. The vast majority of it lies hidden deep underground—an estimated 3.7 miles below the surface. Geologists believe that Uluru is 550 million years old, and Australian Aborigines consider it to be one of the oldest rocks on Earth.

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Whether from a frontal or bird’s-eye view, Uluru looks magical, lying quietly in the middle of the Central Australian desert. It is unique and distinctive compared to the surrounding rough wilderness. In the morning, when the sun shines, Uluru glows red; in the evening, when it sets, the red glow becomes darker and richer. What’s even more amazing is that the rock’s color changes with the weather and is thus sometimes unpredictable. However, at closer proximity, one can see that Uluru is actually brown with a grayish tinge.

The explanation for Uluru’s bizarre color may be found in its composition: sandstone that contains iron powder. After oxidation, the iron powder turns red, giving Uluru its red appearance and its coined name as the “red heart” of Australia.

According to archaeological speculation, the Aboriginal people of Australia have been living on the surrounding land for 60,000 years, making them one of the oldest surviving civilizations in the world. The Aboriginal people of this area, the Anangu, practice a set of ancient laws and hold reverence for the natural world, as they believe that everything that happens in the world has a mystical meaning.

Like other Aboriginal regions in Australia, the Anangu people believe in Tjukurpa, also known as Dreamtime. They believe that Dreamtime is a separate system, parallel to the real world—a mystical zone between life and death—that exhibits all the innate rules of man and nature.

The Anangu believe that their ancestors are the spirits who created the world. In the ancient days of Dreamtime, these spirits roamed the Australian continent and recorded everything they saw through words or song. While roaming, the ancestors created the land, rivers, streams, hills, rocks, plants, animals, and people. The Uluru is thought to be the documentation of their work on earth. The experiences of the ancestors in Dreamtime took place in Uluru. In the Pitjantjatjara dialect of the indigenous people, Uluru means the “meeting place of reality and dreams.”

For the Anangu people, Uluru is not just a spectacular rock, but also their starting point of Creation and the place where their ancestors reside. Therefore, Uluru is a sacred place of origin for the indigenous culture. With the energy left behind by the ancestors after the creation of the world, there was no doubt that it was sacred and inviolable.

Around the caves, cliffs, and crevices of Uluru lie countless engravings and strokes that record the stories of the Aboriginal ancestors. It is said that certain parts of the rock represent the spirits of the ancestors, and that by touching it, the Anangu can enter Dreamtime, communicate with the ancestors, and receive their blessings.

Ancient Legends About Uluru

The culture and history behind Uluru, as well as its mysterious color, are fascinating. There is also a lesser-known origin story of the Uluru, one that is an ancient legend from the world of cultivation practice.

This story was told by Dr. Owen Yao, a specialist in superconductive materials. He said he first heard it over two decades ago from someone of a high level in the cultivation world, in May of 1999. He later recounted the story that he heard.

Before we get into the story, it might be best to elaborate on some of the concepts of space and time that Yao mentions.

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The smallest particle known to scientists today is the quark. Although measuring particles by size isn’t condoned by scientists, it’s known that quarks are found inside a proton. Beyond the quark, it’s unknown how small the smallest particle is.

If we imagine an atom, the nucleus is at the center of the atom, and electrons orbit the nucleus. Protons are what make up the nucleus, and quarks make up the proton.

By a little stretch of the imagination, we can see how the atom is similar to a solar system, with planets rotating around a sun. If we imagine expanding the atom’s nucleus to the size of a galaxy, perhaps we would find numerous solar systems inside it. If it were expanded to the size of a universe, maybe it would contain many galaxies.

Scientists are able to see objects in the universe that emit light much more easily than those that don’t. So what can be seen through a microscope is still highly limited.

Yao’s story contains ideas like this “small universe,” which is not difficult to understand. Likewise, atoms of differing masses also have differing lifespans. So if this principle were applied to cosmic bodies, different universes and galaxies also have different lifespans. The lifespan of a universe can be very long; longer than the largest number known to man, while the lifespan of certain atoms may only be a few seconds. Time and space are relative.

Different dimensions have different units of time. As time passes at one speed in another dimension, time is passing at a much different speed here on earth. In Yao’s reiteration of the story he heard, he mentions a time that is in “the middle of the history of the universe.” There is no way to calculate exactly when that was because we can’t accurately know how old the universe is or what unit of time the universe goes by.

Yao tells the story he heard: ”Perhaps it was a coincidence, and although I stand by my belief that this story is a real-life account, others may very well regard it as another piece of fiction. The story takes place in the mid-level of the universe, during a time that can be considered the middle of the history of the universe.

“The universe that we reside in is a small one. So small that it can only be seen as a speck of dust within a bigger universe. If we can’t even see the edge of our own small universe, can you imagine just how large the bigger encapsulating universe must be?

“In the early days of the bigger universe, all lives were good, and the universe was free of anything evil and bad. However, this golden period of time could not be everlasting, according to a concept known among Buddhists as formation, stasis, degeneration, and destruction. At the beginning of all life, everything was wonderful and pure. Bad didn’t exist, and there weren’t any bad lives. When the universe reached the middle period in its development, the bad began to appear, and evil arose in the form of a demon with the sole purpose of committing horrible acts. There were many beings in the universe, especially Buddhas, Taos, and Gods, who wanted to rid the universe of the demon, and thus engaged it in combat. Because this demon belonged to the middle tier, it was quite capable and had great abilities. Many beings failed to defeat it and were even injured in battle.

“Finally, when everyone thought the demon was undefeatable, a Holy King suddenly arrived, carrying a Dharma Wheel. He was bestowed the name Enlightened One, or Holy One. The Holy One with the Wheel arrived with the purpose of destroying the demon, since the demon had committed countless heinous crimes that caused enormous ripple effects throughout the universe. The two fought and fought. It was a colossal battle. At the time, the lives of the universe referred to the clash as the great battle between good and evil in the large universe.

“They fought vigorously to the end, using various weapons, perhaps even magic and spells. There were so many details, and I heard this story over 20 years ago, so it is impossible for me to accurately or specifically recount the exact methods with which they fought. Nonetheless, in the end, the Holy One killed and destroyed the demon. However, while the demon was destroyed, the Holy One was also wounded. A drop of the Holy One’s blood and a drop of the demon’s blood fused together and fell toward earth, entering the atmosphere in the form of a big red rock, and finally landing in Australia. This big red rock eventually became known as Uluru.

“One thing that I wish to make clear here is that this story occurred during the middle period of development of the bigger universe. But, according to archeologists, the rock was deemed to be at most 500 million years old. One might ask how this can be. Well, the concept of time that we have today is limiting. Time is relative, and the time of different universes is also relative. So it would be inaccurate to equate our own concept of time to the larger universe’s concept of time. In other words, a million years on earth could equal far more or far less time in other dimensions. Since that drop of blood fell to earth, the time that it passed and experienced was not something that can be measured so absolutely with a machine.

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“So the drop of blood coming to earth was a very, very long time ago. Although the fused drop of blood turned into the giant rock we see today, at the microscopic level, the blood of the righteous and the blood of the evil are still in battle. Sometimes you can even hear the sound of swords and spears clashing against each other, and the movement of soldiers and horses, when in close proximity to the rock. The rock also changes colors at different times.”

If this rock really has such a long history, is there any special meaning behind the legend?

“My summary of this story was that there is good and evil in the universe. Because good and evil are opposites, good should conquer evil as long as it is within the ability of the good. This is what the good should do. This reflects on Uluru, its surface, its history, and the fighting microscopic battles inside. I feel that it has this layer of meaning; that the evil must be eliminated.”

Yao said he was able to grasp a special meaning through the legend, but that he also believes that when everyone looks at the same thing, they’ll have different interpretations.

He said: “The story of the rock, of course, is longer and older than the indigenous people. The indigenous people believe a different legend, and people all have the desire to tie unexplained phenomena to their ancestors. This desire is very normal. From the point of view of modern-day scientists, Uluru is not just the largest intact piece of rock in the world, but it also doesn’t blend into its surrounding environment whatsoever. It is truly as if a large object had fallen from outer space and remained entirely whole when it landed. It’s completely different from the topography around it.

“Of course, there may be varying theories and conjectures out there, but if you look at it from a cultivation perspective, Uluru is actually an object from the future. It stands before our very eyes, yet what we humans are able to truly understand and comprehend from it is still very limited. Like what I mentioned before regarding the relativity of time and the various levels in the universe, science is unable to explain all observed phenomena.”

Whether it’s the legend of the Aboriginal Dreamtime or the ancient legend Yao heard, they both leave us with lingering questions: Where did the universe come from? How were humans created? And how did the Creators intend for humans to flourish in the world as we know it today? The Aborigines understood Dreamtime as a beginning that had no end. They saw it as a period of continuity between the past, the present, and the future. The ancient legend through Yao allows us deeper insight into the universe of formation, stasis, degeneration, and destruction.

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Walking in the Footsteps of the Gods

Achilles’ Heel, the Midas touch, Pandora’s Box, Herculean task, the ship of Theseus—our day-to-day language is filled with references to characters from Ancient Greece. Even in Greece today, it’s easier to walk in the footsteps of these mythical giants than to avoid them.

History, fables, legends, parables—all are woven into the very fabric of that country. They rise from the land in the tangible shapes of temples and arenas. They are embedded in its literature. They are carried in the hearts and minds of its most romantically inclined citizens, who send silent invocations to the deities: “Please Athena, goddess of wisdom, help me with my studies.” “Demeter, goddess of the harvest, please bring me a bountiful autumn.”

There is no escaping mythology in Greece. It is in the breeze, in the sea. Take a deep, deep breath, choose your destination, and dive right in.

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Delphi, Mainland Greece

Situated on the slopes of mighty Mount Parnassus—itself a sacred site to Apollo, the deity of music, archery, poetry, harmony, sun, and light—Delphi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important monuments in Greece. It’s also one of the most beautiful, and particularly so, when those magnificent, ruinous remains (which include a temple and a 5,000-seat amphitheater) glimmer gold in the light of the rising or setting sun, and the surrounding silver olive trees shimmer and whisper in the wind.

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Archaeological finds date the earliest parts of Delphi back to the Mycenaean period—some 15 centuries B.C. But the formation of the site as a sanctuary for Apollo dates to 800 B.C., when priests from Knossos, on Crete, brought the cult of the sun god to this part of the country. The dramatic ruins we see today though, are of the third temple, which was built in the 4th century B.C.

Give your mind the freedom to roam at Delphi, and you will be rewarded by a transportive experience that will take you right back to when the Greeks believed in the 12 Olympian gods, and when they consulted Apollo’s high priestess, the Oracle Pythia, on everything from whether to wage war or advocate for peace.

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These ancients believed Delphi was the center of the world, because this is where the two eagles, released by Zeus to find the earth’s navel, landed. Zeus marked the spot with a beehive-shaped omphalos, meaning navel or rock, which is still there. Find it, and you will have found the epicenter of Greek history.

Knossos, Crete

Described by the great poet, Homer, as a “fair land…in the midst of a wine-dark sea,” the island of Crete is a favorite among—well, just about everyone. Famed for its excellent regional cuisine, outstanding wine, suntrap beaches, hiking trails, nature, and history, Greece’s largest island never fails to bewitch.

Its most famous attraction is Knossos Palace, the setting for the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. King Minos kept the half-man, half-bull creature known as the Minotaur in a labyrinth beneath his palace. No one who entered the labyrinth could escape from it, so convoluted it was, and certain death awaited at the clutches of the raging beast.

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Then Theseus arrived from Athens. He vowed to kill the Minotaur and put an end to the sacrifice of Athenians who were fed to the bull each year. Aided by King Minos’s daughter, Princess Ariadne, Theseus entered the labyrinth, carrying the ball of golden thread she had given him, unwinding it as he went deeper into the monster’s lair, so he could find his way out.

He slayed the Minotaur, of course, but the story does not end there. Forgetful boy that he was, he neglected to change the sails of his ship to white, as he had promised to do had he achieved his mission. His father, King Aegeus, seeing the ship approaching without the white sails, assumed his son was dead and threw himself into the ocean. His subjects commemorated his death by naming the Aegean Sea after him.

Quite aside from its mythical significance, Knossos has a place in world history as the oldest European city, and as the center of the Minoan civilization—the earliest in the Aegean region. In 1900, Sir Arthur Evans unearthed the astonishing remains of the colossal palace we see today. Built in around 1700 B.C., it once had extensive colonnades, flights of stairs, an elaborate sanitation system, and, of course, a throne room. The king’s gypsum chair has survived, but Evans believed that a fire destroyed the palace sometime after 1400 B.C.

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Diktaion Andron, Crete

It’s not often you get to visit the birthplace of a god, let alone the birthplace of the Greek god of all gods. Yet here, in the Diktaion Andron Cave in Lasithi, is where Zeus was born. The cave—also known as Psychro—is a natural wonder.

Its five chambers, some of which reach 14 m. in height, are filled with stalagmites, that have been rising to meet the stalactites, that hang like chandeliers above them, for thousands of years. In its depths, rock-cut steps lead into a pool, where archaeologists have found statuettes, knife blades, pottery, semi-precious stones such as amethyst, carnelian, and other treasures.

The earliest artifacts found in the cave date from the early Minoan period, around 3,000 B.C., and show that this was a significant place of worship—hardly surprising given its connection with Zeus. So how was it that Zeus was born in a cave? Did Rhea, his mother, just go into labor when she was taking a walk? Nope.

She went there to give birth in secret, away from the baby’s father, Kronos, who, fearing that his children would overthrow him, swallowed them the minute they were born. Rhea gave Kronos a stone wrapped in swaddling, which he gobbled, while she escaped to Psychro to give birth. She was supported by the Kouretes, a group of loyal female warriors, who let rip with wild war dances outside the cave to drown out the child’s cries.

Athens

Those who swoop in and swoop out once they’ve seen the Acropolis are doing Athens—and themselves—a huge disservice. The Athenian Riviera, with its fabulous Blue Flag beaches, très chic bars, and charming tavernas, are delights that deserve at least two or three days of exploration. If you do only want to visit the Acropolis, however, then what you witness there, in the words of the UNESCO World Heritage committee, are “monuments that are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilization, and which form the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek antiquity to the world.”

Built around 525 B.C., the Acropolis became the focal point for worship of the goddess Athena, the city’s patron. Athena had many talents, including weaving and inventing. She is believed to have created the trumpet, the chariot, and even the ship. And she was a magnanimous warrior who used her brains and acumen, instead of brute force, to win in battle.

Even the way she won Athens demonstrates her moral superiority. She was competing for the city against Poseidon, god of the sea. He hit the ground with his trident and created a spring, showing that he would give the city naval power. Athena offered to give the city the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace. In this case, real life would do well to follow mythology.

Xenia Taliotis is a UK-based writer and editor covering lifestyle, travel, wellness, property, business, and finance. She contributes to numerous international titles including Christie’s International Real Estate, The Telegraph, Breathe Magazine, The New Zealand Herald, and The Epoch Times.

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Experiences Lifestyle

Adventurous Soul

British model Kristina Hurrell dunked her head in the pool of water just steps ahead of her, frantically trying to shake out the countless insects that had dropped into her hair when she took a garden shortcut. Only upon lifting her head, did she see the nearby Brigitte Bardot, nakedly emerging from a swim.

It turned out that the traveling companions to whom a new friend of Hurrell’s had introduced her were the celebrity couple Brigitte Bardot and Gunter Sachs. While trying to rekindle the couple’s relationship, Sachs arranged a vacation tour in North Africa. As a successful, jet-setting high fashion model and an adventurer at heart, Hurrell was tempted by the prospect of photographing the iconic Sahara, which weeks before was featured in a set on one of her modeling jobs.

Playing buffer to the catty couple was far from Hurrell’s ideal vacation, but the promise of adventure beckoned. On previous occasions, she had explored the Amazon rainforest after a job in Brazil and followed up a Dior shoot in Cambodia by running off to capture photos of monks outside some endangered temples—while the region was on the brink of war. These kinds of excursions were what she remembered more than modeling. The idea of taking the sort of photos on her North African excursion that National Geographic would notice was too tempting—Hurrell agreed.

Little did she expect that Sachs would abandon the quartet early in their trip, that a Bedouin sheik would invite Hurrell to photograph and travel with his tribe, that she would experience a strange ritual, or that she would fall ill with typhoid fever and dehydration while making her way out of the desert.

Kristina Hurrell in Scotland in 1974. (Courtesy of Kristina Hurrell)

“It’s been sitting on the back burner of my life for quite a while,” Hurrell said of the story. Hurrell, who is the CEO of SpaFari, travels constantly, but lockdowns last year put a pause on that. And in the lull, she decided to finally dredge up her desert memories.

“I was really sitting with the memory of each thing that happened,” she said. Many events between that trip and the present day made Hurrell the bold, fearless, courageous person she is, but her experience in the Sahara was really a sort of catalyst, she said. Remembering these things, she even felt inspired to return.

“I really feel that God did protect me in the wilderness, no question. I really did hear His voice,” she said.

Kristina Hurrell in England in 1974. (Courtesy of Kristina Hurrell)

The Strange and Sublime

When a charming, young Bedouin sheik asked Hurrell to accompany his tribe for a few days to photograph and document their way of life, her inner adventurer leaped at the chance. Her rational side cautioned her against traveling into the desert alone, with no ability to speak the language, and no knowledge of the land. In the end, she hired someone to serve as a guard and translator and phoned the Dior press officer back in Paris to say that the trip would be four days long. They would send a search party if Hurrell didn’t call back by then.

It was a trying experience. At times Hurrell’s sense of hygiene rebelled at what the nomadic tribe was used to, and being forced to participate in a palm tree climbing lesson was an embarrassment. She was further disappointed by her limited photo opportunities—the tribe needed to warm up to her first, but time was scarce.

And then came the point where Hurrell wanted to leave, but the sheik insisted that she stay. She was separated from her compass and camera equipment, which were held hostage by the tribe, while she went into the Sahara with the young sheik’s father to witness a strange, surreal ritual. She watched as the old man found a cobra, a scorpion, a fennec fox, and more, then hypnotized the vicious creatures one by one before putting them, now docile, into his robe pockets. When they finally returned to camp, the creatures had come out of their entranced states and were biting away at the man’s body, though he was somehow immune to their venom.

Together with her guard, Hurrell broke free from the tribe not long after that, abandoning her compass and precious photography equipment, and letting the stars guide her in what she hoped was the direction of the hotel she had left some days before. She later found that a helicopter was circling the area to search for her, though they never crossed paths. She and her guard soon ran out of water and were left wondering whether they were on the right track.

But the experience was not all horrors.

“I certainly do remember those incredible moments out there. I mean, there’ve been so many incredible moments in the Sahara, especially at night—the night sky, the sunsets, the early mornings,” she said.

“There was a moment, there was a night—and I feel like it was only a year or two ago,” she said, “there was a quiet, incredible energy through the sand, a planetarium of stars above the head, and that was just incredible.”

To avoid the midday heat, they traveled largely after sundown, and Hurrell would lean as far back on her camel as she could, taking in the galaxies above her.

“You’re under this amazing expansiveness of stars,” she said. “And it was absolutely, incredibly enthralling.

“And realizing obviously this moment will end—would I survive? Or will I not survive? Will I be remembering this moment?”

Hurrell felt afraid more than once while wandering the Sahara, but her remedy for fear was faith: She asked for God’s guidance and protection, and she felt a divine response.

She compiled what she remembers of her voyage into a memoir, “Captivated,” including how her desert journey ended with healing in both body and spirit.

(Courtesy of Kristina Hurrell)

Hurrell went through about a month of convalescence and, near the end, it became clear that though she was healing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, her progress had stalled.

“I remember being in the hospital, and needing to come out and get back into the saddle of life,” she said with a big sigh. “And there was this real issue I couldn’t get out of my head.”

It was the feelings of bitterness and resentment that she held for the young sheik who had betrayed her and taken her property, leaving her with no safe passage back. “How could I have trusted this person? And I just couldn’t get it out of my head.”

“And then I really heard God say to me, ‘You’ve got to forgive,’” she said. It took a few days, but Hurrell prayed and found the strength to forgive. And once she did, all the anger that had been holding her back released from her body like air from a balloon.

“It was a trip of a lifetime for me, and it was a catalyst for what continued,” Hurrell said.

Kristina Hurrell is the founder of SpaFari, a nature and wellness company that takes people on scenic adventures around the world. (Courtesy of Kristina Hurrell)

With Strength and Noble Character

Hurrell’s perilous journey taught her to choose strength, that with faith in God she was protected, and that she owed it to her Creator to live fully. It also taught her that she is an adventurer at heart. Since then, Hurrell has combined her love of nature, travel, and wellness by leading nature trips all around the globe and helping others find empowerment the way she has.

“I knew one day I would tell my story of how I overcame what I went through in the Sahara Desert, and I hope, and pray, that it will be someone else’s survival guide,” Hurrell said. “Obviously I’m more cautious now, but because I know God’s protecting us. And at the time, I knew God allowed me to take that journey.”

When Hurrell plans hiking trips for her clients, she drops them in the middle of nature, in the most scenic environments she can find. The point is to inspire them, make them feel present, extend their physical limits, and help them tune into themselves. They are often more peaceful after the trips, and “it’s just the light that comes out of their eyes,” she said.

“I always feel—and I say this to all the clients—let’s just be honorable in our life here. Let’s awaken the noble character within us,” she said.

Nobility may not be a commonly lauded trait today, but Hurrell hopes that she and others can pass its seeds with wisdom, love, and compassion—like her grandmother did when Hurrell was a child—to younger generations today.

“You know, we’ve got to live inside ourselves, and if we’ve got to carry ourselves around, it’s got to be healthy and well and peaceful and strong. I like to say stand tall and claim our integrity and truthfulness and morality—all the strong things that I feel people need to retune into,” she said.

“You’ve got to just have courage and faith, and be bold, and be fearless. If you aren’t, it’s just trusting God, and He is strong, and He will do that. I say, what do you have to lose? Open your heart and let Him in. Ask Him to guide you, protect you, direct you—and He does.”

“Say yes to your precious life,” Hurrell said.

(Courtesy of Kristina Hurrell)
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Experiences

Finding Redemption, Salvation in the Clay

In the creative process, we find freedom, relief, release, expression—and redemption. But for noted Southern California ceramicist Rich Lopez, the creative process and the hummingbird ceramic that became a part of his identity had to wait. He had to die first, to experience this new creative life. “That second time, I tell people I committed suicide. It wasn’t an attempt; I died that day,” he said.

Lopez, whose life had become a series of short “highs” followed by deeper and protracted “lows,” had given up on life—twice. “The first time I tried to end my life, I was driving on the freeway. A huge semi was coming right at me. At the last second, I guess I swerved. I don’t remember swerving, don’t remember moving my hands, but I ended up in a ditch. I don’t know what saved me.”

Lopez grew up in an explosively abusive household with a brother who used him as a punching bag and a father who had been irreparably scarred by World War II. “My father would run the neighborhood naked and terrorize the neighbors while alternatively terrorizing me. He passed that trait of abuse on to my brother. I had to learn to fight to be able to beat up my own brother, just to survive. I met my wife Cheryl when I was 16. I turned 65 this year, and through all but the last 20 years, I was constantly abusing drugs, alcohol … and my family,” he said.

Cheryl Lopez had known and loved Rich since their sophomore year in high school. “I remembered the night-school pottery classes we took as kids,” Cheryl says. “I remembered how Rich loved working with the clay and the wheel. I thought that maybe he could use it to help himself. He was in such mental pain, and I didn’t know how to reach him.”

Cheryl’s seemingly small act of hope led to an amazing transformation in her husband’s life. But that transformation did not come easily … or quickly. “For years, the wheel just sat there,” Cheryl says. Lopez tried everything to stay clean and sober, just as he had tried everything he could think of to hold onto his job. Nothing worked, though he kept trying. Then came The Haven incident.

The Angels

“It was about 18 years ago, and my wife and I had just moved to Beaumont, a neighboring city of Banning. The city of Banning was attempting a revitalization. My wife was not very happy with having to drive all the way to Fontana where she was a special education teacher.

“We were arguing, and Cheryl said, ‘Why on earth did we move here?’ I began to get nervous. I really needed a drink. I nervously picked up the newspaper, and read about a revitalization project in Banning. A voice in my head said, ‘Drive there. Go to the city hall.'” When Rich Lopez hears voices or sees visions, he follows them. “I just blurted out, ‘This is why we moved here. Let’s take a ride to Banning.’ I had no idea why I was going, but it broke the tension.”

When Lopez and his wife arrived in Banning, that same voice said, “Ask for the mayor. But talk to whoever you can.” The mayor wasn’t in, but the city manager was. That meeting eventually led to Lopez’s being promised 3.5 million dollars for a “downtown arts district,” and coming up with the idea for revitalizing what the city manager called “the ugliest building in Banning.”

Lopez said, “We’ll call it The Haven, and it will be a place of peace and revitalization.” A church was chosen to share The Haven. The city gave the church, which seemed to be the perfect place to entrust such funds, control of the 3.5 million dollars. The funds were unfortunately misused, and the entire revitalization project was scuttled. A broken, seething, disgusted Lopez walked out of the meeting after cursing all involved. He couldn’t think clearly. In desperation, Lopez decided to end his life for a second time.

“I was never taught how to cope with setbacks or anything negative, so one day, while no one was in the house, I drank two bottles, two full fifths of alcohol, and I downed a bottle of pills. The last thing I said was, “Let’s do this.”

Enter an angel. “Suddenly, I wasn’t upstairs sprawled out on my bed anymore. An angel had taken me downstairs to show me what was going to happen. He said, ‘You’re going to be a well-known artist.’ I said, ‘I’m a coffee salesman, not an artist.’ He quieted me with a finger, brought me downstairs, and showed me the wheel that my wife had bought years before. He reminded me that I loved to work with pottery as a child.”

Ever the salesman, Lopez made a deal with his angel. “He showed me the wheel, he showed me the sequence of events, the actual places where these things would play out … even the museum where I would have my own show, but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t know where I was at the time. I said, ‘If all of this is real, and I wake up, prove it to me. Let me wake up without a hangover.’”

Lopez soon awoke needing none of the alcohol, drugs, or the many medications for PTSD-related stress, depression, and diabetes that he had needed to help keep his then-400-pound frame going.

“I woke up and I felt fine. I was amazed. I rushed to tell my wife that I was done with the alcohol, the drugs, and the abuse.” Lopez’s wife was not so amazed, or amused.

“I told Rich, ‘Show me, don’t tell me.’ That was pretty much the overall feeling and what I said and how I felt. I had heard those words so many times before, that I gave up on hoping and believing,” says Cheryl.

The drugs and alcohol stopped immediately. The need for psychotropic drugs ended four years later. The worst case that many people, including many of his doctors, had ever seen, was and still is now, alcohol- and drug-free. He’s also down more than 200 pounds.

“My comeback started the minute I sat down at the wheel. To me, the wheel is life itself, playing out in front of me.”

That first night, Lopez sat at the wheel hour after hour, “throwing” a total of 200 pounds of clay. When he was finished, at nearly 4 in the morning, he had made figurines, bowls, pots, and dishes. “I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, you bought me a wheel … now you have to buy me a kiln. I smiled. She didn’t smile.”

Lopez had somehow managed to learn and remember his craft through every gin and drug-soaked meeting with many ceramic masters. “Somehow I retained it all, and never forgot a thing. Within months, I was selling my art at the Village Fest in Palm Springs,” he said. Still, Lopez’s wife and children were skeptical. The weight of all the years of broken promises, shattered hopes, and bartered dreams littered the floor of Lopez’s life like bits of clay thrown from his potter’s wheel.

Lopez applied specially created paints to his artwork.

“I learned that life is like the clay: it’s in my hands—but I can’t force it or I’ll destroy it. I had to learn to work slowly and use my very life as the persuasive proof that I had changed. I tell people that I don’t mold the clay into shape. I persuade it.”

Lopez had gotten financial support from his rightly skeptical wife—but little else.

“She had to learn to trust me, but it was painfully slow. She couldn’t trust me, and I understood why, but that realization was so painful. I began to feel as if I was going to crumble, feeling like I would never be the artist I wanted to be—feeling that I had failed. I lost hope in my ability. I lost my confidence. I began to cry. It was right there at a show, at my booth, surrounded by all the other vendors. I just started to cry, and I felt disgusted with myself.”

Lopez was all alone with his thoughts; all alone … or so he thought.

“I don’t know why I said it, but I looked up, and I said, ‘God, if you told me the truth, that I was going to be an artist, I want to make $376 today.’ I still have no idea why I picked that number. It was crazy: the most I’d ever made at a show was 75 bucks. But I just sat there angry, disgusted—and crying.”

Enter angels numbers two and three. You see, in Rich Lopez’s world, angels look just like ordinary folks … and two of them approached his booth that day.

“They were an ordinary-looking couple, but I knew when I saw them. I felt it. She said to me ‘Why are you crying?’ I looked up, aggravated, and said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ She said, ‘I’d like to buy that piece—it’s beautiful. And I’d like that piece.’ They were $40, $50, and $75 pieces! She said, ‘And I’d like that piece as well.’

When the woman was finished, the husband spoke up. “I was in shock,” Lopez said. “The husband said, ‘Honey if you’re done, I’d like to get one or two pieces.’ I couldn’t speak. As I was totaling everything up, she said, ‘Will you take a check?’ I just looked up, tears in my eyes, and said, ‘Are you two angels?’ They both smiled. I said, ‘You’re angels!’ She said ‘No, we’re not, but you’ll be fine.’ When I totaled it up, it came to $375. When she handed me the check, I was shaking and crying, and I just said, ‘Thank you, thank you,’ over and over again. They waved goodbye and kept walking.

“My wife came back to my booth and said, ‘Who are they?’ I said, ‘They were angels,’ My wife looked at me as if I was back on the stuff. Then she looked at the check and said, ‘They spent $376?’ I said, ‘What? What?’ I looked at the check: the woman had made a mistake and had written out the check for $376. Three hundred and seventy-six dollars!!”

“When I told my wife what had happened, we were both in shock. Every time we looked at the check, we just shook our heads. Neither of us wanted to cash the check. We finally cashed it after almost a year. My wife began to believe in me then,” Lopez said with a broad smile.

But as we’ll see, an artist’s life is not always easy, nor is it a straight line from failure to success.

The Hummingbird

“I was feeling frustrated because my artistry seemed to be stalled; after such a rocket of a beginning, I felt blocked. My friend, mentor, and Chaffey College ceramics teacher Crispin Gonzalez said, ‘This is California. There are a thousand guys doing pretty bowls. Claremont is filled with people who have style. You have to find your own niche.’” Cue another important dream—and another angel.

“I had this dream: I saw myself hovering over baskets and holding a unique tool. An angel showed it to me. It was a tool that’s not made for the trade. I knew it didn’t exist in real life. I immediately woke up, took a steak knife, ran to my grinding wheel, and fashioned the tool that I now use to make the striations in the clay that mimic a woven basket. It came to me in a dream. It works like no other ceramics tool ever invented. But it was the angel in the dream who showed it to me.”

Even when viewed up close, Lopez’s “baskets” of pottery look as finely woven as any handmade Native American basket on the market.

After his dream, things moved quickly for Lopez, a one-time student at Mount San Jacinto and Chaffey Colleges. Lopez had his work featured at many exciting venues, including the Western Science Center in Hemet and many homes and galleries around the country. His artwork now fetches as much as $3,000 for one of his signature ceramic “woven baskets.” Lopez even put in time at reservations to watch local artisans. “I am half Indian, and I spent over a year on the reservation learning the art of basket weaving. It’s those ceramic ‘woven’ baskets that were featured in my first major show at AMOCA,” he said.

AMOCA, The American Museum of Ceramic Arts in Pomona, is the premier ceramics gallery west of the Mississippi and home to some of the country’s most exceptional ceramics exhibits. Lopez may have been one of the first ceramicists to have a show of his own, but it was the second time he visited AMOCA that left him speechless. “When I walked in that second time, I began to cry. I realized that everything looked exactly as I remembered it in my first visit with the angel, when I almost died. I knew the walls, the floors, the steps, the furniture. I had been there before. I was too busy to realize it that first time, but suddenly I realized it. The angel and I had been there together. I began to shake and cry.”

But no story of success is without its final act of drama, and heavy-duty drama was waiting just around the corner for Rich Lopez.

Just as he was beginning to establish himself as a major regional artist who was on the verge of achieving national success, the comeback story of all comeback stories held one last ugly, dramatic hurdle to overcome.

“I hadn’t been feeling right, but I never told my wife or anyone else. My eyesight was giving me problems. And the minute Cheryl would leave for work, I’d collapse on the bed from fatigue. The only time I’d get up was to vomit. Then I’d crawl out of bed two minutes before she came home, so she would think everything was all right.”

“The Hummingbird,” unfinished, became the symbol of Rich Lopez’s comeback from almost dying—a third time.

Everything wasn’t all right.

“I hadn’t taken care of my diabetes, hadn’t taken the meds … and hadn’t been drinking water as I should have. My liver and kidneys weren’t happy. Neither was Cheryl,” said Lopez. “But I realized I wasn’t out of the woods. After two days of keeping quiet, I could no longer hide the fact that my vision was damaged. They knew something was up when I tried to pour myself a glass of water, and I spilled it all over myself.”

Rich Lopez had endured a diabetic seizure and was blind in his left eye.

“I was pretty much devastated—and angry. I had already suffered from depression and anxiety on and off my whole life. I shut down. I stopped making art. I was miserable,” he said. “Somewhere in all that darkness of the soul, slowly, I realized that my entire life was like one of those Etch-a-sketch boards. Every time I had gotten too complacent, life came and scrambled the whole thing. Like shaking that board. And every time it did, I reimagined myself. I redreamt a new life, new art. I said to myself, if I’m going to be a one-eyed potter, I’d better damned well get started.”

And get started he did. Lopez sat at the wheel, initially intimidated. “At first I was almost scared of the clay, but as I worked it, felt it in my hands, my muscle memory took over. I began to smile,” he said. “Then I cried. I was back.”

Lopez said that in that moment, he felt inspired again, to give his life to his art.

“The first piece I tried was the hummingbird. I had read somewhere that, for as small as it is, no amount of turbulence can shake the hummingbird. A hummingbird is at peace in the eye of any storm.”

The first piece Rich Lopez created after coming to grips with his blindness was “The Hummingbird,” now a finished piece of art. “I chose to carve a hummingbird, because, even in the most turbulent winds, a hummingbird finds stability and peace. So do I.”

As Lopez worked the clay with a renewed feeling of love, peace, and centeredness, he remembered his early years.

“When I was a student, I felt blessed to have so many people sharing their knowledge with me. I had an overwhelming zeal to create art, and to create it in their honor. One of my fellow students once said, ‘Man, you have this power in you when you work the wheel. It’s like some—force.’ And that’s why I created [my work] Artforce, to bring artwork to children. It’s a lifelong passion. I need to feed my soul, and the souls of all those kids who might be hurting—and searching.”

Looking at the peaceful, vibrant, contemplative, artwork Rich Lopez has created in the almost 20 years since his epiphany, one would never realize the hurt, the pain, or the tragedy and triumph behind each piece.

And for Lopez, that’s just as well. “I sit at the wheel for hours on end. I tell the clay my story. It answers back, and I give thanks. When people see my work, they see a bit of me in every piece. I want them to see a part of themselves too—the best part. My world is now filled with art and, once again, with peace.”

And when you’re near Rich Lopez in his studio, you see the natural hues, the sun-baked umber, the call of something deeper and more timeless than the ageless act of a potter creating at his wheel; you feel the ancient peace of the calm after the storm. And in that calm, there’s redemption.

Portions of this article first appeared in the Hemet San-Jacinto Chronicle.

Rich Lopez can be reached at RichLopezClayArtist.com

A native of South Philadelphia, Mark Lentine has written for and helmed publications on both coasts. He now resides in Hemet, Calif.

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Experiences Lifestyle Travel

Modern Nomads: Finding Ancient Mobility in a Global World

It’s a moment of uncertainty. As I hold the bowl just below my chin, the fragrant, clear liquid is close enough to sniff. It smells earthy, like an animal. My friendly host stares at me, intently, a little confused, all of us frozen by my indecision—to drink, or not?

“Just half, this time,” my guide, Ankhmaa Baatartsogt, whispers into my ear. This will be the final chaser, after an afternoon of strange, fermented drinks. Having powered through one bowl of this “vodka,” my Mongolian host waits for me to down my seconds.

I’m in the South Gobi Desert, visiting with nomads. Mongolia is a country where people are still tied closely to the land, where some one-quarter of their population of three million continue to follow their sheep and goats across seemingly endless horizons. With no fences for hundreds of miles, they’re always making their way to greener pastures.

Traditional Mongolian gers can be relocated as the herd grazes on the plain. (mr.wijannarongk kunchit/ Shutterstock)

Nomadic Cultures

The persistence of nomadic cultures in a modern world has long fascinated me, as I’ve traveled the globe.

In Sweden’s far north, I dogsledded across the snowy landscape with the Sami, near the world-famous Icehotel. Learning how the eight seasons of these northern indigenous people remain defined by the grazing, breeding, and calving patterns of their reindeer, I jumped at the opportunity to hand-feed some of the herd.

Traditional Mongolian gers can be relocated as the herd grazes on the plain. (mr.wijannarongk kunchit/Shutterstock)
Gers on the grasslands in Mongolia. (michel arnault/Shutterstock)

In the rugged deserts of Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve, I took tea and made bread over the fire with a family of Bedouins, whose people have long roamed across the Middle East. My host explained that, in a place where survival can depend on the kindness of your neighbors, hospitality is baked into their culture, with visitors able to stay for days without any question from their host.

Urban gers in the city of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Monglia. (toiletroom/Shutterstock)

But the best examples are perhaps here in Mongolia. On my first visit to the country, more than a decade ago, I chugged through on the southern arm of the Trans-Siberian Railway, spending time in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Home to about half the country’s population, at that moment, it was a city bursting at the seams, with glassy, half-finished office towers mixing uneasily with austere and shambling Soviet apartment blocks.

Seeking an education for their kids, and modern employment, many families were in the process of moving off the land, bringing their portable, circular dwellings with them, forming a rambling neighborhood called the “ger district.” Lines of these white tents (which in other places, are often called “yurts”) spread across hillsides, stretching for miles. Coal smoke rose up from the stoves set up inside for cooking and warmth, and by evening, a heavy canopy of smoke hung low in the sky.

Genghis Khan statue at Chinggis Square or Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar. (saiko3p/Shutterstock)
The Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue is a 13-story-tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback at Tsonjin Boldog near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (saiko3p/Shutterstock)

Mongolia

Now, years later, here in the Gobi, I have a chance to get a tiny glimpse of the way these nomads have lived life for centuries. After flying down from the capital to a small landing strip, my guide Baatartsogt and I hop into a Land Rover. We roll into a world with no roads, racing across open plains while emitting a long rooster tail of dust behind us. I’ll spend the next three nights at the legendary Three Camel Lodge, where the rooms replicate gers. But here, the tents are kitted out with cushy, comfortable beds, and big bathrooms. Plus, there’s a spa on site.

First, we search for dinosaurs, at the Flaming Cliffs, about 12 miles east of the lodge. Here, in the 1920s, archaeologists found a valley literally covered in bones. The richest-ever discovery at the time, it included the world’s very first dinosaur egg fossils. With rumors that odd prehistoric pieces will still pop up from the blazing sands, we search intently, to no avail, settling to watch a big orange sunset, with a glass of red wine in hand.

An aerial drone photo of the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, a 13-story-tall statue at Tsonjin Boldog near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (Maykova Galina/Shutterstock)

On our day trips, I’ve spotted white gers all around. On our drive back to the lodge, I ask Baatartsogt whether it might be possible to have a look inside, and pay a visit? She nods, promising to make a few inquiries. The next day, we’re welcomed into a series of homes.

Some of the basics of the Mongolian nomadic lifestyle, including a clan structure, were set as far back as the 3rd Century, BC. Tribes were formed from clans, with the strongest unit providing the tribe name, but weaker clans allowed to retain their own leaders and livestock. For thousands of years, these nomads roamed a vast territory, following their sheep and goats, which provided all the essentials for their families. Wool for clothing and mats and blankets, milk to drink and make cheese. Plus, skins for the walls and roof of the tents, and steaming bowls of mutton for nourishment in a harsh, often inhospitable climate. Dried dung was (and is, still) even used as fuel for fires.

Camels and horses provided transportation, with mares milked more than half a dozen times a day, their milk fermented to create airag, an alcoholic drink still popular today. Hemmed in by mountains to the west, wetlands to the north and desert to the south, these natural features also provided Mongolians with formidable natural barriers against potentially hostile neighbors.

Preparation of airag, fermented mare’s milk, the traditional and national beverage of Mongolia, inside a ger. (Emily Marie Wilson/Shutterstock)
A big pot of airag, fermented mare’s milk, the traditional national beverage of Mongolia. (T-I/Shutterstock)

Ghengis Khan, National Hero

Ghengis Khan remains the national hero. Born into a nomadic family in the 12th century, his success in laying the foundation to the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world lay in his ability to unite these tribes. Khan’s portly statue occupies a prominent place in front of the parliament in Ulaanbaatar, and another one, astride a horse, 13 stories high, sits just outside of town. His image adorns the state currency.

But those statues are a long way from where I stand today, although Khan might recognize the scene before me, all these centuries later. The space inside the ger isn’t subdivided, and everything surrounds a stove in the center of the large, round room. Beds line the walls, and the few pieces of wooden furniture are painted in bright, intricate patterns.

Evening view over a ger camp in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. (mbrand85/Shutterstock)

When the host couple offers us a drink, Baatartsogt is unfazed. Though she’s a modern young woman who lives in the capital and wears western clothes, like many urban-dwelling Mongolians, she’s not so far removed from the land. “I’m an airag girl,” she tells me, and indeed she seems to enjoy her bowl of fermented milk. I’m a little less certain, but Baatartsogt whispers in my ear that our host will be greatly offended if I refuse it. “Three sips,” she tells me, sotto voce. It’s not so bad, milky and slightly sour. Proceeding to our next stop, we exit the Land Rover and pass a big herd of camels, entering a ger similar to the last.

Here, the welcome drink is made from camel’s milk, and it’s rather thicker and less pleasant than the straight-up airag. It’s followed up by the “vodka,” clear, with tiny bits in it. “This time, you must drink the whole thing,” the always-helpful Baatartsogt tells me, breaking the bad news with a smirk. And so, down it goes. I power through the whole allotment in a few hearty gulps, relieved that I’ve finished until I see our smiling host refilling the bowl.

Evening view over a ger camp in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. (mbrand85/Shutterstock)

“She’s misunderstood,” my guide tells me. “She thinks you loved it. That you want more.”

In the end, I drink just half. Taking my bowl, we sit on a mat, Baatartsogt translating. We chat for hours, me learning about the hard, beautiful, simple life of following the rains, and raising both a family and livestock, in this Land of the Blue Sky. No, I’m not cut out for it. But returning to the lodge, I’m just a tiny bit tempted to make my nightcap a glass of airag.

Toronto-based writer Tim Johnson is always traveling, in search of the next great story. Having visited 140 countries across all seven continents, he’s tracked lions on foot in Botswana, dug for dinosaur bones in Mongolia, and walked among a half-million penguins on South Georgia Island. He contributes to some of North America’s largest publications, including CNN Travel, Bloomberg, and The Globe and Mail.

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Experiences Lifestyle Nature Travel Trending

Sacha Lodge: Where the Wild Things Still Are

After a breathtaking ride over the snowy peaks of the Andes Mountains, the turboprop plane descended from thin air to the thick, humid atmosphere of the jungle. Below us, a muddy river coiled through vibrant verdant forest—until the thick tangle of trees gave way to the dull brown patchwork quilt of agriculture. Ahead lay the airport runway of the city of Coca, near where another river merged and created an even wider winding flow.

Beneath me was the Amazon basin, but still a long way from Brazil. It takes a lot of water to feed the world’s largest river by volume. Ecuador is home to a mere 2 percent of the big river’s source waters, but the three nights I spent at an eco-lodge along the Napo River would be unforgettable. But first I had another two hours of travel on a long and low river launch before I could check in.

A steel catwalk 150 feet in the air stretches out across the treetops near Sacha Lodge in the rainforest of Ecuador. (Courtesy of Sacha Lodge)

A Private Reserve

Sacha Lodge sits at the heart of a private 5,000-acre ecological reserve along the diminutive Pilchicocha Lagoon. Nestled into the surrounding rainforest, a short hike from the banks of the Napo River, the thatched-roof central building and family cabins are modestly woven into the landscape. All brought to you by Coca-Cola, you could say. Well, sort of. A Swiss citizen, Arnold “Benny” Ammeter used to work in distribution for the soda company and found himself deep in the remote markets of Ecuador. He became enamored of the beauty of this region and eventually returned to open an eco-lodge.

After a short time, he didn’t feel the resort was remote enough, so he searched for and found land even deeper into the wild, down the Napo River. With the assistance of local workers, he built Sacha Lodge, and over the years he purchased more acreage. Thanks to a commitment to hire locally, Sacha Lodge is the largest tourism-based employer in this entire region of Ecuador. The guides are primarily local as well, many of them able to draw upon not just typical naturalist knowledge but cultural learning, such as the medicinal uses of plants along the trails.

An aerial view of the Balsa Restaurante, boat dock, and swimming area at the Sacha Lodge. (Courtesy of Sacha Lodge)

Into the Wild

“Wake up call is at 5:30,” we were told during the new arrival briefing.

“So early?”

“Because that’s when the animals get up.” We rest at midday, once again, just like the animals.

Boardwalks connect all the rooms and lodge buildings, which rise up on stilts above the mix of terra firma and marsh waters the color of sarsaparilla. Trails, muddy paths, or simple plank walks lead out into the forest. Umbrellas, ponchos, and, thankfully, knee-high rubber boots are provided by the lodge so guests don’t need to pack special gear.

They don’t call this a rainforest for nothing. Depending on the season, rain can affect the day’s activities. Downpours can be sudden and torrential, or the gray can come in almost as fine as a mist and last the entire day. But if you don’t mind getting a little damp—and you will—the hikes go on regardless. Under the forest canopy, the rain can be less intense.

The Balsa Restaurante at the Sacha Lodge, situated on the Napo River in Ecuador. (Courtesy of Sacha Lodge)

Otters swim in the lagoon. Eight species of monkeys make their homes in the trees, from the world’s tiniest, the pygmy marmoset, to the Pavarotti-aspiring howler monkeys, whose call is so deep and resonant it can be heard a mile away. The abundance of avian life draws birders from far and wide, and during a typical stay, one is likely to see more than 200 species. The lodge guides have recorded nearly 600.

We gathered again in the evening for a night hike. We all carried lodge flashlights, but the guide could spot animals deep in the bush off the trail even in the dark. They know where to look. A special frog on a certain tree; a snake that frequently appears near another.

Dinner at the fine-dining restaurant offers a scenic overlook of the lake. At night, the stars reflect in the water, clear enough to see the constellations—many of which may be unfamiliar to northerners. The Big Dipper and the Southern Cross face each other on opposite ends of the balance of the heavens.

During the day, some guests swam a bit or napped in hammocks. I watched a local man on the dock drop a line in the water and asked him what he was fishing for. “Piranhas,” he replied. What? Where we swim?

Caimans—small crocodiles about a meter long from snout to tail—also call the little black lake home, and on barbeque night when dinner was moved from the lodge dining room to the grill in the dockside pavilion, one apparently had made reservations, snapping up pieces of chicken and pork dropped over the rail by servers.

A master bathroom in a suite featuring windows looking directly looking out into the rainforest at the Sacha Lodge in Ecuador. (Courtesy of Sacha Lodge)
The view of one of the rooms at the Sacha Lodge in the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador. (Courtesy of Sacha Lodge)

Beyond the Lodge

Back out on the Napo River, the launch took a group of us to other sweet spots: A butterfly farm featuring exotic local varieties in a shelter where you can step in and join them. Also along the river is a clay lick, a favored spot for parakeets and macaws. They come at unpredictable times, but they came that day. A flurry and blur of iridescent blue, green, and bits of scarlet as countless birds swooped in and clung to the mud cliff, eating the clay, which is believed to counterbalance the acidity in their other foods.

And then there are the sights above the lodge. A short hike away into the rainforest, there’s a series of towers. Steps lead to the top, where it breaks through the canopy, and a steel catwalk 150 feet in the air stretches out across the treetops, offering closer views of the avian residents. There’s really no need to make much effort to find more birds: Even just outside the rooms, there are oropendolas, crow-like brown birds with golden tails, building their pouch-shaped nests dangling from a large kapok tree in the center of the compound. Their call, not unlike the cool tinkle of water drops in a pool, adds an exotic twist to the white noise of insects and frogs, a soundtrack worthy of an Amazon experience.

Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler, craft beer enthusiast, and home cooking fan. He is the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey” and his new collection of short stories, “Stealing Away.” He is based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com