Shell is a town located in the eastern foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes, about 94 miles (151 km) from Quito. Its name comes from the Royal Dutch Shell Company, and the smaller town of Mera, which is 5 miles (8.0 km) to the northwest.
Shell Oil Base
Shell Mera was established in 1937 as a Shell Oil Company base. It originally consisted of little more than several basic shacks and a 5,000-foot (1,500 m) airstrip. It was operated as part of Shell's prospecting efforts in the region.
The base was located near some Indian tribes that strongly opposed the exploitation of resources found in their ancestral territories. On a few occasions the Indians attacked Shell, resulting in the deaths of several employees. The oil company eventually considered the base too dangerous to maintain and abandoned it in 1948.
However, it is more likely that business prospects had more to do with the decision. It was during this time that the Middle East rose in prominence in the oil industry, since it was becoming much more productive. After spending 10 years prospecting in Ecuador, the oil company had not produced any oil from the region.
Sometime around 1949, Shell was reoccupied by Mission Aviation Fellowship. MAF recognized the importance of Shell due to its airstrip and road access to Quito. They used it as their main base of operations for mission work in Ecuador, and it was also the home base of MAF pilots Nate Saint and Johnny Keenan.
In 1954 Saint, a former member of the U.S. Army, welcomed General James Doolittle to Shell. Doolittle was an Air Force (Army Air Forces) aviator who rose to fame during what became known as "Doolittle's Raid" over Tokyo in 1942. General Doolittle was visiting Ecuador for then-President Eisenhower on a fact-finding mission for the CIA.
McCully, and Roger Youderian. They had been trying to reach the Huaorani tribe, and had been making aerial reconnaissance missions. When they landed in Huaorani territory they were killed by the natives, their bodies thrown into the Curaray River. Once again, Shell served as a base of operations, this time for the families of the victims and rescue workers.
Two years later, in 1958, the Hospital Vozandes Del Oriente opened its doors as the first hospital in that region of Ecuador. The hospital was the dream of Nate Saint, who donated both land and time to work on its construction before his death in 1956. It served an estimated 65,000 people who lived on the eastern side of the Andes and in the jungle. In 1985 a new Hospital Vozandes was opened on the other side of the Motolo River, and the old hospital was converted to a guest house, lasting until 2007 when weather and termites forced it to be torn down. The new Hospital Vozandes Del Oriente was closed at the end of 2013, after 55 years of service in Pastaza.
In August 1964, Nate Saint Memorial School opened in Shell for missionary children. The school was founded by Charlotte Dillon Swanson wife of Wallace Swanson, a missionary physician at the HCJB Hospital Voz Andes. She began by teaching her own children at home in 1962 and later expanded the school to include other missionary children. After she raised money for a building she named the school in memory of Nate Saint.
Today, Shell is a much larger town than it was, complete with many churches, airplane hangars, schools, hotels, and missionary guest houses. The Saint's house is also still standing. Hospital Basic del Oriente is being reopened by a team led by Dr. Eckehart Wolff and other physicians who are supporting this effort.
The airstrip remains operational and continues to service the region as the Rio Amazonas Airport (PTZ), which is owned by the military and used as a base. The airport is also still a major base of operations for the MAF.