I’m trying to catch up on my life so I’ll just start where I left off in English 3 weeks ago. A few weekends ago we went to Tena, which is a city on the edge of the jungle and the last large bit of civilization in Ecuador before entering the vast Amazon. One of our teachers from our Spanish school worked in the Amazon on a malaria project for a few years and he agreed to take a group of us into the jungle for the weekend. The first night we got delayed on the way there because there was a mudslide on one of the roads. This was actually a little bit terrifying because the majority of the interprovincial roads in Ecuador are extremely windy and situated on the edge of giant canyons so the thought of a mud slide coming down the mountain and wiping out the road in front of us was a little discomforting. Luckily I don’t think anyone was in the way of the mudslide when it came down. We waited stopped traffic for 2 hours as they cleared a lane in the road and we entertained ourselves by buying questionable snacks from village vendors that took advantage of the giant traffic jam snaking past their huts. Eventually we arrived at our destination late at night in Shuripuno, close to Tena. Shuripuno is an indigenous village that realized it can profit off of tourism and decided to build a small lodge as a base for tourism into the Amazon. I’m not quite sure how I feel about being a tourist in an indigenous village. On one hand it felt intrusive and somewhat exploitive but on the other hand tourism has become the main source of income for a lot of the small villages on the border of the jungle and their economy depends on the money they bring in from people like me. I tried to put my uneasiness aside and appreciate it for what it was.
After eating dinner by candle light and spraying ourselves with excessive amounts of 100% DEET (none of us wanted Dengue, which is on the rise in those parts) we took a night hike through the jungle to go look at wildlife. To be honest I after I encountered my first huge spider in the first 2 minutes of the hike I was ready to turn back and seek safety. I really don’t like spiders… It also didn’t help that I was walking with my friend Oresta who is deathly afraid of snakes. Our bus driver (who joined us in all our weekend activities and was extremely enthusiastic to be in the jungle for his first time) was walking behind us and seemed to be enjoying our anxiety. He made it worse by picking up sticks and rustling the bushes or rattling leaves in our ears so we would freak out. At least someone was entertained. That night when we got back to our bunks I tucked my mosquito netting into my mattress so that nothing could get into my bed but I still woke up multiple times with the sensation of things crawling on me. Needless to say, I obviously was not raised in the jungle.
Our jungle lodge in Shuripuno.
The next morning after breakfast a nice lady showed us the process of making chocolate from fresh cocoa plants. It actually is a really long and complicated process that requires a lot of sweat, blood, and tears but they toned it down for us and we had edible chocolate within 30min. It was the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted, not to mention the probably most organic chocolate I’ve eaten (without paying $20 for a chocolate bar at Whole Foods).
After the chocolate we innertubed down the Napo river to another village where they showed us all the medicinal plants they use. I was very hesitant about getting in the water because my parasitology class scarred me for life and I didn’t want a tropical disease. Our Spanish teacher assured us there weren’t any parasites, which I know is a lie because there are parasites everywhere. EVERYWHERE!!! (see.. scarred for life…). But I got in the damn water anyways and enjoyed it. You just can’t think about anything too much when you are in Ecuador.
We also got to hold some random jungle animals, tried chicha, which is a fermented yuca root drink, got soul cleansed by a shaman, and eat river fish with our hands.
Shaman soul cleansing
Tilapia and yuca root
The next day we were going to go caving but the entrance to the cave was fallen in and even though we could have crawled through no one wanted to risk another cave-in. So instead we stopped by some natural hotsprings called Papallacta on our way back to Quito and soaked in the hot water. It was glorious!
All in all it was an amazing weekend and I feel really fortunate to have gotten to go to the jungle while was I here, even though it was a quick trip.