Welcome to the Jungle
Sorry. That’s a really lazy blog post title, but it’s true – our last destination in Ecuador, in all of South America, was the Amazon.
I feel kind of like a cheater when I say that we went to ‘THE AMAZON,’ because it’s true and not true at the same time. To me, the Amazon is all murky rivers, voracious piranhas, sticky air, impenetrable tree canopies, and bizarre wildlife. But the only way to really get that is to go deep into the Amazon.
With less than a week before our flight to the US, we didn’t have the time, the money, the gear, or the inclination to go deep into the Amazon. Part of me burned to do it – ride an overnight bus for 10 hours, followed by a 3-hour canoe ride, spend 3 days in the jungle, see some animals, and do it all again on the way back.
But a larger part of me was so over the buses, slightly worried about being kidnapped by renegade drug runners (go ahead and laugh), and slightly concerned about not making it back to Guayaquil in time for our plane. And while I don’t mind roughing it (briefly), I was weary at the thought.
As a compromise, we went to Tena, a bare-bones town on the outskirts of the Amazon, and joined a 3-night jungle trip. Jared and I were the only ones on the trip, along with our guide. We met him on a patch of grass and dirt at the very edge of the villages surrounding Tena, and helped load up a horse with supplies.
For over an hour we squelched through mud in our rubber boots, hopped over tree roots, and paused to scan the treetops for tiny monkeys.
The camp was basic, but had everything we needed: a double bed, hammocks, a toilet, a freshwater stream, and kitchen area.
Within minutes, Romero had pointed out something that surprised even him – a hummingbird nest, suspended from the folded leaves of a banana tree.
I was trying to distinguish the outline of the two baby birds, beaks straining upwards, when I heard a thrumming sound, like a tiny jet. The mother had arrived, wings hammering furiously, to transfer food from her mouth to theirs.
For three days, we followed Romero through the jungle. We followed him for hours to reach an isolated, towering waterfall. We followed him to a serene swimming hole and watched as he taught his 7-year-old daughter, Evelyn, to swim. We followed him cautiously through the pitch-black vegetation for a night hike, and watched, rapt, as he taught us to make chocolate, jewelry, and spears from scratch using only materials found in the forest. (more on all of this later)
At one point, Romero called me over.
“Lorena,” he said. “Quieres ver (something in spanish that amounted to ‘scorpion spider.’)?”
“Si,” I said, foolishly.
He led me to the closet next to the bathroom, where a spider larger than my hand was perched on the wall. Next to the bathroom. Where, up until now, I’d been walking in flip flops in the dead of night without any fear.
It was around then that I believed we were really in the Amazon, because I have to believe that I would never see this spider anywhere else.
On the last day, we returned to Tena using a slightly different mode of transport – white water rafting. I was nervous, gripping my oar and barking commands at Jared: “Don’t you DARE try to push me over!” Eventually, I relaxed and realized that this was fun, even if I was blundering my way through the rapids.
We got back to the Tena lodge in the afternoon, where we were invited to take a shower and re-pack our gear before our final overnight bus to Guayaquil. And even though I hadn’t been subject to any piranhas or seen any wild tapirs or sloths, I still got a little glimpse of the Amazon.
And for me, it was just right.