Week 5 In the Jungle and Back...

Trip Start Aug 23, 2006
Trip End Dec 23, 2006

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Got back to Quito this morning (Saturday the 28th) after a 10 hour bus ride from the eastern city of Coca. Here's how the week in the jungle went starting with last Sunday.

Sunday 22nd - A fairly relaxed day of trip preparation and packing. I haven't had to really pack for more than a weekend in 5 weeks so it was sort of nice to live out of a backpack again. At 8:30 I met Claire (girl from the U.S.) and our two professors (Olga for Clair and Zayra for me) at the bus station which is very close to my house in Quito. The bus was nice compared to the other buses I've been on for weekend trips to Mindo, Banos and Otavolo...it had seats that reclined back around 140 degrees and one round of drink/snack service before it was lights out. Claire and I both popped Ambian's and were out for the entire trip for the 10 hour journey to Coca.

Monday 23rd - We arrived into Coca around 6:30AM and were smacked hard in the face with a firsthand encounter of the heat of the jungle. After 4 weeks in Quito, I had grown quite accustomed to the lower temps due to the high altitude...not so here. We had a few hours to kill before our hour boat ride up the Rio Napo to our lodge so first thing was to drop off our backpacks at the boat dock...then it was off to breakfast which ended up being pretty good. The restaurant had a mini-zoo in the back complete with monkeys, parrots and giant rats (capybara). As our lodge is very, very remote and there is no access to anything, anyplace, anyone outside of it, our professoras told us if we wanted to bring anything to stock up now and bring it with you to the island. I used my money wisely and bought 8 beers, a bottle of cheap wine and some Doritos. Back to the dock to catch our boat we started to see who else we were going to be spending the next several days with. There were 3 students from another school who ended up being very cool (William from England Alice from Canada and Alice from Australia). In addition there were two television personalities from Chili and their one man crew. I saw there were two people but I really only saw the girl in the duo...from my pictures you'll see why. We all climbed aboard our very small boat up the Rio Napa (which is an Amazon tributary) and after an hour we reached a small inlet for the Yuturi Lodge. The lodge was located another 15 minutes into the inlet. A quick description would be 20 or so bamboo cabanas and a large group dining room with a ton of hammocks to sleep the day away. I was very happy to find a large beer cooler on the honor system which I frequented quite often. All rooms came with private bathrooms, mosquito nets and hot water...sometimes. To be honest, we really didn't need hot water as the cold showers were a welcome relief to the jungle heat. The lodge also has several caged animals who we were told were in "transition rehabilitation"...sounds a bit suspect to me. Regardless the highlites of their mini zoo were a spider monkey and 3 ocelots. Last point about the lodge...the meals were all great....nuff said. Oh...did I mention there were several large tarantulas that called Yuturi home and sometimes like to wander through peoples cabanas...yeah...nice. Claire had the guts to handle one and from her squeals of delight, she was quite proud of herself. After dinner, we were off on our first night excursion with our lodge guides....Canoeing up the river while Cayman spotting and then visiting a lagoon owned and maintained by the lodge. The only way to see Caymans is to flash your light directly into it eyes...when you see two little red reflections, youīve found a Cayman. We saw about 6 that first night. The canoe ride around the lagoon was great as well. You canīt imagine the noise thousands of frogs, birds and other creatures make in the nighttime...I really wish I had recorded it. Back home for a cold shower and then bed.

Tuesday 24th - After our daily 6:30AM breakfast (ouch that's early), both Claire and I have classes from 7:30-Noon. Classes were fairly uneventful for both of us...and even though the jungle was a welcome relief from the daily grind of Quito, being surrounded by such beauty and activities made it difficult to keep motivated for school. After lunch our we had our first day activity...paddling further up stream in our canoes for a snack of Amazon catfish and beetle larvae (mayon). The Chilean TV crew came along and filmed a segment as well. After about 40 minutes of paddling, our guides led us into the jungle where a large cabana had been erected complete with a dug out BBQ grill. Our guides pulled out two of the biggest catfish fillets I have ever seen, seasoned them up, wrapped them in giant leaves and then placed them on the grill. Then they pulled out the live beetle larvae. They were about the size of my thumb and a few brave souls in our group ate them alive...not me. To prepare the larvae, you make an incision in their back, de vein them and then place them on spits for the grill. After a few minutes, they were done and while our fish still cooked, we munched on grilled beetle larvae. The TV crew tried to interview me as I ate mine...but when he asked me in very rapid spanish "how did it taste"...given my lack of knowledge on Spanish adjectives, I could only reply..."Pocu Sal...y un poco zapatos"...a little salt, and a little bit like shoes. Back to the lodge for dinner...then our second night activity, visiting the local shaman...or witchdoctor. After a brief canoe ride, we arrived at the shamans place of business, took our seats and then listened thru two translators (Quichua to Spanish...then Spanish to English) as the shaman described how he operates. After that, he took a big swig of some local moonshine that allows him to get the visions he needs to cleanse and work his voodoo. We all got to taste a bit of it and it tasted a lot like tree bark. Other groups have actually had the opportunity to take a shot of the moonshine too..but not us...and hereīs why. The true shaman wasnīt able to make it tonight, so we got his son...Freddy. Thatīs right, Freddy the shaman. Turns out Freddy also works at the lodge as a guide and fisherman. Quite the multitasker our shaman is. Anyway...after his buzz kicks in, we are able to go up two at a time and get ourselves blessed. The Chillean TV hosts go first...and thatīs when the fun kicked in. Part of the 5 minute cleansing ceremony involves the shaman waving a bunch of leaves over your head while chanting...the other part involves him hacking up a loogie from the bottom of his lungs and then blowing it on top of your head...at least thatīs what it looked like. The second time he did it to the hot girl from Chile, I think she almost cried...meanwhile her partner who was sitting next to her almost breaks up laughing as the shaman performs his spit magic on him. When they retreated, it was very entertaining to watch their reactions. All of us eventually do it and when Claire and I went up, we were happy to find out we donīt actually get spit on...but it certainly feels and looks like we do. Back home we crawled into our hammocks with cervezas until lights our and watched the TV footage from the Chillean gangs video equipment...

Wednesday 25th - More school and after our class we started chatting with three guys from Spain who were also in the lodge. They were pretty funny...even thought I understood about 20% of what they said given their different accents. I learned some new Spanish cusswords to the horror of my professor and they shared some rum they had bought in Nicaragua. Our daytime activity was something I was very excited about since we arrived...piranha fishing! With tiny fishing poles and bits of read meat as bait, we fished for about 90 minutes with the only luck being a couple catfish and a pufferfish. Another group actually caught a piranha and Iīll include that in my photos. The Canadian girl in our group caught the puffer fish and our guide told her to see it blow up, she actually had to blow into itīs mouth. As soon as her lips touched the fished lips, he clamped down and hilarity ensued. Our nighttime activity was walking through another lagoon close by on a boardwalk trail installed by the lodge. No caymans were spotted, but we did see a couple giant snails and many frogs.

Thursday 26th - More school and a trip to a Quichian indigenous family home. This was something I was also looking forward to was the opportunity to visit an indigenous family, interact with them, learn about how they live....and taste the chicha! We took the motor boat about 45 minutes up river to the families house. Behind the boat we towed two canoes which would be how we returned back to the lodge...more on that later. After arriving, our guides show us around the families property pointing out the various crops grown and other interesting facts. Highlites included showing us the fruit which men paint their face with for battle (see the picture of me and Claire), tasting a plant whose leaves taste exactly like cinnamon and viewing their main staple crop...yucca...from which chicha is made from. Chicha is a fermented beer-like drink originally made by the women of the house by chewing on yucca, then spitting it out into vats where along with their saliva, it ferments into a tasty intoxicating beverage. Today itīs not made with spit and also comes in banana and other flavors. We entered the familyīs home and met the wife and her 2 daughters. The husband and their 6 sons were in town for a meetings of local families. Some tasty chicha was drank and then we stumbled down their stairs to have a bit of competition...blowdart style. We each received two practice shots and I missed both...a Swedish woman in our group nailed both of hers. When it came down for the actual competition, 3 people before me hit one out of two. I stepped up and nailed the first one. With a price in the balance I nailed the second one and ended up being the blow dart champion. My price was a necklace made by the woman and her daughters...pretty cool. As we made our way back to the river...a storm blew in turning our calm, tranquil ride home on the Rio Napo into a death defying experience. With 5 people to a canoe, our boats were very, very low in the water...add a bit of wind and we were seriously a bit freaked out of being swamped and sunk. The first 30 minutes sucked as we had to paddle cross the current to the other side of a river that was probably a quarter mile wide. One we made it to the other side and had the current on our back, it was fairly straight forward from there on out. The other boat actually bottomed out a couple times, but we all made it home with out losing anyone or anything. No nighttime activity this night but we did have our final dinner where I broke out my $3 bottle of wine.

Friday 27th - Our last day and Claire and I decide to double up on our excursions. Instead of school in the morning, we do a daytime trip to the lagoon were we spotted a couple stinky turkeys (thatīs their name...seriously), a large tortoise, a glimpse of a wild capybara and some bird watching atop a 15 meter tower. We made it back to the lodge around 10:30 where we had an our of Spanish lessons and then lunch. Oh...I forgot to mention about 18 American joined our lodge family last night...all 50 years older or more. Good times...not. After lunch we do a quick hike through the jungle and along the way come across the carcass of a dead sloth. In addition our guide gave us each a taste of "jungle garlic" which did indeed taste like the stuff back in the states. Our destination for the hike was a 50 meter observation tower built around the trunk of a tree which was at least 150 years old. The tower was built by the lodge without an architect or engineer...Iīm glad our guide told us that before we started up. At the top we were treated with great views and a ton of sweat flies. It was a great way to end our trip and Iīm definitely glad we did it. We made it back in time to shower, pack and catch the 3PM boat back up river to Coca. At Coca we had 3 more hours of Spanish, dinner and then caught our bus back to Quito. On the trip back, we went though two security checkpoints where we all had to exit the bus, have our IDīs checked, get patted down and have our backpacks searched. They were really looking for drugs and weapons so it was a non event for everyone in our group. The second stop was a 4AM and Claire was in an Ambian induced daze and doesnīt even remember any detail of the stop. Evidently I too was under the Ambian spell because evidently the bus got a flat tire on the way back and got stuck twice in some nasty roads. As a result, we were a little late and made it back to Quito on Saturday (10/28) around 7AM.

A great jungle weekend and it definitely was definitely nice to get out of Quito for a week. I plan on spending this weekend exploring Quito a bit more as every weekend since I arrived weīve gone out of town. This coming week is my last week in Ecuador and next Saturday I plan on busing down to the Peruvian border where I will catch a flight to Arequipa in Southern Peru. Iīm sure the gang from school will be going out a few times this week to wish Clair and I well...more on that in my next posting.
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