Monkeys and Rivers

Trip Start Nov 24, 2007
Trip End May 15, 2008

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    I have a lot of catching up to do and not a whole lot of time to do it in because we are in a bit of a hurry so I´m just gonna skim the surface of another great last few days, this time in Tena and Misahualli, eastern central Ecuador.
   After stopping by the great San Rafael falls we traveled south to Tena, continuing our exploration of the Oriente.  Tena, like Lago Agrio, is another jumping off point for the Amazon but it also happens to be well renowned for the rafting of nearby rivers which run from the Andeam highlands of Ecuador to the east. The town itself, next to the confluence of two of those rivers is nothing special yet the people are very friendly and the streets are lined with small vendors, abundant fruit stands and men and women going about their daily business, women more often than the former it seems. To me it has a really good vibe. In any case, we are staying at "A Welcome Break" hosteria or something along those names (they come up with interesting names sometimes) and after all the wild transit we have been doing as of late has it is just what we were looking for.

Now, a little about travelling. This basic place we are staying at is definitely owned and run locally. We've found that they are often times smaller, cleaner and less wild. That is why we usually make an attempt to avoid the popular hostels and instead go for something a little more tranquil. Kitchens are always a plus. Afterall, we aren't getting hammered every night like many people do so it isn't necessary to hang out at the famous place printed in every South American guide book. We do of course enjoy our boxed wine and really don't mind what people choose to do on their travels! Also, we try and be good 'Ambassadors' of our country, be it toward locals or foreigners alike. Afterall, no matter what you think, know or think others don't know, we aren't one of most well spoken of countries or citizens in the world at this moment. Yes. I do think people are misinformed, make blind judgements about certain things and really aren't as informed on subjects that they speak so passionately about sometimes but hey, neither am I on certain subjects and I definitely have my views. It's human nature. And that isn't to say that people don't have their reasons, I myself could come up with a number of them quite easily.

So, I bring you my story. First encounter. We walk into 'A Welcome Break' and are speaking with the owner about a place for a few nights and what is included. He leaves to go check the rooms and a shirtless American dude (his state will remain anonymous) yells out from across the courtyard, "Jeeze Man, you pack a lot of stuff. Who needs all of that? Two bags? All I have in one small one..." I reply, "I'm always prepared man, always prepared." Not wanting to be judgemental but knowing the guys is already a jerk-off and I could care less to speak with him again. Already kowing his story all too well. What I really wanted to say was, "I do things. It's 2pm, you look really busy buddy! You probably don't need to much to live in a hostel for a month" What are you doing in Ecuador anyway?" I usually never like to make bold assumptions of people right off the bat but for 6th months of travelling through the climactic zones that we will be passing through and knowing that I already am a minimalist and that we are actually DOing things, I take offense when people make assumptions like that. Speaking with him later (he came up to us), my judgement was a little off. I thought he would be a little more enthusiastically inclined if he were to be in Tena of all places but to my surprise he wasn't. His plan? He was with some buddies down here for two months. He came to Tena straight from Quito, had been here three weeks and would be making a pass through Banos before heading home. He really didn't need to pack much either. He was in the Oriente. You could wear the same shorts every day and be comfortable. His cultural sensitivity was defined by 'yo quiero taco bell' and apart from liking how cheap it is in Ecuador, he didn't think much else. Now I know I have the luxary to tell the story how I see fit and he can't respond to how I say it but come on buddy, life is for the energetic. Carpe Diem. Also, lude point, but although we speak spanish, we don't think someone is less of a backpacker or whatever you want to think of it as if they don't speak spanish very well or at all. Appreciation and sensitivity come in many different ways. This guys was just a complete meat wagon.

So encounter number two to follow. Read on.

Yesterday we went rafting on the Jondachi and Hollin rivers outside of Tena. Since rivers in general are my absolute favorite bodies of water, you can guess I loved it. To put it succinctly, the area around Tena is well known for a definite reason. Beautiful. The whitewater was great but not huge. The river banks were covered with vegetation, huge boulders and over hanging vines. The water was crystal clean and at one point we even witnessed monkeys jumping and swinging in the subtropical forest that dominated the lush canyon we were floating down. It was definitely an exciting feeling to be there. The only time I have ever even come close to such an environment (besides the Cuyabeno Reserve) was when my big brother Todd took me down Crooked River years ago. But that is in its own class, Oregon is hard to beat.

In any case, the river was fantastic and we had a good day with the guide as well as the two Irish folk that came with. My only qualm with the entire trip was that we paid for it. I  probably will never ever pay to go rafting again (unless it is the Colorado or something) because no matter how great the river turns out to be, in the end and even in the beginning, I get frustrated because I feel like I could have done it on my own or gone with my brother or something like that. Either way, a lesson learned, a worthwhile experience and money now spent for a good experience nonetheless.

The highlight of the trip was when we purposely caught a wave and surfed the raft for about five consecutive minutes. In fact it turned out to be somewhat problematic because we were actually stuck there from the amount of water entering the raft and because nobody was quite river knowledgeable we had to use the rope in order to free ourselves. Good times.
Encounter Two.

We are back at 'A Welcome Break' and had gone to bed a few hours ago after slowly becoming indifferent to to the blare of reggaeton coming from a nearby discoteca. In a groggy half asleep awareness I hear american dude shouting at the top of his lungs. I attempt to focus in on what he is saying. He is livid, yelling at his friends.

 "You F#$*ers! F^ck you man-bro-fucker! I'm gonna hit you right in the face Dan! You wanna throw it down bitch? You guys are such bastards! We go out and EVERY time I have to dance with the fat bitch. EVERY fucking time! You guys always just ditch me and take the good looking girls. Me, what do I get? The ugly bitch. Just ONCE. Just once is all that I wanted. Such f%^ing dickheads...I'm gonna beat down Dan!"

Yeah. A class-act ambassador I tell ya. The yelling slowly fades away and I doze off to sleep. What I take from this experience is that one, I can see how one experience with a person can leave a bad taste in your mouth about others and two I also know he isn't the only one out there. Enough time spent on that story....

So before leaving the area and taking off toward Baños, we visited a nearby town named Misahualli. Like Tena it has nothing special as a town other than the fact that the central plaza has become overrun with capuchin monkeys that hang out, look for food and do mischievous deeds such as steal cameras, soda pop and anything they can get their hands on. We were sitting out at a small restaurant bordering the plaza taking in the spectacle and eating some fresh fish when out of  nowhere, Curious George the monkey makes a mad dash for our table, grabs Maya´s fried trout and bolts up a pole to the two story roof above! Talk about robbers! Apparently Misahaulli is so tranquil that as the saying goes, "the only thing one must worry about are monkeys making off with your days pay." After that run in, we were given a spray bottle of water to hold off George or any of his öther partners in crime do they decide to make a second robbery attempt. As the story goes, it all started back in the 1980´s when a domesticated monkey, Octavio escaped from his owners place and took refuge in a vacant apartment overlooking the plaza. When the owners tried to lure him back with a female, she too escaped and hitched up with Octavio. Babies followed. Soon after, Pecho, a wild monkey along with his family moved from the outskirts of the city, adapted to the new lifestyle quite easily and multiplied to what is now more than a posse of 20. I´m sure by now the ´vacant` apartment occupied by the monkeys has enough goods to start up black market to rival that of  Quito´s.

So, after taking in the views of Misahualli, hanging by the river and having a less then enjoyable conversation with a sadly close minded store owner who´s worldview and tunnel-like perspective on the United States and his own country was almost satirical, we called it a day and headed back to monkey-less Tena and its good tasting mangos. That is an entirely different story, not as bad as American dudes but equally disheartening that someone has a view so generalized and conspiratory. In disbelief we had to hold back going off on the guy and we are pretty understanding people. Not everyone in the United States is bad. Not everyone in Ecuador is good. Not everybody with money (and there are those in Ecuador too my friend) are selfish, corrupt and looking to exploit the desperate either. His rationale sadly made no sense but believe me, he was gonna 'tell us' and had to show us the books he's read and the movies he's watched and the stuff he knows. Men here are so desperate to prove their intelligence, no matter how smart they are it's like they can't take a step toward the next level of consciousness...
Hmm...another thing to think about. We left because Maya was getting into it with the guy and if you know Maya, she is about as liberal minded as they come for crying out loud. I love it when she gets fuming like that though. Definitely amusing to watch! We purchased nothing and I secretly hoped that the monkeys shit on his floor and stole a few of his 'Made in China' products (bring on the karma, I don't care). Practice What you Preach Pablo! Baños next.
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