In love with Ecuador

Trip Start Aug 23, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2007

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, December 3, 2006

What can we say, time really does fly when you're having fun. In the last couple weeks
we've gone from lowland jungles to highland cloud forests, played with monkeys, rappelled down waterfalls, trekked through jungle canyons, chased metallic blue butterflies and been nibbled by toucans.

We rolled out of Quito on yet another bus, heading for the Amazon. We arrived in Tena, a sprawling jungle town where we did next to nothing for a couple days thanks to some stomach problems, then ended up in Misahaulli, a sleepy village on the Rio Napo. We scored a room right on the river, where our only neighbors were the troop of monkeys that rotated between the town square and the trees just outside our room. They were completely habituated to humans, coming up to beg for snacks, steal hats, sunglasses or whatever they could lay their mitts on.

While in Misahaulli we signed up for a quick, overnight jungle trek with one of the local boat captains and a local guide. It started with a 30 minute ride upstream, followed by a 4 hour slog up a small slot canyon. No more than 20' wide, with walls 20 - 30' feet high topped with the usual jungle canopy, it was cut through by a small stream that we were constantly fording to find the easiest trail. It would have been a great nature experience, what with the tropical fish, butterflies, and gold dust littering the stream bed, but within the first half hour we were so hot and sweaty all we could pay much attention to was our footing and keeping the sweat out of our eyes. One of the ironies of the jungle is that it's incredibly full of life, most of which you can't really find or see because it's so damn lush, and you're so busy trying to stay upright/wipe the cobwebs off your face/grab the bug that just fell down your shirt/ swat the bug that's eating you. In any event, after walking upstream we headed off overland, breaking trail around two downed trees and one landslide, eventually arriving at the promised "cabana" in the jungle where we were to spend the night. The cabana turned out to be a small raised platform with plank flooring and plastic sheeting for a roof. While not quite the accomodations we were expecting, in the end it served it's purpose keeping us off the ground and (mostly) dry, though sleeping on planks did make for a somewhat long night. In the morning our guide, Hamilton, took us on a nature walk pointing out medicinal plants, the local version of magic mushrooms, ayahuasca vines (very strong hallucinogen used by shamans) and lemon ants. It turns out, they really do taste like lemon... In the end, it was a pretty good experience, worth the minor discomforts along the way.

The next destination was Banos, a central highland town that is adventure central in
Ecuador. The trip there took us along one of the worst collections of holes and rocks to ever masquerade as a road, made worse by the fact that we got seated in the back row. For anyone who hasn't ridden a bus on a bumpy road in a while, that's the catapult row. Every bump is accentuated, to the point that a good one sends you airborne. While it had us laughing the whole way, we've since become a bit more selective about seating.

Banos turned out to be tourist central, with tour guides and shops on every corner, as well as great markets and stores selling all sorts of indigenous crafts. We shopped like crazy people, and then signed up for a day of canyoning. One of those adventure sports that doesn't actually make any sense, it involves descending a canyon by rappelling down waterfalls. I can't tell you how much fun this was. Karen, who has a slight fear of heights, first suggested it, and it was more fun than we ever expected. We were joined in this silliness by our friend Helen, a British expat living in Southern California who we had first met in Colombia along with her boyfriend Nick. She also loved it, and I think we all felt we had it better than Nick who was off climbing Cotopaxi, a 5800 meter peak that promised altitude sickness, frostbite and other superfun challenges...

We ended up back in Tena a couple days later, hoping to do a few things we'd missed the
first time around. The only one worth mentioning is the Amazonico Zoo in Tena. As much
petting zoo as anything, we got up close and personal with a wandering ostrich, spider and squirrel monkeys, and most importantly, toucans. Karen is absolutely in love with these guys, and they really were comical, wrestling with each other and bouncing from branch to branch like cartoon characters. Inquisitive like parrots, they eventually made there way to us, poking their beaks through the cages to nip our fingers and play. One of the best wildlife experiences ever. We canīt quite figure out why they arenīt as popular as parrots as pets, theyīre really very cool.

We're in Riobamba now, in the midst of the Andean highlands, trying to figure out our next move. At the moment it looks like it will involve artisenal cheeses and chocolates. Life is hard...

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