Avenue of the Volcanoes to Tena Jungle

Trip Start Jul 30, 2007
Trip End Sep 17, 2007

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Thursday, August 16, 2007

The journey continues south of Quito, a beautiful Andean highland region along the Panamerican Highway aptly called the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Indeed, scattered along both section of the passing road are craggy and snow-capped volcanoes, Cotopaxi being one of  largest peaks. Very cloudy conditions have made visibility of the tops of the mountain non-existence for now so I shall swing back later for hopefully better visibility conditions.
While decising on whether to stick around or not I stayed at a very pleasant 18th century hacienda, formerly called Hacienda Bolivar. The house and surrounding countryside property had been owned by the grandson of "The Liberator" Simon Bolivar. The initial battle that evntually led to Ecuadorīs independence from Spain began in a field nearby. Viva la revolution!

I lucked out for a room. Large space, wooden floors and furniture, mustard yellow stucco walls and a fireplace, for 11 dollars. Large wooden door opens up onto the beautiful garden courtyard and the livestock pens nearby. Ol Mike had an Ecuadorian farm, ee aye ee aye oh!

Many fellow visitors were hoping to conduct a bit of mountaineering in the neighboring peaks that day but their was too much new snow in the upper elevations. Snow? Wasn't I just in the steamy Amazon a couple of days ago? Now I am really getting a feel for Ecuador's grand ecodiversity.

Next stop, Latacunga, entryway to the Quilatoa Loop, a route that travels through pristine countryside and small Andean villages. Weather still very cloudy.
Latacunga is quite the intrepid, tenacious lil town, thrice rebuit in the last three hundred years after three Cotopaxi eruptions. I wonder how the locals would feel of my presence if they knew I was in the vicinity of Washington's Mount St. Helen and New Zealand's Mount Ruapeha when they blew their stack as well.
Anyway, as the guide book says, Latacunga is pretty cool. Nice looking plaza and old world churches, although at night, the churches are lit up in hip neon pastel colors. The food market operates every day. A mix of people in the streets, some dressed in traditional highland attire, others in regular work clothes and teenagers with the latest trends and ipods. As throughout Ecuador, the vibration of Latin pop songs emanates onto the streets.
The usual Ecuadorian staple food of chicken, rice, potatoes and salad exists here. Good soups, usually. Then there are the pizza parlors that serve better pizza and lazagna than in Italy. Oh, and the cuppucinos with their ice cream thick layer of cream are fantastic!

Leaving  Latacunga, in the direction of Tena, you pass through Banos and a precipitous stretch of road known as the Highway of the Waterfalls. Directly above Banos I caught a slight glimpse of Volcano Tungaraha' snowy upper section as well as a steady plume of wisping steam. Gee, I wonder if the locals of Banos only knew of my presence when.....oh you know the rest. The road swiftly descends from highland country back into the Amazon jungle.
The bus ride down to Tena was quite interesting. Passengers, arrived and departed with steady regularity, a 100 percent sometimes 120 percent occupancy at any given time. A scene reminicent of the movie Romancing The Stone, this was my first South American bus ride that a chicken was finally aboard, though in a more modern covered cage than in past decades. Even a young man with a chainsaw was on board briefly. The bus stops somewhere in the jungle, you think why when suddenly somebody pops out of a wooden hut in the forest and enters the bus. Naturally..claro que si!
Oh yeah, and one final bus observation. The guidebook says that Ecuador's population growth is at 3 percent annually. Based on my personal observations of buses and small town streets , I would pin the growth rate at about 100 percent, per week. As in many other South American countries, every other women passing by is either carrying a small child or one is "on the way". The pope should be paying his respect often in South America since the obliging population keeps adding new dues paying membership to the Catholic church.

Small jungle town Tena. My balcony view room overlooks greenery, a river, and the purple misty mountains in the distance. An Amazon jungle white water rafting trip awaits...

I wasn't sure which tour company to sign up with when I came across the three young American girls that were staying at my hostel (thanks to my quick persuasion). They had just signed up with a tour company operated by a local Quechua family and asked me if I wanted to go with them. The answer was easy....SURE ! Or in Spanish...POR SUPUESTO !

The next morning our journey to the upper Napo River began with a deluge of rain and surrounded by a ubiquitious rain cloud cover. The open air truck drive was down right chilly, slightly unexpected for the Amazon. However, I told the girls to keep the faith, to collectively put out a good vibe for clearer skies. By the time we reached the river, the rain had stopped. We strapped on our lifejackets, helmet, grabbed a paddle and set off onto the rushing river. The backdrop was stunning. Tropical vegetation on either side of the river, blue-purple mist laden mountains in the background which were providing, along with the snowmelt from far distant Cotopaxi, our water source. Needless to say the water was a bit chilly which we soon felt as we began our turbulent run through the class three plus rapids. Whoo hoo, a lot of fun!
Not long the clouds swiftly vanished and within an hour, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We beached the raft several times for lunch, to take in the view, to bail the raft, and to enjoy a swim in an adjoining warmer water tributary. Our lunch break was along a stretch of the forest where our tour operators family lived. We chewed on the cocoa leaves from the one cocoa tree the family is allowed to cultivate for their religious ceremonies.
The greatest sources of the waters for the Amazon River originate in Ecuador, the Rio Napo becoming one of the largest contributors. The rapids diminished toward the end and the final stretch was just a relaxing float through the rainforest, grand ceiba trees guiding us along the way.  A fine day's adventure was had by all.

To visit my past travel photos, visit www.michaelmcguerty.com
To read more of my travel writings, please visit www.pecoskid.com
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