Well what can I say about the Amazon( called the Selva here)…Well…..Think Mud…and then insects…but don’t forget the Tarantulas…and now you have an idea of life in the Amazona!
Actually, it is a beautiful area but not one for the faint of heart..or for one who needs the comforts of civilization…Our lodge, the Yaturi lodge, is considered upscale for those parts…but that meant we actually had running water, even if it was only for 2 hours in the very early AM(5-7am) and 6-7pm…our electricity was the same way except it was from 12pm-2pm and 6pm-10pm. I will add that after my showers in the Amazon, those very very cold showers back in Quito were a pleasure. Most of the other students wouldn’t brave the water…it was truly freezing…and the weather in the northern Amazon basin is actually not too hot(maybe for a few hours midday it is sweltering) and in the night it is downright cold…so waking up at 5:30am and showering is like jumping in a frozen river in the late fall up north! But I will say that I was certainly wide awake for my 7:30am classes!!! Our huts were made from slats of bark that were quite thin and you could stick your finger and sometimes your whole palm between each slat…the roof was thatch and there was no ceiling…also each roof was completely open at the ends which allowed for a lovely breeze and the nocturnal visits of bats and other flying friends! That is where the mosquito netting came into play…it was like a cozy little tent on your bed…and yet you could see all of the visiting amigos…I wasn’t all that confident that the flimsy net would stop a bat from sucking the life from me…BUT Cest la vie….well, as you can see, I am here to report no bat bites…but visits from Tarantulas became a daily adventure of screams from those of us who didn’t appreciate such a visit from those large hairy spiders…yes you must use your flashlight when going to the bathroom at night…and make sure to flash it on the floor as well as the walls and roof… one of the best purchases I made were my Flip Flops…Usually, by the time I would get back in bed and re-secure my net, I was wide awake listening to all the cooing and chirping sounds in the jungle…it is amazing how alive the jungle is at night…One night I was awoken by the sound of something working it’s way through the thatch..I grabbed my headlamp(yes, it makes me look incredibly nerdy but it is the best…much better than a regular flashlight) and I looked at the roof, only to see the face of a Monkey checking in on me! …and those of you who know me well, know that my past experience with Monkeys was not a pleasant one…Ironically, the predominant Monkey in the Selva is the Spider Monkey…just like the one we had when I was a kid! Nothing like confronting your phobias while 1/2 asleep in the middle of the night! But please be impressed that I went one step further and the next day I actually held a Spider Monkey(I have the pics to prove it) I let her climb up and hang out in my arms…no biting or pulling my hair this time but she did decide I made a very comfortable bathroom!
On our first rainy night, we were taken on a 2 hour night hike through the jungle…and in the jungle, dark is very dark…no light anywhere…so those headlamps are a Godsend. Armed with only those little headlamps, rubber boots and our Tribal guide, Jose, who spoke mainly Quichua(the native tongue in the Ecuadorian Amazon) and of course Spanish, off we went like sheep to the slaughter…Jose had a great sense of humor and thought it was quite fun to watch the Gringas and Gringos skate across the mudslicks…the trails were very narrow and incredible steep and at times seemed to just drop off…but, of course I couldn’t really see how much they dropped until the next day when we trekked in the light…I’m sure all of our laughing as each of us tumbled over branches and vines head first into the the mud kept all those pesky snakes and such at a distance…I kept thinking that so many people pay big bucks to have mud baths and here we were getting them for free..and not totally appreciating the opportunity!
The next day after class, a few of us, who were not intimidated by the previous nights fun, went out with our guide to learn about the medicinal plants in the jungle…of course this little trip included even more mud and now we had to wade through the river, where 2 days earlier Jose had seen a 7 Anaconda..joy joy…On our first night in the jungle, we were all too afraid to touch anything so we all just continued to slide all over the place and we mastered the sport of Mud Skiing…As the days progressed we became experts in grabbing any and all trees, vines and branches that would give us any semblance of balance…I can report on day 2 I did not fall once…BUT that is not to say that I wasn’t completely covered in mud…that was because the mud was like quick sand and if you stepped slightly off, you sank and sank and continued to sink until someone from behind grabbed you…I was grabbed quite a few times by Lindsay(another student who was behind me)…in turn I would grab Jessie and so it went throughout our trek through the jungle…Jose would stop and show us the various plants and bugs that were used for medicinal purposes…let’s see…there was Sour Cane, a root that was delicious and used for bad backs and headaches(it must have worked because I had neither), Sap from various trees(some were sweet and others were just plain bitter), they were good for Parasite, stomach ailments, cuts, ulcers, et al…several other leaves that helped insomnia, indigestion and such and then there were the delicious Lemon Ants…these were not the chocolate covered ones…we ate them right off the tree…yep I did partake in the lovely meal(pics to prove it)…Bon Apetit!
The last day , we went to an Ingenious hut of a tribal Shaman down river to learn about shooting Blow darts…this was the highlight for me…and too my delight, I found I have a talent for shooting Blow Darts…so watch out…who needs those pesky loud guns when all you really need is a silent blow dart with a few poisonous darts and Voila problem solved!!! (:
After a brief lesson, all 7 of the students had a competition. We had to shoot a lemon from 30′ away…the blow gun is a little over 6′ long and made of a relatively heavy dark wood…I can proudly announce that the competition came down to me and Clyde(the Texan)…we went 6 rounds and we both kept hitting the lemon…and then on the 7th, I was feeling all the pressure of our “Man vs Woman” Texas vs Florida” battle…I aimed but the Gun was getting very heavy in my arms…the cheers were loud and even the Shaman seemed to be rooting for the woman…but I choked in the end and my dart hit the post slightly below the lemon and Clyde it just above me but right on it…so I am sad to report I lost…but I held my own for a bit…After the battle of the darts, we went Piranha fishing in the river…Clyde and I continued our little war in the river…neither of us caught a Piranha but I can attest that I had more MEAT stolen off my hook than he did! We both caught Catfish and Blow Fish…both of which surprised us because we were fishing with meat not bait shrimp…these fish in the amazon are all carnivorous it seems…We called a truce before sunset and the bird sized mosquitoes arrived…
The weather while we were there was beautiful, other than the first night when it rained a lot..and of course we were traipsing through the rain and mud at that time…but the rest of the days and nights were beautiful and it really wasn’t very hot…the nights were so clear that you could see what seemed like millions and millions of stars…the beauty of the jungle is breathtaking and if you can get over the primitive living conditions, I highly recommend it…although the 3 other women did not enjoy it as much as I did…one kept complaining about the lack of good coffee and all were not impressed by the food…I found the food to be much better than I expected and was happy that we didn’t eat any monkey or Guinea Pig…but we did eat quite a lot of potatoes and rice and starches…
Well I hope this gives you a slight overview of the jungle and it doesn’t deter anyone to visit…I am in Cuenca(great cultural city…very colonial) now and will send you an email at the end of the week