Three days in the Amazon…sure, I can do that! I mean…who doesn’t love the idea of anacondas, monkeys, and spiders the size of an adult hand. When Josiah arrived, we talked about some options for our time in Ecuador. When given the option of Banos for water and adventure activities or heading into the Amazon for three days, he opted for the remote, animal-filled Amazon tour and I was “excited” to go along for the ride.
We took an overnight bus from Quito to Lago Agrio. Our tour was the least expensive one we could find which I like for obvious financial reasons, but I also like less expensive tours because they seem to provide more authentic experiences and I think the people are usually really low maintenance and pretty cool. You could see our cut rate service in action when we arrived in Lago Agrio. We waited at a hotel where it seemed that all the tour companies met their guests. Some groups were met by fancy buses with guides in proper uniform attire. Us? We were met by a guy in a pick-up truck, with one other tourist, a driver who honked at passing women and picked up a few local hitchhikers for rides in the back of the truck.
He drove us for two hours to Cuyabeno where we were met by a small canoe shaped motorboat that carried us, and a bunch of food supplies for the two hour cruise back to our hotel. About halfway through the cruise, rain started pouring down and I found myself hiding under a poncho with only an occasional glance at the beautiful foliage. I had the important job of protecting our precious electronic devices. Josiah braved the rain covered only by his rain jacket and enjoyed views of birds along the way. As the canoe filled up with water, Josiah and I tried to figure out how the water emptied…surely there was a plug or something. We both turned around to see our captain filling a plastic jug with water and quickly tossing it overboard-again and again.
When we arrived at the lodge, we met John, our guide for three days. From the comments of other guests, and our own observations, we quickly learned that he loved animals more than people. Whenever we passed an animal, he lit up and stopped to take pictures with every camera. But, when asked questions by people, he struggled a bit with answers that were off his script. Our cabin room was really fun…no electricity meant candlelit walks and the mosquito net added a special earthy touch…almost like camping…but with a bathroom and shower. The hammock outside of our door made me long for one at home, too!
Our first adventure was a piranha fishing trip. John handed us tree branches that were decked out with plastic string and a metal hook. I played along-gearing up my hook and making random splashing sounds with my stick to lure piranhas my way, but no luck. A few other people caught fish and later, in that same area, fish literally jumped in our boat, so I can’t say the area was barren of fish, I just didn’t catch anything. After sunset, we went for a pitch black night hike through the jungle-climbing over broken tree limbs and into holes that were hard to see. Once John pointed out a few huge spiders hanging out on tree trunks, I became very hesitant to grab onto anything to secure my balance. I like night hiking-a lot. The animal sounds were so loud, the stars looked close enough to touch, and there seemed to be animal surprises around every turn.
In a short time, Josiah and I bonded with some of the other guests. We really enjoyed Abby, Lorraine, and Linda from England. They were great storytellers, had fun senses of humor, and really took to Josiah. Abby and Lorraine will travel through South America for six months and Linda is a retired teacher who volunteered in Quito for a month and will continue traveling for another few more. One of the side benefits of this trip is that Josiah is meeting travelers from all over the world. I was especially fond of moments where we sat enjoying their stories and loved the chance to meet new real life role models-people who are positive, enjoy the world, and spend free time talking about travels, books and writing in their journals. Spending time together fishing, hiking, and eating set the stage for future laughs and good times. We even had a few giggle fits together when listening to John’s lengthy briefings.
On our first Amazon morning, we woke up, put on our Wellies (the name our British friends taught us for the rubber rain boots), and took our boat to an indigenous village. We worked with a local woman to dig and grate yucca roots to make a flat bread. The process was fascinating because most of the tools and kitchen aides were made from plants, but did their jobs simply and perfectly.
Our next stop was a Shaman visit. I couldn’t help but think of my brother the whole time I was there because he always called himself the Shaman of our family. According to him, he deserved the title because he was certainly the smartest and most revered of all. This is where we saw some unusual stuff. Every tour group seems to have a cast of characters and the ones who fascinated us the most were a man who said he was a priest from Italy who had been serving in Ecuador. The unusual thing was that you wouldn’t have guessed he was a priest because he was traveling with three young Italian woman and seemed to be quite affectionate, or as British friends said, “very tactile with them.” I tried to make the argument that Italians can be very touchy…unintentionally hinky…but no one seemed to believe me. The second reason we questioned his priesthood took place in the Shaman center. After telling us about Ayahuasca ceremonies where people are given a potent plant drink that leads to hallucinations and possible vomiting, he pulled out a spiky plant that could be rubbed along your back for a type of acupuncture. Our guide was the first volunteer, and before he was even finished, the priest had his shirt off and was ready to jump up for the next thrashing (from this point on, he was affectionately known as Naked Priest). As the Shaman rubbed his back and did spiritual chants, a few eyes looked to me, again questioning if a priest wound participate in this ceremony. As the rubbing continued, his back turned red and bumpy welts formed everywhere. It was just too much to look at. Another woman on our trip volunteered for the same treatment. She seemed like a really sad person and she said the rubbing just looked like it felt nice. I like a massage as much as anyone, but I wondered how she could have missed a stingy looking welts.
At the village, I had a monkey moment. People who know me know that I do not love monkeys. This one-named Nacho- was quite friendly. I almost died when she was hugging Josiah’s neck-and I imagined rabies shots in our future. He loved Nacho and everyone else was loving her up, so I suppressed my desire to scream and took a few pictures…my favorite is of Josiah “walking” Nacho with its’ tail curled around his arm.
Our day ended with an anaconda hunt. Now, I have hunted for Easter eggs and for good pairs of shoes, but I never imagined I would actually go on a hunt for a big snake…or that I would travel through mud thick enough to capture my shoes to do so. But, there we were, climbing over a muddy field, our feet at least six inches into the mud, looking into holes, and hoping to stumble upon a big snake. The “bad” news was that we must have just missed them. There were no anacondas to be found…but, putting my Wellies to the test, the squelching muddy sounds under my feet, and a few near falls into the mess was actually quite fun.
We saw monkeys, caymans (crocodile family), all sorts of birds, turtles, insects, frogs, and more. Aside from the few moments when we were sitting in a dark river waiting for animals to appear, this was a memorable few days. We made new friends, experienced new things, and learned about the Amazon from the best classroom around. Overall, I think World Schooling Week One was a success!
We made the long trek back to Quito backtracking two hours on the boat, two hours on land to Lago Agrio, and eight hours on the bus to Quito. One interesting thing I learned for the first time, or it was the first time I paid attention because Josiah is here. The bus toilets are reserved for woman only and you need a key to get in. Men are expected to just stop on the side of the road when the bus is stopped. Not sure of the reasoning behind that decision because it makes for awkward window sights when the bus stops. We were hoping to get an overnight bus to Cuenca but November 2nd is an All Souls holiday and since it is spring here, the station was packed with people trying to get on buses for a weekend away. We ended up on a hotel near the train station and after a good night of sleep, we are back on a bus and heading south. Josiah is a great companion-my favorite kind of traveler with no complaining and an ability to “go with the flow.” Looking forward to checking out Cuenca before heading south to Peru.