Almost Home

It occurred to me while resting on the beach in Rio that this trip was exactly forty days and forty nights. So that’s what I’ve been doing, my own short, personal sojourn in the desert. And what have I learned from it all. Well, a few things . . .

One: It’s important to rest

Two: I need to buy a beach chair

Three: Traveling with a companion makes good memories to share

Four: People deeply appreciate your attempts to speak in their tongue

Five: The world is full of very good people, let go of the others

In route from SF to Eugene. Mount Shasta is on my right now and the Coast Range on my left.  It’s shocking to see the glaciers on Shasta almost completely receded. I can see the red rock where I climbed up with a group in 1980. The snowfields are gone and there’s only a tiny piece of glacier at the top.  Huge climatic changes. This explains my disorientation as we flew into SF this morning. It’s my state! and I didn’t even recognize the terrain an hour into SF. There was either no snow-capped Sierra Nevada Range, or I was asleep. I think not the latter. The peaks can look quite a bit lower without their snowy caps and although I scanned the horizon for a long time, it appeared that the range was not there.

Landing soon.

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Flying High: Goodbye Rio!

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

Our Apt in Leme, across the street from the beachOur Apt in Leme, across the street from the beach

Globo ManGlobo Man

Copacabana sidewalkCopacabana sidewalk

Watching the little white plane icon nearing the US continent,––we’re less than 300 miles from Houston, souring at 34,000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. I’m definitely a land creature. I never feel quite as comfortable flying over water.

Flying out of Rio, I finally got somewhat of a sense of the immensity of that thriving metropolis. Even at 500 mph, it seemed to stretch on forever. Face pressed against the window so as not to cry in public, I watched the lights of Rio fade in the distance till only darkness, jungle, was below. Leaving was much harder than I anticipated. As the one person in the world I love the most became a speck on the landscape, her space in my heart expanded to aching point. It’s just too far away for a mom.

It was such a good visit! I do wish we had had a little more mom/daughter time, but she is one busy, successful woman, in a part of the world that demands forbearance, flexibility, and lots of patience. I’m very proud of her––of both of them. It’s not an easy task to settle in another country, get a handle on the language and customs, find work,and make a comfortable home for yourself. They seem happy, well adjusted, and very excited about the impending wedding J

10:30am now, Rio time. Hard to believe that yesterday at this time Carol and I were walking the streets of Copacabana looking for habaneiras (flip flops) and the “Tapioca Lady.”  (She makes sweet & savory tapioca crepes in a street cart.) Our last few hours on Leme beach were quite peaceful. Monday is a slow day on the beach, not many sunbathers, surfers, or vendors. The one vendor you can always count on though is “Globo Man.” I never was able to translate the major ingredient, but Globos are basically crunchy (salty or sweet) ricecake-like treats that stave off hunger with little calories. The other food vendors I will dearly miss are, “Empada Man,” and “Cashew Man.”

That brings me to some developing thoughts about Rio beach culture. I love it!! Although I saw many of the usual tourist sites, my favorite time was spent on the beach, in that timeless, relaxed mode that came to define the city for me. Brazilians do everything possible to make the beach experience easy for you. The first essential is a beach chair.  For only $1.50, “Beach Chair Man” will place your chair anywhere within a decent distance of his kiosk, provide and umbrella if you wish, and collect the chair when you decide the day is done. If you fancy a new, minimalist bikini, “Bikini Man” will arrive at some point holding an umbrella of dangling swimwear. If you need a sun hat, “Sun Hat Man” will accommodate. There’s really little reason to ever leave the beach.  Best of all are the many kiosks selling Coco Verdes (Green Coconuts to drink) and Caipirinhas. Carol and I were loyal to our one Caipirinha maker . . . he had a customer service ethic beyond most Brazilians and knew what we liked . . . . little ice, less sugar, and muito fuerte (very strong.) There are two bottles of Cachaca wrapped in a sweatshirt in my luggage. It’s an attempt to extend my summer interlude on the back deck.

“Caipirinha Man” was friendly, and I think funny– one person that I would definitely have enjoyed conversing with. He loved to chat and did so inspite of the fact that I repeated, numerous times, “Eu falo um poquito Portugues.”  If you speak one sentence, locals expect you will understand their next six. The Brazilians are chatty. On the street, the buses, the beach, and in restaurants and shops, 2-3 word answers (although easier to understand) are not the norm. Who knows what they are talking about??!!  But I have to say, I enjoy the challenge and would much prefer traveling in a country where English is not pervasive.

The Houston airport was a jolt back into American culture. The very first thing I noticed was the sense of order. Orderly lines. Clear instructions. Better security. I have to say that there is a certain liveliness of spirit that comes with the kind of chaos and uncertainty I found in Brazil.  I think, on many different levels, it fosters and encourages human contact. When everything runs smoothly and orderly, we just kind of float by one another.  If the bus is 1/2 hour late, you talk more to one another. Walking through the airport, I was also instantly aware of the plethora of food choices, more people with excess pounds, fewer high heels, toilet seat covers, carts driving people from gate to gate, the massage chairs (which I indulged in), and the predominance of English–– most of which speak to our profusion of creature comforts.

I’m glued to the window at 33.000 feet. Why, why –would anyone chose an aisle or middle seat??!! Puffy clouds dot the southwest desert landscape like tufts of cotton candy, and occasional mountain ranges pierce the earth’s skin like pubescent facial eruptions. I’m hoping we fly over the Grand Canyon. I’ve only been there once, but have flown over numerous times. Always appeared to me as if the hand of G-d sculpted it’s length, like a young child carving gullies in beach sand. The earth is astoundingly beautiful from up here and it’s the only chance we get to wonder at it from this vantage point.

Interludium

The Samba Club-- Carioca du Gema

The Samba Club– Carioca du Gema

Acai tongues

Acai tongues

CristoCristo

Images of returning home have begun to seep into my dreams, wrought with uncomfortable thoughts about work, fence building conflicts with my neighbor, and the immediate need to get apartments rented ASAP.  I’ve managed to switch it off during the day, so as not to taint the few days I have remaining on this sojourn, but the unconscious seems to have grabbed the reigns at night.

It does seem quite long ago that I landed in Quito and embarked on this slightly planned interlude–– a sweet refrain between the music I heard before and whatever piece will be played next. I’m guessing most of us in these in between spaces have a quiet hope that on return, we will see the world a bit differently, and live our lives with renewed clarity. What that means for me at this point, I’m not sure.  I oscillate back and forth between a desperate desire to have more time and a strong sense of how indulgent it is to be wandering around the world with no responsibility, income, or daily efforts made to maintain my livelihood.  Why am I doing this? Is it the need for an interlude in my life or the need to see other’s lives to get a grip on my own . . . a sense of how I may want to alter its design for the next twenty years plus?

I’ll move on to the weather.  .  . It’s been crazy in Rio! Everything from hot, beachy days to wind and cold rain. Today was definitely not a beach day, so instead we went to Eric’s concert (excellent!) and took the train up to see Cristo. It seemed like the perfect, Sunday pilgrimage for a Jew 🙂 The view from the rock where he’s perched is 360 degrees and amazing, although today it was pretty gray.

Last minute shopping tomorrow to buy some Cachaca, and then hopefully hours on the beach to be calmed by the last waves of Rio.

A Travel Buddy Arrives

Carol dons the conga in Paraty

Carol dons the conga in Paraty

Early morning, Paraty Bay

Early morning, Paraty Bay

Street in ParatyStreet in Paraty

Bed and Breakfast: Refron du Mar

Bed and Breakfast: Refron du Mar

Captain RobsonCaptain Robson

Cobblestone NightmareCobblestone Nightmare

Horse & Cart in ParatyHorse & Cart in Paraty

Diving for DollarsDiving for Dollars

Evenings in a hostel or hotel are the perfect time to blog when one is a solo traveler. Bars, restaurants and walks on dark streets or beaches aren’t so comfortable when alone. For that reason, I’m a bit behind on the travel blog. My friend Carol arrived in Rio on Monday morning, Aug 4. Fun!! She came at just the right time, as I was getting a bit depressed and quite bored with my own company. There were a couple of mornings when I woke with plans for the beach or Botanic Garden, and my first thought on rising was, “ So, I’ve no choice but to spend the day with you again!”  After three weeks in Ecuador, mostly on my own, I was a bit tired of being with myself.

And maybe all that time alone was a good thing. Small irritations aside, I have a renewed appreciation of being with a friend. This is fun! We seem to be pretty compatible travelers. I make the plans (with Hanna & Eric’s help) and stumble through any necessary negotiations (cabs, buses, purchases, etc.) with my very limited, but earnest Portuguese. A phrase book is my constant companion. I enjoy the challenge and it keeps me a fully engaged “tourista” rather than a passive one.

We just left Paraty, a precious little colonial town on the coast, about 4 1/2 hours outside of Rio. The droves of tourist are on their way in for the weekend, so it’s good we arrived on Thursday. This town redefined “cobblestone street” for me . . . treacherous!! The stones, of all shapes, sizes, and curvatures, form the streets in a pretty random fashion, one might think by crews of workers fueled with a few too many Capirinahas. Negotiating each step allows only swift glances at shop signs and doorways before taking a quick reprieve on a doorstep. It wasn’t till the second day that we noticed a single line of flatter, more consistent, square shaped stones, forming a path down the center of most streets.  That’s the chosen route for bicyclists, families with kids, women with 4+” heels, and “older folks” like us with marginally stable knees, ankles, and hips.

Almost five weeks into this trip and FINALLY, good icecream arrives!! Since blogs, without saying, require honesty, I have to admit that three hours after my first cone I returned to the shop for a second. It wasn’t just the quality that drew me back, but the self-serve design that allows customers to open the refrigerated cases, scoop the desired flavors into waffle cones or bowls, and then weigh the desired amount on a scale. R$5.50 ( $2.75) for 100 grams.  Ice cream Heaven! Both Carol and I were astounded. The health dept in the states would shut this place down in a second.

Situated on the shore of a large bay, the best way to experience the natural beauty of Paraty is to hire a private boat. Ours was a small one, Dos Deus, owned by Paraty native,  Mestre Robson. The relaxing 6-hour tour took us to a couple of beaches, a fish restaurant, and a nice spot for snorkeling. I’ve never seen so many sand dollars on the bottom of a bay.  I’m used to the bleached out white ones that are a rare treasure to find whole on Oregon beaches. As I happily dove for a few to take home, it didn’t dawn on me until Robson called out “vivo”, that they were quite alive and I needed to return them to the sea.

Updated report on Brazilian dog culture:  Lots of dogs in Paraty, and they roam the streets more like the dogs in Ecuador, however, they aren’t as bone-thin and their friendliness is a good sign that they may be a bit hungry, but don’t suffer abuse. Sipping Caipirinhas at the local café, Carol had one under her feet, and I, one by my side.

RIO

Dog Culture

Dog Culture

Rio from Pao de Acucar

Rio from Pao de Acucar

Eirc & Hanna on Pao de Acucar

Eric & Hanna on Pao de Acucar

Theatro Municipal

Theatro Municipal

At the samba club

At the samba club

Graffiti in Ipanema

Graffiti in Ipanema

Ipanema Beach, the bikini seller

Ipanema Beach, the bikini seller

I’m on the 18th floor (it’s the top!) of a condo in Rio and the view of the city is intoxicating. Above the hustle and bustle of traffic and the usual big city lights hovers “Cristo”, the largest art deco statue in the world and the 5th largest statue of Jesus. At night, the mountain below his feet is invisible and Cristo could easily be a bright, white helium balloon held in a child’s hand. From almost anywhere in Rio, Cristo dominates the skyline and reminds all that Brazil is, without question, Catholic. An even more dramatic reminder descended on the city last week, when Pope Francis arrived and addressed 3.5 million catholic youth on Copacabana Beach.  Unfortunately, they all arrived the day before I did and gave me a good taste of what it might be like when this city attempts to graciously host the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016). Traffic jams. Sardine packed buses. Parades of Catholics lined the streets, wrapped in flags from their home countries and chanting Hail Mary’s. The last night of their World Youth Day, a few million camped out on the beach. Not the least risque . . . remember, they are all at least trying to practice abstinence 🙂

In a grand effort to steer away from the hordes, I was found on Ipanema beach instead. Since I know you are wondering–– yes, by myself, testing out my comfort level in my new bikini. Don’t scroll down. No pictures posted. I’ll talk about the sand instead . . . clean, crystalline beige, glassy white, and easy to shake off your body. The water is warm, deep blue, and playful, just like the Brazilians. It’s on the beach, I am told, that they shake off the stressfull aspects of life in Brazil, particularly the strong, strangling economy that makes the average Brazilian struggle to make ends meet, and motivates those that can afford to, to fly overseas and fill their bags with goods. We’re no longer in Ecuador, Todo . . . I’ve gone from $2 dinners to $10, and $10 sleeping accommodations to $50. Had I attempted to bring in ten new I-Phones to sell, I could have financed at least half my trip.

It’s a wonderful city! The people are friendly, spirited, and judging by the crowd at the local samba club, they know intrinsically how to shed life’s trials straight off their hips. For me, it took at least one Caipirinha to even begin to find the beat. It helps to have decent sized hips.

I haven’t talked about dogs yet in this blog. Too painful. But the Golden Retrievers I saw this evening reminded me to record these thoughts. In Ecuador, like many poor, South American countries, they suffer miserably. Dogs are not usually pets, but roam the streets and countryside eeking out a living by scrounging scraps wherever they can. They work the streets, the markets, the bus stations, and even the steps of churches. Even if lucky enough to be owned, they’re almost never on leashes but instead wander the perimeter of their familiar territory, the edge of which is often the wheels of buses and cars. I never saw one hit, they are quite street savy, but my heart went out to them daily. After many a meal, I saved the fish or chicken bones and dropped them surreptitiously on the ground where they could easily be found. The mothers, ribs rippling from forelegs to hind and teats to the ground from multiple litters, have puppies to feed, that is, if they are not quickly smothered or drowned. My last memory of Vilcabamba is a young boy kicking a hungry dog in the face. I yelled at him in something more visceral than Spanish or English. It’s true, I’m traveling with a dog collar in my backpack . . . a reminder of my best friend, that keeps the heart soft. These are not wild animals, we domesticated them and are responsible for their needs.

But, Rio has “dog culture.” The dogs are well fed, leashed, taken care of, and loved, and it makes it easier for me to walk the streets without cringing at the site of a starving animal.

Cotapaxi, “Moon Neck”

I just needed to end my days in Ecuador somewhere high up, and the volcano, Cotapaxi, beckoned. The Quechua name means “Moon Neck”, referring to the way the mountain “holds up the moon” when it is directly over the peak. Since the base of the mountain starts so far above sea level, its peak is closer to the sun than any mountain in the world. The last major eruption was in 1875.

The hike to the hut where climbers begin their ascent was challenging. The wind chill called for more than a red sweatshirt, which is the warmest garb I brought with me to Ecuador. I’d hoped to make it to the glacier with the rest of the group, but after 8 hours on a horse and 15 hours in a bus, I just couldn’t keep up. That’s fine. I needed the time alone in such a holy place, to let the mountain lift my spirit.

Taking the highway south towards Quito, the entrance to Cotapaxi National Park is just a drop off along the road. There I met two Colombians and an Australian and we found a tour guide to take us to the base of the mountain for $15 a piece. His nine year old daughter, Cynthia, just hauled up that mountain to the glacier! Living at altitude makes her well adapted to the severe elevation gain.

I think I fell in love with the 21 yo Columbian guy, a student of Management Engineering in Medellin. He held my arm all the way down the mountain  and insisted on carrying my bag and backpack all the way in route to the hostel in Quito. What a charmer! Too bad I am older than his mother 😦 Anyway, I have an open invitation to Columbia whenever I can make it back to S. America.

I may not have mentioned yet how serendipitous meeting other travelers can be. In moments, I can go from a bout of dire lonliness to meeting wonderful people from all over the world that can make my day a blessing. The time together is all in the moment, as we all know when we say goodbye, we only hold the memory, but will likely never meet again.

After signing the log at the hut on Cotapaxi, I realized I left my Oregon Community Foundation pen up there! Good place to leave it. Goodbye Ecuador . . . . I’m on my way Rio!ImageImage

In transit; Traveling by bus in Ecuador

Buses are cheap in Ecuador, approximately $1 per hour of travel. It doesn’t mean you get as far as you might in the states– lots of slow, windy roads– but you can pretty much travel the entire length of the country for $25. In comparison, public transportation in the states is pitiful. I wouldn’t take a Grey Hound bus unless I was desperate. Here, buses are dependable and the primary mode of transportation. But . . . beware gringos, staying safe and protecting your possessions requires constant vigilance. A few tips I’ve learned:

1. Be aware of who is behind you, in the vicinity of your backpack, while standing in buses or in the station. I’m told zippers are no hindrance to a knife wielding thief.

2. Sit on the side of the bus where your luggage is stored. When you hear the compartments open, keep your eye out the window.

3. If you need to sleep, do so hugging your backpack.

4. Try not to travel at night. Solo travelers, especially, can be a target

5. Carry small change. I’ve had more than one bus driver stare at a $10 bill like it was an unmanageable ammount to deal with.

6. IMPORTANT: If you’re going on a long ride, don’t drink before you travel! The dehydration is difficult, but the option is to find yourself on a bus with no bathroom or one that is not working. I’ve gone nine hours without a drop on some trips. (My daughter will attest to this one!)

All said and done, I have felt very safe riding in Ecuadorian buses. It’s the taxis that are a pain. As soon as they see you’re a gringo, the price goes up. I had little time to learn much Spanish on this trip, but my minimal new repertoire includes a few cab driver retorts, i.e. “Esta mierda” (That’s shit), “Berguenza” (Shame), and “Eres un mal ejemplo para tu pais!” (You are a bad example for your country!) It’s saved me a few dollars here and there, but mostly alleviated that sense of helpless victimization. Last night, a cab driver demanded an extra dollar to wait 15 seconds while I rang the hostel bell to make sure the night man was up.

The bottom line is, they figure any one who can fly here and travel around for weeks has a lot of money, and it’s true relative to their income. The average Ecuadorian makes $300/month. I’m sure they feel easily vindicated when they rip a tourist off for a few extra bucks. A larger shadow over Ecuador are the foreign companies that are rapidly depleting their resources and devastating the environment in their wake. Exon is the largest, most successful company in Ecuador, and that export income certainly doesn’t filter down to improving the lives of the average citizen. The story is replayed in so many of these poor countries.

4-legged in the Andes

Best part of the trail

Best part of the trailOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View of Vilcabamba

View of Vilcabamba

Lunch being prepared

Lunch being prepared

Pisco and Me

Pisco and Me

Vilcabamba hosts a multitude of horse tour companies ready to take you up to the National Park. Tours vary from 1-2 hours to 1-3 days. Any intelligent visitor who hasn’t been on a horse for almost 10 years, would start out with a short trip. As we all know, it doesn’t take long bouncing in a stiff leather saddle to render the human bum incapable of walking normally— do to the pain! How quickly I forgot. I zestfully chose the all-day, 8-hour trip.  This was no tranquil trail with well designed, High Sierra style switchbacks, we’re talking straight up into the mountains on a steep, rock strewn, deeply carved trail with very shallow switchbacks. I honestly don’t even know how the horses handled it. My horse, Pisco, calm and faithful, seemed to take it all in stride and only halted a few times, resisting what must have appeared like no fun at all. Named after a Peruvian Cocktail, Pisco Sour, he must have known that Happy Hour wasn’t that far away.

The ultimate destination was a beautiful waterfall just inside the park boundaries. The tour company guide took one look at me when we signed up and said the trail might be “challenging” for me. He impressed upon me that it was so steep down to the falls and back up again that there were ropes to keep you from falling down the mountain and assist you to hoist yourself back up the trail again. I figured he was exagerating, but it was so. I was on a trail crew in my 20’s in the Sierra and have never seen anything like these trails! But, I made it. Last down and last up, but everyone was patient.

When we reached the river hours later, the horses deserved a long, long drink. As I put my arms around Pisco’s neck and let him drink, my glasses must have fallen into the river. They’re gone now. He had himself a $150 drink! I’ve such awe and respect for the strength, endurance, and kindness of these amazing animals. Sure wish I hadn’t forgotten a carrot.

Vilcabamba, Oregon??

Did I take a wrong bus somewhere?! Suddenly I find myself in a town with granola, organic chocolate, veggie burritos, macrame, and dreadlock adorned drummers on the plaza. It was a bit much to take on first arrival. This is a small Andean town of less than 10,000 with a large population of American & European retirees. Perhaps one of the attractions is that the area is know as the “Valley of Longevity”. Its believed that many of the inhabitants have lived to be over 100 years old (although this is also disputed). The source of longevity is said to come from the antioxidants in some of the local, tropical plants and herbs, and the minerals in the local water source. Also the laid back, healthy lifestyle, and the care given to the elders. Whatever the truth may be, the expats have opened numerous spas, meditation centers, health aid stores, and everything from organic icecream shops to tropical juice bars. This morning I met a shop keeper from Belgium and a local artist from California, both of them described how the influx of all the foreigners has inflated the prices of the land, houses, and consumer goods. As I hiked around the valley, I saw a mix of cement/concrete block, Ecuadorean houses and hillsides hoisting massive haciendas. The flavor is still pretty South American once you leave the main square, dominated by alternatives, but I fear that the influx may tip the balance at some point. Anyway, I did enjoy my burrito and I’m drooling over a salad I saw on someone’s plate this afternoon.

Been hanging out with a sweet, but traumatized woman from Austria today. Susan just arrived at the hostal from Peru by bus this morning and discovered her camera and $400 was missing from her backpack. Taking even an hour nap on a bus in Ecuador is a significant risk. I was even told recently there’s a powder that, lightly dusted in front of a tourist’s face, can put him/her to sleep and expedite the crime. Solo travelers are easy targets, as they have no one to help them out. 

I’ve tired legs today after a couple of days of walking many miles, so I’m headed into the mountains and Podocarpus National Park tomorrow . . . on horseback! Hoping to see a Mountain Tapir, Spectacled Bear, or Northern Pudu. This will be a tour representing three generations of women: Nadine (25) from Germany, Susan (43) from Austria, and Me (59). I hope I don’t slow them down too much:) Here are a couple of pictures of Vilcabamba:

ImageImage

La Amazona

Our Jungle Boat

Our Jungle Boat

Dug-out Canoes

Dug-out Canoes

Jungle Lodge

Jungle Lodge

Weaving palm leaves

Weaving palm leaves

Monkey

Monkey

Kichwa guide cutting cacoa pod

Kichwa guide cutting cacao pod

Kichwa guide and spider

Kichwa guide and spider

Jungle Hike

Jungle Hike

Breakfast Visitor

Breakfast Visitor

Caiman

Caiman

Monkey Meets Dog

Monkey Meets Dog

Monkey in Misahualli

Monkey in Misahualli

Now that I’ve finished treating my mosquito bites (last counted, 47 in all) I can sit back and blog a bit. It’s the only part of the jungle I just couldn’t come to grips with, the sly, elusive mosquitoes. One would think that in an ecosytem where much of the flora and fauna grow colossal in size, that the mosquito would be significant. Not the case. At least in this part of the Amazon, and the cloud forest as well, they are so tiny they’re invisible as well as inaudible. I was bitten 47 times, at least, and never saw or heard a single one. And, I was covering any exposed areas with 98% DEET!! I probably didn’t use enough, knowing how toxic it is. Took my chances with contracting malaria. I was actually told that the malaria mosquito is quite large.

So, the mosquito doesn’t deserve that much blog time. The amazon was absolutely amazing!! I left Banos on a Friday (rightly anticipating the swarms of tourists that descend on it) and took a 4 hour bus trip east to a tiny little jungle town, Misahualli. I survived that night in an appallingly unsanitary hostal (ants in the bed), with no hot water and blaring music from the sole village bar across the street. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, at 1:30am, an hombre who somehow secured a key to my room, opened the door and sauntered in!! My loud, fearful shout, must have made him jump out of his skin as he backed out hastily with a shaky “pardon senora!” In spite of my limited Spanish, I was able to communicate the night’s events to the proprietress and was refunded my $12.

Its difficult to go into the jungle on your own. One needs both a boat and the knowledge of where and where not to go. Not only are there tribal communities not far from “civilization” that don’t want gringos showing up on their doorsteps, the jungle is massive and its easy to get disoriented or step on, touch, or encounter something dangerous. For all these reasons, I found a reputable tour company in Misahualli and did a 3-day, 2-night trip along the Rio Napo (Napo River). Good company! I joined a family of seven (five kids, ages 9-16) from Montreal, Canada. Couldn’t have felt safer on this trip; the parents were both doctors, an orthopedic surgeon and a cardiologist.

The first day, our Kichwa guide (the largest indigenous group in Ecuador), machete in hand,  led us on a 3-hour hike in the jungle, teaching us about native plants, spiders, ants, birds, butterflies, and how to weave necessary items out of palm-like leaves. The trail was up and down and quite steep in places, ultimately descending into deep, narrow creek beds that often filled our rubber boots with water. Later that day, we swam in the river, rode in dug-out canoes, tried our hand at fishing for the evening meal, and relaxed in hammocks at a rustic jungle lodge. I’d hoped to see more animals, but civilization has encroached too far in this locale. The larger animals and birds we saw were protected at a wildlfe refuge along the river.

Our last night/day on the river was with a Kichwa community. Here we learned how to make cocoa, plant banana trees, cook fish in banana leaves, and we watched monkey antics, and visited the local village and elementary school. I was bothered at first that this was all designed for the “gringos”, but our guides were  quite sincere in their mission to share their culture, and I must admit, I learned an immense amount.

Bottom line is, tours are relaxing, and for me it was a nice pause from having to take care of myself and make constant decisions, in a world where my communication is limited. Three meals a day, a place to sleep, transportation, education, and great people to be with … what more can one ask for?!

It was hard to leave the amazon; the calm slap of water against the boat, the constant buzz of insects in the evening, the slow swing of the hammock. I’m determined to come back again and spend more time there.