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.