Buenos noches nuestras familias y amigos!
Well quite a day for our traveling group. Most of us awoke between 6:00 a.m. and 7:30 and used our free morning to soak in the hot pools, explore the village of Papallacta, or hike the local trails. My weather app showed 7 degrees and hoodys, sweaters, and long pants were a must if we were not in the hot pools. We ate breakfast outside the gates of the resort. I was very surprised to feed a group of 5 of us, a breakfast for $20! This included a plate of fresh fruit (watermelon and bananas), scrambled eggs, fresh heated bun, a large slice of Ecuadorian cheese, a glass of fresh orange juice made in the restaurant, and a hot cup of milk for coffee or hot chocolate. A similar breakfast at the resort would have cost us $85!
10:30 a.m. and we set off on a 2.5 hour bus ride to the Amazon. We dropped from 11,000 metres elevation to 518 metres during this time period, through the incredibly steep and verdant cloud forests of the eastern Andes. We were amazed to see many areas of recent mudslides and road washouts as well as farmed slopes of corn and grazing cattle. Cattle graze on some of the steepest terrain I have ever witnessed. I don’t know how they stay upright on those slopes. During our drive, I was surprised that our group did not come down with a collective case of motion sickness. Imagine driving on Pass Creek road for 2.5 hours on a steady downhill and winding descent with incredibly steep and deep drops . One really cool thing we witnessed on the drive was a tarantula the size of a dinner plate crossing the road. I don’t think the bus drove overtop of the spider. It looked the size of a lapdog! I am sure we would have felt it if we hit it with a tire .
We arrived in Tena and picked up our two guides for the next 3 days, Roberto (who speaks good English) and Estuardo who is Quechua and from the Region. We ate a very big lunch of a pumpkin cheese soup followed by rice, broccoli and beef stir-fry, and a strip of fried plantain followed by a tropical cake for dessert. I think Plantain is one of those foods that people either love or hate. The haters are outnumbered by the lovers in our group!
After lunch we were driven to Port Misahualli, a town that lives for Amazon adventure tourists like our group. In this town we spent an hour watching a large group of Capuchin monkeys and fed them grapes and bananas. Many of us had a chance to pet them and have them grab onto our fingers. Their little hands are so human-like with finger-nails and skin texture like our own. One of those little thieves grabbed my sunglasses and Cedar had to coax him with grapes to retrieve my glasses .
After some ice-cream and a short hike to the bus, we drove 20 minutes to the port of Ahuano. During the drive, Estuardo told me about the local strategy to promote ecotourism over other economic growth such as oil. They are passionate about protecting the jungle and are trying hard to keep land conversion to a minimum. Where farming is allowed, the people rely on crops of corn, bananas, papayas, pineapples, and cocoa. Cocoa is a highly prized cash crop for the people even though they only make $0.40/kilo of processed cocoa. That is a boat-load of chocolate bars for consuming nations. As usual, I marvel at the mark-up on products produced in developing nations. A lot of money gets made by middle-men that does not trickle down to the producers.
At Ahuano, we witnessed a make-shift car carrying ferry as we boarded two large motorized canoes to take us to the Sinchi Sacha resort. Our boats raced up the Napo River to our destination 20 minutes away. The Napo River is a huge river which is a tributary of the Amazon River, a mere 3 day drive away. I can only imagine how large the Amazon River becomes with all of these great tributaries joining together throughout South America.
By the time we reached our destination, we were dripping wet from the humidity and heat of the Amazon. What an incredible change after our very cold conditions in the high Andes over the past two weeks. As much as we craved the warmth, the heat was a killer for many of us! It will take a bit to acclimatize. Our hosts and guides gave us Amazonian tea with plenty of clean water and bananas to stay hydrated. Our Quechua guide then set out to demonstrate bracelet weaving from locally sourced fibre, seeds, and dyes. The threads we got to choose from are brightly coloured whites, blues, reds, and purples and we all learned to make some very cool bracelets. I am now ready to set out with my new-found trade, hawking my wares to traveling gringos!
6:00 p.m. and the sun is setting as we struggle to finish our crafts. Lorraine is the first to spot a volcano in the distance that was actively erupting! Our guides explained that Volcan Sangay has been erupting almost every day around 6:00 p.m. for the past 500 years. This was documented by the Spaniards when they first arrived in the jungles of the region.
I sit here high on a porch in the treetops of the Amazon waiting for our supper. The temperature has finally moderated with a light breeze cooling me from the day. The Interact group is gathered nearby and are singing songs while the cicadas set the chorus. Mosquito repellant is liberally applied from our collective supplies of DEET. The setting is so amazing and tranquil. No cars, machines, music – just nature and our tiny group. We were all so excited to see a firefly buzz our group as darkness set in.
After dinner, Our group took a nocturnal hike through the rainforest around the facility. Our guide asked as to wear rubber boots because of the mud but their real purpose is to prevent bites from snakes and other creatures. It was un-nerving but awesome. We saw some enormous spiders, frogs, poisonous snakes, crickets, etc. So much natural noise from the insect world. I think we all collectively thought that the walk was one of the coolest things we have ever done!
Now to bed as we have an early start to the day tomorrow 6:00 a.m. Buenos Noches everyone!!!