The second stop of my South America Adventure is quite a thing: I´m off to the Amazon Jungle in Tena, capital of the Napo province, in Ecuador.
Tena is 5 hours away from Quito by bus. Once there, I passed onto another small vehicle and drove for about 45 minutes more into the Amazon Rainforest. The heat and the humidity started then to be obvious, and I felt I wasn´t in Kansas anymore.
When the van arrived to the home I was going to stay (called Cabañas Pimpilala), I had to carry my backpacks and walked up a small hill for an extra 5 minutes. These moments make you regret to have packed too much.
There are three single rooms in Cabañas Pimpilala and the rest are doubles; I get my own single room. It is just a bed with what could be clean sheets (although I find a hair and a suspicious stein), covered with a mosquito net, and open windows (perhaps to kindly welcome mosquitos inside?). Oh! And there is a towel. Fantastic. I don´t have to wet my quick-dry one.
As soon as we leave our backpacks, we are seated in a long table and invited to eat an asparagus and potato soup.
Weather temperature: probably 40ºc. Soup temperature: probably 40ºc.
I try to be clever (or maybe sarcastic) and I ask our CEO (Chief Experience Officer) if eating hot in super hot temperature helps alleviate the heat, maybe? He looks at me with poker face. I guess no.
We also ate a plate of rice, banana, lentils and carrots, accompanied with a hot tea.
I quickly went to change my clothes to something a bit lighter: South America is in Spring (13th September 2017) and I was not expecting these hot temperatures even in the Jungle. But that’s just my ignorance. I was dripping sweat, and my nicely straightened hair got curly in about 10 minutes. I rubbed myself in sun cream and mosquito repellent (50 DEET). I also felt like crying: dirty, sweaty and uberly ugly… definitely too old for these uncomfortable situations. Do you wanna know what was the worst part of it all? That everybody seemed freaking happy. Even myself.
After finding a shower (there are two for 15 people), I tried to get a shower unsuccessfully (there was just a very fine line of very cold water coming out of the tap), so I decided to stop procrastinating and join the group to start the adventure. After all, I am paying to feel this miserable.
We are given rubber boots and a guy shouts quite loudly because he feels one of these inside his boots. It was of the size of my middle finger.
The first activity we did was a 2-hour walk around the Jungle to get to see some of the amazing landscape it has got.
We learnt about different types of trees and plants (some medicinal, some poisonous), about shamans (called Yachak in the Ecuadorian Amazon Jungle) that prepare mysterious drinks like Ayahuasca, and many other facts and legends about this wonderful place on earth.
Everything is so interesting, that despite my tank top is getting absolutely wet, I am, deeply inside, enjoying it. The experience; not the sweat. Need to learn to be happy when I feel physically disgusting. It is so tough though.
When I arrived back to my room, the sun was almost gone, and I realised horrified that there was no light, and also that the mosquitos were starting to make weird noises all around me. I suddenly remembered that I brought a headlump, and quickly put it on my head. Great shopping, because there are absolutely no lights in the toilets, showers or rooms.
There are not sockets either, and at some point I also noticed that there was one single toilet paper roll for 15 people, so when someone asked if there was wifi I actually thought this person hit their head somewhere in the Rainforest.
This house in the Jungle, where a super friendly kichwa family lives, is part of the Cando community (along with other 14 houses) and during our stay they showed us many different things about their culture, like how they used to prepare traps to hunt animals or what a wedding ceremony used to look like.
Delfin, the man of the house, was in charge of walking us through the Jungle showing us numerous tricks from the old days to survive in such wild environment, and also tips to find gold in the river!
Mamita Estela (as she asked to be called) also showed us how she teaches the kids of the community in the local school.
The kids are aged 5 to 9 and are absolutely adorable. Mamita Estela teaches these kids because their families cannot afford a better education. In the class there are currently eight kids and a dog called cheese. Why is he called cheese? “Because he is yellow, like cheeseeeee” shout all of them at the same time.
The children eat at school and all of them collect their plates after lunch and wash them in the sink. I felt in love. We also played football and took some selfies with them. They loved it, but not as much as we did, needless to say.
We also got highly entertained practicing Gorge walking, which is walking and climbing up a gorge (the opposite to canyoning) with just a little rope and nothing else to hold you onto! It really was fun and exciting even for an oldie like me, and very nice to get wet in such temperature and humidity.
Rolando, Delfín and Mamita Estela´s son was in charge of this activity, and Papi, their dog, did a hell of a job scaring the snakes on our way.
Seeing Rolando jump from rock to rock was a show; he was like a wild cat!
We also put on some beauty mud masks and painted our faces in deep red with annatto seeds (achiote in Spanish) in order to be protected by Pachamama (Mother Earth), to whom people from the jungle pay their respects massively and continuously. In the past days, they also used the annatto seeds to leave messages among members of the same tribe, as there was no other form of communication.
Not a creature from the Jungle, but Rolando with a beauty mask and a good sense of humour on.
The food in Cabañas Pimpilala is delicious: always with hot soup as a starter, and rice and banana on the main dish, we also had beef, chicken and rainbow trout in the days we spent there. You can also buy a big bottle of beer (Ecuadorian Pilsener) for around 2.50 dollars, which is not absolutely outrageous, although I was expecting Ecuador to be very cheap; have to admit.
In the night, the Jungle gets coldish, and the rooster wakes everyone up at 5 am.
One of the girls had the terrible idea of washing her hair on the second morning there, and the little cold water that there was, finished in the middle of the operation. She had to stay with soap in her hair all day. Well, she shouldn´t have been so adventurous. This is the Jungle; not really a touristic place. In a tour like this you need to learn soon enough that you don´t go there to relax or to be the best dressed or the one with the nicest hair. Everybody looks dirty; everyone is smelly and that is absolutely fine. That was my lesson number 1 learnt.
Despite the lack of commodities, we did have a tremendous time and learnt much; especially me, as I was the only one in our group able to speak Spanish. Thanks to that I could have a proper chat with Mamita Estela and her husband Delfín Pauchi, and also with their daughters and son, Zulai, Narcisa and Rolando.
The truth is that this family is absolutely adorable and make you feel like their house is absolutely yours. Zulai and Narcisa cook phenomenal, and Rolando entertained us fantastically with all kinds of sports, activities and even explaining the meaning of many Regetton songs to the rest of the group (unfortunately for me, I can understand every single word of that ´poetry´…)
We also cooked chocolate from scratch with Rolando.
And ate it with delicious fruits!
Although we also ate not such delicious appetisers…
In the Jungle they eat them raw and cooked!
These worms are found in the palm trees and they are considered a truly delicious delicacy in the Jungle.
We also learnt a lot from Delfín about the old days in the Ecuadorian Jungle. Many years ago, for example, if a woman cheated on her husband, she was killed without hesitation. On many occasions as well, men would kill their wives if these had only daughters. Nowadays, things have changed and, as Delfín explains, men are actually very happy to have all daughters, as “they cook and clean very well the house…”
On our last day we did some impossible trekking, going up and down a hill for hours, with big tree roots that seemed to want to grab our big plastic boots in almost every step. We also went through the river again, and there was one point in which, as usual, I felt soaked in sweat, wet, and with my hair arranged in an unbelievably ugly fashion so I could get some air in my neck, and on top, those horrendous days of the month had arrived. I was actually unclassifiable, but in the middle of all this, I looked back and down to that beautiful Jungle: to the lush landscape in which I was living, and I caught myself smiling. I never thought I would be able to do these things. I felt so strong, powerful and healthy. I felt so alive! Little in this big world, but yet strong; just like an ant…
Thanks to Mamita Estela I knew that this family do not really live there, but in Tena instead, although they do visit the Jungle a lot, as they have G Adventures groups almost every week. The delicious chicken we ate was not one of the chickens we saw running around our rooms, and the yummy trout was not caught in the Napo river. The food is bought in the market, in Tena.
It is OK, of course, nobody nowadays spend a single night in the real and wild Jungle, because we could not survive. Even they could not survive. At least not in this part of the Jungle, where there is no food. There are not that many animals around or fish in the rivers because the locals have eaten almost all of them over the years. They can not plant there either because the weather or the earth aren´t appropriate for such activities. And all that, of course, is fine, because when you spend there four days you still get the essence of how they lived in the past in the Amazon Jungle, and that is what matters.
G Adventures took their time to investigate what was the best house and community to send their customers to, as Mamita Estela explained to me, and before they started to make business with G, they received the visits from several inspectors over different months. The reason is that, in the past, some local families who used to take on tourists were acting absolutely disgracefully: As Mamita Estela explained, the man of one of the families used to hit his wife in front of the tourists!
On a sad note, she did also tell me how jealous are the other houses in her own ¨neighbourhood¨, and how she has to live with many rumours and lies from other members of the community about what they do here with so many visitors. Who knows what they think those scandalmongers.
But the truth is that Mamita Estela, Delfin Pauchi and their children are gorgeous human beings and I feel glad that I could meet them.