Ecuador Part 1 – The Amazon

Day 1: October 1, 2019

Our flight left from Edmonton at a very acceptable time, but we still had to be up at 4:30 am. We had a five hour flight to Houston where we spent a five hour layover grabbing lunch and just relaxing. Then we had another five hour flight to Quito, Ecuador. On this flight we had the row in front of the emergency exit which meant we couldn’t lean our seats back. This was a big mistake. It was so uncomfortable and all we wanted to do was sleep.

We arrived in Quito just after midnight, cleared customs fairly quickly and picked up our bags. We then went outside to catch a taxi. The official taxis have orange license plates. There was a set price from the airport into the city. It was $26 USD for our cab ride. In 2000 the Ecuadorian sucre was given up for the US dollar after the sucre dramatically lost its value.

We checked into the Masaya Hostel which was suggested by our tour company. It was a nice quiet hostel. We had a private room with our own bathroom. We dropped our bags and went to sleep exhausted from a long day of travel.

Day 2: October 2, 2019

We woke up around 7:00 am to have breakfast and get ready to meet our tour guide in the hostel at 8:00 am. Around 8:10 am we started getting worried. Then at 8:30 am we looked up the tour company’s phone number and were just about to call when a man came in. He asked if I was Merai Downey to which I replied yes. He said Santiago sent him and we kind of shrugged not understanding who Santiago was. We had booked the tour online using Viator and the tour company just said Live Ecuador. We went with him because he knew my name.

We had dressed in all of our clothes because our itinerary said we were going to Cotopaxi where the weather was supposed to be -15 degrees. The driver then said he was driving us to the hot springs and then to the Amazon. It turned out we were doing the itinerary we had seen online in reverse.

Our first stop was Papallacta Hot Springs. The temperature was a little on the chilly side and these hot springs were outside. We changed into our swim suits and ventured into the pools. They had a bunch of smaller pools around the site and then a bigger one. It was nice and relaxing and not too busy. We spent about an hour there.

Enjoying Papallacta Hot Springs

As we were leaving we got pulled aside by one of the employees at the hot springs to watch a mock exercise with paramedics. All we saw was them carrying a man in a blanket to the meeting point. We aren’t quite sure why we needed to see it.

We returned to our driver and he drove us to a nearby town where we had trout for lunch. The portions were very large. There was a bowl of popcorn to start, our main meal and then a bowl of rice came out. We also tried a homemade alcohol made from fermented sugar cane with different tree barks.

On we drove, into the Ecuadorian Amazon. We drove to Suchipakari Lodge located near the small town of Misahualli. Our driver dropped us there and one of the staff helped carry our bags to the lodge which was about a five minute walk along the nearby river.

At the lodge we were shown to our room which had a beautiful heart display of flower petals. It was very cute and thoughtful.

Our bed at Suchipakari Lodge

We chilled in our room until just before supper time when we met our guide for our time at the lodge. His name was Dorian and his community was about 20 minutes up the Napo River. He told us about our plans for the next day and got us fitted with some rubber boots.

Supper was held in the main area of the lodge open to the Amazon breeze. There was another large group there from a running club. We went back to our room right after and went to sleep.

Day 3: October 3, 2019

We both had really good sleeps the night before. I think we both needed to catch up. We had breakfast at the lodge and then Dorian met us with three other travellers for a walk through the jungle.

Our guide, Dorian, on the far right

We saw lots of different plants and Dorian explained their different uses. Our walk ended at the Napo River where there was a motorized canoe waiting to take us to a nearby Kichwa (Indigenous peoples of the Upper Amazon Basin) village.

In the village, we were greeted and given braided head bands that were supposed to keep away the mosquitos. We were also given face-paint using a plant then when broken open has a red liquid.

Danny’s head band and face-paint

We were shown how to take a plant (we think it was a palm leaf) and scrape off the green skin to get a fibrous rope. The community uses the rope for fishing and for making different items such as net bags.

Making rope

Next the lady showed us how they take clay from a certain part of the river and are able to use it to make pottery. They paint the pottery with different colours of clay using a brush made from the hair of a young girl since it is softer.

Making bowls from clay

The last item they showed us was how they make chicha, a fermented beverage made from cassava in this case, but can also be made from grains, maize or fruit. They boil the cassava for 30-40 minutes then mash it up. They then leave it to ferment. It used to be fermented by chewing and spitting the cassava, but when the Spanish arrived it increased the spread of tuberculosis so they stopped that practice. We were given a taste of the unfermented chicha which tasted like yogurt.

Danny helping to make chicha

We thanked the women for showing us a part of their culture and continued in the motorized canoe. Along the way we saw some squirrel monkeys jumping through the trees along the river.

Our journey continued to an animal refuge centre. They take in animals that have been apprehended by the government because they are illegal to have as pets. We saw parrots, turtles, monkeys, caiman and pecari.

There were two especially sad looking monkeys. Both had mental health problems due to how they were treated in the past as well as their previous diet. One was a capuchino monkey which are known for being very intelligent and are often used in movies because they can be taught tricks. However, this also means that being locked in a cage can have devastating effects.

Capuchino monkey

We returned to our canoe and took a ride to a picnic spot. We were able to go for a swim there in the muddy water.

After we walked up the trail a bit to a small group of houses where we were able to try to shoot a blow gun. The blow guns typically shoot 20-30 m and are used to hunt monkeys and birds. The darts and gun are made from palm trees. There is cotton on the end of the dart to keep it straight. The bag of darts had a set of piranha teeth hanging from it which was used to sharpen the darts. They also will boil a dead poisonous frog to add poison to the darts. Our practice involved shooting a wooden owl. I don’t think we did too terribly.

Blowgun practice

Our canoe returned us to our pick up point and we walked the 30 minutes back to the lodge. Danny and I played some cards until we met Dorian again for a night time walk through the jungle. We stayed nearby the lodge and took a trail around to look for different insects. We saw lots of different types of frogs, crickets, spiders, moths, walking sticks and caterpillars.

Creatures from our night walk in the Amazon

Back at the lodge we had supper and went to bed.

October 4, 2019

At breakfast the tour guide for the running club started explaining something about protests. We had no idea what was going on and had to ask their group. It turned out the Ecuadorian government had removed fuel subsidies causing diesel prices to rise from $1.03 to $2.30 per gallon and gasoline from $1.85 to $2.39 per gallon. In Quito, the taxi and bus drivers were protesting this increase and transportation was shut down. The running club had been planning to go to Guayaquil for a marathon, but now weren’t sure if they would be going.

We started our day by taking a taxi ride to a waterfall just outside of Misahualli. There was a little falls right near the start, but we hiked up another 30 minutes to a larger one. There was a pool there to swim in which was very refreshing.

Waterfall near Misahualli

On the way back down Dorian broke open a yellow cocoa to show the beans inside. We each took a bean and stuck it in our mouths. It was covered in a sweet film that had a hint of chocolate taste. We had lunch back at the bottom and did some more swimming by the first waterfall. Then we waited for our driver to pick us up to take us back into town.

Our driver never showed up and we found out later that when Dorian called him he said that due to the protests, he wasn’t allowed to leave the town square. There was someone there with a clipboard checking to make sure no one was working. We walked out to the main road to see if we could catch a ride back. Within five minutes a truck stopped to pick our group of six up and take us back into town.

The town was dead. I guess there are normally a lot of tourists there, but the protests had stranded a lot of people. We walked to “Monkey Beach” where there are usually lots of monkeys in the trees, but they must have been at the protests as well. Back in town there were a couple of monkeys hanging around looking for food. One came over to see us by sliding down a telephone wire.

Monkey in Misahualli

Dorian had to do some improvising and hired us a water taxi to take us to another Indigenous community along the Napo River. One of the members of the community explained to us how 17 years ago they had been digging foundations for a building and found this gigantic rock. He showed us all of the different animals and rivers that could be seen in the rock face. Some scientists had taken a sample to see if it was actually a meteorite.

Rock found in one of the Indigenous villages

After a group of women performed a traditional dance for us. We were encouraged to join in which as pretty cool. We thought they would show us more dances, but after one dance we left. The water taxi had waited for us and took us back to our pick up point from the previous day. From there it was only a 30 minute walk back to the lodge.

Traditional dance

When we arrived back to the lodge, the women from the village had beat us back there. They were there performing a wedding ceremony for a couple from the running club also staying at the lodge. They had gotten engaged before the trip and since they were stranded at the lodge decided why not get married.

We arrived just as the ceremony was starting. It was very moving. It reminded us very much of the way we got married when we were in Nepal. We both had tears in our eyes as they said their vows. They had a bit of a dance party afterwards with some special drinks.

Wedding ceremony

Just before supper Danny and I decided to play some pool in the main area. The running club had mostly sat down at the nearby tables. One of the men stood up and asked for everyone’s attention. We assumed he was going to give a toast to the new couple, but instead he said how disappointed he was to see people from their group drinking alcohol. One of his friends who was only recently sober was very upset seeing other people drinking and was thinking about leaving. It was explained that the running club was created to help people who were at the bottom and there were people who were recovering addicts and alcoholics. The conversation ended with the creator of the running club, “The Judge” saying that he understood and all events going forward would not have alcohol. It was a really touching moment and showed how expressing your feelings openly can be met with understanding. It was inspiring how much the group cared about each other.

When I googled their running club later to see if they were on Facebook, I found that they actually have a documentary coming out October 14, 2019 called “Skid Row Marathon”. I’m very interested to see it now.

The running club is called “Skid Row Running Club” and was created in 2012 by a Judge after a man he’d sentenced to prison returned to thank him. The runners in the club are from all walks of life. Some members are homeless or in recovery and others are lawyers, social workers, students or off-duty police officers.

We were served a barbecue supper which was delicious then we returned to our room for sleep.

The Ecuadorian Amazon has been a real treat for us. We added this tour on because it fit in before our scheduled tour to the Galapagos. We didn’t really expect much from it, but feel pleasantly surprised. We loved visiting all of the Indigenous communities and walking through the wilderness. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. We are supposed to head to Banos, but are unsure if we will be able due to the protests.

M

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