|Waking up at half 6 was easy, enduring a 5 hour bus ride was easy, trying to sleep in the middle of the Amazon Jungle was not so easy.
After waking early, and heading to the bus station and boarding a “public bus” to Tena I became surprised at how luxury a “public bus” in Ecuador was. We each had our own reserved seat, plenty of leg room, and the bus was fairly quiet. That was until the journey got underway. As we travelled through Cotopaxi (a National Park) the bus stopped to pick up and drop off more people then legally allowed. The isle was full of locals, the floor covered by luggage and food. It became an experiance, one not to forget, but one to prepare for for the up and coming few months. After 5 hours and little sleep from fear of being mugged, we made it to Tena, a small town on the edge of the cloud forests of the Amazon.
From here we collected our gum boots, packed a few essentials, boarded a truck and made our way into the depths of the jungle. Unlike in the dossier, we had to walk for 15 minutes, before stumbling upon the Jungle Lodge / Community. In the clearing there were about 12 – 15 buildings, 2 for sleeping in, one for “parties”, a kitchen, a diner and the others were where the locals lived. Everybody was so nice and welcoming. We arrived late, so spent the evening relaxing getting used to the noises and bugs.
I awoke the following morning to take part in a local drinking ritual (non alcoholic). We were each given a special drink which was supposed to provided us with strength and energy for the day ahead. Both of which were in my case needed as I had failed to get much sleep in the night. The creatures of the Jungle kept me awake, and although I had my mosi net up, I was fearful of spiders and other bugs making their way into the bed.
For our first full day in the jungle we were taken on a jungle walk lasting about 3 hours. En route we had our faces painted in the tribes patterns, whilst learning about the Sharman and sprits of the Jungle. The weather was perfect, yet humid, so as expected my clothes became drenched in sweat. Instead of walking back to the lodge, we were provided with canoes to travel down river on. The only problem was / is, is that Ecuador is experiancing a drought. This meant that the river was low, forcing us to abandon ship at almost every corner to help carry the canoe over the rocks. Even so the experiance was unforgetable, sitting in a wooden canoe traveling through the Amazon Jungle.
Upon our return to the lodge, we were provided with lunch followed by a dip in the river. A once in a life time experiance. To go swimming in the rivers of the Amazon. We were only told one thing before entering the water. DO NOT PEE IN IT!!!! The water itself was cool and clear, perfect for bathing in, with the rest of the day being spent relaxing with the locals.
Our final full day in the jungle was to be spent with the local community. In the morning we headed to a yuka farm to help harvest the yuka before heading to the local school to play football with the children. For us tourists, playing such a sport in such heat was not the best of ideas. We again returned to the lodge drenched in sweat and in need of another dip in the river before lunch.
After lunch we were invited to watch one of the locals use the plants of the Jungle to make beautiful necklaces and other items. The plants from the forest are impressively useful and strong. We struggled as a group to break the thread produced by a cacti leaf.
As the sun set on the community, we were all given the opportunutiy to fire a blow gun at a piece of fruit. Praticing the techniques used by the locals when they hunt. I found that getting the dart out of the pipe was easy, aiming it at a target was where skill was needed. I failed on both attempts.
Failing to hit the target did come with an advantage though, as I was exempt from playing in the football match between us gringos and the locals. A match that we lost, and a match that was made worse by the torrents of rain which began to fall. When it rains in a rain forest, it really does rain.
We were treated in the evening to a number of dances put on by the locals, in there local dress. I was invited to join in, dressing in the local costume. I however can´t help but feel as though I gave little to the dance. As the night drew on, we were given a glass of warm jungle whisky to drink, along with a shot of sugar cane (two extremly strong alcoholic drinks).
As a thank you for their hospitality, our guide Jesus had suggested each country perform a dance from there nation. There are 5 of us who are from England on this tour, and we had no idea what to do. The only dance we new of was the STEPS classic to 5,6,7,8. So we performed that to a drunk and laughing audiance. I think they enjoyed it as they failed to BOO us off the stage, yet compared to the Hukka perfromed by Simon from NZ, our routine was dire.
We had to awake early again the following morning to again board a canoe to head down stream to a conservation project. The journey took about 3 hours, mainly because even after the rain, the river remained low. However having made it to the project, we were able to walk around and view a number of animals native to the rain forest (parrots; anacondas; monkeys etc...). All had once been kept as slaves and brought to the shelter when discovered by the local authorities. At the shelter they took care of the animals, before releasing them back into the wild.
Due to the time it took do travel down stream, we ended up missing our bus to Banos. Fortunatly another one left at half 2. So we didn´t need to rush. We instead took our time heading back to Tena, had a quick lunch, repacked our bags and then boarded another coach to Banos.
I had a fantastic time in the Jungle, the locals were so welcoming and friendly, the kids so innocent to the outside world. They loved taking pictures then seeing their own faces in the cameras. After the time in Quito, I was a bit sceptical of the tour. Yet my time in the Jungle reassurmed me that I had made the right choice, and that the experiance was a sign of great things to come.