Another 5:45am wakeup knock on the door found us marching through the jungle with our mud boots on to a viewing tower high above the tree tops. The locals who have developed this area for eco tourism have done a nice job. You feel like you are in the remotest part of Ecuador, yet there is always a developed path with a wooden platform where needed to make passing through the jungle quite doable even when it is wet. As we breathlessly climbed to the top of the tower, we were serenaded by all manner of bird call. This helped our guides to get the viewing scope pointed in the right direction. We saw three kinds of macaws, parrots, and other birds whose names I did not recognize and have already forgotten. The bird watchers among us were in heaven. For me photography continues to be frustrating. Birds never hold still and they are often too far away or hidden by foliage. The view of the thick canopy and myriad different kinds of trees with the river cutting through them was awesome.
After breakfast we got together with some local kids for fun and games. During most of the year they are in school when OAT tourists visit them, but our guide thought that since they were on vacation, today should be mostly fun. We danced and had relay races and laughed a lot. It always amuses me that when you are with kids who don't speak English, language is rarely a barrier as it is with adults. At the end the guide gave them candy we had purchased at his recommendation and we sent them back to their parents on a sugar high.
Then we went to the home of a local family for a typical local lunch. Because the people who live in this community all draw salaries from the eco lodge, they can afford to take a weekly 45 minute trip down river to the grocery store (such as it is). And because they work at the lodge, they don't have much time for farming, but have family gardens. They showed us how to harvest and replant manioc and explained that the soil is fertile here, because they live in the Napo River floodplain. Unlike most of the Amazon, which has a thin layer of topsoil, the flood deposits rich volcanic soil. If you put a stick in the ground, it will probably grow something. Chickens wandered around supplying eggs and an occasional meal. The family also regularly gets fish out of the Napo, which is what we ate today. Our fish was prepared in the traditional way, wrapped in leaves and cooked over a fire. We also had plantains and potatoes and heart of palm. We ate it all with our fingers. The most interesting part of the meal was the larva worms. One of the children ate one alive, which even our guide was not up to. I tried them steamed and roasted. The insides were rich with grease like bacon, but the outside skins were too chewy for me. Then we learned how to make chica, a mild sort of liquor made out of manioc with a touch of sweet potato to cause the mixture to ferment. We pounded the fibers into submission and then it sits and ferments for a few days before it is ready for drinking.
We are glad that we finally got a chance to spend some time in the Amazon, an area we hear about regularly. both for its biodiversity and how quickly it is losing it. The knowledge our local guide had about the uses of many plants has given us a better understanding of how people live and can thrive here. We've been lucky with the weather. If we had had rain as you should in the rain forest, everywhere we walked would have been a muddy mess. Although it has not been very hot with temperatures in the low 80º's, the humidity has been a killer. After three days of being sticky 24/7, we are ready to head back to the arid Quito area and get a good night's sleep without two fans blowing continuously on our bodies to no avail.