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Jungle Jaunt

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I awoke from my slumber feeling relieved.  My fears of being violated by cockroaches during the night did not come to fruition and, to my surprise, I had slept peacefully.  Of course that could be due to my position in the hammock.  Zach might not have been so lucky, as he had offered to sleep on the bare wooden floor beside me.  It was the first day of our jungle adventure and we were staying in the house of our guide, Guillermo.  This was a true jungle home, seemingly more outside than in.  There were windows with broken screens; wooden floors with holes that exposed the earth below; a hallway the led directly outside to the open air kitchen.  While cooking fresh caught river fish on the family’s two-burner propane stove for dinner, we were literally only steps away from the family pond, complete with chickens, ducks and no shortage of mosquitoes.

We had arrived late the day before in the small, dusty village of Nuevo Rocafuerte which lies just meters away from the borders of Peru and Colombia.  Our transportation to this remote Amazonian hamlet had been a 60 person motorized canoe which carried us, as well as countless others and plenty of cargo, on a ten hour journey down the Rio Napo.  Along the way, we passed indigenous villages, oil fields ablaze, and tributaries teeming with flesh eating piranhas, a constant reminder of our presence in the world’s most famous jungle.  The Rio Napo is one of the largest rivers feeding the lush jungle of Ecuador.  Not far past where we made our exit to Nuevo Rocafuerte, it joins up with the all mighty Amazon and begins a 4,000 mile journey to the Atlantic Ocean.

Days before, we had been shivering in the shadows of Cotopaxi.  Now, we swatted mosquitoes from our balmy skin in the dense, at times suffocating, jungle.  As is often the case during our journey, we had no intention of being here.  We went to bed one night after having mapped our route south and woke up in the morning only to point our van east.

The majority of tourist visits to the Ecuadorian jungle are organized through expensive, all-inclusive jungle lodges, complete with planned daily activities and comfortable sleeping arrangements.  Naturally, this had no appeal for us.  We drove over the Andes without a plan but with the hope and intention of organizing our own jungle adventure.  Through plenty of perseverance and a bit of luck, we got hooked up with Guillermo and his friend Luis, who had agreed to give us a two day private tour of Yasuni National Park.  We would spend one night under the dense jungle canopy and the other two in Guillermo’s home with his family.

We packed up early that first morning and set out in Guillermo’s motorized canoe, a smaller version of the boat we’d ridden the day before.  We cruised through the chocolate brown waters and within minutes were joined by a school of Amazon River dolphins.  For me, the sole driving force for planning this jaunt to the jungle was to see these magnificent creatures.  The Amazon River Dolphin, aka pink dolphin, is one of a number of river dolphins and the largest cetacean to spend the majority of its time in freshwater.  In the past, they have been listed as a vulnerable species due to pollution, overfishing, boat traffic and habitat loss.  We would see dozens during our time in the jungle.

This first hour of our journey set the tone for the next few days, during which we saw countless new species and enjoyed new experiences.  In between river cruises, we went for hikes through the seemingly impenetrable landscape.  Luis, a knowledgeable naturalist, seemed to know every plant species we passed as well as its medical benefits.  We learned what to eat to cure a snake bite, how to combat various maladies ranging from constipation to malaria, and perhaps most importantly, how to survive for a few days if we ever found ourselves lost in this intense, outdoor wonderland.  We fished for, and caught, piranha, ate ants that tasted like lime, and went caiman hunting.  We watched the sunset and sunrise from the beauty of the water and fell asleep to the most penetrating melody of nature sounds I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.

You’ve heard us say before that we are mountain people and that remains the case.  Spending time in the buggy, humid landscape of the jungle meant pushing ourselves a bit outside our comfort zone.   However, words truly cannot describe this amazing ecosystem, which remains one of the most bio-diverse places on earth.  We left the jungle with our senses overwhelmed, yet fully aware that we had barely scratched the surface.

We rode this enormous motorized canoe for 10 hours down the Rio Napo.  In a place with no roads or cars, the locals use the canoes to transport cargo as well.
Zach was not the only one sleeping away the hours.  When it rains, big plastic "windows" cover the open air sides
Many times throughout the ride, other boats would pull alongside us to transfer people, goods and, in this case, gas
One of the many oil fields we passed along the way.  We are not far from the infamous toxic pits that Chevron/Texaco left behind  when they pulled out of Ecuador (for more information, try the great documentary Crude or read this: http://ran.org/chevrons-toxic-legacy-ecuador)
Our guide Guillermo met us at the dock in Nuevo Rocafuerte to pick us up in his canoe and take us to his home
Gabriela..Guillermo's canoe and our mode of transportation for the next few days
Guillermo's jungle home
Our sleeping accommodations on night 1
Is that not the largest lime you've ever seen?  From their tree out back
Plenty of space in Gabriela.  We left early the next morning to enter Yasuni National Park
Within minutes, we spotted the amazing pink dolphins
They are hard to catch for a good photo
Minutes later, we saw a group of lobos del rio, or river otters , who put on quite a show for us
Tuvimos mucha suerte.  We were told it's rare to see these guys.  We saw them on a few occasions
Our fearless and knowledgeable leader, Luis
The jungle is a beautiful place
Luis sat at the front of the boat and pointed out plants and animals as we cruised along the Napo's many tributaries
Guillermo and Luis setting up camp
Our site, which we shared with Guillermo's cousin and his douchey polish tourist
Luis and Guillermo knew the one spot on site where they could get cell phone reception.  Here you can see Guillermo's phone tied to a stump
After lunch we went for a jungle walk.  Here, a massive ceiba tree
Luis showing us how they use a specific plant to make Panama hats (word of advice:  don't call them panama hats in ecuador, where they are truly made)
A plant described as both "bueno y malo".  Apparently it's used by women to both combat cramps and unwanted pregnancies
Luis showed us how to create a makeshift shelter should we ever find ourselves lost in the jungle overnight
He also showed us various edible plants and insects.  Here, he's holding a pod he picked from a nearby tree that was filled with ants
They tasted like lime!  incredible, potentially life-saving and tasty
He showed us a tree that produces milk of magnesia
Back in the boat for some piranha fishing.
Luis used a fishing pole crafted from a stick to catch all these fish to use as bait
Some of these guys were bait.  The bigger ones were saved for dinner
plenty of bites
to fish, we used just fishing line with a hook attached to it
The piranha that Zach caught and that we later ate for dinner.  Tasty...not much meat though
look at those teeth
We lived in wellies during our stay in the jungle
Sunset in the jungle
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Each time Guillermo or Luis thought they saw a huge fish, we'd chase it for a while as Luis tried to spear it.  No luck though
Late that night, our guides took us caiman hunting.  With a flashlight you could see their eyes light up from across the river
It wasn't long before Luis jumped out of the boat, splashed around for a while and caught this baby caiman
Luis and Guillermo set traps for 40 lb fish they wanted to catch (I forget the name of them!)
Back out on the river for sunrise and some early morning bird watching
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There was a whole tree filled with green parrots.  I caught some as they flew away
Macaws fly high above our heads.  We also saw toucans
we saw droves of these birds, called hoatzins.  Their large head crests give them the nickname of punk chickens.  Young hoatzins have two claws on each wing, a feature no other airborne creature since the pterodactyl has possessed.
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Our canoe docked at camp
Some down time back at camp for journal writing
We went for another trek through the dense jungle on our second day
watch out for this guy
The jungle is filled with funky trees and medicinal plants and Luis knew them all
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Zach and Luis take a moment to pose near another giant Ceiba tree
Guillermo made us some chicha on our last night.  Chicha is fermented corn or yucca beer, common in the Andes

About Anywhere That's Wild

Jill and Zach met as undergrads in 2003 and have been living in an amazing intentional community in Worcester, MA for the last several years. During this time, Zach worked as an engineer while Jill finished her graduate degree studying environmental policy and social entrepreneurship. When life afforded the perfect opportunity to leave their bondage days behind, they took it.This journey is a time to reconnect with nature and each other; to discover together the beauty of the natural world and its many cultures. We look forward to sharing our stories and photos with you.

Trip Start: 2013-06-30 Trip End: 2011-06-01 .

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