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Published: February 24th 2014
alongside rio verde
up above the Devil's Cauldron falls
Diane and I set off for Archidona, a jungle village just slightly further into the Amazon Basin than I’d driven before. She has old friends, a kind of adopted family she met 30 yrs ago. Casimiro Mamallacta is a shaman who performs rituals and ayahuasca ceremonies. I agreed to go along with her, told her I wasn’t interested in doing ayahuasca (a hallucinogenic drug extracted from a vine) but that I’d enjoy meeting the family and learning about their culture. Diane said she was not planning to take part in a ceremony either.
Our plan was to stay a few nights in some rustic cabanas that Casimiro’s sons have built. Diane was last there just over a year ago, and she told me that although I might want to bring my own sheets and pillow, they had rubber boots to loan us, cooking facilities, and mosquito nets over the beds.
Dropping down into the jungle from Banos we stopped en route to visit the “pre-cascada” of Pailon del Diablo Falls (Devil’s Cauldron). It’s a place that I’ve been many times before and I love the shady, mossy pathways, tunnel-like overgrowth and the crashing power of swirling waters as the
Down the Waterfall
Pailon del Diablo falls as seen from above - crashing power!
Rio Verde churns and froths just before it narrows and drops steeply. We rested awhile on an impressive hanging bridge, viewing the falls from that slightly swaying vantage point.
We also made a stop at the Yana Cocha animal rescue reserve just outside of Puyo. The caged monkeys were fun to watch, but the pacing tigrillo (small jaguar) was an especially exotic sight. We marveled at the dense foliage & amazing blossoms all along the trail. (Be sure to scroll to the very end to see a variety of tropical blooms).
Diane told me that she had emailed the Mamallacta sons to tell them when we were coming and she had heard back from Elias saying “We await your arrival.” I asked her if she knew how to find their place and she said she did. As we arrived in Archidona, she realized that she wasn’t sure where we were supposed to turn to head back out of town towards their home, so we paid a taxi driver to lead the way there for us.
When we arrived at Casimiro’s cement block house there was nobody around. We tried calling the cell phone number which was painted
The beauty of his exotic gleaming coat belies the misery of his cage-pacing madness
on the outside wall but the number was no longer in service. Weighed down with our packs and bags we slogged up the steep, muddy trail to the cabanas above. Insects buzzed ferociously around my head as sweat trickled down my neck. There was no one to be found up there either.
The cabanas were beyond rustic; filthy, and falling-down in disrepair. The one available mosquito net had huge holes in it and there was NO water; the tanks had run dry. I informed Diane then and there that I would not be staying the night. We agreed that I’d come back up the following day to see if she wanted to stay on or continue exploring other villages. On the hike back down to the truck, I slipped and fell, sliding in the slick mud – leaving a wide swath with my hip.
As I drove back to town to find a place to stay (preferably one with a shower), it struck me that I’d heard of a nice place near Archidona . The owners of the hotel where I work on the coast are good friends with the owners of Hakuna Matata. On impulse I ducked
before i drove across, i sat and waited until i saw a big truck cross it safely!
into an internet café, brought up their website and gave them a call. Rudy told me he had just one room left, he’d hold it for me and give me a special price since I worked at Mandala. OK, I’d treat myself!
Turning off the main road immediately after the bridge I followed signs for the lodge along several miles of gravel road. Suddenly I found myself at a rickety bridge that I was not at all certain was safe to cross. I called Rudy again and he assured me that a loaded delivery truck had just passed over the bridge a few hours earlier. I held my breath, gritted my teeth and tried to steer steady over the crooked, broken planks that were supposedly there to guide my tires.
The gal who showed me to my cool, spotlessly clean room (with a king-sized bed no less!) indicated that the pool was located just up the steps from my room. I wasted no time in stripping off my mud-coated trousers and slipping on my swimsuit. AH!! Paradise!!! I was the only one in the huge, palm tree shaped swimming pool. The central trunk was an Olympic length lap
palm tree pool
Hakuna Matata Lodge was a heavenly respite from the muddy, buggy jungle - shaped like a palm, the trunk is perfect for swimming laps
lane from which shallower frond areas branched off. After a totally refreshing swim I settled in for an early night, skipping dinner. It poured down rain all night long, the pelting jungle downpour creating soothing rooftop music.
The next morning at breakfast I was surprised to see a Belgian woman that I knew from her family’s frequent visits to Hosteria Mandala on the coast. Liev is married to an Ecuadorian and they have three adorable children. Liev’s folks bring groups of tourists from Belgium at least once a year. They invited me to join them at their table and I thoroughly enjoyed the kids and the feeling of being with family. I had dinner with them that evening as well.
As promised, I went back the next morning to meet Diane at the Mamallacta compound. As a result of the previous night’s heavy rain, part of the gravel road had been washed away and in places stones had piled up into drifts, grabbing at my tires. My truck is not 4WD, but at times like this I have to drive it as if it were! As I pulled up to their house, Casimiro and his wife Margarita were
having run out of paper, he began to paint the walls of his house using a mixture of "sangre de drago" and ayahuasca.
just coming down the slippery path, using bamboo staffs to steady their steps. Margarita loaned me her rubber boots (they fit perfectly!) and handed me her walking stick. Since the path was even more squeIchy than the day before, I was grateful for the waterproof footwear and steadying support. I left my slimy, muddy tennis shoes with her and said she could keep them. She was thrilled! I actually own a drawing of Margarita that Shana did after she visited many years ago, so I was happy to meet this delightful lady!
I found Diane up at the cabanas and she told me that she planned to stay one more night and then she’d join me to head on to Misahualli (of monkey beach fame, documented in my last blog). Diane & I made our way back down the path together, since she wanted to go into Archidona to find Elias and his brothers. She knew they had houses in town but she had no idea where to even start looking.
I figured that such a prominent family would be well-known in this small town so I started asking local folks if they knew where Elias lived. The
Mmmm, yummy larvae roasted on a stick. I wasn't brave enough to try them!
first guy I asked pointed me in the general direction of a hill leading down from the park. At the edge of the park I asked someone else who indicated the exact street. Once on that street a child showed us which house. One of Elias’s brothers was there and he jumped in the truck and led us to where Elias was at the other end of town.
Elias is a prolific artist and I enjoyed looking through his pads of drawings…I even bought a few – one was painted with coffee, “sangre de drago”, ayahuasca juice and a yellowish wash made from the water left over after boiling some special sort of potato. Elias and his brothers are trying to rustle up tourism; they have even mounted a website. Between the “welcome” we received on arrival and the deplorable condition of the cabanas, I’d say they have a long ways to go.
We went to lunch with Elias at a place that served traditional meals. Most are combinations of fish or chicken together with plantain or yuca & peanut paste, then wrapped in banana leaves or other kinds of husks and cooked slowly over a fire. Yum!
something about rushing waters tumbling over boulders...look closely to see petroglyphs on the rock
I wasn’t quite brave enough, however, to taste the palm grub kebabs that were grilling out on the street corner. They looked too much like what they were – big fat caterpillars!
I dropped Elias & Diane back up at Casimiro’s, braving the 4X4 stony road again. Returning to Hakuna Matata, I walked down to the river and admired the petroglyphs on a huge rock in the middle. Just as I was deciding whether or not to go for a solo swim (the current didn’t seem too swift) I felt intense pain on my foot. Looking down I saw a column of biting ants crawling towards my ankle. They had already dug in their pincers, and I had to carefully pull them off one by one. Nope, I wasn’t going to bare any more skin at the riverside! Still in my bathing suit I made my way back up to the heavenly palm-shaped pool and had fun swimming with the kids.
I checked out right after breakfast so I could head back into town to meet Diane. Emerging from the pebbly access road, I found myself stuck in a campaign parade which blocked my access to the main
A Windy "Selfie"
I loved spending the day with Nicola - 22 yr old niece of a former colleague. Fun to vicariously relive my youthful travelling days!
highway. I called Diane to tell her that I’d be late to meet her, at which point she told me not to bother coming. She’d decided that she wasn’t ready to leave yet; there was an ayahuasca ceremony scheduled for that evening and she was going to stay on to participate. Arghh! If I’d known I would have stayed longer at the hotel and gotten in one more swim before checking out!
I told her I’d see her back in Banos and set off for Misahualli, a river town I’d always heard about by had never visited. Feeling a big disgruntled, I mused that travelling alone doesn’t seem to hold the charm for me that it used to. I’ve been wanting to return to Brazil for the past few years, but the idea of making a big trip alone doesn’t have the pull that it once might have done.
Arriving in Misahualli I checked into a basic guest house, found a fat novel on their bookshelf and curled up for an afternoon read. After a few hours I decided that I’d better go out and explore the town. Since it was a Saturday, there were scads of Ecuadorian
swirly designs delight the eye
families, music blaring, car alarms screeching and not a monkey in sight. Of course not, they were all scared off! A friend had told me that early morning was the best time to see them, so I went back to the hostel, finished my book and went to sleep early. The next day’s 6:30 a.m. visit to Monkey Beach made my short visit to Misahualli worthwhile (see previous blog).
Arriving back in Banos alone, I prepared to receive the niece of a former teaching colleague from Malaysia days. Nicola is 22 yrs old and received a university grant to travel for 10 months. Having never travelled outside the US before, she wrote a proposal to visit 6-8 developing countries in South American and SE Asia. The requirements of her travel grant indicated that she was to travel alone and journal her adventure. Sounds like an excellent educational experience to me!
Only two weeks into her odyssey of exploration, I convinced her that the volcano had calmed down and it was safe to visit Banos. I spent a fabulous day with this delightful young lady – hiking waterfalls and rivers, reminiscing about my own ’round the world adventure 25
yet another member of the heliconia family (i think) - bulbous blobs (seeds?)
yrs ago, sharing travel tips and ideas. It was a gift for me to be vicariously living Nicola’s excitement!
In three weeks I’ll be back on the coast, working hard at the hotel. In the interim I’m making a few short trips with a friend’s parents who are visiting from England. It’s a nice chance for me to revisit places I love, and have my expenses paid! As I write this I am back at Cheryl’s farm in Nanegalito where I spent last February on my writer’s retreat, revising my novel. Today I will take the visitors to Mindo to visit a butterfly farm, the hummingbird hotel & a chocolate-making operation. It’s always fun to show people around and share my favorite spots with them!
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