Shoot the Monkey!

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South America » Ecuador
March 30th 2015
Published: June 12th 2017
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Geo: -1.03849, -77.6833

Our bags had to be outside our door by 7:00am, so we were up fairly early. As soon as she was awake, Anna asked if she could put on her suit and step outside of the room and into the thermal pool outside. Rather than argue, we all joined her. Our friend, Sunny Sally, emerged from her room, as well, and we all enjoyed a warm soak before showering and then grabbing some breakfast.

By 8:15am we were on the road, continuing all the way down into the Amazon basin. The road was increasingly steep and hugged the hillsides past countless waterfalls. The sun was out and would remain out all day. We descended about 13,000 feet over the next two and half hours, with several pit stops along the way. Each time we stopped and exited the bus, the air was warmer and certainly more humid. The change in vegetation over the course of the descent was also remarkable. It seems as though we entered a different ecosystem after each turn.

We drove through the small city of Tena, which is the regional capital. From here, we turned off the main highway, past a brand new airport which the government had just built to support the oil companies active in the area, and pulled into a rough parking lot alongside the Napo River. Waiting for us on the banks were two long motorized canoe-like boats, into which we all piled. Our luggage was then distributed between the two boats and we pushed off from shore and headed up river about 10 minutes.

The resort in which we were staying was on the far side of the river, built on a bluff. There is no bridge across the river, only a ferry, and our bus was too large to make the crossing. The river was fast moving, but the hotel was situated such that the far side of the bluff offered enough shelter for the long boats to dock and then pull away safely. We unloaded and walked up multiple layers of stairs to reach the resort complex at the very top. The vegetation was spectacular, with tropical trees, flower, and birds everywhere. I know we were all surprised to find a beautiful spot in the middle of the jungle.

We had enough time to quickly visit our room before lunch, which was absolutely huge, with a large balcony (complete with hammock) overlooking the river below. The air was already heavy with heat and humidity but, surprisingly, no bugs. I'd expected the worst when I learned we'd be in the rain forest. As it was, we were still about 1,000 above sea level, and upstream from the low, swampy lands of the Amazon River, into which the Napo runs. Without the stagnant water in the lowlands, most of the bugs lack a breeding place, so we were bug free! Bonus! The couple from Vegas had visited the Amazon in Peru (in an area which had belonged to Ecuador until the 1995 war), and they spoke of everything being netted off, with incessant bugs and all kinds of other worries. We were immune from that. It was hot, though, and there was no air conditioning. The rooms were really villas, with huge vaulted ceilings, ceiling fans, and the front and back walls were really just huge screens, so air was constantly blowing through the villa, keeping it cool and bug free. It also meant that we heard all of the sounds of the jungle during the night. Very cool.

We ate lunch in the open restaurant area bordering the pool and then headed back down to the boats, accompanied by our local Quichua indigenous guide, who would be with us for the next two days. We were going to head further down river to visit a large island in the river which is home to about 40 Quichua familes. We were greeted boatside by young barefoot girls, who presented us with flowers made out of palm leaves. We, in the meantime, were all wearing huge rubber Mackintosh boots which had been provided to us at the resort. We'd been told to wear long pants and long-sleeve shorts, as there would be some bugs on the island, and the boots were to wade through the very muddy trails leading into the village. I felt rather ridiculous in my outfit when I saw the girls in dresses and bare feet. I guess they're used to it.

Our guide showed us various plants and flowers along the way, and pointed out some birds. We made our way into a clearing with several large open houses built up on slits. The island, evidently can easily flood over after heavy rains, so everything was raised well above ground level. We met some more local inhabitants, and an old woman showed us how she makes Yuka and we had the opportunity to try to local tea. Our guide told us all in English to only pretend the drink the tea, and then pass the bowl down, as the water was not clean. We all happily obliged.

After this, we retreated back to ground level and received a demonstration of how to use a blow dart. This is the locals only legal way to hunt monkeys and other wildlife. We were all given the chance to try our blow-dart skills against a hanging wooden monkey target. I'm proud to say that I managed to hit the monkey. Let's just say that K and Anna gave it a good try.

We had all sweated through our clothes and our boots were caked in mud by the time we made it back to the canoes. The breeze made by the boats as they raced back upstream, back to the resort, was sheer heaven.

Once back, we were promised a quick cooking demonstration. We were shown how the locals cook things over open fires by wrapping them in large banana leaves. This was shown with whole fish and all kinds of root vegetables. We also got to see what was called "wild bacon." These were, in fact, huge grubs -- the size of a grown-man's thumb -- which were skewered and roasted over an open flame. K was brave enough to touch a live one, while she and Anna elected to try tasting one. I did not partake, claiming that I had to operate the camera. Yeah, we'll stick with that story.

We had just enough time after this and meeting up with the group for a quick meeting and dinner to get in a short swim in the pool. The water felt absolutely perfect after the heat of the island. There was also a nice breeze atop the cliffside, which had been completely lacking on the tree-covered island.

The sky was cloud free when we walked back to our villa after dinner, and the sheer number of stars we could see was awe inspiring. None of us needed encouragement to turn in early. We had to get used to the sounds of all the critters outside but I know we all slept very well.

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