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Published: August 16th 2013
We had arranged to meet our mate Johnny at Guayaquil bus station around 9pm
but due to massive queues at the Peru/Ecuador border we eventually got in around 11pm
. We sharpishly found an Internet connection and told Johnny we were okay and that we were now going to get a taxi to his place. The bus, although it took the piss, had some brilliant views of the Pacific and we passed miles of amazing looking beaches aswell as hours and hours of banana plantations housing all sorts of creepy crawlies, but more of them later.
We eventually pulled up to Johnny's and were met with some nice tea that he had cooked and 3 grande cervezas. He also showed us to our apartment that he had sorted out for the next two weeks with our own T.V, fridge and air conditioning for £4 a night! We told you he was a legend.
Johnny works for a charity called Juconi that deals with an after school art club that helps keeps the kids from working on the streets. So far every single bus Loz & me have been on, at one point or another some toddler or primary aged kid
has come on and tried to sell us sweets or crisps, so for us, seeing it first hand, the charity is greatly needed. Johnny helps run the after school 'Club de Arte' and even asked if we fancied helping out at one of the classes which we decided to take him up on the offer.
First though our mate Sishi, who's now an international superstar DJ, was playing a gig just down the road from us this Saturday and he had put us all on the guest list so we were going to have it RIGHT off!
That Saturday night
Loz made us all some burritos then we hit the town. The event page of the nightclub had told us to meet at a bus stop outside a McDonald's where we would get picked up from and dropped off at the nightclub by a free shuttle bus. After waiting at this bus stop for over an hour and a half, with the bloke that was organising it still protesting the bus was only five minutes away, we eventually decided to jump in a taxi.
After that to be honest it's all a bit of a blur, but I
do know it was great to catch up with Sishi again and Laura tried to nick a tractor on our way home! We got back to our apartment and spent the next day eating peanut butter and burgers and watching the Glasto highlights, which I was now over missing, much to Laura's delight.
The next day we went to buy some note pads and pens as Johnny had sorted us out with some Spanish lessons from the tutor that Juconi had arranged for Johnny to study with. Although the tutor was very expensive (we were hoping to be paying around $7 an hour, and this was nearly triple that) we knew that he would be good. We were to study for 2 hours a day Monday - Friday
for the next two weeks but when we arrived at the house we were meant to be studying at there was no-one home, so after waiting for over an hour we went back to Johnny's to find out why he didn't turn up. The tutor said that it was a mix-up somewhere along the line and that we were okay to continue as of tomorrow but due to his astronomical prices and having
us waiting around outside his house for ages we decided we would just knock it on the head, save ourselves some money and study further up the country.
As we now had no spanish school for the next two weeks we decided to cut our stay in Guayaquil short and that weekend we would move north as we had heard that we could go whale watching further up the coast.
The next day though we were to attend our first day of 'work' as Juconi volunteers and help out with Club de Arte. Now, as anyone who knows me knows I'm about as artistic as a lump of shite, it wasn't keeping tabs on a load of energetic kids that I was worried about, but that the kid's art work would be far superior to mine, and my whole facade of being some sort of art teacher would be blown. I needn't had worried as Johnny and his team of two (a South African woman called Tracey and a girl called Blanca - that was the double of Rihanna, SCHWING SCHWING) had it all covered. It was brilliant! First we went to the main office and got all
the equipment together, today the kids would be sewing, so we got all the materials needed ready and we jumped into the car and drove out to the school. The school was on the outskirts of Guayaquil in a township called Nueva Prosperina. People here are not very well off to say the least, which is why some of the families send the children out to work all hours, even sometimes forcing them to miss school, to earn a few coins. We pulled up and the kids were immediately going nuts, surrounding the car soon as it stopped shouting 'YEAHHSSSS, CLUB DE ARTE!!!!' and all laughing and jostling to see what was in the back of the car for today's project. You could tell straight away that it was an incredibly rewarding thing to be doing, keeping the kids off the streets by doing something they obviously really enjoyed. We got into character straight away Laura by holding hands with a few of the kids and telling them who she was and asking their names and I nominated myself to have a knockabout with the football with a few of the kids, keeping them out of the way of the
people setting up the class. As we started sewing a new girl had come in and asked if she could join in and she ended up being sat next to me the poor little buggar, so we helped each other along, the girl helping me which colours to chose and me trying to keep re-threading her cotton through the needle. Loz and me both got straight into it though and surprised ourselves at just how creative we could be, I opted to sew 'B.F.C FOR LIFE' onto my piece and Laura made a nice motif making it all look far too easy with minimalist cotton re-threading!
We then said our goodbyes to all our new best mates and headed back to our apartment ready to finally catch site of the whales we'd been after since Chile which were to be found off a coast a bit further north in a place called Peurto Lopez, 1 hour away from Ecuador's surfing tropical beach town Montanita.
We were to base ourselves in Montanita and just head to P.Lopez for the whales and we got up that morning and made our first full English breakfast in 4months to line our stomachs
for the weekend of whale watching. We headed to Montanita on the bus with it absolutely banging it down tropical style, we checked in our hostel for the weekend and that night went out on the town, got blind drunk and ended up in a bar with a Red Hot Chilli Pepper's tribute band on. The singer was a top bloke and kept getting bottles of tequila and rum and pouring it in the mouths of everyone in the crowd. Needless to say Loz, Johnny and me were at the front giving it some with our mouths wide open. The morning after we woke up feeling a little delicate but quickly shook it off and boarded our boat to finally catch these elusive whales. The whole day was amazing and I'll have to upload some pictures for you all to look at as words don't do seeing these huge animals bounding along at the side of you justice. They were as big as double decker buses but glided through the ocean like little tiddlers. Everything seemed to stop still as the huge tail would appear out of the water and gently go back under to be followed by a great
big bluey/black bump and a big SWOOOOSH of air and water blowing out of its blowhole. We followed it for ages and when we turned back to go to shore we caught two smaller whales that were swimming at the side of each other. It looked like these huge creatures were having a race as they bombed at the side of each other up and down and up and down, they reminded me of the grand national ride at the Pleasure Beach, totally not bothered that a boat full of about 20people were sailing at the side of them. Absolutely class.
We got back to our hostal and went our for a few more beers with it still banging it down so we didn't stay out too long. It was long enough for me to get bitten to high heaven though from all the mozzy's, with it being wet and warm they were all over. We went along 'Cocktail Alley' that night for a bit which is a bit of a famous stretch along the way to the beach with loads of little street stalls selling every kind of cocktail under the sun. What I found funny/dangerous though was
on our way home we noticed that all the cables running the electrics to all the stalls for cocktail alley were connected gypsy-style to the main grid running along the back road to our hostal, a mass of electric cables, I literally mean hundreds, non of it secured or taped off all buzzing and crackling in the rain!
The day after we got the bus back to Guayaquil after having some unbelievable ceviche from a beach stall whilst waiting for the bus. Ceviche is a cold fish salad with the fish 'cooked' in lime juice. The juice from the limes turns the fish white and the acidity kind of cooks it. It tasted amazing but it was to soon do me in.
We got back to Guayaquil and after counting the 51 bites on my arse and my back we put a film on to fall asleep to when I went to the toilet feeling funny and spewed up all over with the earlier ceviche returning with a vengeance. I felt shocking and couldn't stop shaking, shitting or spewing for the next two days. We had planned to leave Guayaquil the morning after getting back from Montanita but
I couldn't get out of bed so we had to stay an extra two days. After that I felt fine but I still can't stand the smell of ceviche being made, it's like the feeling I get when I smell Jack Daniels after having too much of that one time in me youth. I still don't know though why Loz and Johnny were fine if we eat from the same place, maybe I got a dodgy prawn.
The day after me though Johnny got it and was badly so what Loz keeps banging on about about her being harder than me must be true.
We said our goodbye's and thank ya very much's to Johnny and headed for Cuenca, a colonial town up on our way to a town called Baños. I don't want to say the best thing about Guayaquil was the bus out of there but the bus ride that day was absolutely stunning as we drove through and up over the clouds. I'll upload some pictures so you can see what I'm on about, it felt like we were on a plane!
Cuenca was small and quiet with nothing much to report on other
than it had an Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal's! We ordered a pickle tray, 6 papadum's, a large nan bread, 2 bowls of rice, a chicken saag and a lamb kharai and tackled the lot. To our surprise though we couldn't finish it so saved it for the bus journey out of Cuenca the day after.
We were headed to Baños that day as we had heard it was a nice play to hire some bikes and ride through a big valley to some waterfalls and where you could actually climb up and around and jump in the water, the town also had some natural hot springs that we could take a swim in so soon as we landed we got our swimming gear out ready to hit the springs. As we were getting ready we got a message through from our mate Bob who we met in Lima who said he was also in Baños and going to the hot springs! We met up and also by chance bumped into a mate called John who we did the W trail with in Chile. We asked him if he fancied it so we all ended up having a dip
then went for a beer after but didn't stay out all night as Bob had to catch a bus to Colombia earlier the next day and we had planned to do this bike ride. We said goodbye to John & Bob and promised to meet Bob the next time Barnsley meet (and probably beat) Leeds.
The bike ride was proper crap as it didn't stop banging it down all day, we couldn't see a thing as we were peddling along with all the spray from the track and biked right past where the water fall was, so basically all we did was bike for 3 hours down a road in the rain and bike halfway back before some bloke in a truck with some other sodden bikers in the back picked us up and dropped us off back in Baños for 50cents each. Best 50cents ever spent.
The day after we chilled round Baños and even managed to climb up and behind a waterfall that was near our hostel then we got back and checked out where best to do an Amazon jungle trek, as this would be our next destination. We decided on a town called Tena
would be best as it seemed quite close to a national park within the forest but when we got there it didn't seem to exactly fit what we wanted time scale wise so we spent a night in Tena which was a nice enough place, then headed to Ecuador's capital where we were to head into the jungle from, finally study Spanish there and also spend more time in one city than we had done in the whole of South America.
We arrived in our home city which we were to stay in for just under a month and immediately began our search for the best place in which to enter the Amazon Rainforest from. Every tour operator had virtually the same routes, digs and prices but that didn't stop us literally going in every tour operator bar one in the whole city! After going in every one and taking notes of which ones offered what at what rates we got in a cafe and ordered some coffee and said to ourselves that we weren't leaving our seats until we had decided on somewhere to book. We had decided to enter the Amazon from Ecuador as it had the
best national parks within the forest at the best prices for us. The other countries we had visited had offered 'luxury' complexes within the rainforest at 'luxury' prices but that's not what we wanted, we thought that as well as sanitising our Amazon adventure a luxury complex might also be filled with the kind of people that are more bothered about finding an internet connection for their blackberry or asking where they can plug in their hairdryers than actually being bothered about getting up and out and wet and dirty within the lungs of the earth. With this trip literally being a once in a lifetime thing we had to make sure we got it right and got out of it exactly what we wanted (which for me was minimalist snake sightings). We decided to book to go into the Cuyabenyo national park within the Amazon that is one of the most diverse places on Earth, with more species of animals and birds and plants than anywhere else on the planet and it was also home to a tribe of people who lived in a village called the Siona that we were to visit. The lodge we were at also
had a look out tower to do some bird watching so all in all, the perfect choice.
The night before we left we had to pack for our 5 day jaunt and had to go and buy some long sleeved tops otherwise our malaria tablets and our mozzy spray that is that strong it's stripped the colour off everything it's touched might not be enough to stop us from getting eaten alive, Montanita style.
We got our tops and went to find a curry house that we heard was half decent to have our last meal before we were both considerably lower on the food chain. After trying to find the indian and walking round in the dark in the capital for a bit (which is never advised) we decided to sack it off and get in the McDonald's we could see for a Big Mac meal. I couldn't believe our last meal in civilisation for just under a week was a frigging McDonald's but there ya go, and to top it off Loz's Big Mac was raw inside! Proper full of blood! After Loz complained we agreed to keep it quiet if they gave us another big
mac and gave us a free Mcflurry, which they did so we boarded our night bus to the little village which we would start our jungle boogie from quite content, but still dying for a curry.
We got to a place called Lago Agrio about 6am
after I had nightmares on the bus of 50ft anacondas strangling me and eating me alive. We were told to meet at a hotel where we would get picked up and taken deep into the jungle and as we were early for our pick up we ordered a breakfast and psyched ourselves up Rocky style to be ready to knock out any hungry looking snakes.
We were joined for breakfast by scores of oil workers filling themselves up before a days graft. It didn't dawn on me until this moment that the big pipe work I saw running along the side of the road whilst on the bus last night must have been filled with oil. In 1999 there was an Ecuadorian government law that was past that stopped the drilling and extradition of oil within the Cuyabenyo park but that doesn't stop them from drilling everywhere else. I don't really know
that much about the extradition of oil within the Amazon and to be honest the whole time I was there I never asked, I do know however that in 1937 the big petrol company Shell actually named a town after itself in Ecuador and made the place it's base. If, like me, you couldn't think of anything worse then don't worry, in 1948 it was abandoned as the local indigenous people, who attacked the place frequently while it was in operation, actually killed several employees and so it shut down, the name of the town though still exists.
We got picked up in typical South America fashion with the little minibus being ram packed full of people who didn't really know where we were going or what was happening after we seemed to get half way to where we were supposed to be going only to turn back to the hotel and screech to a halt and the little wirey fella that had took our tickets earlier on ran into the hotel and came out with another couple who looked more than pleased to see us. 'No problem No problem' the bloke said as he clearly forgot two passengers
and bundled them into the already bustling bus. The couple were Irish which led me to believe that it must be their luck to be picked up rather than left in a tiny Amazonian village for nearly a week.
On the mini bus we got talking to the people who were on our trip, a funny couple of Dutch lads, a half Dutch half Israeli family consisting of Mum, 2 sons and a girlfriend of one of the lads, the lucky Irish couple, Des & Liz and a French couple that appeared to not say one word to us or each other for the whole trip. As I was scoping out who would make cool jungle companions I noticed the features of our driver and his wirey assistant. The driver was a small fat bloke who looked like Hardy from 'Laurel and Hardy' and he had his right index finger missing and his lean cunning-looking assistant had from my counting 17 visible scars. I started to wonder what people were getting at by calling the jungle a once in a lifetime opportunity. I decided to let what will be will be though and sit back and try and get
a bit of kip as we were on the bus for 4 hours more.
We got to the entrance of the national park and were met by our guide and whilst we were getting our bags off the bus caught him saying goodbye and thank you to his last group, I've got to say my confidence of not getting bitten by a 50ft anaconda increased as I saw all the guides last group look fit and well and were giving him tips and handshakes and hugs and promising to keep in touch. It looked like we bagged ourselves a good guide, which as we've learnt so far on our travels, a good guide on a jaunt is 95% of the battle won, the other 5% being some decent folk that you could have a beer with and then you were definitely onto a winner.
We were told that we would now get into a motorised canoe that would take us 2 and a half hours down river to our lodge. With the way the canoe was positioned at the bottom of the bank it looked like the last couple in would get to sit at the front of
the boat thus having the best view of our new surroundings. So came a bit of scuttling round for a bit with our new guide asking repeatedly for people to get in the boat, I was doing my best 'what's over there' impression when we finally decided to just do what the guide asked and get in the boat with him then going "Finally! You two get to sit at the front of the boat now and be my new best friends for the trip, my name is Jairo, now come on everyone lets get going, come on, please get in..." BOOM, FRONT SEATS!
Honestly, we'd not been sat in the boat for 5minutes when we heard a splash in the water and our new best mate shoutingly whispered "See that guys?!! A baby caiman! A black caiman, about 2 and a half meters long!"
THIS WAS GOING TO BE CLASS!!!
On that boat for them couple of hours we saw sloths, monkeys, all kinds of multi-coloured birds and the heaviest, hardest rain I've ever seen! It had been bright blue skies for about 45minutes when all of a sudden Jairo passed us all back some waterproof
poncho's and said it was going to rain then all of a sudden a massive low black cloud appeared and absolutely bucket it down! It felt like we were back under Iguazu Falls, then as quickly as it appeared it was gone again and back to blue skies. Add to that that it was constantly about 35c shows why the rainforest is as big and vast as it is. Jairo said that we should get used to this.
We pulled up to our home for the next 5 days and 4 nights where we would start and end every day and it was brilliant. There was about 6 or 7 cabins with 2 or 3 rooms between them all named things like 'sloth lodge' 'caiman lodge' 'anaconda lodge' 'tarantula lodge' and our guide said that it would not be un-common to possibly find these creatures in our lodge after a day out exploring! Thankfully we were in 'toucan lodge' so I strolled in our room quite confidently every night, unlike Loz who had to perform a CSI like investigation every time we got into bed, but more of that later. There was also a cabin with a kitchen and
a seating area where we would get 3 meals a day. After we dumped our bags we had 15mins before we had to meet for dinner, to find out what we'd be eating and most importantly what we'd be up to after. In those 15 mins we had a scoot round our digs and found the 25mtr bird tower so decided to climb it and sit and listen to the jungle. After that it was time for dinner and our adventure for the evening.
Jairo told us all about the flora and fauna and birds we were likely to encounter and that whilst we were here we would get to visit the local village on the day they were celebrating the anniversary of the opening of the national park. But that was later on in the week and for now we were to pack our swimming gear, head torches and our binoculars as we were going swimming and caiman spotting which is not exactly the 2 things any of us would normally be packing our bags for!
We got ready and boarded our canoe and set off up river to a place where the water opened out into
a huge lake. On the way up we saw lizards and loads of monkeys and the noise was immense. Then the motor stopped and Jairo couldn't help but laugh as he said "Here we are guys, you can jump in and swim here, I'll tell you what's in the water after...." To be fair to him he jumped in first. We all then plucked up the courage and joined him but at first I didn't stay in the water for very long, it was murky from the sediment of the rainforest and I kept having flashbacks of that 50ft anaconda so I quickly got back in the boat. I got back in though and swam about and it was class, and really warm. It was absolutely amazing though to think that after hearing so much about the rainforest and the Amazon river that we were now actually swimming in it as sun was setting over the trees. It was while we were getting dried that Jairo told us that there are black caimans, anacondas, piranhas, electric eels and 'penis fish' in the water, but they don't usually leave the edge of the river so he said we were safe. I
asked what 'penis fish' were and he said that, for him, they were the most feared animal in the Amazon. And went on to explain that penis fish, Candiru is their proper name, apparently smell the odour of urine when you pee in the river and swim into and up the bell end and lodges itself in the middle, it then apparently has prongs that stop it from being pulled back down, so the only way to remove it is to slice your knob open! What it does this for or why is beyond me but with the penis fish at only a couple of millimetres in length that 50ft anaconda can eat me alive any day! While I was getting over the shock of such an animal actually existing we set off looking for caiman and it wasn't long before we very nearly wish we hadn't seen one at all. We came to a part of the river that was kind of like a swamp, with low hanging trees and vines and managed to creep into this section while Jairo was making funny noises. At first I thought he was gipping from swallowing river water or summat then the
exact same noise he was making came back from a dark part of the swamp "there's one in there!" He shoutingly whispered. And he did the noise again and again a call came back. HE CAN TALK TO THE FRIGGING ANIMALS!!!!! We were all looking at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief thinking we were on board with an indigenous looking Dr. Doolittle when we could see little waves in the water that looked like something underneath was swimming towards us. Jairo told us to turn all our lights off and stay really still and really quiet. Then this prehistoric, mean looking head popped out of the water parallel with our boat and with the night light from Jairo shining in its direction it looked like a long jagged Terminator was in the water as the light had turned his eyes red. Jairo hardly spoke while this ferocious looking creature was just inches away from us but did say really quietly and sternly "please, nobody move and keep as still as possible" the caiman turned and swam with its head out of the water and seemed to block our exit from the swampy bit of the lake. This
caiman was at least 5mtrs long and it was definitely having just a good a look at us as we were of him (Jairo later told us it was a male). Jairo started to make the "GNUH... GNUH.... GNUH" noise again and then from a different part of the swamp a call came back. THERE WERE TWO!!! We couldn't see the other but we definitely heard it. I really do think that we were very lucky as the caiman we could see swam off slowly and gave us back our exit route and we got out of the swampy bit nice and steady. It was when we got back out into the large river that Jairo said that the caiman was a little too big and a little too close to us for his liking and he said he nearly got a little nervous! He explained that one of the locals in the village had been fishing with his wife on the river a couple of months earlier and a big black caiman had jumped out of the water and dragged the man under, it was only the quick thinking of the mans wife, who jumped in and stabbed the
caiman in the eyes with a machete that saved the man to get away alive, although the caiman had his taken his left leg. It was while he was saying this that he stopped himself and said that he saw a snake on a tree we just passed. I absolutely shat my pants and told Loz to swap seats as we would be turning back round to see this thing and it would then had been on my side! How he saw it is simply incredible as the tree was a fair distance away and it was pitch black! But as we slowly approached the tree we could see it slithering along, god I've just shuddered as I wrote that. It wasn't that big and Jairo assured me it wasn't poisonous, he said it was a constrictor and killed its prey by strangling it. Good job it was now on Loz's side then! She was sound but I couldn't look, I kept thinking what the chuffing hell am I going to do if that thing comes for me, it's either in the water with the caiman or on a boat with a strangling snake. I've got to say though I
was worried about nowt in the end as it just slithered off back into a crevasse of the tree.
We then turned back and headed for the camp to have our tea and after a cracking meal as we were in our room putting our wet swimming gear out to dry, our neighbour, half Dutch - half Israeli Chris came round and said "Hi guys, just be aware, I went to move some clothes from off my bed and a Tarantula jumped out from under my pants and scurried along the floor under the bed...." We'll that was it, Loz was going nuts! Our Toucan lodge was a building of 3 rooms joined onto each other, our room being the middle of the three and it was only surrounded by a 1mtr dwarf wall that had 4 posts then holding up our roof, obviously the walls separating each room were boarded up to a height that you couldn't see into one room from another but the gaps at the other 2 sides meant that anything could crawl, scurry, slither or fly in if it wanted and we repeatedly got told it often did. I loved the feeling of sharing
homes with whatever was out there, we had our mosquito net meaning that nothing could get in anyways and after getting over my fear of waking up with a snake under my pillow pretty quickly I was okay. Laura on the other hand was nearly having a cardiac arrest "A FRIGGING TARANTULA!!! NEXT DOOR!!!! A FRIGGING TARANTULA!!!" with every syllable she said getting more and more exasperated and she stood dead on the spot doing that thing that Thomas' Mum does in Tom & Jerry when she sees "That pesky mouse...!" I had to check under every shoe, sheet, bag, towel, pillow and shoe again twice until she could start to get ready to get into bed. Loz eventually jumped in and laid mummy-like shouting orders to properly took the net under each corner of the bed. All that night every time I rolled over, started to snore or get up and go for a piss Loz would shout "WHAT WAS THAT!!!?" I then had to explain that "it was only me" Harry Enfield style and a procedure of net checking and re-tucking would ensue. She even woke me up when she had to go to the toilet to walk
with her to keep the door open and hold her hand. Big wuss.
Before we went to bed I put the alarm on for 6am
so I could go to the top of the watch tower and watch and listen to the jungle wake up, as I promised my uncle Chris I would. Our Chris had previously been to the Amazon jungle in Brazil and said that getting up the tower to see and hear everything wake up was a definite highlight for him and it certainly was for me too. We didn't have to meet for breakfast until 8am
each morning but I went up the tower at 6am
every morning. It was literally deafening as howls and squawks and cheeps from every direction sang some sort of jungle chorus. Every morning I'd make a coffee and go and sit at the top with my binoculars and the lodges bird book and see if I could tell what I was looking at and I saw macaws, 'stinky turkeys', parrots and all kinds of colours of toucan. It was mint.
The next coming days of our trip was filled with night hikes, treks, swims and all kinds of jungle animal sightings you
could wish for that if I were to write everyone down this blog would be a lot longer than it already is so I'll make sure to upload loads of photos for you to see. The two main highlights for us though animal wise was a bird that name of I forgot and I never wrote the name down. We floated past it at first totally unawares. Jairo then clocked it and and quickly turned the boat back around and was pointing it out but we still couldn't see it. Then quick as a flash the bird scratched its cheek with its foot and it became clear. It looked unreal as it stood on the branch perfectly upright with its beak in the air. On closer inspection we could see that it had its egg stuffed underneath it and was holding it between its legs. Again I'll upload some pictures so you can tell what I'm on about. The other stand out sighting was the Marching Wasps. Jairo said that apparently these creatures had only just been discovered as they lived mainly in secondary jungle high up in the trees, totally unseen by humans. They had now though for some
reason just started to nest in the foliage at the side of rivers in the primary jungle and the Marching Wasps had an incredible defence mechanism. Jairo stopped the boat at the side of this big looking wasps nest and started to explain what I've just told you. He then said that after the count of 3 we had to shout as loud as we possibly could and then stop and listen. Loz asked if what we would be listening at would be the sound of us all getting stung to bits but Jairo assured us that nothing like that would happen. He said after 3 we should shout "MARCH!" And listen to the noise. So he counted
"Ready....?....1......2....Soon as you shout keep quiet and listen.....Ready...?....1.....2....remember to shout 'March!'.....Ready.....1........2........3" We all screamed "MARCH!!!" As loud as we could then say back and shut up.
It then sounded like about 20,000 soldiers were coming round the bend in the river. We were all looking at each other open mouthed as the sound of these wasps was absolutely out of this world. It didn't even sound like it was really coming from the nest, making it seem all the more
unreal. It honestly just sounded like an army was coming from round the corner. IMMENSE! Jairo explained that when we all get back home and watch our nature programmes and they start telling the world about a new discovery of the Marching Wasps we'll be able to say to the telly "We saw it first...".
Then came our last day in the jungle and we were off to visit the local Siona village and as it was the anniversary of the national park opening they were having a celebration with Ecuadorian politicians being invited, the special police force were sending some people down who had been invited and they also invited our lodge of tourists along to join in games that were planned for the day like a blow dart competition, a spear throwing competition as well as locals V tourists swimming and football games. It was then when my heart sank as I'd left my trainers back in Quito and only brought my hiking boots. How was I going to rifle them in from 25yards 'Redfern' style wearing my hiking boots? Jairo told me not to worry though as the locals would be playing in bare feet and
proceeded to pick his team of tourists to take on the locals. Big Irish Des was our big man in the middle and I was to play right midfield at the side of him. We had two strong German full backs and a couple of nifty French lads upfront. Jairo said we couldn't lose. We then got to the village, pulled up in the boat and walked up the banking and there was a proper clean cut, white lined half-sized football pitch with proper nets! There was a little stand where the spectators could watch and at the other side was a marquee with fridges full of beer and speakers banging out some jungle boogies. I then heard Des remonstrating with Jairo and looked round to see the locals team all in a fresh new yellow kit, shirts, shorts and socks, with shin pads and football boots! Some of their players even had Adidas Predators on! Bare feet my arse. It was straight into the games with the winners being promised a crate of ice cold beers each. I cannot begin to describe how hot it was in that village that day and it felt about 50c! Those cold beers
were going to be well needed! The villages Shamen were showing us how to use the blow guns and spears and our lodge narrowly lost to the locals with Irish Liz doing well in the blow gunning (she played the flute in Ireland when she was younger so we nominated her to have the best lungs). It was then kick-off time for the football and it was all a bit too serious for my liking with it being 20mins each half and with their left winger looking at me like if I got passed him he'd chop me up and throw me in the river. He needn't had worried though as nearly 5 months of traveling and drinking and sitting on buses meant I didn't even get near him, never mind get passed him and the locals quickly went 1-0 up, much to the delight of the watching crowd. We dug in though and managed to get level with Big Des notching before half time. It was at half time as I was wheezing and blowing out of my arse that I decided to go in the nets and make a conscious decision from then on to stop drinking as
much as I have and try and keep a bit of fitness up! I have to say though I would have made my brother proud (a former 'keeper) as I kept the locals at bay in the second half with a string of cat like saves. It was only slipping on chicken shit (believe it or not they have chickens in the jungle) that helped them go 2-1 up. Then as we were going for it, missing 2 sitters, they broke and the scary looking left winger banged one in on the final whistle to make the final score 3-1 to the home side. Their players then all ran and piled into the marquee and came out parading a crate each and ran off sharing bottles with the adoring crowd. After that the girls had a game and I've got to say Laura bossed the midfield. They lost 2-0 but it was definitely down to poor goalkeeping and terrible finishing why they lost. Loz was flying in with her head and battling away, taking the corners and breaking down their attacks but unfortunately couldn't stop another local win.
The day was then spent mixing with the locals and eating
things like BBQ'd grubs and drinking chicha, a corn made alcoholic drink. We even got to see a typical Shaman ritual and a dance but did get told that other than having Shamen this is not now how they really live, this was only for the anniversary. Around 60years ago they were totally cut off from civilisation but nowadays the village integrates and survives on tourism and are forever fighting a battle with the tour agencies making sure the tours that are offered are Eco friendly. No more can you go piranha fishing or ant eating as its simply not sustainable and the village makes money now by renting the canoes to the tour operators, which is why they can afford shin pads and Adidas Predators! I do have to question though how they can promote Eco tourism and have everyone driving round in petrol motored canoes. As we left the village later that evening all the locals and our guide Jairo were completely smashed! They were all blind drunk all hanging round the speakers dancing or mulling round enjoying their anniversary and it was a pleasure and a privilege to have been invited to join in.On the way back
Jairo nearly fell out of the boat and when half Dutch half Israeli Chris asked if there was any chance of seeing any jaguars on our last evening Jairo said "my friend...hic!..... I can.....hic!......assure you, .....if you see a Jaguar tonight...hic!............I'll see three!"
We got back and all had our last tea together and talked about our favourite animals and how we managed to lose at jungle football and decided to have a game of cards and a beer, so much for the not drinking again, and got playing a game the two Dutch lads taught us where basically Loz lost and had to get drawn on all over her face. It was very funny and the night and the trip ended perfectly with half Dutch half Israeli Chris and his younger brother Robin nicking the guitar and the harmonica from behind the kitchen and playing blues and having a drunken sing along with everyone until late on.
We then returned back to Quito and back to civilisation and immediately set up finding a Spanish school to study at as Quito was apparently the best and cheapest place to study. As Ecuadorians don't speak as fast as the
rest of South Americans its apparently easier to pick up so we went to look and book a school to study in that offered a home stay. We both felt that as well as studying Spanish a home stay with a family would improve us further and we found the perfect one in the centre of the city that offered both studies and a home to stay at so we booked up with them and were to start our two week course of 4 hours a day Monday, after the weekend.
That weekend we got a message from Johnny saying he was going to get a bus up from Guayaquil and we should go to the 'Mitad del Mundo' - 'The Centre of the Earth'. The Mitad del Mundo is a point bang on the equator at 0.00 longitude and 0.00 latitude, a sat nav's nightmare!
It was brilliant and there was some really cool stuff to do. There was a pin cemented in concrete and you could balance and egg on it, there was the actual equator line tiled into the floor with the Northern Hemisphere on one side and the Southern Hemisphere on the other with
other experiments like water going down opposite ways in each Hemisphere and going straight down on the equator. There was an experiment where you had to try and walk along the equator line, one foot directly in front of the other, with your eyes closed. Now being able to balance is all in the ears, as well as hearing stuff the ears help keep us up right, but on the equator with the left ear being in a different Hemisphere to the right ear and gravity telling one ear to go one way and the other ear to go a different way it's impossible to take more than a couple of steps and it feels like someone is pushing you over. It was mad. I was gutted though to find out that in a kiosk at the Mitad del Mudo you could get a stamp in your passport that said 'The Centre of the World' but we left ours back in our lockers in Quito!
After we got back to Quito and said goodbye to Johnny for the third time (!) it was time to go back to school. It was mint and after our first class where we
learned loads we were to meet our new family for the next two weeks and were greeted by our new Ecuadorian Mam (she was actually from Colombia) Beatriz, who from the first minute of meeting her to the last was absolutely out of this world. Her and her husband Danillo were both proper helpful, cool, a good laugh and Beatriz made the best food we've eaten since we've been away. Unfortunately their son, Lucas, was away for the two weeks we were there on a school trip but they did introduce us to him on Skype. Beatrice and Danillo owned a coffee company and spent the rest of their time helping the likes of us with our Spanish by letting us live in their home and be a part of their family. The only thing was that while we were living with Beatriz she also had a family of half French half German staying with a Mum and three kids. The mum was a RIGHT lazy cow and never once helped with the washing up or helped set up the table for Beatrice and her kids were the rudest kids I've ever seen. Apart from them the experience we got
from living with Beatriz and Danillo was up there with the jungle.
At the weekend while we were at Beatriz' Loz and me went to climb the volcano that looks down on Quito called Cotopaxi. It was brilliant and there was nothing much really to report on other than it was supposed to take us all day to hike up and down the volcano but we managed to hitch-hike with an Ecuadorian family who took us right to the top and back down again in about 2 hours! We would have never had been to do such a thing without knowing our Spanish.
On our last night with Beatriz and Danillo they took us out in their car and told us to put our music on and drove us round the coolest parts of the city and the best places in the hills to see the brilliant views. Beatriz plans to open up a cafe in a few months and wants us both to come back and work and live with her. We bought her a big bunch of flowers to eay thanks and made Danillo and Lucas a CD of the music we had on whilst driving
round as Danillo kept saying every song was "Chévere!" (Cool) We then had to leave to head north but promised to return one day to see them both and see how the cafe was going on.
After honing our Spanish it was time to put it to the test at the Otavalo Market. 3 hours north of Quito was South Americas biggest open air market and its fair to say its the one thing Laura's been waiting for.
We arrived on the Friday night
as the main and best market day was on Saturday and got our heads down ready for some bartering in the morning. The market surprised me really and was really cool and full of some great stuff, we came out with a poncho each, I got me a little rucksack for when we go to the beach and Loz got a cool jumper.
Well that's it for now, from the market town of Otavalo the next stop is Colombia. Our Spanish is now up to scratch thanks to the Antiguo language academy, our studying, our fantastic home stay and our new family.
Ecuador has probably been the standout country so far, even though
its the smallest country in South America, and after traveling right up through the heart of it it's now onto Colombia, which in the 1980's was a definite no go zone but now apparently "the only danger is not wanting to leave...." (Colombia tourist board)
Thanks for reading, sorry its a bit of an epic but we've been doing that much I haven't been able to sit down and write one up to now.
Really hope everything and everyone back home is safe and sound,
Until the next one
Mick n Loz
We both just wanted to say thanks again to Johnny Browning for absolutely sorting us right out whilst we've been in Ecuador, your a legend mate. Thank you very much and see you soon.
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