2004 was wrapping up without any major adventurous trip to seal it and that is not a detail to overlook! Sooooo, I stared imagining the world with all its treasures and fascinating places to discover. I pulled out my magic lamp, started rubbing it hard to wake the genie up & have him plan my next journey. In other words, I typed "traveling in the Amazon" on Google! Ha! Just looking at the list of travel choices gave me a high, similar to what a shopaholic would feel in a mall, the day after xmas!
After a bit research, I found the perfect trip: Ecuador, 8 day kayaking trip on the Amazon! Wooohooo! Hey, the saying: "if you wish for something hard enough, it could happen" is actually true! Such a simple, yet rich trip - a river and a jungle, the Amazon. Easy to imagine, yet mysterious trip - only paddling all day, what kind of trouble would I get into? Relaxing, yet nerve wrecking - sound of nature and nothingness, the indigenous tribes and the gizillion flies. I was sold! Ecuador August 2004 was going to be my next adventure!
Since keeping the best for last is not a rule I follow: I will share it with y'all now: My best friend and partner in crime, Maria decided to join me. What a blessing, without her this trip would not have been as fulfilling and exhilarating as it became.
August 22, 2004, Maria and I head to Quito, Ecuador.
As soon as we got off the plane, even before we could take our first Ecuadorian breath, we were swarmed by an army of taxicabs; many of them very suspicious...But that did not scare us, on the contrary, I decided to take that opportunity to practice my bargaining skills. It worked; I saved $1 on cab fare!
Lets fast forward to the next day: we arrived in Coca and met our 2 guides. Felipe - as soon as Maria and I saw him, we both looked at each other and screamed Indiana Jones! From that moment on, he was our Indie. Arturo - he was the cool, always in control methodic, patient and handsome guide, and what a great chef! I am not joking. We had a three-course meal every night at our camp.
Don't ask me how, but we managed to pack EVERYTHING, camping gear, tent, food, clothing, sleeping bags...in five tiny kayaks: one per person, the fifth kayak was a guy from the east coast. OFF we go - I mean, off we "paddle."
We had never seen anything as green, the vegetation was so dense the trees lost track of whose leaves were whose. It was a painting palette with an infinite number of one color: GREEN. All other colors were shades of green, everything was either green or in the process of becoming so...
To be honest with y'all, at first Maria and I were pretty concerned that our trip would be a "bird watching" one. Well, it wasn't. Instead it became a bird listening one! Ha! But as you can imagine, Maria and I managed to have tremendous fun and excitement from getting tangled in the dead branches while kayaking in the 95-degree heat and unbearable humidity. As a matter of fact, one of our tangling episodes scared us all for a couple minutes. As Maria and my kayaking skills were getting much smoother, we decided to give ourselves a bit of a challenge by slaloming in between the dead branches. BAD IDEA! We both got stuck in them, tried hard to get out unsuccessfully, given the river's current was pushing us deeper into them. While Indie was helping Maria, the current pushed my kayak deeper into the branches and before I had time to react, my kayak flipped. Falling in the water, I got stuck under my kayak for what seemed an eternity. As I was trying to get out and swim for air, my fashionable straw hat got stuck on my face, making my struggle even more difficult! Ah! Fashion - can't live with it, can't live without it!
Once again, my lucky angel came to my rescue! I paddled the rest of the afternoon in my wet muddy cloth to the camp ground, day dreaming of a hot bubble bath - not really - I was so high on adrenalin rush all I could think of was the next challenge!
Back to our camping routine:
Our Amazon B&B "arrangement" consisted of spotting a wide enough sand bank to charge our over loaded kayaks far enough into the beach so that our tennis shoes would not get wet while getting out - a hope never fulfilled. On shore, we all proceeded to unload each kayak, cover ourselves with 100% poisonous Deet - this trip would have been a perfect organic one if it weren't for our best friend, Mr. Deet, who saved us from being eaten by bugs - set our tents and sleeping bags and got ready for our gourmet dinner. (I am not being sarcastic here - Arthuro's cuisine was to die for.) After dinner we would sit around the fire, have great conversation, and go over the next day's adventures, all the while re-applying more Deet! Ha!
A very important detail I missed: Earlier as we approached our camp sight, we saw four kids from the Huaorani tribe playing in the river. From that moment on, they became part of our group; watching every move we made, carrying our bags, playing with our kayaks, always smiling.
One evening, Felipe surprised us by asking one of the Huaoranis to take us caiman watching. Wooohooo, more scary moments. We boarded the Huaorani chief's "boat:" a huge carved tree trunk. Our four little Huaorani "body guards" followed us in the boat as well. We set sail in the river. It was so dark and quiet - the entire experience so eerie - every few minutes our Huaorani guide would spot a pair of bright blue eyes: a caiman, but of course as soon as the wild little alligator was spotted, he would dive in the water and disappear!
Day 3, Maria and I finally bathed! We were told we would have a portable shower, what they meant was the river! It was actually quite nice and refreshing, cool water with a slight current and no mosquitos!
After a good hearty breakfast, our hiking in the jungle experience began, we kayaked to a Huaorani village to meet our guide, Octavio, a smiley young man whose jealous wife decided to join our expedition to keep an eye on him. Maria and I were amazed by Octavio and in general all the native people's attention to detail and their keen sense of being. Octavio's leading was exceptional, never walking too fast, never too slow, holding any branch that was on our way -remember, we are in the densest jungle with no path to walk on whatsoever- every few step, he would use his machete to work our way through the jungle, at that moment he became Indie #2! He taught us several ways of survival that became quite handy: Getting water from a tree trunk, splitting palm seeds whose interior has a sweet coconut taste, and making beautiful necklaces -the best survival skill! Ha! Please note: fashion is a must even in the Jungle for Maria and Narcisse.
After a three-hour hike into the jungle we finally reached an open area to take a break, contemplate the vast landscape, miles and miles of green forest, untouched pure jungles…After energizing on our tuna sandwiches, we started the extreme part of this hike: A descent to find a heavenly water fall Indie #1 had mentioned to us. The forest was getting thicker and thicker (unfortunately, neither Maria nor I took any picture of our scratches to prove it), the ground muddier and muddier, until we started hearing the sound of the water fall. Yeah! "There is light at the end of the tunnel" I mean water at the end of a hard, hot, humid, long, muddy walk! Of course we had one tiny little obstacle: the descent was vertical!
Indie #1 & 2 tied ropes to branches for us to hold onto while sliding down. Maria went down perfectly; she is as agile as a butterfly on any condition. Of course as soon as I took the first step, I slid downhill! Thank Lord for the thick forest: I got stuck on a tree branch - I still have the huge bruise on my thigh and arm - my adrenalin rush had reached its pick again and for a moment I saw the end of my trip there and then!
Suddenly, Indie #1 grabbed my arm and pulled me up. He tied me to his harness and asked me to give it another shot! Skeptically, I gave the downhill path another shot and it worked! There it was, the water fall we had at first only dreamed about, then heard louder and louder and finally being thirsty for. Without wasting a second, we took our boots off and jumped! What a feeling, believe me it was worth every risky and dangerous obstacle we encountered on our way. Our return was much smoother; I suppose we had become Amazon experts!
Back to our campground, Arturo had prepared a beautiful candle light dinner table using bamboo stick to make torches, such a nice touch! Actually, that evening was his birthday and to celebrate it, we opened our precious Chilean wine. After dinner, we gathered around the fire, started discussing our past trips, countries we had been to, and even got into some politics.
Our return back up the Shiripuro River in Indie #2's wooden carved tree-trunk motor canoe was when we got most of our tan, detailed bird and butterfly watching! Ha!
Before our final stop where our bus back was awaiting for us, we had to stop at the Huaorani village to pay our respects to the chief and say our good byes to the adorable kids. Getting to the chief's hut was the last challenging and probably scariest part for me: we had to cross a "bridge" over a long ditch. To be more precise, the "bridge" was a tree trunk without anything to hold our hands on! For those of you who don't know me by now, I am terrified of heights -unless I am on my skis! Not crossing the bridge was not a possibility, believe me I thought of it over and over, looking back and forth between the villagers on one side encouraging me to cross and the chief waiting on the other side! As I was looking at the "path" to figure out the possible startegy to cross, Arturo, came to my rescue: he stood ahead of me on the trunk extending his hand for me to hold onto, asked me to look straight in his eyes and slowly take small steps forward. I forgot about my fear long enough to be able to walk across the tree trunk! wooohooo!
Our 3 hours drive back to Coca was another mini adventure which could be summerized as a drive on a very narrow, windy and rocky road surrounded by beautiful *green* landscape. Alas, we were bouncing up and down so much that there was no opportunity to take any picture.
Back to coca, we finally had a real shower and went to a real restaurant four our last dinner with Indie and Arturo.
After dinner, we decided to checkout our hotel's disco named appropriately: jungle Bar! We had a great time salsaing all night.
Our last day, Monday the 30th, our flight was leaving at 2pm, we had to be at the airport by noon … Y'all know where my mind is going: what else is left to do sponteneousely before heading to the airport and leaving Ecuador? Well of course: paying a quick visit to the line that divides the world! The plan was on, 9am we grabbed a cab, drove to the Ecuador monument, took a bunch of pictures and tried very hard to feel something but didn't!
Last and not least, I got my last and final surprise for the trip: Maria gave me my 29th bday gift a couple days early on the Equador.
The rest is a crazy drive to the airport where we almost missed our plane back! Fortunately, everything went smoothly and as Maria says: " there is never a dull moment in our lives".
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