(Waring: this blog post continues numerous photos of insects & spiders)
So I found myself at back at another the airport with very little sleep questioning why does the bag drop (after online check in) take longer than the normal check in line in South America? That said, I should know better than to try to find logic where there is none.
There were a few minutes of slight panic when I finally reached the check in desk as they decided if it was ok for me to enter Ecuador without an outbound flight (as I leave by bus) 😬 but they worked it out in the end and let me board!
Although my Spanish vocab is still not great, I have been pleased that I have been getting more of a chance to try it out. I spoke Spanish at check in in Santiago and again at customs in Ecuador. In the Galapagos Islands everyone quickly switched to English if they can if they see I am struggling with Spanish but I guess I am now somewhere were fewer people speak good English.
My hotel in Quito was in beautiful old building in the old part of the city built in 1698 – apparently the breakfast room was in tunnels that were used to hold inquisition prisoners.
I was to meet my new travel group at 2pm so spent the morning wandering around the city, enjoying the sunshine and the busy weekend city plazas – music in one plaza, a protest of sorts in another. There was a real buzz around the area.
Back in the hotel I meet up with my group for the next 8 days – only 8 people and a mix of nationalities (but mostly Australians) – it is stark constant to Colombian group being majority male, majority older! After the welcome meeting we headed out on a walking tour. Unfortunately, by this time it was already 4pm and many of the buildings were closed so we could not go in much but it was nice to hear a little more history of the city and the buildings. We ended the walking tour at a roof top bar with a lovely view over the city and of the full moon rising over the city.
The next morning we headed for the bus station in the south of the city to catch the public bus to Tena. It was a very modern bus station but the bus was not as fancy as some we have seen – that said it was not bad. It was a 5 hour drive through the Andes driving through various weather systems (from Quito’s blue sky to cloud covered mountains and heavy rain to jungle humidity) and up to 4,000m as we climbed through the mountains before going back down the other side in to Tena, the capital of the Napo province and the gateway in to the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Amusingly, the advertised air conditioning turned out to be small windows that someone came through and closed every time it rained 🤪.
From Tena we were picked up by a couple of twin cab utes and were taken to the small town of Misahualli on the banks of the Napo River. We stopped here briefly to enjoy the local delicacy of Chontacuro – big fat wriggly worms! The apparently are very popular with the locals as one of the shops were sold out, but our guide managed to track down some and half the group (including myself) agreed to try them. I actually think that watching the preparation process was worse than actually eating them. She bought them out in a bowl of water, alive and wriggling before stabbing them on to a skewer (still wriggling) and them placing them on to the grill … yes, you guessed it, still wriggling. Thankfully they had stopped wiggling before we ate them! They were fairly salty and very greasy but an interesting experience nevertheless!
From Misahualli we continued in to the jungle the lovely Suchipakari Lodge. After a 3 course lunch we headed out in to the jungle for a walk. Unfortunately it was already 4.30 and the light was not great once we got in to the jungle but we did see a very cool frog that looked just like a leaf and heard some toucans. To continue with the bug eating, we tried ‘lime’ ants – straight out of the leaf they live in 😬- true to their name they tasted just like lime 👍🏻.
For some reason I was the only one who wanted to go on a walk after dinner and I am glad I went as we saw a scorpion spider and a tarantula. As it was just me and the local guide, we spoke Spanish most of the time. Of course it was still a pretty basic but between his English and my Spanish we had good conversation (as I later discovered he actually spoke pretty good English, and French as well as Spanish and his local Kichwa dialect so he really did put my language efforts to shame). I loved the peacefulness of the jungle at night with just the noise of the insects and frogs.
Next morning, true to its name – it rained in the rain forest, but it stopped by the time we were ready to leave the lodge for our activities and what a wonderful day it turned in to.
After walking for about 30 minutes (carrying our tubes for later in the day) we reached our small river boat and started down the Napo river (although we were technically in the Amazon rainforest, the Amazon river does not actually cross in to Ecuador so we were travelling on tributary rivers (Napo and Misahualli).
Our first stop was a small town to see how the Kichwas make their ceramics before moving on to a house deeper in the jungle to practice our blow darting (through a 2 metre long blow pipe!) and learn how to make the local alcoholic Chicha out of Yaca (cassava). It was actually very similar to the local maize based drink I had had in Zimbabwe and I quite liked it – others in the group did not!! lol
Next up was a short jungle walk, stopping by a small lake to spot caimans and as always, I was distracted by the beautiful dragon flies (which I love). As we continued down the river we passed a huge troop of Squirrel monkeys jumping through the trees on the side of the river. In some places there was a massive jump for them (excuse the very poor action photo below) and we spent a good 10 minutes cheering them on as they jumped. One misjudged the jumped and almost ended up in the water – the whole troop started calling and another monkey quickly when back to help the less fortunate one. They really were amazing to watch.
Then came tubing – it was just magical to sit in the tube floating down the river. Some places we went fast through small rapids, other places setting a very leisurely pace as we enjoyed the tranquillity of the jungle. We caught back up with our Squirrel monkeys and also passed a troop of much larger Woolly monkeys.
That evening before dinner we had the opportunity to make some chocolate – from the dried bean to the finished product which we enjoyed with banana and strawberries.
This evening I had managed to persuade some of the others how amazing the night walk was so we headed out again and it was even better than the night before. Along with the resident big spiders, we spotted some very cute frogs, giant owl moths (which can disguise itself as an owl or a snake) and an alien like cockroach type creature that had glow in the spots on its back that looked like eyes – it was amazing incredible! After the walk a couple of us lay on the ‘beach’ near the river listening to the jungle sounds till it started to rain and we had to go back to the lodge.
The following morning we sadly had to leave the jungle – I could have stayed a couple of days more at least and of course now I am trying to work out how I can fit a return there in to my itinerary for next year 😂😬
We left at 7.30 as we were supposed to be catching the local bus from Tena at 9am, but it turned out we could have left a couple of hours later … another tour group at the lodge had their own bus which was not being used that day so their driver offered to take us all the way to our next stop – Baños de Agua Santa. Not before stopping in Misahualli again, thankfully not to eat worms this time, but to check out the town’s resident Capuchin Monkeys.