The Amazon Rain Forest – Mega Post

So today we headed into the Amazon Rain Forest!

Apologies there is something strange going on with the font in this post which I can’t seem to fix!

Day 1:

The day started out at Quito bus station, which is huge and feels like an airport!

There are amazing views of the two volcanoes, one of which had a small amount of snow on its peak. You can also see Cotopaxi on the other side. At almost 6000m in elevation the top is covered in snow, although in the picture it’s hard to distinguish from the cloud and isn’t dramatic looking, like it is in real life.

Cotopaxi in the distance.

Snow-capped volcano behind the bus station… Of this was your view you wouldn’t mind waiting for your bus!

The bus was very fancy, wide seats, security cameras and entertainment in the form of badly dubbed movies. We had ‘The Notebook’, ‘The Greatest Gift’ and then the brilliant ‘Hybrid’ a horror movie about a car which eats people! Funnily the main characters didn’t seem able to work out that cars can nether climb stairs or leave large locked warehouses…

The scenery along the ride was beautiful, when you could see it through the mist and condensation – lots of dramatic mountains and waterfalls.

The first leg of the journey was 6 hours long, which actually flew by. It’s amazing the difference a great view and killer soundtrack can make!

I was so excited about heading into the jungle, I was sat grinning away on the bus like a crazy person. I have always wanted to come to the Amazon, I have been to jungles on 3 continents now!

After a brief lunch stop we headed to our boat by 4WD at a town called Mishualli, reliving school disco memories to some awesome 90s dance music on the radio.

We travelled by wooden long tail boat, much like the kind you see everywhere in SE Asia over to the jungle lodge where we are staying for 3 nights. The community is called Shiripuni and is run by a group of Quechan women. The lodge is located on a small island at the confluence of two rivers, the Rio Napo is the main river (Napo is also the name of the province) and this drains from Cotopaxi. A small community of 55 families, around 200 people, live on the island.

Rocking the sexy life jackets.

An abandoned boat along the river.

Most of the men work away from home in construction or for the oil companies. The women on the island set up a co-operative to support the sale of their agricultural and craft wares at local markets. As this was successful they then set up a jungle lodge and community centre for tourists. The centre sells the jewellery and pottery that the women make and they also teach local dancing and traditions. Some of the jewellery is beautiful, but is made of local seeds, so I have a feeling that you’d never get any of it through Australian customs. But never underestimate the sneakiness…

The accommodation is a series of bamboo lodges, with lots of awesome hammocks. There is even power and phone signal here though, so it does feel a bit like we’re cheating. Although having roughed it in ‘proper remote jungle’ before, a bit of ‘luxury jungle’ is OK with me now. The good quality roads and communications networks are down to development by the oil companies and the locals seemed OK about them being there. Apparently electricity arrived on the island only 2 weeks ago.

View of Amazon lodge

I made a fluffy friend 🙂

The kitchen

Life is pretty relaxed here 🙂

I also forgot that our additional tour mates arrived last night. We are 13 people in total. Another couple from Australia joined us, Anne and Mark from Coffs Harbour (guessing early 40s) who are with us until La Paz. We were also joined at the last minute by Michelle, early 30s, who’s from Bournemouth, UK and whose flight had been cancelled so it was lucky she made it! She is a PE teacher who has spent the last 7 weeks volunteering in the Galapagos Islands teaching local children. She’s coming all the way through to Rio with us.

After chilling out in the hammocks and a welcome talk from Jeanette, the head of the Quechan women’s group, we headed for dinner. We had chicken and vegetables followed by stewed local fruit.

They held a celebration that night with a bonfire on the beach and local dancing. The women wore traditional outfits and explained that if you’re single you wear a single piece dress, but once you’re married you wear a separate top and skirt. Although the modern dress is made from normal fabric and adorned with ribbon and seeds, traditionally it’s woven from natural fibres found in the jungle.

Bonfire on the beach.

The men play the music and the women dance. The band consisted of a drummer, panpipes and two guitar players (different types of guitars). The dancing consists of moving around in lines and circles with bowls, it seems like you’re simulating preparing and eating food. There is also some awesome hair shaking and swinging. All the women have very long hair and it looks amazing. It’s a bit like jungle head banging!

We also had to have a go and somehow I ended up being given a large bowl to dance with. It was great fun, you felt like a total idiot and probably looked like one too.

We also had to do the limbo, although no one was very good!

Clady, a local Quechan woman dancing.

Being a jungle band groupie 🙂

One of the Quechan men brought along tarantulas, one was black and the other was brown, both were very hairy. We had a go at holding the tarantulas which are pretty gentle and just a bit tingly and hairy feeling. They then wanted to put them on your face, this was a bit weird and made you feel like a naff tourist, but we all did it anyway.

Yes that it a giant hairy spider on MY FACE!!!

We also tried the local alcoholic drink, Chi Cha, which is like cassava and tastes likes muddy tequila….. Hmmm not so sure I’d say it’s yummy, but it was interesting.

Day 2:

The day started out with an amazing breakfast which consisted of a traditional kind of cake made with banana flour and we also had scrambled eggs. It was my favourite meal of the trip so far.

We jumped into the boat and set off on a 45 minute journey along the Rio Napo, which was very scenic. Along the way we saw traditional houses and villages.

There we also saw people dredging for gold, they use small pumps on floating rafts made from empty drums and work along the edges of the river.

Huts along the river, although this one is huge and not representative of most of the huts, it’s probably for tourists.

The trip took us from the Rio Napo which is very cold into a smaller warmer branch of another river which feeds into the Rio Napo and is far warmer.

We went up a small tributary as far as we could and then we got out and walked upstream for about 2 hours in the water, which in places was up to thigh high in depth. It was great fun and we saw lots of awesome stuff along the way. The trees were huge with lots of creepers and vines growing along them and people had a go at being Tarzan swinging on the vines. We saw a huge worm which was about a foot long and about an inch thick, crazy! It was quite slimy!

Hiking up an amazon stream, looking damn fine whilst doing it too!

Giant worm!

The trees are absolutely huge and there were lots of funky looking plants, creepers and vines. It was all very lush and green, and very very wet!

Our guides were two local Quechan men from the island community called Pollo and Chavito. Pollo was very knowledgeable about all of the plants. Pollo was, well a bit of a rascal!

There were lots of great rocks, you can see them along the floor of the river, which has extremely clear water, but very slippery.

Chavito playing at being Tarzan from a jungle vine.

We then walked up into the jungle and saw lot of interesting plants. We saw a tree vine which the Quechan people boil down and use for the sap for their darts, this acts as a tranquilliser for the prey to stun it.

We also saw huge ants nests hanging from the trees, which was bizarre so high up in the air. There were also lots of fruits and berries and Pollo showed us quinine, red coloured under the tree bark. There were funky seed pods, which are coated in small spines and you can use them to comb your hair.

The walk, was very steep and slippery but great fun and along the ridges there were some great views.

A giant fig tree.

View across the jungle from a ridge. Aggressive native communities are still located within a 4 hour walk of this location and the people of the remote tribes sometimes some down into town to trade meat and plant goods.

The walk finished with a swim I’m the river which was really nice and refreshing, although there has been a lot of rain recently and you could feel the current when you got out into the main part of the channel. We also had a great lunch of rice in banana leaves.

On the way back to the jungle lodge we had to walk along a gravel bar for part of the way, as the current was too strong for us to go against it in the boat, so it took quite a long time to get back.

The guides then demonstrated how to use a blow dart gun for hunting, which is made from two hollowed out pieces of hard wood and held together traditionally with wax. We tried to hunt a Papaya 🙂 and some people were quite good and managed to hit it first time!

Having a go at hunting and elusive Papaya…

For dinner we had stewed beef with mashed potatoes and beetroot, good hearty simple food, something about being here is making us all super hungry.

I bought some of the local jewellery, 2 bracelets and a necklace, which are very nice, the necklace has 3 strands of black and red beads and is pretty funky. It was quite funny as all the women were shopping for jewellery from the hut and the men wrote all drinking beer outside, it’s the same everywhere really isn’t it :-).

Nina the village guard bird.

Another local resident, tarantulas tend to hide out in the roofs… Always good to know!

Day 3:

On our final day in the jungle we started out with another awesome breakfast of egg and fried potatoes with onions and tomatoes.

Then Clady painted out faces using a red pigment made from the crushed insides of a local plant called achiote. The Quechan people traditionally paint their faces before going into the jungle and believe that the red colour helps to frighten away or pretty from evil spirits.

We all had different designs, mine was like swirl suns or spiders, pretty funky really.

Looking good!

3 sexy jungle ladies.

Clady then lead us on a tour around the community jungle garden to see medicinal plants and to collect food to made our lunch.

We collected limes, oranges and yuccas. The yuccas are dug up, they are a root a bit like a sweet potato. The tree fruits are collected by using a long forked branch, useful, tricks to know! It’s amazing to see how self-sufficient you can be from the jungle. It was great.

We also saw cocoa plants. There are two types, firstly the cocoa national plant, which is the finer quality cocoa plant and goes yellow when ripe. They can grow up to 8m tall although this takes about 15-20 years. The second is a smaller cocoa plant, where the fruit is purple and is lower in quality. The fruit of the cocoa plant is very tasty and covers large seeds, it’s white in colour and tastes a little bit like sweet pumpkin.

Cocoa Nationale, with unripe and spoiled pods.

Next we had a go at making chocolate from scratch. You roast the beans, constantly moving them until they are black and make popping noises a bit like popcorn. You the break the inner bean out of the toasted shell and grind this down, the beans themselves are a purple brown colour. You end up with a paste, as the oil from the cocoa binds it all together. You then mix the ground cocoa together with sugar and milk and cook with more liquid, in this case a tea made of cinnamon and lemongrass. You then have your final product – simple! The locals set the chocolate in banana leaves and sell it in large sheets at the local markets. We had some on bananas for desert, it was very bitter and smokey in taste, interesting but not my favourite.

A local Quechan woman cooking fish, ladyfinger bananas and Madura a type of sweet yellow plantain, which is only good to eat once cooked.

I had the honour of toasting the cocoa beans.

The roasted beans.

The inner beans, all shiny and purple-brown in colour.

For lunch we had a local fresh water fish which was steamed over an open fire. This is wrapped in large sweet palm leaves and when it’s cooked the fish absorbs the flavour of the leaves. It was delicious or muy rico, as the locals say.

Preparing the fish for cooking in large leaves.

The final product.

I have learnt some interesting phrases over the last few days too…

Rico chicos are hot men apparently… Useful to know!

I also learnt some Quechan phrases, the spellings will all be wrong though:

Good morning – Alepunja

Good afternoon – Alechishe, not alechichi as chichi means boobies and makes them all giggle!

Good evening – Aletita, or something similar.

That afternoon we hung out in the hammocks for a bit and then made bracelets from coloured twine and beads/seeds, which was a nice low key activity after a busy few days.

Jungle jewellery, as made by me 🙂

A few of us did a bit of exercise and we taught the guide what a plank was… He could only manage 30 seconds… Diego then had a competition with Chavito who managed 1:30, about the same length of time as me, which isn’t saying much!

Our last dinner was spaghetti, which was a bit odd in the jungle!

That night we did a night walk, we saw lots of bugs and frogs and more importantly learnt how to ask if someone is married ha ha ha! Priorities!

There were some big spiders, moths, crickets and funky black and red coloured stick insects. We also saw some cool tree frogs, one of which rode around on Chavito’s head for a while.

Diego our wonderful guide gets drunk very easily, 2 beers, and is frankly hilarious. He has warned us that it will be funny tomorrow night as we are going out to try salsa and merengue dancing… Let’s see how that one goes!

I am sad to be leaving the jungle as it’s very peaceful and relaxing here and the people are great. However it has truly lived up to its name of the rain Forrest and I can’t wait for a hot shower, laundry and to feel clean and dry!

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