Monday, October 8, 2007

The Jungle

Went down to the upper reaches of the Amazon rainforest--what they call the selva here--for the weekend with three other travelers who live in my apartment building. It was a bit funny when people asked where we were from because Thomas is German, Emma French, Emily Scottish, and me American. We spoke Spanish the whole weekend.

Getting to the jungle town of Tena was a not terribly pleasant overnight bus ride. The roads in Ecuador are terrible. Much of the road, which is a major route used by buses and semis, was unpaved, sometimes extremely rough, with one-lane bridges curving down the precipitous eastern side of the Andes. They've put some resources into improvement: there were some half-completed bridges, and some isolated sections of pavement--one no more than a quarter-mile long in the middle of nowhere. But the driver didn't tear down the mountains like a maniac and it was only five hours, so not too bad.

Tena was a cool town with a lively weekend nightlife. We stayed at a beautiful hostal with friendly owners and great showers for $10 a person. (I think people would spend a lot more time traveling in the States if the cheapest crappy hotel room didn't cost $50.) We went to what the guidebooks said was by far the nicest restaurant in town and were surprised to realize half-way through brunch that there was a live sloth hanging out in the top of the doorway by our table.

While we didn't end up seeing that much wildlife on our expedition into the jungle, there was a little zoo on the island in the middle of town. The parrots and cats were sadly in pretty small cages, but most of the monkeys and an ostrich were just running around free. Several different species of monkeys were all playing together and one ran right up and sat on my knee to get away from his friends.
Even though a sign in the park told about how bad the trade in wild animals is, I really want a monkey as a pet now.

We went to the Caverns of Jumandy, a pretty extensive network of caves with a river flowing through them. Caves here are warm enough to hike in wearing a swimsuit, which is good because you needed to swim to make your way through parts of the cave. There were pools to jump in, and perhaps coolest, an underground waterfall that you could bathe under.

Our guide in the caves, Luis, offered to take us camping overnight the next day. He and his cousin, Miguel, led us down a country road where you could look out over the rainforest with Sumaco Volcano looming in the distance.
They took us down steep paths into the jungle to a campspot under rock overhangs similar to Old Man's Cave in Ohio, but completely covered in green tropical vegetation.
We went on a night hike, then spent two hours diligently feeding and blowing on our campfire before the wood was dry enough to sustain itself. In the morning, we followed the stream to the point where it poured out of a cave, continued into the cave, and climbed a ladder next to the waterfall where the water entered the cave.
From there we swam up a small slot canyon to see another waterfall.
Several in the group jumped off a 35-foot cliff into a lagoon, but after slipping and landing on my tailbone the night before, I decided to skip that part of the adventure. Finally, we hiked up out of the canyon in a warm drizzle which became a downpour. Luis showed us various edible and medicinal plants and got us to eat some "sweet-n-sour" ants before we stopped and visited the Quichua family that maintains the trails. (They had a pet monkey, as well as a dog and cat.) At last, exhausted and a bit sore, we headed for chilly, polluted, civilization back in Quito.

(More Photos)

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