Published: Nov 11, 2022
I knew it was going to be an interesting day when the first thing I heard outside my room was: “you are absolutely banned from putting a machete in my suitcase!”. My brother had bought various souvenirs from the village shop yesterday, including – yes — a machete and two boat oars (?). He’d realised, albeit too late, that he had no space for them in his suitcase and so was trying to force them onto my sister. And that was at 6:00am – another early morning for us today…
First, we headed deep into the jungle for a hike, spotting trees with red roots to ward off predators, poisonous dart frogs, and, in one section where we were told to move very quickly, ants known as ‘underwear-off ants’ – dangerous, fast-crawling ants that would have required us to take off all our clothes to get rid of them had they climbed onto us. All of this was prefaced by our tour guide with information about another group of travellers who had been attacked by a caiman in that very same forest, and a warning about how easy it was to get lost and not be found again in “such a hostile environment”. And if that wasn’t enough, the ecological toilet situation struck again, although this time the tour guide went in before us to “make sure the toilet is free from predators”. But apparently, we’d be absolutely fine, because we had our “jungle gear” with us. Which basically consisted of binoculars and non-South-America-approved mosquito spray. Great start.
In the jungle, the mighty jungle.
After spending some time hiking through the forest floor, we reached the tallest canopy tower in Ecuador’s Amazon, at 118 feet high. That’s 208 steps to get to the top – and I’m not amazing with heights. Great start once again. As we climbed up the giant ceiba tree (one of the tallest species of trees in the Amazon) using metal platforms built into it, we reached what felt like a view that would otherwise only be reserved for the birds. We could see the tops of trees for miles on end, as well as flocks of colourful tanagers, toucans calling out to one another, scarlet macaws embracing, and the most beautiful turquoise bird I’d ever seen: the Cotinga. Birds that are virtually impossible to see from the forest floor far below were suddenly right there, oblivious to our presence. A whole new world was opened up to us. Other than birds, we saw spider monkeys searching for fruit, and from afar, my favourite animal: the sloth!! Translated very fittingly in Spanish to “perezoso”, which means lazy. According to National Geographic, the part of the rainforest we were standing in is the most biodiverse place on earth.
Climbing the ceiba tree
I’m going to skip the part where I climbed back down the canopy tower…let’s just say it took a lot of time, and shouting from the rest of my family. My little sister also got tired, at which point she started playing “I spy with my little eye”, and very profoundly said “something green”. When we got back to the forest floor, we received an extensive educational seminar on ayahuasca, and the various initiation practices involving ayahuasca in Amazonian communities. One of our tour guides explained the common ritual that occurs when a boy turns 13, whereby he walks from his community to a ceiba tree in the rainforest, drinks an ayahuasca infusion, and spends the night there. Much to my father’s delight, we also learned that there’s actually a plant with even stronger hallucinogenic properties than the ayahuasca plant: the angel trumpet flower. We’ve now banned him from the rainforest.
We learned about the spirits and energies in the forest, about the mystical tales and medicines and Shamanic leaders. Apparently, there are no more Shamans in a lot of Kichwa communities currently, because of just how difficult it is to become one: the lady of the forest (the Sacha Warmi) has to call you in, and you’d have to undergo a ritual where you get lost in the forest for a few days so she can give you her power and her knowledge. From what I gathered, being a Shaman is a calling, rather than a profession — our tour guide’s grandfather was a shaman, actually. And, to follow up on the questions I asked yesterday about therapeutic practices in the community, Shamans are known for taking in bad energy in order to heal people.
The most biodiverse place on earth
In the afternoon, we got caught in a heavy bout of rain whilst we were out caiman spotting. (Side note: our caiman search was unsuccessful, but I did find one casually lying in the river below our balcony during my shower…) Whilst I was listening to the beautiful sounds of rhythmic rainfall, I found myself falling asleep in the canoe. As our tour guide said: “there are only two seasons in the Amazon: the rainy season and the rainier season”. Good thing we only have one hoodie, then.
Dinner tonight: yuka, choclo, rice with lentils and bananas, plantain cheese croquettes, coco loco (a coconut drink with rum), with mañok cake and dragon fruit for dessert. Before dinner, we had the opportunity to watch a documentary about the making of Napo Wildlife Centre, featuring everyone who works in the lodge – all of them local Kichwa people. It was inspiring to learn how they invented this paradise in the middle of nowhere to tackle oil extraction practices, generating their income and protecting the Amazon with ecotourism instead. It was heart-warming to learn the extent to which we, as paying clients, are able to contribute to that change. As it’s our last day in the lodge, we also had a briefing with all the other members who are also leaving, explaining how the very early hours of tomorrow morning are going to work. In short, our flight is at 10:30am. And it’s a four-hour boat ride back to the airport again. You do the maths…