Published: Nov 17, 2022
COCA > QUITO
Yep, you guessed it. 4am wakeup. Suitcases had to be put onto their own canoes half an hour before we departed, as they were going ahead of us. We were told the next time we’d see them would “hopefully” be at the airport… and we were given strict instructions to a) make sure our clothes were dry before they made the journey onwards, otherwise we’d be “stinky turkeys for the rest of the trip”, and b) to double-check and triple-check that we weren’t leaving anything behind in our cabañas because, to be blunt, we weren’t ever going to get them back.
The effect of our early start was compounded by the fact that we were up quite late last night getting rid of mysterious mosquitos who’d made their way into our beds. Evidently, our mosquito nets didn’t work. I knew they looked far too pretty to be functional.
It was pitch black as we made our way back down the narrow creek to get to the motorised canoe ride. The only flickers of light we saw were the bioluminescent glimmers coming from the firefly larvae eggs, the glow-worms huddled together on the side of the creek. Our tour guides didn’t want to use flashlights as they’d disrupt the animals, besides, I’m convinced that they can see in the dark much better than any of us. That, and they know the grooves and the logs of the creek like the back of their hand. “You’ll really feel the night” our tour guide told us before we set off. And he was right. The only sounds we could hear were the nocturnal noises of the forest we were used to by now – the myriad animal calls in the treetops above – as well as the soft dipping sounds of our paddles hitting the water. I was again reminded of how surreal it was to have to travel for four hours, by creek, to get to the city of Coca. To think that every nail of our cabañas and most of the food we’d eaten had been rowed upstream for at least two hours…
On the second canoe-ride, we were given breakfast – probably the most interesting location I’ll ever have breakfast – and then we all said long goodbyes to the tour guides we’d grown close to over the last few days. It was sad to be leaving the Amazon. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to come back and learn more from its Indigenous inhabitants one day.
Back on the plane again for the same half-an-hour ride to Quito. Again, I felt a pang of despair when I saw, from my birds-eye view above, how much of the rainforest had been destroyed for various human causes like oil extraction and road building. I’d had the privilege of exploring the Amazon’s greatest treasures over the last few days and a part of me physically hurt when I saw so many patches of land that would have been vibrant forest in the past.
Exhaustion hit me properly for the first time on this trip, made much worse by the dizziness that accompanies staying in Quito, which sits at an altitude ranging from 2800 to 4000 metres above sea level. As I moved around what was named the first UNESCO world heritage city, I actually found it quite difficult to breathe, which I’m not sure is the best sign for the next few days. Either way, I’m feeling grateful to be able to see some of Ecuador’s cities, given that we weren’t sure we’d be able to, due to recent violent riots over unemployment and the cost-of-living crisis. Eighty per cent of tourists who’d planned to be in Ecuador had actually cancelled their trips since June, so it’s very lucky that we can be here, albeit with more police manning the roads than usual. As we arrived, we saw shoe-polishers on the street, Panama-hat shops (Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador) and Cocoa exhibitions. We tried Canelazo, a local drink made up of the Naranjilla fruit, and at lunch we were served guanabana ice-cream by a man dressed in a cucurucho costume (uncomfortably resemblant to the Ku Klux Klan look). We learned that it was a Quiteño tradition to dress up in this way and march during the Good Friday procession as a means of redemption. This was all very interesting, yet we couldn’t help but feel slightly uneasy from the resemblance…
Cucuruchos: purple gowns with cone hoods and two slits cut for the eyes.
After our late lunch, I had to take the rest of the afternoon off – I was simply too tired and I couldn’t think straight. FOMO is a very real thing when you’re in the middle of South America and just want to take in absolutely everything but physically cannot, and that’s exactly how I felt when I opted for a nap whilst my family went out for a brief city tour. But I’m constantly reminding myself that this trip is not an excuse to push myself too hard – the practice of being nice and listening to myself can’t just go out of the window because the world is cool and I need to see it all. Much easier said than done though!!
First impressions of Quito