Exhausted from twelve straight days of tours we finally arrived in Ecuador. The eight days in Ecuador we spent were memorable not only for the things we saw and learned but for the people we met and the relationships we forged in such a brief period of time. Travel is one of those things that catches you by surprise because you are seeing new things and out of your comfort zone on such a consistent basis. What it has also done I have discovered, is take things out of your life that you take for granted. One of these for us is the enjoyment derived from spending time with family and friends. At this point on the journey we really missed that aspect of life and there is no amount of FaceTime, phone calls or social media that can make up for it.
For our Ecuador trip, we used a tourism company called Intrepid Travel. They organize trips throughout the world in smaller groups which took a lot of the planning and guesswork out of this leg of the trip - our original purpose for booking. As I am sure you can imagine, planning a multiple month trip across a continent is daunting and Intrepid provided us with a welcome relief for having to plan every day of our journey. What we weren’t anticipating however, were the amazing people we met in the group and how much enjoyment we got out of meeting a new group of people and experiencing our trip together with them. Our group of twelve consisted of people from Ireland, Australia, Canada, the US, and Austria. Our ages, backgrounds, and interests varied widely but the experience from the trip made a lot of us very close.
Our first full day of the trip consisted of a long bus ride from Quito to a small town where we boarded a shuttle to an even smaller town. From there we boarded a motor boat and rode across the river into the Amazon Rainforest for about twenty minutes until we slipped onto the shore of the indigenous village of Shiripuno Community. The women of this community had banded together to construct lodging for tourists and an itinerary designed to teach visitors about the jungle and the many native customs they have practiced for countless generations. We were guided along a tour that taught us how they plant and harvest bananas, yucca root, and cacao using only a machete. We harvested and planted items ourselves along the way and headed back to the village where we were taught how to make chocolate from the cacao we had just picked off a tree. We seeded the fruit, roasted the seeds (I was appointed Master Roaster), peeled them and grinded what remained. After adding sugar, cream, and a touch of cinnamon, we had made our very own chocolate. I know it might sound a bit funny to some, but for a couple of city people, this was a fascinating and fun experience. We finished off the night with a short show of indigenous customs, a brief language lesson and dinner using ingredients of some of the food we harvested earlier that day.
The second the sun went down the jungle exploded with noise. What had to have been thousands of insects and other wildlife went to work in creating a cacophony both terrifying and soothing after a while. I slept well under my mosquito net and the blanket of not so white noise but Mandy didn’t fare quite so well.
The next morning, we ate breakfast and boarded a boat to go deeper into the jungle down a river that feeds to the Amazon. We labored through a very muddy and sweaty two-hour hike through the jungle where we learned about many of the plants and animals we saw along the way and of their various medicinal qualities and practical uses. Once back in the boat, we found a beach to stop at for lunch and tubed down the river for about a half mile or so. Floating down the river was incredibly rejuvenating and helped recover my spirits after a pretty grueling hike. I only later found out about the river snakes that also like to float down the river and were probably enjoying the journey along with us. I guess ignorance is bliss.
We ended our long day learning more words in Quechua- the native language spoken in the village. Interestingly enough, the Quechua spoken in Shiripuno is much different that the Quechua from Peru and while there was a bit of overlap between many of the words, they were almost completely different languages. I don’t know if it was our acclimating or a grueling day, but the second night of sleep in Shiripuno was restful and deep.
The next morning, we thanked our hosts and boarded a bus for Baños. I am amazed and in some ways scared about how little I know of the natural world. I would say that 80% of the skills and knowledge of the people in Shiripuno were completely foreign to me. Many of these skills were in basic farming and wilderness survival. Our society has created so much insulation from the natural world that some of us are completely removed from it. I think this is one of the biggest issues we face in preserving the environment. We are so far removed from what we are working to save that there is no relatability or connection there. In our efforts to conquer nature we separate ourselves from it and that stark separation in itself, is the architecture of our downfall. // Jeff