ted & pamela

Posts Tagged ‘jungle’

Jungle to Andes Highlands: Ecuador Day 4

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

*Written 2010-07-03; Posted by WIFI 2010-07-07*

Okay, this is more like it. A full belly, warm fire, soft bed, hot water bottle for Pamela’s neck, and NO MOSQUITOS.

We’re at Hacienda Pinsaqui near Otavalo tonight. Pamela’s in bed because her neck’s been hurting, and I’m sitting on a rug by the fire writing this. I’m learning to tend a fire in a fireplace; I’ve never had to deal with real wood in a fireplace before.

arcoirisThis morning, we had breakfast at the Arco Iris Jungle Lodge and departed by motor canoe, to a bittersweet goodbye. On one hand, we’d barely begun to see all of the interesting things in the rainforest. On the other hand, we were tired, dirty, and covered in insect bites (okay, maybe that was just me.) Despite all of the problems with Arco Iris’ facilities, the staff (all five of them, with just the two of us as guests) did their best to take care of us.

From Arco Iris, we traveled by motor canoe back to Coca, then by plane to Quito. At Quito’s airport, a guide named Luis and his 13 year old son Cristian (just along for the ride) picked us up in his car to take us to Otavalo.

During the car ride, we mentioned that we were looking for a new memory card reader since ours had stopped working for some reason, and Luis offered to take us shopping. We ended up stopping at a large, busy, indoor shopping mall. It was a strange experience — the mall looked like a typical American shopping mall, except that most of the signs were in Spanish. Just most, because there were actually quite a few American stores like Hallmark, Victoria’s Secret, McDonald’s, etc. There were also many non-American stores with English names. We eventually found a CompactFlash memory card reader in RadioShack (where else?), and headed back out.

At Otavalo, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant that Luis had been to before in the downtown market area. I had some sort of chicken and mushroom dish; Pamela had some fish special. I thought my food was pretty good; Pamela said that hers was better. I’ll have to take her word for it.

fireAfter lunch, we completed our journey to Hacienda Pinsaqui, where Luis dropped us off. According to a promotional pamphlet provided to us, the Hacienda was constructed in 1790, and was originally used as a textile workshop. Since then, it’s been host to guests like Simon Bolivar, and well as the site of the signing of the Treaty of Pinsaqui between Columbia and Ecuador. Today, it’s just a nice historic accommodation frequented by travelers.

We only had a bit of time to wander the grounds, which included buildings, plazas with fountains, and gardens, before darkness took hold. We followed the lights back to the main building, then followed music to a side door where we found a group of musicians playing local folk music. We stayed there for a bit and ate some tea and appetizers offered to us. Later, we got dinner in the Hacienda restaurant, and finally settled down for the night.

Enfermo: Ecuador Day 3

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

*Written 2010-07-02; posted 2010-07-07 due to WIFI!*

Ted woke up sick in the middle of the night this morning. By breakfast, he still didn’t feel good. Pamela went and ate while Ted slept in, doing her best to converse with Hector and Alexander in Spanish. She learned stories about people from Hector, and about how Hector and Alexander want their ashes spread out over the jungle after they die, and other things.

When Ted woke up he still had a fever and a headache, but he was able to go eat breakfast (crepe with egg, cheese and deli meat on side, fruit). We decided to take it easy today–no tramping through the swamp to find some beetle larvae, an Amazonian delicacy.

schoolWe boated over to Hector’s island while the school was in session and met with the schoolteacher and students, ranging in age from 4 to 15. Pamela taught each one how to say their age in English, and Ted taught them how to play chess. Then the children went to recess and watched while Ted and Pamela learned new things.

First we were shown a blow gun. Our goal was to blow a dart through the blow gun and hit a fruit on top of a post 8 meters away. The gun was perhaps 12 feet long, with 2 layers of polished wood, one inside the other. The darts were made of thin pointy sticks with cotton wrapped around one end as a weight and a score near the end so that they break if they are pulled out. Hector managed to send the fruit flying off the post on his second try. Ted managed to make his darts land… near the post, eventually hitting the post. Pamela managed to hit the post, gradually hitting it higher and higher, but never speared the fruit. She hit the fruit once, but the dart glanced off.

Next we were shown Hector’s house when Ted asked for water after discovering he’d forgotten our bottle. To get to Hector’s house, we walked up a staircase that had been carved out of a tree trunk. Inside the house he had a fire pit next to his hammock, a kitchen with a water filter and an assortment of pots and pans and sink, and a back room, presumably the bedroom, with a bookshelf full of books. The house itself was constructed of the same materials as the lodge we were staying at, but he said his roof was stronger because of the ashes from the fire coating the thatching.

Next, we were brought back to the dock because Hector’s wife (a German biologist) had noticed a monkey come to visit. The monkey was in a tree directly over the dock, and we watched it eat and move around until it wandered off. We also watched his wife doing laundry by scrubbing it with a bar of soap on a board and reading to the baby in German.

Last, we were shown how to throw a spear. We sucked. The goal was to hit the same post, no fruit. Neither of us came close. Ted’s landed back-end first, and Pamela’s landed horizontally… Victor managed to knock the post over though. By the end, Ted’s were landing front-side first; Pamela’s still landed horizontally off to the side.

Finally we left the island so that Ted could get some rest. Pamela enjoyed the boat ride back, captain-style. She also saw a barge carrying some oil. We returned to our cabana and lay in the hammock for awhile, dozing on and off until the sun was hitting us and Pamela got too hot… at which point we dozed some more inside the cabana. Sometime during this time, Pamela’s foot got about 9 bites… from some insect that was not a mosquito. However, Pamela fed Ted some Tylenol, which helped him feel better during the evening.

basketAfter our nap, we went down to the pool where Hector taught us how to make baskets out of trees. First he showed us how to weave a simple basket; then he showed us a more difficult one. Ours turned out kind of funny, but they’ll hold stuff.

Once we finished with the baskets, we sat on the edge of the pool and soaked our feet for awhile. The staff went nuts, making Victor run around and clean out every last bug from the pool, fill the jacuzzi with equally cold water, get the waterfall working, turn on the lights, raise the umbrellas (at dusk), etc.

We dangled our feet until dinner, at which we tried the grubs even though we couldn’t go hunting for them. They look like… beetle cocoons roasted on a stick. The inside had some squishy stuff; the outside was just really salty. We also ate some soup, battered chicken, rice, plantains, and veggies. We talked with Hector about ants, books, etc until he left to go home for the night, and Alexander started showing us all the different butterflies in the (outdoor) restaurant. Pamela learned that her Spanish sucks. She could understand Alexander, but she and Fernando could not communicate in either direction…

We tried to look for stars from the top level of the restaurant, but it had a roof and there were clouds, so we retired for the night.

“Comfort in the Jungle”: Ecuador Day 2

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

*Written 2010-07-01; posted 2010-07-07 due to WIFI access! [slowly catching up]*

The lodge we’re staying at, Arco Iris, bills itself as “Jungle Comfort”. It hasn’t quite lived up to its name.

In addition to the problems we found yesterday — no hot water, broken lights, lots of mosquitos, etc. — this morning, we found that the cold water didn’t work either. After cleaning up as best we could, we wandered over to breakfast half an hour late (7:30am). Pamela said, “no hay agua!” We ate breakfast first; after breakfast, there was a trickle of water, enough to wash up.

After washing up, we went on an hour-long canoe ride to Pompeya, a small town in the jungle, followed by a wait on the shore for a car, followed by a car ride to Laguna Limoncocha.

limoncochaWe rented a boat from two guys sitting at the dock. It looked like all they did was sit around waiting for someone to come by to rent a boat. We took what looked like the only seaworthy vessel in their fleet of ~8 boats, and they drove us around the lagoon.

Hector pointed out a lot of monkeys and birds along the shore of the lagoon. We put our binoculars to good use, and learned that Pamela has better eyes than I. Hector has way better eyes than both of us.

We landed on the shore at the other side of the lagoon about an hour later, dropped off our stuff at a small encampment of buildings, and headed into the jungle for a hike. We passed a banana tree, various trees that looked like they came from Avatar, without the luminescence, and some trees with medicinal uses that Hector pointed out.

Hector also picked up an army ant and had me hold out my thumb. He then held the ant near my finger, and the ant pinched me. Ow.
Ow ow ow. The ant drew blood, but Hector said that it was only because I didn’t hold still…

Eventually we reached a really big Kapok tree that Hector said was considered sacred. It was a few hundred years old, “medium-sized”, and tens of feet higher than the other trees in the rainforest, completely emerging from the canopy. We thought it looked Avatar-ish. We took a lot of pictures while walking all the way around it, and learned that it was Victor’s first time there too.

On our way out, we stopped at the banana tree. Hector hacked it down with his machete to get at the bananas. The tree brushed pamela as it fell down; good thing she didn’t get squashed. Hector started weaving a basket from another plant nearby to carry the bananas. While he did so, it suddenly started to pour. Mucha lluvia. =(

leaf_umbrellaWith Victor’s help, Pamela and I covered ourselves with big leaves from a nearby tree as umbrellas. Hector finished his basket, filled it with bananas, and told Victor to carry the rest of the bananas from the tree on his shoulder. We hurried back to the encampment.

Now under shelter at least, we ate lunch. Pamela took a nap in a hammock while we waited awhile for rain to subside, but it refused. Eventually, we gave up waiting for the rain to stop, put on ponchos supplied for us, and headed back to the boat. We soggily boated back to the other side of the lagoon, hitched a ride in a truck on its way to Pompeya, during which time Pamela talked to the friendly truck driver, and got back into our motorized canoe waiting for us under Fernando’s care at Pompeya. Apparently Fernando had been sitting there waiting for us all day.

We boated back to the lodge, cold and wet. Only 2 of 3 pistons in the motor were working, and we were going against the current. It thus took us about 1:50 to get back, instead of the 1 hour it took going the other way. Pamela read a newspaper article and tried to speak to Fernando, but he wasn’t very talkative.

Back at the lodge, we rushed for the toilet. After climbing our 120 stairs, we were told by Alexander (the owner) that we were moved to a new cabana where the water and the shower worked. At the new cabana (same password for the door), we found that all of our stuffed had been seemingly transposed from the previous room. Everything was in the same place, including our still-wet laundry.

Unfortunately, the toilet was full of poop. Eeewww. And it wouldn’t flush. So, we went back to the old cabana to use the toilet and reported the toilet problems to Alexander. We discovered that the old cabana had been stripped of its linens, toilet paper, etc; apparently, they don’t have enough to furnish two cabanas… but electricity and (cold) water both worked in the new cabana!

We took turns taking cold showers. Ted had a chill from the wet canoe ride and hid in bed. Pamela tried to warm him up until we were summoned to dinner.

Dinner consisted of salty noodles, beef, plantains, fruit, and corn. They gave us a bottle of champagne for our honeymoon, too. We finished the whole bottle with Hector’s help and headed back to our cabana, with Pamela now a bit tipsy.

We cleaned up, got ready for bed, and zzzzz…

Ted Goes Tarzan: Ecuador Day 1

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

*Written 6/30/2010; posted 7/7/2010 when we got access to WIFI*

We are sitting in the middle of the jungle.

After an all-nighter packing for our honeymoon and an almost failed attempt to get a taxi, we flew from SFO to Atlanta and on to Quito, Ecuador.  Flights were on time and uneventful, although there was a surprisingly long security line for 5:30 in the morning at SFO.

Upon arriving in a new country on a new continent in a new hemisphere, we were met by a guide from SurTrek, Paul, who took us to our hotel, the Mercure Alameda.  His English was much better than both our Spanish combined, and he gave us an introduction to Ecuador during the short drive.

The hotel was nice, and we were hungry. We attempted to order food via room service–yay 24 hour room service!  Pamela had no idea what exactly transpired during the phone conversation, but the food arrived nonetheless.  We finally made it to sleep around 2 or 3 am.

This morning, we were greeted at 9am by a different guide, Andres, after dining in the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  Breakfast had selections such as pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, “meat lasagna” which was carne wrapped in noodle with cheese on top, pastries, fruit, strawberry agua fresca, and other things.

Andres found us a bookstore at which we purchased a pocket-sized Spanish-English dictionary after spending the previous night practicing a sorry bit of Spanish.  He then brought us to a small airport that had planes which would take us to Coca, a city in the Amazon Basin.  Unfortunately, the plane was delayed 1.5 hours, so we killed time in the airport lobby–yay free wifi.

The plane itself was a small twin propeller plane with 3 columns of seats–2 down one side and 1 down the other.  From it, we finally got our first real view of Quito, which appears to lie in a large valley 9200 feet above sea level surrounded by mountains.  The plane took us east away from the mountains and toward the jungle, landing us in Coca, about 9000 feet lower than we began.  In Coca, we were met by Hector, our guide from our next lodge, who had a truck drive us down to the Rio Napo where there was a motorized canoe waiting for us.

canoeThe journey down the Rio Napo via motorized canoe was either uneventful or exciting, depending on whether you find it exciting to be riding a motorized canoe down a large river in the middle of the rainforest (Pamela) or not (Ted).  It was about a 30 minute ride.  Hector explained that the river was about 3 meters higher than last week due to some heavy rainfall the previous few days that caused some flooding.  At its low, the river would have been one third its current width.  Yet, today the weather was partly cloudy and mild in temperature.

We passed by miles of trees and a few huts along the river until we arrived at the ArcoIris Jungle Lodge.  The lodge consists of 6 bungalows and a main building which serves as the restaurant.  We climbed 120 steps to get from the river to the restaurant; the boat driver, Victor, attempted to send our suitcases up a pulley system, but ended up carrying them both when it didn’t work.  We were given some water and shown to our cabin, whereby Hector tried to show us the code to open the door and couldn’t until he called for help.  The entire staff here now knows how to open our door.

We were given some time to rest and unpack (though we left everything packed to keep bugs out) and then went back to the restaurant for lunch.  Lunch began with some soup and plantains, both of which were good and filling.  When we thought we were finished… the main course came, some meat and potatoes and vegetables that neither of us could finish (although Hector did).  We were particularly fond of the pineapple juice; Ted repeatedly requested “jugo de piña, por favor”.

During lunch, Hector explained to us the projects that he worked on out here in the jungle.  He has started a monkey reintroduction project on the nearby island that he lives on, as well as a school for the local Quichua children that live on the wrong side of the river to attend the public schools offered.

After lunch, we changed into “jungle clothes” (long sleeves, long pants, boots) and Hector said he was going to take us to the island to look for the monkeys.  He also said that due to the recent rainfall, large sections of the trail had flooded and we should be prepared to get wet; he provided us with rubber boots.

Wet we got.

We didn’t find any monkeys.

We did meet his wife, child, and dog, and he showed us the schoolroom that he built as well as where the schoolteacher lived and where he and his family lived.  All the buildings in the area are built of a combination of bamboo and stronger bamboo-like wood, as well as thatching for the roof.  He pointed out a cinnamon tree to us, and there were chickens roaming the property as well.


We spent quite awhile roaming and wading through the flooded trails on the island. At one point we had to wade over an underwater bridge with deep water on either side. Pamela only fell off the invisible underwater bridge once (due to not being able to see where she was stepping from the river flooding above the height of the bridge)…

Throughout the journey, we were followed by swarms of mosquitos.  Our insect repellent seemed to keep most of them from landing on us, but it was still disconcerting to see them swarming everywhere.  Ted still got (at least) three bites.

When we got back to the canoe for our trip back to the lodge, Victor couldn’t get the motor to start.  We floated off downstream until Hector rowed us to shore and tied the canoe to a tree.  Then Hector and Victor fiddled with the engine for a while, eventually emptying it of water in the fuel line, and got the motor started again.  Off we went, back to the lodge.

We were given some time to clean up before dinner. This was when we started discovering what, besides the suitcase pulley, did not work.

The bungalows themselves were built well and look very nice.  They have bamboo and bamboo-like paneling, thatching on the roof, a canopy bed to keep out bugs, a porch with a jacuzzi outside, bamboo closets and shelves, and fitting decorations.  They each have a bathroom with a large shower, sink, and toilet.  They have electricity powered by a generator from 5pm to 10pm each evening, with lightbulbs and power outlets throughout them.

So when we returned sopping wet and muddy, naturally we wanted to clean up before dinner.  We were informed that the hot water did not work in the showers at the moment, but that it did work in the jacuzzi.  After debating between jumping in the pool (the pool in the middle of the jungle looks very strange) and soaking in the jacuzzi, the hot water in the jacuzzi won.

We got back to our bungalow and found the lightswitches.  The porch light turned on. The bathroom light turned on.  The lights in the main living area did not.

We walked out to the lit porch and turned on the jacuzzi.  The water began trickling out.  Inside, the jacuzzi was filled with dirt and bugs, and the water coming out was brown.  It was less than inviting.

Double fail.

We walked back to the restaurant/main area and asked about the lights and the jacuzzi.  They replaced the light bulb for us, and checked the jacuzzi–and told us it was working fine.  You see, this is the jungle, and the water comes from a well a little ways away, so it takes awhile to get here. But don’t worry; it is clean.  One of the boys brought a sponge and got the bugs and stuff out for us.

An hour after returning, we gave up on the jacuzzi ever being full, especially as the hot water had run out, and went to go find dinner instead.

Dinner was a noodle soup, chicken wrapped in a giant leaf, salad, and yuca, an Amazonian potato cousin.  Dessert was a tree tomato, roasted and seasoned and tasting nothing like a tomato, but rather like a sweet squash.  During dinner, we talked with Hector about Ecuadorian politics, how he met his wife while working with an environmental NGO, oil drilling in the Amazon, and other local issues. We learned that Ecuador has similar politics to Venezuela and Bolivia, but that he feels that politicians should do more to help economies grow and develop rather than just giving out aid to the poor and not fixing the problems.  We also learned that the Amazon is a giant oil field, and that oil companies are drilling in the forest for oil.  They also find propane, but it is too expensive to refine it here so they burn it off to release the pressure it builds.  There are little fires dotting the forest.

After dinner, we gave up on both the pool and the jacuzzi and braved the cold shower. Fast showers ensued.  Pamela went on a mosquito hunt in the bathroom. Bed followed shortly thereafter.

Just another day in the jungle.