A Travellerspoint blog

Wah-Wah in the Amazonian Jungle, Pt. 1

A week of adventures in Ecuador's Oriente

sunny 31 °C

The Amazon Jungle couldn't have seemed more vast than the way we traveled to and through it. Travel, though, was really only I could ask for and more. I felt tested at every step of the way, battling the most unforgiving environment in the world while trying to kick away the lingering effects of illness that never seemed to rest.

Our first day was a bus ride through the "easiest" passage in the Amazon Jungle that Ecuador has to offer, but it was nothing more than switch backs and tunnels. It took us nearly ten hours to travel north in the inter-Andean valleys and veer east to plummet into the low altitudes of the Rio Napo watershed. We experienced on the drive far more than I was expecting. The Pan-American highway, in parts, is no more than a gravel road, recently carved into the steep cliffs of the Andes. The flat terrain of the valleys were for the rivers and its inhabitants, not for the long distance traveler. So, high up in the mountains we could see nearly everything but the closest point on Earth to the sun. Chimborazu was blanketed in clouds. Unexpectedly we stopped in a small town that seemed to have no specific purpose. Its church was supposedly the first establishment in Ecuador and most of South America; a little unbelievable, like most of the historical sites found in this country. But the church was remarkable in its minimalism, something rare for the Spanish. Later, we reached the provincial capital of Riobamba, where hopefully at a later date I will return to take "el nariz del diablo," a switch-back train going west towards Guayaquil. From here, we started to head east towards the perpetually erupting volcano of Tungurahua. As if to let us know that it was still there the clouds surrounding the mountain parted to show a high ash cloud ascending into the heavens. The volcano looked higher than any mountain I had ever seen before, and its black silhouette showed the jagged edges of its crater. Further on, vegetation identifiable as tropical forest became more and more lush but still, we were high in the mountains. We stopped for what I thought was only for a casual view of the grand valley of a tropical river which flowed over one thousand meters below our feet, but to my unhappy surprise I was in for more than just a casual view. To get a better view of a stunning waterfall on the other side of the canyon, Ecuador's fine tourist department had built a zip line gondola spanning the canyon. Gratefully I was not first to find myself speeding down a steel cable on a shaky gondola, but the wait may have been worse. Not for the faint of hearts. At last, what seemed like a whole in the wall location, we found our hostel which was no less than a tropical paradise in the capital of its province, Puyo. There we observed how those with money can "experience" the grand Amazon jungle.

That wasn't our final destination, though. On the following day, we stretched our legs for another long bus ride through jungle. We traveled in a little procession of public buses. It seemed so out of place for coach buses on dirt roads at full speed winding through hills where tiny tributaries to the world's largest river began. This was the best route of transit in Ecuador's Oriente. If we decided to go from the border of Columbia to the southern border with Peru, it would take five days in a bus on this road. Fortunately, we were upon the Rio Napo before noon, and a rather bumpy ride led us to our trip guides with a motorized canoe patiently waiting our arrival. Our hostel was comfortably named Hostal Anaconda. Immediately as we stepped off the canoe, we saw what the jungle had to offer. On my first steps along the upper Napo, I spotted a parade of leaf-cutter ants, looking like a thin file of grass on the move. That afternoon, we took a trip upstream, taking twice the time it took going down, in order to get our first true introduction to the Amazon rain forest. It was like I was with the camera crew of the Discovery Channel, seemingly every twenty paces had something unique about this ecosystem. The first was a tree fruiting large green, mango-sized fruits layered in black life. Ants. Hundreds of them on each fruit. It was an example of symbiotic relationship between plants and animals that are so frequently found there. The next was a gnarled tree that is actually a type of vine. It suffocates it's host, like a boa constrictor, killing it. The tree inside rots away, leaving the perfect cove for bats. Inside this particular tree, there slept four of them. There were seemingly infinite instances of unique life. After the hike, we drifted back down to our hostel in poorly constructed rafts of tethered tree trunks. This is claimed as Ecuador's finest river rafting. I saw not one white capped riffle. That night, there was no way I was going to lay still and go to sleep. I gathered up a troop for a night hike into the jungle, unguided as to give us as much time as we wished. I have never had such an exhilarating and terrifying experience in my life. The insects, spiders, and frogs were abundant. Every step had something to see. But the darkness was think, and in the background played a jungle soundtrack coming from some far off party. I felt like Indiana Jones, leading our group of four into perpetual darkness, guided by the pathetic light of my tiny flashlight.

We still weren't at our final destination. Not even close. The next morning, as the sun started to rise, we drowsily boarded our dugout canoe for the longest boat ride I hope to ever take. Eleven long hours until we stopped. I wished I had brought more to keep me occupied. Two hundred pages of The Panama Hat Trail wasn't nearly enough. Midway down we passed the city of Coca. Ironic name, as Ecuador strives to keep itself a clean country. The town was just like I read in my book, however. It was the modern "wild west." Each block housed at least two bars, prostitution houses, and shifty-eyed walkers. This place originated in the oil boom. No other purpose could give rise to clearing land under the harshest sun I have ever felt. The presence of the first-world to the north was very apparent. The best example I'll give came upon finding fairgrounds. We were lured in by the siting of a farris-wheel and sought to get a better look. I choked back tears of childhood joy when I saw behind the gates a Mickey and Minnie caterpillar train. I couldn't be anymore disgusted by this place. I was glad when we finally left. At this point, we still had another four or five hours ahead of us, weaving around sandbars and barges of oil trucks heading towards their company-paved roads. We arrived at last as the sun set. We had a lodge tucked away behind vegetation alongside a placid lake of Rio Piraña (Piranha River). I settled in, knowing for the first time ever, I had absolutely no idea where I was, only the knowledge that I was further away from civilization than I will probably ever be.

Posted by kearlkozby 12:47 Archived in Ecuador Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Illness Strikes Back

The trilogy

rain 21 °C

I think the third time of succombing to some kind of illness in one lone month is just three times to many. I really wasn't prepared for having stomach problems on this trip, but low and behold, I apparently have the second weakest stomach after David, who has spent more than two weeks in the hospital to this point with amoebas, infections, and more than likely parasites to boot. So what was it that got me sick? I couldn't even tell you. I didn't have food from street vendors or anything! Wednesday I spent my lunch in Parque Calderon, a little curveball for my stomach which seeks its daily supply of food in the noon hours. I made David, Katie, and I some fantastically thin peanut butter sandwiches, because we all know that peanut butter in the country where they harvest peanuts is outrageously expensive. So after two paper-thin sandwiches and two fruits, I was still a little hungry. I took out my hunger on the winnings from the day in my Spanish class. A huge amount of chocolate. I had far far too much. I think that's what did me in. I had such great plans for the night, too. What a shame, what a shame. I was planning on watching the Cuenca soccer team continue its loss-less season followed by a night of salsa dancing. My night was cut short with an episode of what everyone knows to be signs of not being on the tip-top shape. The rest of the night was spent dizzly trying to sleep. I spent over fifteen hours in bed and the morning I convinced myself I had to be well enough to go to school. I haven't had fifteen hours of sleep since my concussion, which was never. But sure enough, with a bowl of cereal and a lousy bus ride (they all are pretty lousy) I got to feeling naseous again. I took a trip to the Ecuadorian clinic for a little $25 check up and had proscribed to me another $25 in medicine. I did however avoid a blood sample being taken, thank God. Narcisa, our trip coordinator caught my slip up when I mistakenly agreed that I was peeing abnormally. So I spent another night in bed. This time with little hope of falling asleep. I was in no mood to sleep. The following morning I felt chipper. Free of my exhaustion and queeziness. It's a good thing too. I am going to the Amazon jungle for a week starting tomorrow at the bright and early time of seven. I'm expecting unforgettable experiences to report about next week.

Posted by kearlkozby 15:40 Archived in Ecuador Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Día del Campo

Our Afternoon with the Cuenca elite

sunny 26 °C

Saturday was the Lewis & Clark College "día del campo." It was an abnormally sunny day, and also a late start. I was supposed to round up the family to arrive by eleven but at eleven we were driving around the city for what, I had no idea. We stopped at a costume shop a milllion miles away that decided to be open half a year away from Halloween on a Saturday, when any other place that ought to be open was closed. I was going to become the Incredible Hulk. Our team name was "Los recontra fantásticos," meaning the super awesome heroes, more or less. No one else was going to be dressed up like me, but I figured what the hell. Might as well help first impressions with the other families by beefing up in green muscles. So we finally did arrive, after missing the exit. It seemed like we weren't going to ever get there at that point. But the party hadn't started. How could it without the Incredible Hulk? It was unbelievably awkward for the following thirty minutes until I took off the straight jacket. In the growing heat we had a parade to celebrate the three teams, only for photo opportunity sake. Then the games began. There was a three-legged race, beer chugging (always good on the first day of starting the malaria pills), musical chairs, limbo, water balloon toss, and much much more. Games I've never even heard of. I didn't really win at anything. Not very close to the victor of the beer drinking competition, a father who had shown his history under the glass. I nearly won the musical chairs, but a greedy teammate swipped my seat so I was the second to last out. And surprisingly nearly won limbo, falling short (literally) to one of the teacher's daughters who was about a foot shorter than me. I let her win. Finally the games came to a close. It was time for lunch and dancing. I won't get into much of that, because I needed the rest after soaking in the sun's rays, but the dance floor was one large game in itself. With a broom, a solitary person, and the rest coupled in dance, the solitary person took hold of the broom to dance with until clank, he or she dropped it on the floor. Then it was a crazy rush to find another couple so as not to be the solitary person. I kind of embraced that role though, as you might expect. Taking it a little over the top, probably. When I got home after a long, long day, I went kaput on my bed. Out till the next morning. A morning without the first book of Harry Potter to keep me up because I finished after becoming hopelessly attached. I am planning to finish the Golden Compass series in the coming weeks and I can't say I'm not excited about it.

Posted by kearlkozby 09:27 Archived in Ecuador Tagged events Comments (0)

Ceremonia cultural con la energía de la Mama Quilla

The Lunar Eclipse in Cuenca

semi-overcast 21 °C

Wednesday would have been like any other day had there not been the rarity of the lunar eclipse at night. Cuenca invited all to come and see/participate in the Ceremonia cultural con la energía de la Mama Quilla in Parque de la Madre, another find in Cuenca's cultural to-do-list for the month. I seemed to be the only one to respond to the invitation, however. I showed up to a nearly empty park. In the corner I came upon a circle of these trendy celebrators swaying back and forth in a circle around a fire lit in some "significant design." I knew coming into it that it was not a real ancient tradition, after hearing Lynn, my anthropology teacher denounce it class after class. Ecuadorians have "no identity" from their past. The colonial conquest stole it all away. Everything now is assumed and postulated, and that's what I thought would make this so interesting. So consequently, I was not surprised to find the group of celebrators mostly young social butterflies. But I didn't want to impede on what might be thought as a serious traditional celebration so I walked around the group and found a place to seat myself and furtively observe the following activities. The circle had a long list of planned activities it seemed like, and I came just in time to enjoy it at its climax. When I sat down the group started to break apart and socialize as the list was sought for by the announcer. Finally, he found it. Over the loud speaker he tried to capture the attention of his audience again "Por favor, por favor." He asked the mingling crowd to recreate the circle. They were about to perform a tribal like dance. On came the music, sounding as it came straight from Pure Moods 11. They all started rounding the fire dancing in step to the mystical music of contemporary artists while in the center a man dressed with a flower headdress danced around while hitting his beating his drum in rhythm to the music. The music finally faded and a female announcer explained the significance of this ceremony. "Tonight we celebrate the rebirth of spring and the moon." It was the first night in nearly two weeks that it wasn't pouring down rain. "With the rebirth of spring, we have the opportunity to have our own rebirth." The silence seemed strained to me, but it may have been from my own upwelling of laughter that I had to hold back. The female announcer continued, "we need to begin our new lives the proper way." She asked everyone to show love and affection toward their neighbors, and the audience took a minute to embrace each other fifteen times over. It seemed like it was finally wrapping up. The coordinators of the ceremony passed out popsicles and everyone started to disperse. I really wanted to capture the moment more effectively with my camera than just distance photography, so I finally willed myself over there after encouraging myself that these people are absolutely trendy and out of their minds, they would love to have their picture taken by a gringo foreigner. So I came upon the drummer and the female announcer. Instantly the woman struck up a conversation with me, "why did you not join us?" "Well you have to come in mid March for the next ceremony." I got my pictures and jetted out of there. They were a little too friendly, cult-ish, and insane for me to stick around. After all I had to try and see the lunar eclipse. To my surprise, there it was. In the smallest opening in the clouds. There was already a partial eclipse. It didn't last long, but I thought it was a perfect way to top of the day, like icing on the cake.

Posted by kearlkozby 09:35 Archived in Ecuador Tagged events Comments (0)

Ingapirca and African Music

Getting some culture

rain 19 °C
View Crossing the Equator on kearlkozby's travel map.

This past week I was more or less in repose after the long week of Carnival that came to a screeching hault. I honestly didn't know what to do with myself. I spent the first two days of the week sulking about not having anything to do until I stumbled upon a gold mine. There is a publication every month that sponsors all of the events in Cuenca, music concerts, art shows, you name it. So Wednesday night I took in my first concert here, not realizing how badly I was missing those experiences. The group was from Madagascar, but I was not expecting a lot out of a culturally self indulgent town of 150,000 to bring in good international music. My preconceived notion was reinforced as we walked into the auditorium for the free African concert. Just over twenty people sat in the audience and on stage only a drumkit was set up. Erika, Nick, and I took our seat front and center. Then the concert started only fifteen minutes behind schedule. By then many more people had showed up for the concert. The instrumentation was the drummer, an acoustic guitarist, an electric bass, and the lead singer in the group. He carried with him a bazooka looking instrument made from hallow bamboo that had strings attached around it. His voice was magnificent and his playing equally spectacular. It took me awhile before I realized that he only had one hand, his other hand was deformed, however, he still strummed with the nub and was able to solo at astonishing rates. But it was his emotion and enjoyment of playing that made it all worth while. It was quite a good concert. The best part about it was seeing the upper-class business man grooving to the African beats, especially the man who danced beside me, who was still in his three piece suit. It really made me want to go to Africa. But, I plan to take much more advantage of the culture there is to see here, as most of it is actually free (even if the museums aren't).

That Saturday I braved the constant rain for a much anticipated trip to Ingapirca. Ingapirca is the site of Ecuador's best Incan (and Cañari) ruins. The bus left the station at nine in the morning with already a light drizzle beginning, a poor omen as most of the rain comes much later in the afternoon. We traveled north on the Pan American until we reached Cañar, and then we started the climb up the valley's hills to reach Ingapirca. It was a little anti-climatic. There was just a little reserve no larger than a hectare in size that housed the Incan temple of the sun. We dished out $3 unwillingly after we found out that the last and only bus back from there was in fact the same bus that would be leaving an hour and a half later. The moment we stepped away from the boletería the heavens opened up. It wasn't the hardest of rains, but it reminded me of the tours last semester in Portland that I gave. A steady rain that will unknowingly get you soaked and cold. We bared with the weather, because the views were all the most spectacular because of it. In the background, the hills the surround the ridge in which Ingapirca is located were rapidly changing. The clouds rose up along the sides giving a sensation of being at a very high altitude. The temple itself has been more or less destroyed over the years, just the elliptical base remained formed by perfectly fitted square stones each weight well over a ton. Those rocks were carried over fifteen kilometers from further down the valley where they were mined, but that pales in comparison to the stones that were destined for Cuenca. Those stones were mined around Cuzco, in southern Peru, to create a replica of the Incan temples in the capital. They made it as far as Loja, nearly eighty percent of the way, before abandoning the trek. Loja, to give you some sort of reference is about a five hour drive by bus on a good day. Anyway, the temple itself perched on the edge of its ridge over looking the long corridor that housed the town of Cañar, although we couldn't see it. We finished our tour of the small protected archaeological sight to view the Incan face in the cliffside of an adjacent ridge before having to hustle back and catch the bus. It was a fantastic experience, even only spending less than two hours time. But the rain still continues, and it deterred be from going up to Cajas on Sunday as well. When will the rain cease?

Posted by kearlkozby 14:00 Archived in Ecuador Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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