Jan 292013

I awoke from my slumber feeling relieved.  My fears of being violated by cockroaches during the night did not come to fruition and, to my surprise, I had slept peacefully.  Of course that could be due to my position in the hammock.  Zach might not have been so lucky, as he had offered to sleep on the bare wooden floor beside me.  It was the first day of our jungle adventure and we were staying in the house of our guide, Guillermo.  This was a true jungle home, seemingly more outside than in.  There were windows with broken screens; wooden floors with holes that exposed the earth below; a hallway the led directly outside to the open air kitchen.  While cooking fresh caught river fish on the family’s two-burner propane stove for dinner, we were literally only steps away from the family pond, complete with chickens, ducks and no shortage of mosquitoes.

We had arrived late the day before in the small, dusty village of Nuevo Rocafuerte which lies just meters away from the borders of Peru and Colombia.  Our transportation to this remote Amazonian hamlet had been a 60 person motorized canoe which carried us, as well as countless others and plenty of cargo, on a ten hour journey down the Rio Napo.  Along the way, we passed indigenous villages, oil fields ablaze, and tributaries teeming with flesh eating piranhas, a constant reminder of our presence in the world’s most famous jungle.  The Rio Napo is one of the largest rivers feeding the lush jungle of Ecuador.  Not far past where we made our exit to Nuevo Rocafuerte, it joins up with the all mighty Amazon and begins a 4,000 mile journey to the Atlantic Ocean.

Days before, we had been shivering in the shadows of Cotopaxi.  Now, we swatted mosquitoes from our balmy skin in the dense, at times suffocating, jungle.  As is often the case during our journey, we had no intention of being here.  We went to bed one night after having mapped our route south and woke up in the morning only to point our van east.

The majority of tourist visits to the Ecuadorian jungle are organized through expensive, all-inclusive jungle lodges, complete with planned daily activities and comfortable sleeping arrangements.  Naturally, this had no appeal for us.  We drove over the Andes without a plan but with the hope and intention of organizing our own jungle adventure.  Through plenty of perseverance and a bit of luck, we got hooked up with Guillermo and his friend Luis, who had agreed to give us a two day private tour of Yasuni National Park.  We would spend one night under the dense jungle canopy and the other two in Guillermo’s home with his family.

We packed up early that first morning and set out in Guillermo’s motorized canoe, a smaller version of the boat we’d ridden the day before.  We cruised through the chocolate brown waters and within minutes were joined by a school of Amazon River dolphins.  For me, the sole driving force for planning this jaunt to the jungle was to see these magnificent creatures.  The Amazon River Dolphin, aka pink dolphin, is one of a number of river dolphins and the largest cetacean to spend the majority of its time in freshwater.  In the past, they have been listed as a vulnerable species due to pollution, overfishing, boat traffic and habitat loss.  We would see dozens during our time in the jungle.

This first hour of our journey set the tone for the next few days, during which we saw countless new species and enjoyed new experiences.  In between river cruises, we went for hikes through the seemingly impenetrable landscape.  Luis, a knowledgeable naturalist, seemed to know every plant species we passed as well as its medical benefits.  We learned what to eat to cure a snake bite, how to combat various maladies ranging from constipation to malaria, and perhaps most importantly, how to survive for a few days if we ever found ourselves lost in this intense, outdoor wonderland.  We fished for, and caught, piranha, ate ants that tasted like lime, and went caiman hunting.  We watched the sunset and sunrise from the beauty of the water and fell asleep to the most penetrating melody of nature sounds I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.

You’ve heard us say before that we are mountain people and that remains the case.  Spending time in the buggy, humid landscape of the jungle meant pushing ourselves a bit outside our comfort zone.   However, words truly cannot describe this amazing ecosystem, which remains one of the most bio-diverse places on earth.  We left the jungle with our senses overwhelmed, yet fully aware that we had barely scratched the surface.