I awake with a start just in time to watch the fog clear from the trees, rising and slowly dissipating, bowing to the sun`s powerful rays. My mind is still cluttered with debris from my dreams, flashbacks of going to University in Quito, an aging grandfather and snapshots from a fictional high school prom imprint their fading images in my memory. I search for clues leading to some rational pattern but my cagey imaginative subconscious has already made its retreat.
As I shuffle onto my balcony I am greeted with the sight of silhouettes on the bank of the mighty Napo River and the cleansing sound of rain marred by the intermittent sound of a canoe`s engine as it makes its way upstream, carrying a load full of passengers. I wonder what these shadowy figures think as they cast their nets into the water, gazing up at this fortress filled with tourists and over stuffed bellies. We stare at each other in the early morning haze from opposite shores, worlds apart.
After breakfast I hop in another motorized canoe to see an animal refuge. It rains all morning and so our jungle walk is canceled. (I`m beginning to think I will never get to see the ¨real¨ jungle, destined to catch glimpses of it from an airplane or far off distance). I tour the refuge for orphaned and rescued animals with an Ecuadorian couple from Ambato who were kind enough to pay for my ticket when I realize I have no cash with me (a very humbling experience). Our guide is a Swiss volunteer who struggles through the tour in Spanish (I help translate when I can for our friends) as he explains each of the animals´ habits and preferences. It`s clear he is passionate about helping these animals, but it feels like visiting a mini zoo. Later we visit a two room museum consisting of Kichwa folk art, putrefied snakes in jars, and examples of traps the Kichwa used to use for hunting. The traps are cool but overall I`m not that impressed.
We return for lunch and I spend the afternoon napping in my hammock (this time I don`t have to convince myself to relax). Around 3:30 I take another canoe to visit a Kichwa family on Anaconda Island (sounds daunting, right?) where I join a large group of Swiss tourists who do not speak English or Spanish. I listen as the Doña demonstrates how to make chicha from the yuca plant before serving us a traditional bowl of the fermented liquid. It feels a bit like playing the game Telephone in this room as everything is translated from Kichwa to Spanish to German. I take a sip of the chicha (made from yuca that is chewed and then spit into an earthen vat to ferment), it is strong and a bit sour but not the worst alcoholic beverage I`ve tasted. Later we each get to practice using a traditional blow gun to shoot darts at a wooden monkey dangling from the trees. We all miss but it is fun nonetheless. We wrap up the evening with a visit to a local ceramics work shop and then finish with a demonstration of how to make balsa wood figurines.
The sunset when we return to the resort is breathtaking, enhanced by the contrast of the black outline of palms against the orange and purple hues of the sinking sun. I take another dip in the pool before dinner as I start to realize I could get very, very used to this.
I wake up early again with no alarm clock. I try peering at the sky to discern the time, but no luck. It`s all fog and birds chirping, I can`t see a thing. I keep tossing and turning, convinced by now it must be at least 8am. I finally get up and meander over to breakfast. I look at the clock behind reception…6:50am. My body must be on Ecuadorian time.
Today I am finally getting what I want. After inquiring after kayaking (no luck, minimum of 6 people needed), then rafting (nope. minimum of 4), I ask about a long jungle walk. ¨Yes, we can do that.¨ Hallelujah! ¨Would you like to have lunch on the beach?¨ (Are you kidding? I would love lunch on the beach)! I excitedly rush to my room to pack my mochilla for an excursion in the jungle. I even put on sunscreen and bug spray. At 8:30 the sun is shining and my guide is waiting for me at the desk, ready to go. We hop in a truck and the first thing we do is stop by his house so he can grab his machete. He then teases me that we are going to be walking for twenty hours. ¨¡Vámonos!¨ I say. Things are looking up.
We are dropped off by a local school where we begin our walk into the dense jungle. As we cross small streams and slop through the muddy trail my guide explains that we are going into a part of the forest protected by the Casa del Suizo, an area that has not been cut down or impacted by human destruction. The path is a trail of thick fallen leaves barely discernible to my untrained eye. As we climb up the hill I look around and am relieved to note there is no one else around. No houses, no cars, no satellites. His radio is turned off. The only sounds are insects and birds and the sound of small fruits falling in the wind. Yessss.
We walk for about 4 1/2 hours as Jose stops to explain medicinal uses for plants and the old Kichwa way of life. The more he talks the more amazed I become of the bounty of the rain forest. Every leaf, every plant, each flower and fruit down to the tiniest termite has a use and purpose. The forest is bursting with life and each living organism has a specific role to play. I am in awe. I begin to think about my own country and how far away we are from this intimate connection to life. Along our walk we see trees that are hundreds of years old (the oldest is over 800 years old) and I stand humbled in their presence as I think of all the centuries of history they`ve witnessed. I sample leaves that taste like vanilla, and chew on the stem of a ¨natural anesthetic¨ that makes my mouth tingle for a good 15 minutes. I even taste an ant (yes, this time I willingly eat one of the little buggers) that supposedly has a lime flavor but I try to swallow it before I can feel it crawling on my tongue.
We don`t see any monkeys or snakes, or even any toucans (although we do hear some in the distance) but I am exposed to a depth of knowledge I can only hope to one day understand. The knowledge of Creation and how it is meant to work in harmony and complete balance with all living things (including humans). I desperately hope that this knowledge continues to be protected and shared. Processes like ¨civilization¨, oil extraction, deforestation and land reassignment constantly threaten this delicate balance and the way of Life over destruction and extinction. Reality is often grim but I have faith that as Gabriel García Márquez states, ¨In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.¨
We do indeed have lunch on the beach and then float down the river in a homemade balsa raft. I finish the evening with a total body massage listening to the waves crash on the rocks below and the birds flying above. I order a cocktail before dinner and watch the sun set for the last time over the Napo River. I am content.
*I had many more beautiful photos to accompany these posts but in my hurried attempt to create more space on my memory card I deleted every single one. Sad. But please close your eyes and imagine with me the scenes that are described here. Thanks for reading!Google+