Tomorrow makes the third week I will have been in Ecuador. I am almost halfway through my adventure here but it feels like time is irrelevant. I didn´t sleep well last night and this morning I woke up with the sniffles, tell-tale signs that my body is probably not getting the nutrition I need. Oh well. After sleeping in for a bit I took an afternoon excursion to Puyo, a 15 minute bus ride from Shell or an hour and a half from Baños.
I had heard about the Paseo de Monos, a refuge for animals (mostly monkeys), who have been rescued from illegal trafficking after their families have been killed. The majority of the monkeys are in cages but many of them are allowed to roam free and are known for being playful (ie jumping on your head, or climbing on your shoulders). I was dying for some interaction with nature so after hopping off the bus I took a taxi ($3 each way) to the refuge. The admission entrance is $2 but don´t expect to find an office or anyone to greet you. There are many volunteers but they are in the refuge working and tending to the animals. If you like you can leave your purse or anything that might be tempting for the monkeys to take behind. There is a path you can walk along the river where you can see the monkeys, parrots, and a few other animals. The park is very beautiful and tranquil. All in all I probably spent about an hour hanging out with the monkeys (a few of the smaller ones did climb on my shoulders and snuggle up to me!) and when I was done I was able to call a taxi to be picked up.
From the Paseo de Monos I went to the Parque Etno-Botánico in the Omare neighborhood which is a park that showcases indigenous cultures and some of the medicinal plants they use for various illnesses. (This cost an extra dollar via taxi). Admission here is $5 (or $3 per person for a large group) and you can walk through the park with a guide who will explain the many uses for native plants. They also have two traditional Shuar dwellings and examples of weapons the Waorani used to hunt and fight their enemies. I spent about two hours with the native guide (Spanish speaking) and was able to ask questions along the way. They also sell some of the traditional all natural medicine in reception (I bought a tonic that´s supposed to help your hair grow long and beautiful for $3). The park is located right next to the Puyo River and there is a beautiful scenic pathway you can walk that follows the river. On the weekends this area is bustling with people going for a swim in the river or spending time in one of the nearby restaurants eating Volquetero (a traditional dish in Puyo).
From the park I took another taxi ($1 this time, although the first driver quoted me $5) to the Casa de la Balsa. This shop lines the main street and sells all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets made from balsa wood. It was fun to look around although I didn´t buy much, a few postcards and some bracelets for about .25 cents each. Across the street they sell all kinds of taffy and candy made from sugar cane and jugo de caña, the best juice I´ve had so far in Ecuador. It´s incredibly sweet but with a touch of lime juice it was the perfect way to finish an afternoon in Puyo.
*If you are interested, both the Paseo de Monos and the Parque Etnobotánico accept volunteers. Check out their websites for more info!
Have you been to Ecuador? What daytrips would you recommend?Google+