Quito. We just went to the main square, had lunch and bought a few supplies. We were bagged from yesterday and needed to prepare for tomorrow, so Quito will wait until we get back to explore.
There are lots of pictures in this one.
Roberto picked us up at our hotel at precisely 6AM to start our journey to the jungle. We drove to another hotel to pick up four others from Texas. Marc and his wife Laurie, their 16 year old daughter Anna, and family friend 29 year old Monica.
Our seven hour drive took us north east through some rolling green hills and beautiful scenery. This part of Ecuador is the adventure area with bungee jumping, rappelling, zip lining, and biking. We stopped in a lovely small town of Banos for breakfast and could see why it was very popular with tourists.
At 2PM we arrived at the small airport called 'Shell', named after the oil company. All of our luggage was weighed and then we each had to get on the scales too as we were flying on small six seater cessnas.
Waiting there for us was a Hourani man called Moi and his family. Moi is the president of the Hourani tribe and spends a lot of time on the main land talking to politicians and oil people, not to mention President Obama as well as others. He is working hard to make things work between the oil companies and the tribe. The Ecuadorian government is on the side of the oil companies because it brings a lot of revenue to the country, but the Hourani tribe are losing a lot of their hunting grounds, not to mention that they are cutting down the rain forest and polluting the land. The incidence of cancer has risen substantially in the last few decades since the oil companies came.
The Ecuadorian Government said that there were not many Hourani left, so selling the land to the oil companies would not impact them. Moi spent eight months walking from village to village to do a census to prove to the Government that there were in fact many left.
The history of the Hourani is a violent one. They killed so many people over the years, oil men, loggers, other tribes people, missionaries and many of their own. The spear would solve many problems for them, protecting their land and culture, revenge issues as well as some anger issues. The last killing was March of last year. A revenge killing of 30 people of another tribe the Taromenane, who still remain deep in the jungle and want no contact with the outside world. They killed an elder Hourani couple, which promoted the revenge.
I would think of this sometimes as we were hiking through the jungle, or floating happily down the river, that perhaps they were hiding in the bushes with spears.
Moi had some groceries that he wanted us to take back for him and he also showed us some of his handicrafts that were for sale. He needed to make some money to get to the the hospital to have an injury checked out. We each bought a necklace or two from him. I bought two with large teeth of wild pigs that are rather unique.
The group was divided into two with myself, Doug, our guide Roberto and Monica who got to be the co pilot. The flight over the Jungle was breathtaking. We can see the river snaking its way through the dense forest.
In forty minutes we see a patch of grass and realize that we are going to land there. As we are flying lower to land many groups of Huorani are coming out of the jungle to greet us. By the time the planes landed there must have been fifty people in total running towards us, young and old. We felt like quite the celebrities.
After meeting a few people and sharing a glass of lemonade we are given rubber boots which will be our footwear for the next five days.
Our bags are taken for us as we hike through the mud into the jungle and towards the river. A very long wooden dug out canoe is waiting for us. There is an engine at the back for travelling upstream or if in a hurry. Most times one man at the front and one at the back push a long pole into the river to help us manoeuvre down.
We are now going by canoe for an hour to our village camp. The river is not that deep right now and there are so many sticks and logs proving a challenge to navigate. Our driver, who looks to be less than 18, is very skilled however and arrive in one piece and still dry.
The humidity is very high, sweat is pouring off us. The temperature here never varies much, being on the equator. It is usually around 29, but it gets more humid this time of year.
Pulling off to the side of the river we climb the bank to our homes for the next few nights. You can not see them from the river as they blend in. You can not find them on Google maps because the canopy is so dense.
The main meeting area is a raised building on stilts that is screened in on all four sides and has a wooden roof. Inside is a table with 8 chairs and our lunch is waiting.
I did not expect much for food here, but was happily surprised at the quality and quantity of food. Anna was also a vegetarian and the cook was very accommodating.
We have two cooks, one cleaner and couple of boat drivers and workers. The camp is run by the Huorani with the guidance of a manager. The staff rotate every time new guests arrive, then return to their village and give others a chance. The marketing and payments are done by an American company because there is not any internet or communication in the jungle, which would make it impossible to manage.
There is a manager, Mowgli, a young man from Quito, but everyone else is from the community and most of the money stays here.
For every meal we would have an appetizer, main course and dessert, all fantastic and tasty. We were not going to go hungry here.
Full, but tired, we were taken to our cabins. There is not any internet, telephones, tv or electricity here. Solar panels keep the fridge and a few lights going.
Our cabin is four screened walls. No privacy but we are in the jungle and set back from the paths. We have two comfortable twin beds, one light bulb, a bathroom with flush toilet, sink and shower with cool water. Our porch has a wonderful hammock and area to leave our muddy boots.
In the evening we met our local guide, 'Bay', who is a Huorani hunter aged 54. He took us on a night walk after dinner through the jungle looking for nocturnal animals and insects. Before we went however we were told to be careful where we stepped and put our hands as there were many deadly snakes, scorpions, and spiders lurking under leaves and branches. We also had to be aware of these huge Conga ants, about an inch long, that sting like crazy and leave you in pain for a long time.
The jungle is very loud. Frogs that sound like large animals, cicadas, birds and crickets fill the air with their singing.
Every tree, insect and flower has a use and a purpose. We have learned a lot from Bay already on our first day.
Sleeping in the jungle with all the sounds around us was a great lullaby.
After a large breakfast of eggs, bread, fruit and granola we set off in the canoe for 40 minutes upstream towards the airstrip. The next four hours were spent walking through the jungle learning about the medicinal plants, edible and hunting plants and looking at the different tracks in the mud. And speaking of the mud, it was a boot eater. Sinking and slipping through lots of mud.
We came to a huge tree that had a 'Tarzan' vine hanging from it, so we each took a turn swinging through the jungle which was fun. I did not get too far before falling off however. I am made painfully aware that I have not been to the gym in three months.
We came to the river, so hot dirty and tired, to find that we can swim in this part of the Amazon. After finding a tree to change behind we all welcomed the cold refreshing water for an hour. The rain came while we were swimming which made it even more invigorating.
Lunch was waiting for us on the side of the river. Our cook, with two of her four children, were there to serve us another great meal.
A walk back across the airstrip and we are at the community centre. There are many small family areas within a large area, but they all meet here in the community area to play sports such as soccer, go to the two schools here, high school and elementary as well as a gathering place.
A couple of dozen people are in building in the middle which has a palm roof and open sides. Six or more small areas hold necklaces, bracelets and bags that are the local handicraft and for sale. Nothing is said, they patiently sit there talking amongst themselves. Small children are playing in the grass and a couple of the teens are playing soccer.
Our group of six tried to buy from each of the vendors. A couple of necklaces from one and then I bought a blow gun from another. We will learn to shoot using a blow gun tomorrow.
Two of the young girls in our group are single, so the men held arms and ran in a circle chanting and singing before circling Anna, the youngest, and pushing a young single male towards here. This is a mock wedding. and they have just married her off to an eligible bachelor. They did the same with Monica and it was great fun.
We were given a tour of the school which has been closed since January. It is very hard to get teachers to commit to living here for a year, and now the government has decided not to fund education here any more. Very sad. The education is very basic in the reading writing arithmetic department, focussing more on learning the history of their elders and ways of the hourani tribes. Like most places the kids are not as interested in the old ways anymore, so there is a big focus on preserving it.
Our last stop was a visit to an elder woman and her husband who have so many stories to tell. She showed us a scar of a spear that she was shot with as a young girl that went right through her.
The company that we have booked this trip with with focuses on creating an awareness about these communities and what the logging and oil companies are doing to damage the lifestyles and habits of these people.
It was a very long day and after another canoe ride home, we collapsed into bed for a rest before dinner.
Today we learn how to hunt, the Hourani way. Down the river by canoe a ways and then a walk through a different part of the forest. We were shown tracks in the mud of anacondas, caiman, large wild pigs and rodents, and many birds.
Once we were deep in the jungle our first mission was to kill a squirrel with a blowgun.
Well not really, or course I could never do that. Bay hung a up a large flower pod as a target and we each took a turn.
Bay was dressed ( or undressed) in his traditional hunting garb. A small undergarment and a few adornments was all that he wore. He was barefoot and carried his heavy blowgun and a spear. Roberto decided to go barefoot today too, which proved to be a challenge for him as there are so many biting ants.
The blowgun is around 8 feet long and very heavy. Trying to hold it up to aim proves difficult, but with a bit of help I was able to shoot quite close to the target.
We then had to aim at a monkey (the favourite food of the Hourani) which was a target at the top of a palm tree. Shooting up was actually easier. Of course we were not shooting a real monkey either. We were laughing and making so much noise there were no animals within 10 miles or more.
A walk further into the jungle and we try our hand at spear throwing. Targets are set up to resemble wild pigs and we learn how to sneak up and throw our spear in for the kill.
Our last lesson was tree climbing. They weave a circle of vines to put around their feet and shimmy up, blowgun in hand, and shoot the monkeys from the top.
After watching the two young women having great difficulty trying to do it, we decided not to humiliate our selves and politely declined.
A lot of the women have deformed feet from doing so much climbing at an early age, they resemble hands from wrapping them around the tree.
This is still the way of life for the Huroni. It was not a show for the tourists, but the way that they really live today. It was fascinating.
We returned back to camp and after a rest we sat in the hammock cabin overlooking the river learning how to make some of the baskets from palms as other crafts. Bay told us some stories of the jungle, translated by Roberto.
The girls came into the dinner room all excited because they saw a snake outside their cabin. Roberto ran off to find it, in the dark, and he and a couple of other guys had to kill it as it was a very poisonous snake. Thankfully no one got bit.
After dinner everyone went out in the canoe for a night hunt for caimans. I stayed back at the cabin. They didn't see any but did see other birds and tracks in the sand.
Thunder like I have never heard last night. The storm was right over head and shook the cabin at times. Rain pelting down accompanied by lightning and more thunder. The real rainforest experience. Roberto said that he was scared......it does not happen here too much like that.
In the morning the rain stopped and it was another warm but muggy day. We packed up our belongings after breakfast and tried to fit everything back in to our small backpacks.
All of our clothes are filthy and smelly and seem to take up a lot more room.
We said our goodbyes to the staff who were staying behind and split into two groups. Doug and I were with Monica and a few of the boatman as they poled the canoe downstream. So peaceful and beautiful floating down the river.
After an hour or so we pulled onto a beach and switched with the other three who were kayaking.
Kayaking on the amazon. What an experience. The canoe followed behind us a distance as we went with the current, dodging the many sticks and logs coming out of the water. I was the lead kayak with Roberto navigating the river, while Doug and Monica followed behind us.
An hour or so later we arrived at Bay's house. We were greeted by four small children, his grandkids, and were led up the hill through the many fruit trees on his land. The Hourani people can decide where they want their homes, if they want it over here, then that is fine. No one questions it, you build you house where you want to.
His land is beautiful and he has a few structures on it. Sleeping, cooking and communal buildings. Beba his wife greets us at the house as well has his two daughters and a few other relatives . They are in the traditional dress, Beba (bebantoque) topless and the daughters have bathing suit tops on and skirts made of tree bark.
Our greeting involves having the red colour of a fruit painted around our eyes. We are all given Hourani names and welcomed with the local drink of chicha.
The local girls then took a few of the fruit and smashed them into Roberto's and the other boys faces, which was then returned by the boys. It became a war of red paint for a while, and a young boy around seven decided to smash a fruit in my face which he and everyone else found quite amusing.
A few handicrafts were sitting on a bench which we looked at and each bought one or two things. Doug and I bought a couple of necklaces and two small spears.
Then we danced the traditional dance done at parties and the women sang a few chants. It was great fun and everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves. A small baby capuchin monkey was there as a pet. They rescued him from the forest and he was quite happy sitting on our heads and being part of the action.
In the kitchen were other pets which included two baby red tanagers and two blue ones as well as a parakeet. The Hourani like to have parakeets as they let them know when visitors, or enemies, are coming.
When ever we approach a Hourani home the lead person hoots, or makes a noise to let them know we are coming.
It was now 2PM and we were hungry so set off up the hill to Bay's old house, a building with no walls and a palm roof that is very sparse at this point. Chino had our lunch ready for us, once again a wonderful three course meal which included poached pears for dessert.
Thunder in the distance and then the rain poured down. The roof did not seem to keep much off of us, Roberto produced some ponchos which were welcomed. We waited for the rain to pass but after half and hour decided to go. Our path down to the canoe was now a small muddy river.
It rained for most of the hour and a half ride but we all found it a fun part of the Amazon experience. There seemed to be more obstacles in this part of the river which necessitated us ducking in the canoe to get under large fallen branches and manoeuvring around fallen trees.
To get over a large log that is laying across the river submerged just under the surface our driver would go very fast to glide over it and lift the engine at the last minute. It made for a bumpy ride at times, but exciting.
We arrived at our home for the night which consists of four platforms with tents for each party. We have foam mattresses, sheets and pillows. It seems quite comfortable.
The rest of the crew went for a hike up to this huge tree we passed on the way, but I stayed behind to rest.
Tonight is our last night in the jungle.
I have been fighting off a cold since we have arrived, but last night it came with a-vengeance and settled in my chest. The hike to the waterfall did not sound like the best plan for me so unfortunately I missed the hike. Doug decided to hang back with me.
The rest of the group left at 6:30AM and returned around 8. They said it was a very muddy, slippery and steep climb up and down to the waterfall so I felt I made the right decision.
I sat in the open air dining room and took funny pictures with my ipad of the kids and women. We were all having a great time and laughing a lot.
After breakfast we packed up the canoe, said our goodbyes to the staff and made our way down river in the canoe for a few more hours.
A stop in another local community with more dancing, learning how to make fire, and handicraft purchases. Each place we have stopped have had different items which is great.
Another couple of hours in the canoe heading to the town of Coca. As we head downstream we can see the canopy getting lighter. The forest is thinning out and the sun feels hotter now.
We reached the town and tried to clean up a bit, change into the least dirty and smelly of our clothes for the trip back to Quito. This is an oil town, many people are employed on the rigs and everything else that goes along with oil drilling. Unfortunately what also comes with it is that the locals also get involved with more alchol ,prostitution and other vices that are not common in the jungle normally. There are a lot of plantations where the land is cleared for cattle and farming. Pollution is of course another big problem.
We have many of these problems with our own oil tar sands as well of course, but the Amazon rainforest is considered the lungs of the world and no one wants it to be cut down and to die from oil and logging.
On the way to the airport we stopped at an animal rescue centre to view some of the animals that we only saw the tracks of, as many are nocturnal.
Our flight to Quito was pleasant, our bags (and spears and blowguns) all arrived with us and we say our goodbyes to our jungle 'family' of the last five days.
We found out that some teachers have arrived and that school will be back in. The government was also coming to look at building another elementary school in another village which is great news.
The staff at each of the places we stayed were wonderful. We have not complaints or criticism what so ever.
We were very happy to have Roberto as our guide. He was so enthusiastic about everything, like it was the first time he saw it too. He was incredibly kind, patient and had boundless energy. His passion for the Amazon jungle and the Hourani people added to our enjoyment and desire to understand the area even more.
Our four fellow travellers from Texas were great companions and we all seemed to get along very well. We felt very blessed to have just a small group with people who were ready for adventure and what ever came our way.
Quito. Well another day in Quito where we won't be seeing much. Doug has picked up a bug of some kind so we are laying low in the hotel room, which is actually fine by me too. We sent out our laundry (those poor souls who have that awful job) and will re pack and re group for our flight south early tomorrow morning. The cab is coming for us at 3:45 AM !!
It is now on to the Galapagos Islands for a week. The fun never stops.