Our first trip to the Amazon blew me away.
The sounds, the smells, the tastes…the heat, the humidity, the bugs…the things that can kill you! We spent two days at a remote jungle lodge called El Albergue Español run by the indigenous Amazon Quichua (kit-chew-wa).
We enjoyed an amazing nature hike through a jungle preserve. Our Quichua guide Ramon led the way. It was a great honor to see the jungle through his eyes. To me, the jungle was just a tangled mass of green and brown. To Ramon, it was a landscape filled with food, medicine and wildlife. His ability to spot things in the jungle amazed me. He could find the brown grasshopper sitting on the brown stick in among the brown leaves, or the tiniest dart frog hiding in the debris around the base of a tree.
Ramon’s love of and respect for the jungle was evident with every step he took. When he would stop to point something out or to tell us about a particular plant or animal he would tend to the nearby plant life. Removing debris from the leaves of a plant, cutting through a vine that was strangling a tree, etc. At one point he came across an orchid that had fallen out of the tree canopy above. Without so much as a second thought he grabbed a small vine and lovingly reattached the orchid on a nearby branch before continuing the hike.
Along the way Ramon and his assistant Walter decided it was time for a little snack. They tromped off into the forest to find a rotting log – and came back with a handful of large, bulbous, wiggling grubs. Glenn and Jorgen were up for tasting this local delicacy…me, not so much. “It tastes like flan, with a touch of caramel,” said Glenn after chewing and swallowing the writhing mass. I’ll take his word for it!
I often followed close behind Ramon as he slowly sauntered through the forest scanning for interesting things to show us, but more importantly scanning for dangers such as scorpions or the deadly fer-de-lance viper (often referred to as the “X-Snake” here in Ecuador). At one point Ramon came to an abrupt stop, jumped into the air and seemingly levitated backwards 2 feet. He had almost stepped on an X-Snake, thought of as the most dangerous and aggressive snake in South America!
Since the snake was busy swallowing a whole frog we were relatively safe. I decided to bend down close to the snake to get an even better picture. Just as I was about as close as I felt comfortable getting, my large aluminum water bottle came tumbling out of my backpack and nearly hit the snake on the head! Not cool. We all jumped, screamed a bit (at least I did) and held our breath to see what the snake would do. By then he had nearly finished swallowing the frog so we decided it was time to leave since I had likely just pissed him off by disturbing his lunch!
After our hike our guides made a raft out of balsa wood logs and we floated the Napo River (the largest contributor to the Amazon River) back to the jungle lodge for the evening.
In the afternoon we took a motorized canoe down the river to visit a local Quichua family. We got to see how they live off the land and farm goods like cacao for sale. They welcomed us into their home and we learned of their customs and tasted some sweet plantains that had just been roasted on the fire. Ramon painted my face with the colored paste from a seedpod he picked up from the ground.
After our visit several of the grandchildren followed us back to the river. The little boys had tuna cans attached to the end of a stick that made for little cars that they pushed ahead of them, saying “beep, beep!” to get us to move off the trail and let them pass. A few of them stowed away on our canoe as we were leaving, then giggled hysterically as they jumped off the front of the boat to swim back to shore.
Visiting the Amazon was a truly magical experience.