animalia, aventura, Ecuador, humanoid wildlife, natural wonder, South America

run through the jungle

Bec / 19/05/2013

Shiripuno community sits along the Napo River not far from Misahualli, a half hour drive from the capital of the province, Tena. Developed and run by the women of the village, the tourist centre includes traditional bamboo and thatch cabins for accommodation, no electricity, a traditional and regular kitchen, dining room, cold, non-potable water, sometimes-flushing toilets, a chocolate house, handicraft shop, a yellow and blue macaw, several dogs, food crops, extensive gardens, resident tarantula, turtle, boa constrictor and deep jungle iguana.

We made good use of the hammocks, enjoyed the food they prepared for us and all the activities they arranged for us. Not so pleased with a group from an Alabama university who arrived like a herd of elephants after we had gone to bed with the most possible noise and heavy flat-footed walking. For the whole time they were there they were a constant noise-machine and we missed out on local alcohol on bonfire night because they were underage by USA law. Not happy.

The night hike on day one was led by Leopold and involved a lot of squealing, skirting around spiders that jump, a heliconia snake that I spotted while trying to avoid touching a katydid, mating crickets and finally a tarantula the size of your hand. Lou and Kristin were the brave ones who let it crawl over them. I used the fact I had repellent on my arms which annoys giant spiders so perhaps better to let it go back to bed without a handshake from me.

The following morning, Leopold used achiote seed paste to draw symbols on our cheeks – the Amazon jungle version of a tourist visa apparently. An hour in the canoe took us into the deeper primary jungle and we set off for three to four hours hiking dressed in gumboots and repellent. No real wildlife to speak of besides birds and occasional insects, most things seem to be nocturnal. The leaf-cutter ants are just as busy there as in Costa Rica too.

We stopped several times to learn about natural medicines from the plants including the Ortega plant that gives you instant hives but takes your mind off the insect bites and is good for inflammation. There’s a plant that when you mix the sap with water and snort it up your nose it burns like a sonofabitch but does it clear you out or what!

We ate lemon ants, quickly before they could bit our tongue and then had a long session of palm weaving including a crown for me – answered a question about the river, so I’m the queen, a fashionable handbag for Camille, a backpack for the US solo traveler who joined us the whole time, Garret, and Ivy made a tent. By now we had attracted an impressive audience of hungry mosquitos so continued on. Squelching through thick mud threatening to suck our boots off and clambering up and down steep tracks we continued to our waiting canoe to go back to the community.

After lunch we ventured up to a guesstimated centuries-old tree, a ceiba like those in Central America, eg. Tikal. It was giant and we all easily fit in between two buttresses flowing down from the trunk.

The afternoon was spent alternating between bobbing along, heartily paddling and bouncing down the mini rapids of the Napo river in tractor tire inner tubes. As the sun set over the mountains, we passed locals nakedly bathing, didn’t feel anything untoward brush past our legs and had a job of a time exiting the tubes and river into the canoe again. Had we been skydiving, I would have been the only one who would have landed on the target, the rest would have been stranded on power lines and dragged through forestry. We all made it safely home so all good in the wash up.

We had a full day again, this time with Marina, first of all touring the crop areas that feed the community, using palm umbrellas when it rained, wove our own crowns, picked yuca root, limes and cocoa pods – the white fleshy part around a cocoa bean when you crack open the pod tastes like a cross between mango and passionfruit and made us wonder if there’s a job out there, sucking the tasty white fleshy part off cocoa beans. While I was furiously wiping biting ants out of my boots while they were taking offense at my boot crushing their mound, a woman of indeterminate, advanced age appeared from the thick of trees with the traditional basket on her back and anchored on her forehead and a machete. Maria is Marina’s grandmother and also of Jenet who is the president of the women’s association who run Shiripuno. Maria speaks only Kichwa, the indigenous dialect so we learned how to introduce ourselves and ask for a photo.

Marina showed us how to pan for gold traditionally, and found some flecks. We went through the method for making chocolate, during which time Maria returned to the camp with a basket full of plantains that was probably heavier than her. We missed out on a blow pipe lesson because someone had left the one and only blow pipe in Tena following a contest.

Patience was tested while learning how to make bracelets from natural fibers and seeds that I probably won’t be allowed to bring home through customs. We gingerly wrapped whole tilapia fish in palm leaves to BBQ for lunch and somewhere in all that I got to know the blue and yellow macaw, Nina, likes her head and neck scratched so much her eyes flutter.

We had the formations on a giant boulder pointed out to us to show off jaguars, a woman, monkey, caiman and how parts of it must be hollow inside as it echoes when you knock on it. We continued on to the actual community of people who developed Shiripuno and played soccer with the kids. I scored one goal or our two before the kids, around 7-10 years old, rolled us about 4-2, or maybe it was 5-2…a thrashing either way. As losers we had to buy them their drink of choice – cola of course – while I grabbed five giant beers for our commiserations over dinner for about $6. Love it.

After dinner we had traditional dancing around a giant bonfire and shared one plastic cup of cuba libre between our small group since the underage noise-machines from Alabama couldn’t have enjoyed the local brew as much as we would have liked to ourselves.

Leaving the jungle the next day we got a hug from Maria, gave up our gumboots and set bus-sail for Baños. It was a little sad to leave behind such a bright and happy community of motivated people and return to bricks and mortar and traffic…oh but then I remember hot showers, no need for repellent, less tarantulas, no gumboots, laundry facilities…
















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