“Get down!” yelled our river guide as we passed through the jaws of a rapid aptly named “the Waffle Maker.” We knew the rapid was potentially serious when the rafters were instructed to pull over to the bank while the kayakers scouted the rapid. Given the thumbs up we proceeded down the shoot for a thrilling ride without folding onto ourselves like a waffle iron!
Basically the eastern half of Ecuador is deep Amazon Jungle. We read about whitewater rafting trips originating near the town of Tena at the western edge of the Amazon that cut through the jungle and boasted of class IV rapids. This we thought would be an exciting introduction to this part of the world. The drive down from Cotacachi in the highlands to Tena passed through cloud forest and torrential rains. It rained hard all night before our trip was scheduled and although it was just drizzling in the morning we were slightly nervous. We asked the guides of the company, the River People, if the rain was supposed to stop or if they thought the river might be too high to run. There were no guarantees and come hell or high water (literally) we were going down that river! “Now please sign the waiver.” The ½ mile hike to the river was down a mud soaked path that could suck the sandals right off your feet. The river can rise over 15 feet in just a couple of hours depending on where the rains are the heaviest. In that case we would have to hike for four hours out of the canyon, hacking our way with machetes. The weather cleared and the river was phenomenal drifting into calm pools through a deep jungle setting punctuated by thrilling whitewater drops. There were waterfalls shooting off of the canyon walls that the guides would sometimes steer us under for a thorough soaking. In the calm pools we drifted past walls with orchids growing right out of the rocks. The sounds of birds and sometimes monkeys were just what you would think of when imagining the sounds of the jungle. What a great adventure! How we have missed our love of rafting for so many years! We only wish we had a waterproof camera to capture more than the lunch stop on the trip.
East of Tena we stopped in the town of Misahualli to get a further look into the Amazon. We started our “self-guided” hike from a private reserve with a simple trail map to follow. Beginning our trek at 2:45 it was supposed to be a brief jungle walk. We opted for a loop hike that would take us back to the beginning without traversing the same path twice. During the first pleasant and leisurely hour Ann sang jokingly the Gilligan’s island theme- “a three hour tour.” During the next two hours we morphed from a leisurely walking pace to varying degrees of panicked running. The signs were absent or made no sense. We found ourselves crossing the same stream several times as the paths evaporated before us. When climbing over fallen trees that blocked our way we encountered dead ends on the other side. Turning back, retracing our steps we climbed and fell on steep mud before noticing a “no entre” sign on the path from which we had just emerged. It was going to be dark in a about an hour and a half, we had no food, we were almost out of water and I’m pretty sure we were lost in the jungle – this was definitely not good. The sun was now low in the sky and it would soon be dark as we watched the line of jungle ants marching across the leaves beneath our feet. Hmmm…spending the night in the Amazon without shelter with poisonous spiders and Anacondas which could crush us in a heartbeat! I could barely keep up with Ann who was now virtually running back down the path we came in on. We emerged at the beginning of the trail at sunset and Amelia never looked so good.
Our final jungle excursion was a nine hour guided tour which included a motorboat ride down the Napo River, another jungle walk though this time with a certified guide, and a village visit where we had a special tea brewed for us and learned rope making from natural resources and pottery skills. We also visited Amazoonico, an animal rescue reserve where they cared for jungle animals retrieved from the vast illegal animal trade. We were told that animals rank third in illegal trade behind drugs and guns! Depending on the circumstances, some of the animals could be rehabilitated and reentered into the wild but those who were unable to adapt to their native surroundings successfully would remain in the reserve for their lifetimes. For the Anaconda whose lifespan is up to 90 years- that’s a long time. On a forced and rather weird and touristy note we visited a village were dancing women and girls performed before us, half-heartedly encouraging the foreigners to join in. Sadly, a captured constrictor, a lizard and a monkey were available for tourist photos. These poor creatures may end up in the reserve for ill-used jungle animals we had just visited.