By Sandra Scott
We have found Shangri-La, figuratively and literally, in the jungles of
Ecuador. On the way, during the 6-hour bus trip from Quito, they showed,
"Broken Chain," a movie about Joseph Brant and the Six Nations.
It started with a map of Central New York so I jumped up and pointed out
the location of "Mi Casa" to everyone on the bus.
When we arrived in the Amazonian town of Tena we knew it was going to
be an interesting week because we were issued life jackets and knee-high
rubber boots before continuing. Hotel Shangri-La is high above the river
with a panoramic view of the rain forest and the Andes in the distance.
This area is called "The Eyebrow of the Amazon" because the
elevation is around 1500 feet making it cooler and less humid than other
rainforests we have visited. However, it is much hillier than I anticipated
so hiking is a bit strenuous. The first night we could see the full moon
and stars from our cabana as the sound of the river lulled us to sleep.
Each day, after four hours of Spanish lessons, we have an adventure. It
doesn't leave much time for homework. The first day after an hour hike
through the jungle, we cooled off in a refreshing pool below the tumbling
cascades with the dense vegetation of the rain forest rising high above
the water and colorful butterflies, including large iridescence Blue Morphos,
flitting along the shore. The fun continued as we returned to camp in
an inner tube raft coursing over some exciting rapids.
Yesterday we climbed nearly straight down for 500 feet to the river and
tubed for two hours to the Rio Napo. It had rained hard during the night
so the river was running fast but there were only a few small rapids.
Today we started out in the back of a small pick-up truck and bounced
along the unpaved roads with the music blaring popular Ecuadorian songs.
We glimpsed fascinating slices of life: a man sitting on the roof of his
house replacing the palm leaves; a little girl carrying her brother, half
her size, on her hip as if she had been doing it for years; the women
scrubbing laundry on a rock at the edge of the river; and men clearing
the fields with their machetes. At a little beach area we climbed into
a 45-foot long motorized dugout canoe and off we went down the Rio Napo.
The green jungle vegetation was dotted with splashes of color from the
wild hibiscuses and birds of paradise. Our first stop was at Sacha Samai
Museum, built on sacred shaman ground, where aspects of traditional Amazonian
life were explained and John learned to use a blowgun, without the curare
of course. Further down river we visited
The Center for Rescued Animals where injured monkeys, tapirs, peccaries,
boas and various birds are rehabilitated, including rescued macaws, which
bring $5000 on the black market. On our return trip the dugout pulled
into a sandy islet in the middle of the river. The removable canoe seats
were place in a circle on shore and we dined on chicken with rice, apples,
and chocolate candies served by our guides, not another
soul or building in sight, only the river and the jungle.
One day it rained hard and for that we were thankful. We needed time to
study and relax in the hammocks. The pet coati, similar to a raccoon,
crawled into the hammock with John and both took a nap until the blare
from a conch shell announced dinner was ready. We dine family-style with
people from many parts of the world on typical American food except for
an occasional side dish of yucca or fried bananas.
Contrary to Hollywood's depiction, the jungle in not dripping with snakes
with dangerous critters lurking around every curve. In fact, it is very
difficult to see any animals in the wild, as most are nocturnal. This
part of Amazonia has many similarities to summertime in the Adirondacks
only with different vegetation and fewer mosquitoes.
Tomorrow we return to Quito for a few days before flying to the Galapagos
Islands. Sadly, we will bid farewell to our teachers. We have learned
a lot but it is only a start, more lessons are necessary. It is easy to
fall in love with this beautiful place where orchids and Impatiens, here
referred to as "See Me Beautiful," grow wild. There is something
magical about the rain forest. Maybe it awakens something in our primordial
memory or possibly the super-oxygenated air of the jungle makes us feel
euphoric. Whatever it is, the jungle has entranced everyone here and no
one wants to leave.
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