Monday, 19 August 2013

Into the Amazon

It's a long bus ride from Guayaquil, but Banos is definitely worth the trip. 

I was staying with my friend's relatives in the port city of Guayaquil, but had never been to the Amazon and REALLY wanted to see it.  I mean, I was kinda already there anyway.  We bought our bus tickets and headed over to the platform.  Now my friend's 60 year old mother and her skiddish sister-in-law had decided that they wanted to come along on this adventure with us.  We warned them that it wasn't going to be an easy ride, but they insisted that they wanted to join us.  

So off we went.  A big happy family in the front of a big ol' bus heading out on an 8 hour journey.  It took us forever to get out of the city as the bus made frequent stops and allowed merchants to board selling drinks, empanadas, BBQ and ice cream.  Everything you'd need to sustain yourself on the long journey.  But if you get motion sick, you might want to take it easy on the snacks, because you're in for quite a ride.      

Going into the mountains is an interesting ride with narrow winding roads that have a cliff on one side and a wall of rock on the over.  Couple that with front row seats, some rain and steep peaks and valleys and you've got yourself a white knuckle ride.  My friend's mom spent most of the ride gripping to her arm rest and the sister-in-law was digging her nails into her husband's leg. Before the end of this journey they were already talking about how they were going to get back to Guayaquil.  Me? I was fine.  I actually enjoyed a rather nice snooze.  Rainy days are perfect for napping. 

Finally, we arrived in Banos.  Hostels are pretty easy to come by, so I wouldn't
worry too much about booking something in advance.  Same with your tour.  There are a few tour companies with booths along the main strip, so you can just wander down the street and make your selection.  We also wandered down the street looking for a place to refuel.  We were having a lovely dinner when we noticed a commotion outside.  It was January 6, and they were having a parade in celebration of Epiphany Day in the Catholic faith and the "Mass of Children".  It was an interesting marriage of traditional Catholic symbolism and Pagan tradition - and dressing in drag.  There was lots of that going on too.  

The next day, we headed out on an excursion into the Amazon and our travel companions headed back home.  The trauma of the voyage was too much for them to handle.  I think they may have decided to take a cab to Quito and then fly home.  In any case, we was back to being just the two of us.  When we met with our tour group we were very happy to discover that only four more people would be joining us.  We hopped into the van and off we went.  Our fist stop was a 500m cable car ride over a ravine, towards a waterfall.  The view was spectacular, and if you're afraid of heights, probably a little terrifying too.  I however kind of like the idea of dangling in a small metal box 100m above the Earth.... errrrrr

We hopped back in the van and headed to a monkey sanctuary.  Did you know that I always wanted a monkey?  Well, until I realized that they were more feisty than they are cute. There were monkeys everywhere.  Walking next to us, sitting on chairs and hanging from the trees.  And right there in this moment of wonder an amazement, my friend squealed.  I monkey had jumped out of the tree an onto her back.  Being the best bestie ever, I shouted at her to keep still for a photo.  Impossible! She panicked and squirmed until the monkey finally gave up and left.  But there was no biting and no scratching, so what was the big deal anyway? (says me, the one with the camera and without a monkey on my back).  There was one little guy that I couldn't take my eyes off of.  He had spotted a worm under the boardwalk and was determined to get it.  He grabbed a twig to use as a shovel and used it to dig the worm out.  Clever little guy! 

Then we were back on the team van and headed off for the rain forest. I had always wondered about how the rain forest would feel.  Would it be just like that bio section at the science centre?  And in a way it was, but it was also so much for than that.  The air is thick and sticky and smells damp and musty.  It's kind of gross but wonderful all at the same time.  Had it not been a total kick to my senses I may not have believed that I was actually there.  And as I looked out over the forest, the dense tree cover seemed to extend forever.  We could barely take the our eyes off of this spectacular view long enough to change into our rubber boots and rain poncho.  It's the rainforest.  It rains, a lot.  So, we had to be prepared for whatever wet and muddy conditions we were about to encounter. 

Our guide took care to call our attention to various forms of plant life and it's uses.  It's important to know which ones you shouldn't touch and which ones can be food.  No one wants to get that mixed up.  We did not, however get to see much wildlife.  As tourism in the area has increased, the animals have gone further into the forest to avoid human interference.  News like that always bums me out a little.  Why can't we all just get along? 

About and hour and a half into our trek we reached a clearing with a waterfall.  Gorgeous! We stripped down to our bikinis and jumped on in.  FREEZING!!!!! Seriously, how could everything else be so warm and the water be so cold? We splashed around for a while trying not to get knocked over by the power of the water falling from above us and then our guide was ready to continue on.  But we were in our swimsuits and they were wet so we couldn't put our clothes back on.  hmmm... what to do? Continue the hike in a bikini, rubber boots and a poncho?  You bet! This was certainly not our most attractive look ever, but it worked as we hiked for another hour in the rain, through streams and across muddy banks. Slippery suckers those are, but at least my pants didn't get all muddy. 

After all this morning trekking it was time to rest our weary legs and have some lunch.  We were treated to a small feast of chicken soup, fresh fish (piranha - those things have way too many teeth for their size), rice and plantains. To continue our after lunch relaxation we were treated to a canoe ride.  The waters were no longer the cool clear waters of the waterfall but were murky muddy as they babbled along. The ride was calm and restful- a nice change of pace from the morning's trek. 

Once we arrived back on shore, we boarded the van and headed off to a few look out points before arriving in a village inhabited by the native peoples of that region.  They didn't really speak English or Spanish and my Quechua is non-existent.  Shocking right? But we did manage to share a very lovely tea together made from their neighbouring plant life. The next morning we headed down the street to the mineral baths in Banos (ah, so that's why it's called Banos!) Well earned after a lengthy trip and relaxing before a long winding bus ride back to Guayaquil.