Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Heart of Snarkness--the jungle, part I

We are from a high sierra ecosystem...I think. Whatever it's called, the point I'll make about our ecosystem is that it's sun-baked, windswept, bitterly cold in winter and covered with snow, and dry in summer. We have laws in Colorado prohibiting picking wildflowers or otherwise trampling certain foliage, and limiting hunting and fishing to protect species. It is an ecosystem defined by scarcity. The jungle, on the other hand, is a surging sea of life and abundance.

I don't know if the New Agers or George Lucas are right, but there seems a palpable energy emanating from the thick blanket of life all around you here. I dunno, maybe that was the national convention of municipalities in Tena for the weekend. The climate here is so pleasant that I could see Diana already formulating the opinion that she later expressed that this is her favorite place in Ecuador so far. Even in the hottest part of the day, stay in the shade and it's really just the perfect balance of temperature and humidity.

Jungle taxi
Once away from the relative hustle and bustle of Tena, you are ferried from place to place in the jungle by long, canopied canoes, which themselves are sort of an amusement park ride, especially right now when the rivers are running so low. At one point we all had to get out of the canoe and We Men got out to push it upstream over a shallow spot, though. But that was an adventure, and one you can't get at Disney.

Our first stop was for a short interpretive walk along the riverbank. It is just astounding that wherever you are in the jungle there are probably 1,000 different species of plant and bug and whatnot within arm's reach, and probably 100 of those are used to some amazing practical purpose by the natives. And it bears repeating what most of you know that most of the medicine produced commercially in the world comes from or synthesizes something from the Amazon jungle.

No pain, no gain
Upon lighting again on land, our guide picked a plant, showed us the spines lining it's leaves and stems, then proceeded to beat his knees with it. He's got knee problems from his years playing professional soccer, he explained. About a minute after his self-flagellation he developed blistery welts. So, feel better now? Yes, as a matter of fact this plant has a natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory substance. Once the beating stops, the healing begins.

And here is a creep of caterpillars (my word is better than the official one) that all hike 40 feet up this tree in the cool of night to munch leaves. In the heat of the day they regroup and snuggle up to make this patch on the tree that is so creepy looking, no animal would ever think of eating them (I may have embellished that last part).

Tree huggers welcome
I think the logging companies in Oregon should just start growing these things to not only discourage tree hugging, but to garner popular support for chopping these evil meanies down.

No, seriously; go right ahead
This may have been the final moment of Di's decision to rank this number one place in Ecuador. I mean, are you kidding, warm climate and cocoa? And if you don't have the patience to process it into chocolate, you can always just suck on the sweet seed covering (if you can get past the sensation of putting sweet snot in your mouth).

Really no big deal after chicken feet
Yep, still just one tooth missing...
And clothes in the jungle? After twenty minutes here watching Juan stripping, clipping, shaping all sorts of leaves and twigs into costumery and seeing all the wonderful food everywhere, we began to see the practicality in carrying nothing but a machete and bug repellent into these depths. Toucan and Papel (their jungle names, because that's what Duncan and Piper sounded like to Juan) immediately fell in love with the place when they discovered the jungle is one giant dress up closet.

Et tu, Toucan?
Teddy loved it the Survivor element of drinking water from a leaf.

What, there are no mirrors in jungle!
This first walk concluded with a museum featuring the tricks and trades of the natives, including ingenious animal traps, musical instruments, cosmetics, and poisonous animals (dead, in jars, as Juls prefers them). And of course we got to try our aim with the native blowgun, used primarily for hunting monkeys with poisoned darts.

Juls started carrying this after seeing a bug. Overkill, maybe?
The local face paint...
...and hairbrush
Look, Honey, natives
Not actual size...
And this is a representation of childbirth. Besides the tough, no time to lay down...let's git this sucker done look that I admire, I put it in here because giving birth is one of the best phrases in the language. They call it dar la luz, or give the light.

Do not approach the approaching animals
From the museum we ventured further downstream to the jungle animal rescue, an amazing place in that you're not likely to see many of these animals just walking through the jungle, and certainly not so close and well. And they are all rescued or otherwise currently unfit to live in the jungle, so it's got a better feeling than just a plain zoo. Some of the animals are technically released and uncaged, but they don't leave (it's a pretty good life here), so you'll find them following you or snuggling up to you. But not only are you not permitted to touch the animals, you are admonished not to let them touch you, as this old lady kept wanting to do.

Aww, can we keep her? Huh, can we?
Most of the animals you can see in a zoo or pet shop, but it is a different experience to see them, essentially, in their real habitat. And some things you won't see in a zoo: the world's largest rodent, for instance, the capybara (or jungle cuy, as they are apparently just as tasty and much more filling than guinea pigs), or beautiful ocelots.

Not just some word Scott Black made up
After the animal parade we puttered back upriver to our humble lodge, then, for a little swim in the cool river and considered that our half day in the jungle, to date, may have been the most intensive learning we had ever done in our lives.

And then we realized we had a whole day of this ahead of us and so we stopped considering for awhile...
I'm learning a ton, Mom!


  1. Matt,

    You should tell us how we can go about doing a trip such as this.


  2. Just use a reputable company. All the guidebooks list some. We really like Juan, who works through Hostel Limoncocha.

  3. Thanks for the p\update, I have been wondering how your trip went. Someday we will head up there too.