|Welcome to the Jungle - Quito to Pimpilala, Ecuador
||[Sep. 11th, 2015|07:17 pm]
Sunday morning, September 6, 2015
(Rough draft as I'm typing on a touch screen and editing is difficult without touch typing.)
Kyle and I awaken bright and early for a hearty breakfast of plantain, coffee cake, eggs, fruit, juice, and coffee after a good sleep. We meet up with the other ten people of our group and load up into a small private bus. Our guide, Carlos, warns us again about the difficulties of the five-hour bus trip to come. Personal space is not a valued trait. People may lean on us. Just push them off if they do. No guaranteed bathroom breaks. Thievery is common on buses. Never leave our stuff unattended. Don't stash anything overhead. Don't carry our money all in one spot. Beware of having things on floor as a common ploy is for thieves to cut hole in the bag and pull things out from other side of seat
We drive for about half an hour to an enormous bus terminal. It was once an airport and is by far the hugest bus station I've ever seen. Our bus fare is only about $5. Transportation is incredibly inexpensive here. We are lucky and all get to sit together in one section of the bus. I choose a seat where we are surrounded by group members. This way, I felel more secure in holding my satchel between my feet.
Our five-hour ride is much longer than 5 hours. We are possibly on the slowest bus in all of South America. Everyone passes us. Maybe moseying centenarians with walkers could pass us, too. The bus regularly farts and belches clouds of thick, black smoke. The five hours stretches to seven with one short bathroom break. I don't get off the bus as I am paranoid of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning, and the air vents are a rule deception. Even worse, the heaters are on for all seven hours. Some windows are open. I do not have the benefit of an open window for most of the trip. I am concerned I'll collapse from heat exhaustion before I even make it to the jungle.
We journey from the huge, metropolitan sprawl of Quito which seems to extend to infinity in all directions. The local architecture is blocky and distinct, comprised primarily of right angles and chipped, once bright, and now faded colors. Houses cling to cliffside and are pink, orange, blue, green, etc. The demure shades of beige and white of suburban Canada are in the minority here.
After a few hours, we leave the precarious mountain- and ravine-side housing of Quito and make it to rural areas. Cattle, horses, chickens, and dogs of many breeds wander and graze. Switchback highways are standard throughout the mountains. So are drivers passing with no room to spare going around those turns. Several nerve wracking and horn blaring close calls happen, but we eventually reach our next destination of Teno unmaimed. One person, not valuing Kyle's personal space, sits on his shoulder and farts.
Tena, scorching and dusty, sits near the beginning of the Amazon jungle. Travel-stunned, sweaty, and blinking, we clamber out of the bus and stand blinking and gaping beneath the brutal equatorial sun. Carlos ushers us into a tiny scrap of shade and tells us we have ten minutes to go to the bathroom or get to a store before the next part of our trip. I queue up to go to a bathroom. An attendant charges us variable amounts of money to use the toilet. I scrabble through my wallet looking for the correct amount of change, finally locating fifteen cents. The pee is worth the money. Some people are charged more than I. Some less. Some are charged more than once. The bathroom attendant is ruthless, but the need to not piss ourselves wins out over stubborn haggling.
A pickup truck and van arrive. Our bags are tossed into the back of the truck and we squirm our way into the van. It's a tight squeeze. I only just fit with copious Shanspreading. I'm not sure how Kyle fits at all. I'm presuming his hips retract into his midsection. The van bounces and shudders down the winding dirt road into the jungle. The dense flora seems determined to swallow up the track which snakes its way through. We pass numerous small clearings which look like desperate holdouts against a juggernaut of jungle, but the opposite is true. The deforestation is happening at an appalling rate. Huge swathes of jungle are stripped from the earth leaving desiccated grass, lonely stumps, and millions of acres of lost habitat. Humans are winning out. The lushness we see is a holdout.
We arrive at our destination: the tiny village of Pimpilala. Our host family are Quichuan, one of the many indigenous people of Ecuador. Delphin and Estella are the patriarch and matriarch of the family, and their children, and a couple of young local women also live and work at the household. Two yellow dogs (Pollo and another who may not have a name) guard the property, and numerous chickens roam and roost all around. The property consists of a main building, several thatched sleeping quarters, a hammock area, and a couple of outbuildings with cold-water showers, toilets, and sinks. Kyle and I are given what I consider a spacious room. It holds a bed with mosquito netting, a battery-operated lamp, two benches, and three coat hooks. I'd been expecting something much more rudimentary. Considering the dining area has electricity, this is luxury! My quarters in rural Peru were far more spartan.
After we claim our rooms and stash our bags, we are led back down the road while supper is prepared. The chitter, buzz, and siren wail of insects and birds is loud in my ears. We follow a circuitous tendril of a path through thick jungle. One of the host's sons is our guide. He is having a blast and fashions hats from enormous leaves for several people in our group. He plucks small ferns from the underbrush and slaps them against dark clothing leaving perfect ghost images of the ferns behind on our clothing. And then we crest a hill and are met with the wondrous view of a river, mountainside, and jungle at the pale yellow cusp of sunset. Another short walk and we see yet another glorious river view, and a fragile cliff face. Rocks and clay are held in place by vines and sheer will. Darkness approaches rapidly, and we hurry back to the homestead before the mosquitos swarm us. The bugs which I'd already thought were loud turn it up to eleven.
We dine on a savoury vegetable soup garnished with popcorn. The Quichua don't really eat bread, so plain popcorn serves in its stead. I'd never had popcorn on soup this way before. It is delicious, and I intend on doing this from now on. A garnish of peppery onions and tomatoes is also used on the soup. The main course is tilapia roasted over coals I nside a rumipanga leaf (rumipanga translates to "leaf from the fire" and is used for roasting chicken, fish, etcetera. It has a unique and delicious flavor. I'm sad I won't be able to taste this outside of the Amazon.) We sip on lemongrass or cinnamon leaf tea. Afterwards, some drink Ecuadorean Pilsner.
Afterwards, most of the others in the group continue to hang out in the hammocks chatting and drinking beer, but as for me, I am done, and I shroud myself with mosquito netting and sleep deeply.