On Thursday I made my way down to Tena, which is a jungle gateway city. It was frustrating because the bus to Tena leaves from the south terminal in Quito. But after you leave the south terminal you have to pass the north terminal on the way out of Quito. It added an extra 2 hours to my trip which I wasn't happy about. But as we drove I got to see Papallacta again. It is still really beautiful. Then as we descended down the mountain we were in a super dense cloud. I have no idea how the driver could see through the fog. Then around dinner time I finally made it to Tena. I had thought that it was in the jungle, but it's still on the outskirts. It's a fully functioning town with markets, houses, restaurants, and no bugs and snakes crawling everywhere.
When I got there I met up with my friends Justin and Cheryl. We went to dinner at this awesome restaurant with sloths hanging out in the roof. I tried to get some pictures but they are small and hard to take pictures of. But it was so cool to eat dinner with a sloth hanging out right above me! Next we went to get drinks at a restaurant called arana (spider). They are famous for a cocorum that is made with condensed milk. Justin raves about it but I thought it was pretty weird. Then we went to bed and thankfully there was a nice breeze to fall asleep to.
The next morning we woke up and had chocolate and banana pancakes and made our way to Musahuilli, a city a little further into the jungle. In this city there are supposed to be tons of monkeys running around all the time but I didn't see any :(. Then we went further into the jungle in a jeep towards our lodge.
At the lodge we realized we were the only ones there. We started to get a little freaked out that it was just us and some guides. Horror movies kept coming to mind. But they were very nice and nothing too crazy happened to us. On our first afternoon we took an epic hike up a "mountain" to a vista. The hike took about 4 hours and we did it in rain boots. I had never hiked in rain boots before and I don't think I'm a fan now that I have. But they were very welcomed because on our way back we hiked through a riverbed. My pants still got soaked. On the hike I ate a flower, ants, and termites. I also had my face painted, a crown made for me, and almost fell off the side of the mountain. The last one is because the lodge's dog, Jack, came with us. But Jack just liked to run on the path and try to get past you on tiny little stretches of trail. He was so cute though. Who ever thought I'd eat ants and termites? The ants strangely taste like lemon and the termites help protect you from bug bites. Interesting...
After the hike we went swimming in the river. I was told there were no bad things in the river because it comes from Cotopaxi (the big mountain) and by the time it reaches this lodge the water is still too cold for snakes and pirahnas and such.
The next day Cheryl and I took a boat tour down the Rio Napo. We stopped at an informational reserve. This is a group of natives who run a museum and help educate tourists. Surprisingly it wasn't overly touristy (probably because everything was in Spanish) and I really appreciated the place. They rescue some animals and I got to play with monkeys and an ant eater looking thing. I also got to HOLD A BABY OCELOT (basically a little jaguar). It might have been the highlight of my life. However, then a monkey was swinging from a branch and HIGH-FIVED ME. That was pretty awesome too. We learned about trap techniques and medicinal plants as well.
Then we traveled further down the river towards another indigenous camp. We learned about their spiritual beliefs (a big rock is god) and they danced for us. They also tried to get us to drink this nasty fermented drink that is common in the area. You take yuca, spit in it, and then wait for it to ferment for 3 days. I wasn't up to drinking saliva from people I don't know...
After the boat tour we went back to the lodge and practiced making chocolate. We roasted the beans, shucked them, and grinded them. Then we mixed them with milk and sugar and boiled it until it became liquid chocolate. It was really good but pretty gritty. Wendy told me it was gritty because the technique to smooth chocolate came after chocolate was found in South America. We then mixed the chocolate with lemon (not recommended) and bananas (super yummy).
On our last morning we panned for gold in the river. You take a big bowl and put dirt in it and then swirl it in the water until only black sand and gold flecks are left at the bottom. I found 7 gold flecks :). Then we went back to Tena and on to Ambato.
In Ambato I met up with my friend Caitlin and stayed at her house. Together we visited a few host families. The first night I met with a nice older lady who has a daughter and a private apartment behind her house. Then in the morning I met with a family that has 3 kids under 7 (super nice but the house would be crazy!), a literally crazy woman who kept changing her answers to ever question and explaining how laundry is done, and a nice older family in a good neighborhood. I ended up choosing the first woman because I think I'll like the privacy of my own space.
I think Ambato will be good for me. It is bigger and so there is more to do (it has a movie theatre!). And more WorldTeach people are there. It's also more centrally located and more places to visit are accessible. I also think I'll offer my services at the Banos tourism office every couple of weekends and see if I can help with translating things. Banos is super touristy (for both natives and foreigners) so I feel like they need the translating help.
Now I'm in Ibarra for my last 3 days and on Saturday I'm moving my things to Quito where my friend, Claire, will watch them. On Sunday I ship out to the Galapagos!!! and I'll come back on the 18th. I think it will be good to be in the Galapagos on my mom's birthday. It will keep me busy. Then I'll go back to Quito, help out with orientation for the new kids, and move to Ambato. February is a crazy month!