Posts tagged ‘Tena’

sun is shining

Thursday 3/24
Decided to visit Misahualli, which is a town 20-30km away from Tena, which itself is at the frontier of the Ecuadorian jungle. In Tena stayed at Welcome Break hostel which is reviewed heavily on hostelworld and which i decided to stay away from after reading the reviews, but when i arrived in Tena from Puyo via hitchhiking and saw the amount of hostels…. i didn’t know which to choose… until i saw a gringo boy and asked for a recommendation…and that’s how i came to Welcome Break, which turned out to be of industrial proportions with a nice communal area outside and free wifi.

I had no problem hitchhiking to Misahualli, the first car to stop was a man who was going somewhere in between but ended up driving me all the way. “What do you do for work?” i asked in Spanish, trying to make use of the opportunity to practice. “I don’t, i drink…but today i only had 1 beer” he answered without humor. He was on his 5th litter when i saw him in town later so i skimmed on his invitation to drive back together.

Misahualli is full of little monkey bandits. They piss, steal your food, and rub themselves with onions while tourists, Ecuadorian and other, photograph them with delight.

I visited a few tourist agencies as well which only made me more firm in my decision to visit the jungle without. After i’d walked around Misahualli a third of a dozen times and decided it was about time to return to Tena i saw another gringo. This one was interesting. He was walking with several local men, conversing freely in Spanish and wearing a giant basket on his back. I thought he was a peace corps volunteer, which excited me, because i’ve wanted to meet a few and visit their sites… which i think is a very good way to visit remote communities :) but for some reason there are no volunteers on couchsurfing for Ecuador.

He was an American trying to create a business out of guayusa (pronounced wayusa), a leaf that grows in abundance all over South America. In Ecuador it’s boiled in water with sugar; in Argentina, they call it yerba matte and drink it 20 times a day. It symbolizes many things, including friendship and energy. I joined him in driving through the countryside to pick leaves with old ladies and kids, until eventually we ended up in the house of a “shaman” named Hitler where we spent the night…

Ayahuasca is known as the drug of the Oriente, although it’s cultivated and consumed all over the world by its devotees. It’s made from two plants, both neutral without the other. Only when combined do they become a potent green earthy beverage that can take you into the other dimension. Except i stayed mostly in this one, purging all the delicious food i’d eaten earlier into the earth on this dark and rainy night. The shaman had turned off the light, which i think was a mistake because light stimulates the brain, and the “guidance” of the shaman only distracted from what we could have felt… He chanted and then he beat our heads with a small broom of leaves into which he spit chicha (an alcohol made from plantains using woman’s spit to ferment it). Sitting cross-legged in front of him in the dark room, i covered my face and thought in amused repulsion what a comedy i was in.

The next day i returned to Tena and prepared for the jungle, which i thought would last at least two weeks. Life with just basic necessities, no internet, and many mosquitoes…that’s what i wanted!

Saturday i hitchhiked all the way to Coca (almost 250km, which in Ecuador takes a long time to travel because of the winding mountain roads). Like the stereotype that suggests that women never do anything on time or understand directions i didn’t leave the hostel until half past noon and then i walked to the wrong highway, going north instead of south. Traffic to Coca is scarce but not unreliable and the journey is scenic.

Coca is deep in the Ecuadorian jungle, but is a big town nonetheless, base to the many petroleum companies that exploit the jungle’s resources and undermine its nature. It was a lot of how i imagined Mexico, loud and alive, restaurants, music and people everywhere. I met Andrej, who was also traveling on his own and had a tent which we were to use for the next 2 nights.

My plan was to take the Monday boat towards Nuevo Rocafuerte, and possibly get off on the way if we had a good feeling about a village. We wanted to spend a week or two living with an indigenous community in the jungle, working, learning, and enjoying ourselves away from “civilization.” To conclude… we weren’t successful.

The first problem was that we arrived to Coca on Saturday night which meant that everything (tourist information center and agencies, basically all places with maps and information) were closed until Monday. On the information provided by one of the hotels, we decided to catch the Monday boat from Limoncocha, which is a reserve of “virgin forest inhabited by an indigenous Kichwa community” that most of the tour operators take tourists to. I figured if we got to Limoncocha we could then find a local family to host us for a night, and if we liked it…. we could stay longer….

Well…. we didn’t find anyone to host us, we didn’t find people who lived “outside” civilization, in fact we found very few people at all, and only the children expressed any interest in us, chanting “gringo, gringo, gringo” which i accepted with neutrality. The older people ignored us. We walked towards what we thought led towards the cabins near the lagoon, where we hoped to pitch our tent. But at the biological conservation center we were told it was not possible to sleep in a tent. Formalities aside, i think it’s best that we didn’t, considering the pythons and other critters that move through the jungle at night. We never found the cabins, as our walk took us elsewhere…towards an abandoned police post at the end of the path. By the time we returned to the road the sun was setting and hitchhiking our way towards the port for the Monday boat was futile as there were no cars, just a few motorbikes. We walked several kilometers in the dark before a bus scooped us up and took us to the port where we pitched our tent inside a restaurant.

The next morning we learned two things:

1) there was to be no boat for Nuevo Rocafuerte, because it did not stop in Limoncocha…ever.

2) option two was not possible either (which was to cross over to the other side of River Napo in a canoe and see if we could find an indigenous community there) because permission from the biology department of Universidad Catolica in Quito was needed first. The other side is basically a national park, a protected area of dense jungle that i was told repeatedly is under the supervision of the petroleum companies….

At the port we met an Ecuadorian geographer and geologist whose plans were to cross to the other side as well. Some time later they picked us up as we were trying to hitchhike out of Limoncocha (beware there is almost no traffic here) and we rode inside the trunk of their jeep all day, from Limoncocha to Lago Agrio, along unpaved and paved roads, stopping so they could record something while Andrej collected edible and uneatable fruit for experimentation.

We got to Lago Agrio as the sun was setting. Due to its proximity and the high rate of migration from Columbia Lago Agrio is considered one of Ecuador’s most dangerous cities. Nonetheless we walked the city at night without trouble and i felt more comfortable here than in Quito’s Mariscal district. But i didn’t like Lago Agrio (which means “bitter place”), it felt ordinary and dreary.

The next day i decided to end the trip. Lonely Planet was right in suggesting that guided tours make visiting the jungle a lot easier. (Although over the past week i’ve learned how to visit the other side of Limoncocha and about the people who live there from a petroleum manager i met hitchhiking, and about visiting another community outside Nuevo Rocafuerte.) The problem with tour agencies is that there are so many to choose from and none stand out in any positive way.

strange lemons...

lemon tree

delicious foraged guava

oil pipes running all the way from the jungle to the coast of Ecuador...

—–

Before Andrej joined me he was staying with a local family in Baeza, helping them with their small tortilla business and other chores. I followed him back to the family and have been here since…. swinging a machete in the garden, making and selling corn flour tortillas in the market, milking the cows… The house where we live is actually on the Baeza tourist map as the “Galeria the Artesenia de Truncos” and is full of wooden art and furniture made by the dad, Oswaldo, out of wood found in the forest.

We spent this weekend in Oyacachi, which was celebrating something (nobody knew what). The tortillas went so quickly that we had nothing but coffee to sell on Sunday, since we could not find more corn flour in tiny Oyacachi, which is home to only 500 people. There are two roads that lead to Oyacachi, one is through Papallacta and requires special permission to enter, the other is through Cayambe and is accessible without permission. From Papallacta, it’s about an hour on the unpaved road through the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve. Mountains and fog pave the way, and the dust dances its welcome ballet after each car.

Andrej and i were the only gringos beside the peace corps volunteer in Oyacachi, who’s trying to create an eco-tourism project here. For more information about Oyacachi visit their community website (created by US Aid). In the future there might be need for volunteer English teachers as there are currently no English classes in the schools. I think it would be a great volunteer opportunity for people who want to get away from the puppy-mill type volunteer operations. If interested email Conner directly at conner.hunihan [at] gmail.

I’m having a really nice time here :)

April 4, 2011 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

Coca -> Limoncocha -> Pañacocha -> Nuevo rocafuerte

 

Left the volunteer site in Salasaca two days ago, traveled 3 hours east to Puyo where i couchsurfed for two nights speaking only Spanish with my host and his family. Now in Tena, a small nice city on the foremost layer of the Amazon. From here i will go to Coca, about 5 hours further into the jungle and on the Rio Napo (which flows all the way to Peru and then becomes the great Amazon in Brazil). In Coca i’d like to take a cargo boat to Nuevo Rocafuerte which is on the border with Peru. However instead of going to Peru (read a very good description of the trip from Coca to Iquitos in Peru here) will return to Coca and then to Quito to meet a friend. On the way to the border i’d like to stop at the Limoncocha reserve, Pañacocha or any other village… the only problem is that i do not have a tent, or even a hammock, and as of today i’m still by myself.

 

expand to see more. the intended route is in pink on the right =)

 

There are many tour possibilities for trips to the Amazon, but i’m not really interested in the amenities included or spending much $ (although a good guide and group are welcome ideas). Something like this would be fun, although as the writer never seems to have any.

Stay tuned.

March 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm 3 comments


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