Friday, May 9, 2014

Amazon Jungle, Ecuador | Living with the Locals


Perhaps the most anticipated leg of our Ecuador journey was a homestay with an indigenous family in the Amazon Jungle. Take a bus 4 hours from Quito and you'll reach the town of Baños. Take a bus 2 hours from Baños and you'll reach an even smaller town called Puyo. From there, you guessed it, you take yet another bus for 1.5 hours in hopes it will take you to your final destination - The Chinimp Tuna Station. The deeper we went, the fewer people who spoke English and the more crazy stares we got from the locals. With an Euadorian bus you never quite know where it's taking you... especially when the driver returns your broken Spanish with a blank stare. So considering there was torrential downpour with zero visibility and just 2 buses passing that way each day, we were beyond terrified when our bus suddenly came to a halt, the driver began shouting as he shuffled us out the door, and we were dropped by the side of the road drenched to the core. A road, we later learned, that was built just one year prior. We looked up to see a house not too far in the distance with a young woman standing in the doorway. A sigh of relief. Even if this wasn't the right place, I convinced myself my Minnesotan charm could win us a quick meal and a warm place to rest our heads. 

As it turned out, we were lucky that day. We had arrived at the right place, and thus began our brief brush with indigenous Amazon life. Welcomed into the small community of Chico Copataza by our host Manuel Chumapi, a Shuar tribesman, we quickly learned the story of when first he met his beautiful wife Nelva, of the Kichwa clan. While they couldn't intially communicate with eachother, their love grew as did their mutual understanding of a second language, Spanish, and together they began a family. Fast forward to present day and they have created a kinship of children and grandchildren all living and working together on the land they've developed for sustainable farming and rainforest preservation. With big smiles they welcomed us into their home, tolerated my severely unimpressive Spanish, and guided us through a day in Amazonian life - complete with farming, cooking, swimming in the nearby Copataza River (Mogli style... rolling in the mud, swinging from vines, and all!), and soccer at sunset.

Here's just a peak into their incredible world...

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To see more Ecuador amazingness, check out the capitol city of Quito and the volcano town of Baños as well.

Down the road, across a small river, and up a mud-slide hill a single lightbulb illuminated our very own grass hut.


Our private abode.
A hand-crafted footbridge carried us across a small rushing river to our home away from home.

An Amazonian dam.
The Chinimp Tuna Station
Manuel and Nelva's daughter, a true Amazon beauty, Genoveva Chumapi.
A quick game of soccer in the yard before heading out for the day's harvest. 




Using fruit as ink, we painted our faces with patterns of their tribe. After painting my fair face, they giggled, "Now more beautiful!" 

Carlos, son of Manuel and Nelva, with his daughter painting their faces for the day's journey.

Carving a seed used to create traditional jewelry.


Whacking at the base of a tree in search of what Carlos referred to as "Dulce del Arbol" (Candy of the Tree), there began a low humming buzz followed by the outpouring of a swarm of bees as he thrust his hands into their hive and pulled out pools of honey for drinking straight from the honeycomb!
Discovering snake eggs by the tree, when asked if the mama snake was dangerous they smiled and said, "Yes! Very Dangerous!"
Manuel stopping to sharpen his machete mid walk. 
Pineapple Top.

Climbing trees to knock down fruits we then collected to carry back to the house for our afternoon snack.
As we wandered, Carlos would shave off bit of flesh beneath the tree bark. Some exposed medicinal saps, others delicious treats... everything played a role in this intricate ecosystem.

There's nothing quite like eating a banana fresh off the tree and sliced with a machete.
Catching shrimp in the stream.
Blowing into a large seed made the most convincing monkey call... with nearby monkeys signing back to us in response.

Everything is edible in the jungle... as long as you have a guide to show you the way!


Everything is repurposed... Hungry? Pull up a pineapple, slice it, re-plant the top, and continue on!

Gnawing on straight Sugar Cane - a new personal favourite.




Collecting Yuca for dinner that night.


Centipede's weren't the only animal friends we made... we also had a tarantella in our hut to keep us company at night.













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