Well, I just got back from the jungle! And it was incredible!!!
I’ll give you a pretty detailed summary of what we did – but my photo albums on facebook are the best to look at because my captions explain all the pictures. Definitely make sure you check those out!
To get to where we were staying in the Amazon, we had to take a plane through the mountainous region of Ecuador into the oriente, the jungle terrain. As soon as we stepped off the airplane into the amazon, the difference in climate was crazy! It is wicked humid there but at least there’s no smog like in Quito. We then rode a rickety jeep-like bus thing to a dock. At the dock there was this random place filled with monkeys. Haha don’t ask me what they were there for – but I finally fulfilled my lifelong goal to hold a monkey! It was AWESOMEEEE I really want to have one as a pet someday. They were jumping all over us – on peoples heads, bags, whatever they could find! Then the group split up and we took three canoes to our lodge, which was a 3 hour boat journey down the Napo river. The Napo is a tributary of the Amazon. The boat ride was incredible… it was a motor canoe and riding through the jungle with the wind…man, it was such a neat experience. The boat ride there was probably one of my favorite parts! On the way home we were going with the current so we got splashed with water the whole time… not as pleasant as the trip up. Our hotel… well I guess you could call it that… was called Yachana Lodge. It is an environmentally-friendly place to stay for tourists, and by staying there you help support a local technical high school where underprivileged students learn to care for the environment and learn different crafts and trades. The place we actually stayed was a big bunk cabin with 20 girls in it! There were hammocks all over the place, and all kinds of nature trails. All the people that work at the lodge are natives to the area and know the jungle like the back of their hand, so they took us on tons of hikes and different activities. The first day we got there, we went swimming in the Amazon river! We also went exploring on the property and found a bunch of parrots and hiked to a gorgeous lookout to watch the sunset. The lodge also has a huge butterfly house which was so cool. This whole time I kept thinking… whoa, I can’t believe I’m actually here! The next day we went on an INTENSE hike through the jungle. It was a lot for me physically and I tried not to complain but my heart was really bothering me! We hiked for probably 4 or 5 hours, uphill most of the way through thick brush. We got to see tons of crazy plants and our guide Jose would always find fruit and let us try it. We tried cacao (where chocolate comes from) fruit, wild lemons, and guava. Then in the afternoon we traveled to the home of a chaman, which is a tribal medicine man. They do all these weird “healings”. It was really interesting to see him do these techniques to some group members that volunteered! I didn’t go… it wasn’t that I had a sense that he was evil, but just that I was sad for him that he went to all this trouble of blowing tobacco in people’s faces and rubbing leaves on them to “get out the bad energy” from them, when there is no power except through Christ. And it was kind of weird to hear some people from our group say that after doing it they felt so much better… psychology is pretty crazy stuff, huh? It was definitely interesting, regardless. Then we all got to try blowdarts and aim for this papaya that was really far away – and I hit it on my first try! I beat out a bunch of the boys… and our guides! Hahah the medicine man told me that meant I was more fertile. Ooooh geez. We did other stuff too like throwing spears. Then I had quite an experience… on the way back to the boats from the chaman’s house, me and some friends found a toucan with our guide and we were taking pictures with it on our shoulders. It was so exciting that I completely didn’t realize I was standing right on top of a fire anthill. All of a sudden I felt stings all over my body and the tour guide was like, aaah I didn’t realize you were on that! So him and Kyle, the only boys around at the time, went behind a tree and Kelsey and Kelly helped me rip off all of my clothes down to my underwear because there were ants ALL over me! They were crawling all through my mesh pants, in my socks, and everything. You should have seen those girls slapping the ants off of me as I’m standing in my shivvies in the middle of the jungle! I have bites all over me… haha, but it was worth it to hold a toucan! It was a bonding experience. I almost cried but I held it together and tried to look at it as a good memory down the road. For all those of you who don’t like bugs, don’t go to the amazon. It wasn’t so much the mosquitos as it was the ants, beetles, and tarantulas. We’re talking, tarantulas scurrying under the table at dinner and ants crawling all over the bathroom. It was an adventure for sure. That night, a lot of the group went on a night hike but I stayed behind to relax in a hammock. It was such an amazing moment, sitting in a hammock looking up at the stars (which are somehow so much more amazing in the jungle), and I was listening to worship music on my ipod (ps – thanks frequency that was the best gift EVER!). It was such a special moment with God and time to reflect on my experience here so far. The next day we went to visit the technical school that we supported, and we got our faces painted like warriors! We also made baskets out of leaves and learned how to make ceramic pots. They gave us lunch that was a traditional amazon meal that day, where we had a big leaf instead of a plate and tilapia wrapped in a leaf with nettle leaves cooked like spinach, fried palm tree, and rice! It was really good. The lodge makes their own gourmet chocolate from the cacao plants nearby and we would always have these crazy chocolate desserts. This one girl Lauren in our group said after we had this amazing pinapple upside-down cake one night, “That cake was a relgious experience for me.” Hahahaha! During the afternoon the guides took our group out on the motor boats a good ways down the river and then we all just jumped off the boats with our life jackets and let the current carry us down the amazon until we got to the lodge! It was seriously the most crazy fun thing ever even though the water was freezing! It definitely beat tubing in the breeches, haha. Today we went in the morning to a beach where a family was digging for gold. We learned about the process of it, and it was really interesting to learn that they make decent money at it. If I remember correctly, each gram of gold they can find is worth $17, and they can find a lot per day if they keep at it long enough. Right in front of our eyes we saw them sift some gold out of the mud on the beach! It was crazy. Then we packed up and headed home! All in all it was a fantastic weekend and very relaxing, too. It was really good to continue to build friendships with the group and get to know the amazon culture which is completely different from the culture in Quito!
I know I just wrote a book practically, but the funniest thing just happened. I’ve been writing this entry in my room at night, and all of a sudden I heard this like muffled giggling from the living room. Then there was a knock on my door and my entire host family, kara and her family, and all three maids were standing in my doorway with a tray of shot glasses singing happy birthday to me! Oh man what a hoot. Sue had told me they did that for her birthday but I sure wasn’t expecting it especially tonight! They all sang to me and we laughed so hard. The best thing was that I was so surprised and out of it that when they went to leave and Kara said, “Happy birthday!” I went, “You too!” Oh boy did the family get a kick out of that one! Tomorrow is going to be a really fun day. My family is planning a big party for me at night that all my friends are coming to, and then we’re all going out to do karaoke! Should be a great 20th birthday. I thought I would be sad to be away, and I still am in some ways, but it is going to probably be the most crazy birthday ever because – hey, let’s face it – I’m in Latin America, and these people know how to celebrate.