This as been one of the main excursions that people have been looking forward to. South America is famous for a few things but none is mentioned more than the Amazon Jungle which to this day is still a mysterious place with strange tribes and mythological creatures. Even though we were not in the Amazon proper but on the outskirts, once beyond the tree line, it is as good as the real deal. We were to stay in a lodge separated from civilization by a river and every day was packed with activities to keep us busy. For only $140, this is probably the cheapest but most involved excursions of the trip.
The truck was parked on the other side of a river and the only way to get across was by cable car. That was an experience in itself as the cable car literally was a motorbike. The engine and controls were fiddled to make the cable car move once it’s movement died half-way over the river. The lodge was very nice with dorm rooms of up to 3 people, a restaurant and bar. Prices were reasonable. Only hiccup was that the showers drew electricity to heat the water and the generator could only handle two showers going at one time so it was quite common for the power to trip leaving us in darkness if a third person attempted to shower. The food was excellent and some good times were spent sat around the bar and chatting. I was going non-alcoholic for this excursion. Wanted to enjoy being lost in nature. Early nights covered by sleep dept and was a welcome change. The only other horrible experience had to do with some MASSIVE, hairy eight-legged monsters!
Going Batty in the Jungle Cave Trek
After having lunch outside Doris and before we could even put our bags in our rooms, we were whisked off by the guides for a short 3 hour jungle walk with caves. A 20 minute ride in the back of a pick-up brought us to the start of the trek. We crossed the road, headed onto a path and walked into the trees. A few meters was all it took for the human world to disappear and we were ‘alone’ in the jungle. Our guide was very knowledgeable when it came to the various plants and bugs littered about. We found a termite nest that served multiple purposes. When burnt in a fire, the smoke from burning termite spit keeps the mosquitoes away. The termites themselves are also edible which we discovered as we were told to lick some off our guides hand.
Going Bananas in the Monkey Sanctuary
The next day we packed tire tubes on the trucks for later and headed out. They were dropped off before carrying on to a ‘port’ on the river where we got onto a little boat (it was skinny with only two people sitting next to each other but long enough to accommodate the 15 of us. Had a 25 minute trip on the boat down the ‘Amazon’ and stopped off at an animal sanctuary tucked away into the jungle. Waited for an English tour guide who then showed us around. There were birds such as Macaws, Caymen (type of crocodile) and tonnes of monkeys. There was also a anaconda but unfortunately as it was cold and overcast, it was hiding and we didn’t get to see it :( (still no anaconda sighting in South America). Not much else to say really. Felt like a bit of procrastination to make the jungle excursion seem more involved.
Tubing Down the Amazon
After the animal sanctuary, a boat ride back was greeted by lunch and then it was off to go tubing! 6 to 7 tubes were all tied together and about 8 of us were assigned a tub raft (of which there were two). Got to the launch location and off we set. It was a rather relaxing float down the river with no more than grade 2 rapids. Our plan of action was to spend about 30 – 40 minutes tubing until stopping off on a river bank and heading into the jungle towards a village there.
[See ‘Healed by the Shaman’]
After experiencing some of the local traditions and rituals performed by the shaman, it was back on the tubes for the final step of the river. Along we floated for roughly another 40 minutes before being guided to the shore. I have to take full responsibility here. I did not know we were stopping where we were so when I saw us heading to the rocks on the sore, I put my foot to one and kicked off. Next thing I know, our guide is racing along side the tubes as he had jumped off to pull us in. Lol. We grabbed some tree branches which were leaning out over the water and did manage to stop ourselves and get everyone off and tubes back on the river bank even though the current was very strong. A little bit more excitement if you ask me. Once everyone was on dry land and safe, tubes on the truck roof and trucks ready to go, we headed off to have lunch and swim in a natural river made swimming pool.
Healed by the Shaman
After trudging through the mud and spiders webs we arrived at a little village and was lead into the main house. All the buildings were made from bamboo and palm leaves for the roof and sat on stilts above the ground to keep out wild creatures and flood waters from the nearby river. We were told that the entire village stemmed from one couple and was named after the wife (Maria I think here name was and so the village was called ‘Santa Maria’ or something like that). In total, there were 130 inhabitants of this village all stemming from this couple who are now grandparents to a large number of grand children. Her husband is the town shaman and is very well known in the local area and beyond with people driving for hours to come and see him for healing. Once he arrived, it was time to see what the ritual looked like.
He showed us what he did with some palm leaves all tied up for his process of removing bad energies. You could imagine it as ‘brushing your aura’ followed by a flick in the air to expel the energies. He would chant or whistle while doing this. After that, he would suck out the bad energies / spirits through your head and spit them out. Depending, he might take a sip of 80% cane spirit and spit a mist over you. Once you have been ‘cleansed’ of evil, the shaman would then blow good energies or whatever into through your head. Interesting stuff. Probably the most popular use of the shamans these days are for Ioasca ceremonies. Ioasca is a concoction made from various plants which when drank, forces vomiting and possibly diarrhea in a process of ‘physical cleansing’ followed by mad hallucinations where you ‘connect with the universe’ for spiritual cleansing and guidance. All rather trippy if you ask me.
Getting Soaked while Jungle Canyoning
We were lead to believe that this little excursion was nothing more than a jungle hike. Yeah right! This turned out into a full on jungle canyoning experience. Was awesome. We had to drive for almost two hours to the start of the trek and on the back of a pickup, it is not the most comfortable ride. First thing Tyson showed us was how to make crowns out of palm leaves and a seed that is used as a red dye. We all got our faces painted. He is so full of interesting information and facts about the jungle, its animals and its plants. A short walk commenced and within no time, we got into the seriously fun business.
There were two rather large waterfalls we had to climb up. One of them even required a rope (but not harness or helmet obviously). Initial thoughts of not getting wet were quickly drowned. We swam in pools, climb waterfalls, stood under waterfalls, clambered over fallen trees and crawled through caves. The final push was a mildly challenging hike up a ‘mountain’ and out of the jungle which took about 40 minutes. Was a great day out and an excursion like this is well worth the fun.
Even though we weren’t hidden away in the true Amazon but only on the outskirts, when out on the treks it was as good as the real deal. All evidence of civilization disappears 10 meters into the jungle and you become one with the creepy crawlies and fauna. There was a blatant lack of security measures during the excursions but this made it feel all the more real. Sometimes it is a pain when you are required to wear a helmet or harness when climbing a little 9m waterfall on slippery rocks in gum-boots. We all came out alive and had nothing but great things to say about everything. The accommodation, food, guides and activities. For most of us, this was up there with the Uyuni Salt Flats, Death Road and Machu Picchu. A fantastic way to end up the tour. Just 2 more nights left with one being in Otavalo which is only really know for its market. After that, Quito then chao!