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Jungle Rules

We were in search of a wilderness -- something wild, remote, dense and warm. Something far away from TVs, a spa, and swim up bars. And so we headed east from Quito by car, the five of us (Jesse and Laura, Maggie, Lily and me) with Jesse behind the wheel.
17 May

Jungle Rules
We were in search of a wilderness — something wild, remote, dense and warm. Something far away from TVs, a spa, and swim up bars. And so we headed east from Quito by car, the five of us (Jesse and Laura, Maggie, Lily and me) with Jesse behind the wheel. We headed down into lush valleys, and then up the next layer of the cloud enshrouded Andes, and down again. We progressed over nice highways to bumpy roads and, finally, several hours later, to a turn off that looked like a rough hewn parking lot on the edge of a river. We pulled in and almost immediately were spotted by someone knowing our need to complete our journey. He pointed us to a covered canoe that would take us the rest of the way. We loaded our stuff onto the canoe and headed down the river yet further into the wilderness, finally arriving at our destination: The Anaconda Lodge.
Arriving at the lodge, we meet Francisco, the owner. Francisco is a story teller, and a good one. He is of Chilean descent, his father once the Chilean ambassador to England, and himself a former director of a major Spanish bank doing business in Chile. Some years ago when the economy crashed in Chile, and the banks along with it, Francisco and his wife made a command decision to journey in the opposite direction in almost every respect. They came to the Amazon basin and took over the site of what had once been the only lodge in this region. It once boasted visits by President Ford and later President Carter. But, when Francisco arrived, the place was crumbling and in disarray and in need of a complete reconstruction. Now, a much smaller lodge, the Anaconda has about 14 bungalow type units and accommodates fewer than thirty guests. When we arrived, however, Francisco tells us that we are the only guests! We are led to our rooms which have no air conditioning, no TVs, no phones, and no glass in the windows. And, a hammock. Perfect.

 

We are soon introduced to Cesar, our guide. Cesar is a native of Anaconda Island which boasts maybe 400 people. Francisco describes Cesar as an encyclopedia wearing boots. He knows everything about the local flora and fauna in addition to the local culture and history. We have barely unpacked when Cesar leads us into the jungle for an amazing three hour walk. The vegetation is dense here. Very dense. If you step off the rocky, dirt path you cannot venture more than a few steps without being consumed by a wall of vegetation. And, Cesar opens our eyes to things only moments earlier we could not have imagined. He shows us plants and trees, some of which you can touch, others to stay away from. We learn of the leaves of which trees we can eat (like the delicious leaf from which cinnamon is made) and those that would kill us. We learn how each plant or tree figures into the lifestyle of locals and which figure into the various rituals of the local shaman throughout history. Cesar speaks to us in Spanish with Jesse and Laura very ably serving as translators.

 

Cesar leads us to a home carved out of the jungle. We visit with the family that lives there. The house is up on stilts and is very rudimentary: no windows, just open air. Two impossibly cute, barefooted kids give us a cautious eye, but almost immediately resume their prancing around the house. The young boy swings wildly on a hammock; his sister almost bouncing off the walls with an over-brimming energy. We sat on a wood bench and were treated to a drink made from fermented yucca and sweet potato. Not exactly a mojito, but dripping with authenticity. And, then we are treated to some freshly made chocolate served on a leaf.

 

But, before entering this home, Cesar introduces us to the art of using a blow gun, not something that we folks tend to have had much experience with. There is a target, a wooden carving of an owl sitting atop a tall stick, that will be the focus of our efforts. Let me make an observation first on the use of a blow gun. First, the wooden flute-like tube is incredibly long – like about 8 feet. Picking that thing up and trying to balance it while focusing on a distant target is quite the challenge, one that I cannot say I marveled at. And, it’s heavy. I felt it was a moral victory just to lift it and aim it in the general direction of the owl. Beyond that, there is the challenge of managing the dart. Cesar prepares them and tucks them behind his ear. He stresses to us the absolute importance of breathing in through our noses when preparing to shoot lest we inadvertently suck the dart down our throats! Good to know. He smilingly tells us that if any of us hit the target we will be treated to a free drink back at the lodge. Two hits would get us a dinner and drink, and three hits would earn us a drink, dinner and dessert.

 

(By now, Cesar, who spoke Spanish with a much greater mastery than his English, decides to give us nicknames which would make it easier for him to remember us over the next few days that we would spend with him. Somehow, while we believe Cesar meant to call me Juan, it became muddled in the translation, and I became “Iguana,” not Juan. The name stuck.)

 

Lifting that eight foot long blow gun was like lifting a midget telephone pole. Very hard to keep balanced and steady and not drooping. And, as I said, for god’s sake don’t forget to breathe through your nose. And then, blow hard!! At first, all of us missed with Lily making a credible attempt at sounding either like she was playing the trumpet or farting. In subsequent attempts, Jesse, Lily and Maggie would actually hit the target. Iguana, on the other hand, was a bust.

 

And so our days would go. Sometimes it would be hikes with Cesar up incredibly steep hills through jungle so thick the notion of getting lost was no longer an abstraction. At times, we would be serenaded by the chaotic screechings of tamarind monkeys apparently arguing over who was getting which insects (or, so Cesar theorized). At other times, we would swat at both real and imaginary bugs who apparently found us to be a tasty novelty. Once, we stopped for a respite and Cesar, using a local plant sap, painted ceremonial warrior faces on each of us that, astonishingly, did not make us look even a tad bit more fierce.

 

And, then there was the tubing down the river. We were told to bring our swimsuits with us, so when our canoe came ashore Cesar indicated this would be our changing area. We looked around. Uh, where does one change exactly? No, no – no cabanas here, just a rocky beach and a shrub or two. When in Rome…..

 

But, the ride downstream was epic. Riding the currents and occasional rapids, it would have been a serious challenge to wipe the smiles off our faces. “Steering” the tubes was, at times, a challenge, but we all ended up where we were supposed to. The rumors of crocodiles and snakes in the local waters quickly evaporated. And, that was a good thing.

 

Back to the lodge for lunch and more stories from Francisco. And a nap.

 

Yes!

[:es]

Jungle Rules
We were in search of a wilderness — something wild, remote, dense and warm. Something far away from TVs, a spa, and swim up bars. And so we headed east from Quito by car, the five of us (Jesse and Laura, Maggie, Lily and me) with Jesse behind the wheel. We headed down into lush valleys, and then up the next layer of the cloud enshrouded Andes, and down again. We progressed over nice highways to bumpy roads and, finally, several hours later, to a turn off that looked like a rough hewn parking lot on the edge of a river. We pulled in and almost immediately were spotted by someone knowing our need to complete our journey. He pointed us to a covered canoe that would take us the rest of the way. We loaded our stuff onto the canoe and headed down the river yet further into the wilderness, finally arriving at our destination: The Anaconda Lodge.
Arriving at the lodge, we meet Francisco, the owner. Francisco is a story teller, and a good one. He is of Chilean descent, his father once the Chilean ambassador to England, and himself a former director of a major Spanish bank doing business in Chile. Some years ago when the economy crashed in Chile, and the banks along with it, Francisco and his wife made a command decision to journey in the opposite direction in almost every respect. They came to the Amazon basin and took over the site of what had once been the only lodge in this region. It once boasted visits by President Ford and later President Carter. But, when Francisco arrived, the place was crumbling and in disarray and in need of a complete reconstruction. Now, a much smaller lodge, the Anaconda has about 14 bungalow type units and accommodates fewer than thirty guests. When we arrived, however, Francisco tells us that we are the only guests! We are led to our rooms which have no air conditioning, no TVs, no phones, and no glass in the windows. And, a hammock. Perfect.

 

We are soon introduced to Cesar, our guide. Cesar is a native of Anaconda Island which boasts maybe 400 people. Francisco describes Cesar as an encyclopedia wearing boots. He knows everything about the local flora and fauna in addition to the local culture and history. We have barely unpacked when Cesar leads us into the jungle for an amazing three hour walk. The vegetation is dense here. Very dense. If you step off the rocky, dirt path you cannot venture more than a few steps without being consumed by a wall of vegetation. And, Cesar opens our eyes to things only moments earlier we could not have imagined. He shows us plants and trees, some of which you can touch, others to stay away from. We learn of the leaves of which trees we can eat (like the delicious leaf from which cinnamon is made) and those that would kill us. We learn how each plant or tree figures into the lifestyle of locals and which figure into the various rituals of the local shaman throughout history. Cesar speaks to us in Spanish with Jesse and Laura very ably serving as translators.

 

Cesar leads us to a home carved out of the jungle. We visit with the family that lives there. The house is up on stilts and is very rudimentary: no windows, just open air. Two impossibly cute, barefooted kids give us a cautious eye, but almost immediately resume their prancing around the house. The young boy swings wildly on a hammock; his sister almost bouncing off the walls with an over-brimming energy. We sat on a wood bench and were treated to a drink made from fermented yucca and sweet potato. Not exactly a mojito, but dripping with authenticity. And, then we are treated to some freshly made chocolate served on a leaf.

 

But, before entering this home, Cesar introduces us to the art of using a blow gun, not something that we folks tend to have had much experience with. There is a target, a wooden carving of an owl sitting atop a tall stick, that will be the focus of our efforts. Let me make an observation first on the use of a blow gun. First, the wooden flute-like tube is incredibly long – like about 8 feet. Picking that thing up and trying to balance it while focusing on a distant target is quite the challenge, one that I cannot say I marveled at. And, it’s heavy. I felt it was a moral victory just to lift it and aim it in the general direction of the owl. Beyond that, there is the challenge of managing the dart. Cesar prepares them and tucks them behind his ear. He stresses to us the absolute importance of breathing in through our noses when preparing to shoot lest we inadvertently suck the dart down our throats! Good to know. He smilingly tells us that if any of us hit the target we will be treated to a free drink back at the lodge. Two hits would get us a dinner and drink, and three hits would earn us a drink, dinner and dessert.

 

(By now, Cesar, who spoke Spanish with a much greater mastery than his English, decides to give us nicknames which would make it easier for him to remember us over the next few days that we would spend with him. Somehow, while we believe Cesar meant to call me Juan, it became muddled in the translation, and I became “Iguana,” not Juan. The name stuck.)

 

Lifting that eight foot long blow gun was like lifting a midget telephone pole. Very hard to keep balanced and steady and not drooping. And, as I said, for god’s sake don’t forget to breathe through your nose. And then, blow hard!! At first, all of us missed with Lily making a credible attempt at sounding either like she was playing the trumpet or farting. In subsequent attempts, Jesse, Lily and Maggie would actually hit the target. Iguana, on the other hand, was a bust.

 

And so our days would go. Sometimes it would be hikes with Cesar up incredibly steep hills through jungle so thick the notion of getting lost was no longer an abstraction. At times, we would be serenaded by the chaotic screechings of tamarind monkeys apparently arguing over who was getting which insects (or, so Cesar theorized). At other times, we would swat at both real and imaginary bugs who apparently found us to be a tasty novelty. Once, we stopped for a respite and Cesar, using a local plant sap, painted ceremonial warrior faces on each of us that, astonishingly, did not make us look even a tad bit more fierce.

 

And, then there was the tubing down the river. We were told to bring our swimsuits with us, so when our canoe came ashore Cesar indicated this would be our changing area. We looked around. Uh, where does one change exactly? No, no – no cabanas here, just a rocky beach and a shrub or two. When in Rome…..

 

But, the ride downstream was epic. Riding the currents and occasional rapids, it would have been a serious challenge to wipe the smiles off our faces. “Steering” the tubes was, at times, a challenge, but we all ended up where we were supposed to. The rumors of crocodiles and snakes in the local waters quickly evaporated. And, that was a good thing.

 

Back to the lodge for lunch and more stories from Francisco. And a nap.

 

Yes!

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