The worldwide Augustana College experience

Welcome to the Jungle!

On Wednesday morning I got up early to meet the group at school to go to the jungle!! As I was leaving, my host mom gave me the biggest hug goodbye! She filled the mom role perfectly by stressing multiple times to stay safe and have fun while being really, really safe.

The bus rides we took over the past week were probably some of my least favorite experiences ever. For those of you who don’t know… I get car sick very easily. So easily, in fact, that my parents make me drive whenever I’m home so I’ll stop blaming my queasy stomach on their “bad driving”. From Cuenca to Macas (our final destination) it’s only 200km (about 125 miles) but it took us roughly 6 hours because we had to wind down and around mountains. And the key word in that sentence: roughly. Roads in Ecuador aren’t necessarily known for their quality. We suffered many large potholes and often used unpaved roads. In fact, some of the roads we took were made through waterfalls so we ended up having to ford small rivers that ran across our path!

As we were descending, we drove through cloud forest before finally reaching the lower altitudes of the jungle region. After a few hours of bumpy riding we stopped for the night in the small city of Sucúa. It was our first taste of warm weather in a long time and we loved it! In fact, although it was warm, it never seemed hot to us and the humidity was definitely tolerable. I even walked away from this whole trip with only enough bug bites on my body to count on my fingers! I feel like it’s much more uncomfortable and buggy in Wisconsin than it was in the jungle of South America! :)

After we dropped our things off at the hotel we visited a small family-run zoo. We were able to see a lot of animals that are native to the deeper parts of the jungle that we weren’t visiting. There were different types of monkeys, lions, other small cats, many varieties of birds, and a huge boa constrictor, just to name a few. Here’s my favorite picture from the zoo:

Afterwords, we wandered around Sucúa before getting the most delicious dinner. We’re all dying for more of the pizza we had that night which was just fabulous! We turned in early that night to get some much needed rest after all of that furious studying we did for our midterms!

On Thursday we visited Macas for a few hours for a tour of the main church and to explore yet another city in the Oriente (the jungle region of Ecuador). After lunch we drove thirty minutes outside of Macas to the start of the trail we walked for an hour and a half into the jungle to reach our campsite. It was a tough walk (but nothing compared to climbing up mountains!) because we had to carry everything that we would need for the next three days! We were provided boots, thank goodness, because there was mud everywhere that often reached our knees! We also jumped over fallen trees and forded rivers. It was a miracle if you didn’t fall!! (I only did once and it was a good fall too! I ended up straddling a log-bridge over a wide pit of mud!).

When we reached our cabaña we were sweaty, tired, and in shock. We were going to live in a building with no walls! It was an open air cabaña right next to a waterfall. I can’t even express how wonderful it was! Most of us girls slept in the loft on small mattresses underneath our colorful mosquito nets.

When we were done setting up our sleeping spaces we jumped in our swim suits and boots and hiked 10 minutes down the path to the river. The water was so cold but it felt amazing! And we were swimming in a river in the Amazon jungle! This trip was so full of crazy realizations like that! When we dried off we discovered that we had nothing more to do. What a thought! We played cards, read, or just talked. It was such a simple night but it felt so great to be able to fully and completely relax for a while. And the food! Ask any one of us and we’ll just rave! The food was phenomenal! It was prepared by one of the families of the local village and it was so fresh! We ate lots of fresh fruit and yucca, which is native to the area. All our meals were served on leaves. Take a look at our “plates”!

It was such a relaxing environment because we were cut off from everything. We didn’t even have electricity or running water. During our free time at night we read by candlelight and the bathrooms… well… at least we had some! There was a little hut not too far from our cabaña with a roof and walls (although no door, unfortunately) complete with three toilets… seats and all. The only problem was, for some reason, it was built on a massive ant hill. I soon learned to master the squat and stomp technique although some of the other girls weren’t as lucky and ended up– literally– having ants in their pants.

After such a relaxing night of nothing and falling asleep to the waterfall I was ready for Friday. We spent so much of the day hiking. It was more of the same difficult walking conditions but was so much more manageable in the lower altitude and without the extreme inclines of a mountain. Just before we turned around to head back for lunch we got to jump in a cart attached to a rope system that they used to pull us over and across the river! It was such a rush and a beautiful view!

Before lunch we put our suits on again and took a short walk to another waterfall nearby. You’ll never guess what we did when we got there. We bathed! We brought shampoo and washed our hair in a waterfall!! It was another one of those, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this” moments!

After lunch it was time for a long siesta. When we all woke up refreshed we went on another hike. This time we visited the local village which is made up of about 20 families. There we bought hand made jewelery from the women and played with the children. It was so much fun to interact with the community that way!

There was more time for relaxing before dinner and afterwords we witnessed a cleansing ceremony performed by the local shaman. He told us about the Shuar, the indigenous tribe in the area, which has a different history than those around Cuenca because in the jungle the native groups weren’t conquered by the Spanish.

Saturday morning was full of more down time before we packed up for our long hike to the bus. All of this nature really made me miss Girl Scout Camp and camping so I was sad to leave! During our hike it started to thunderstorm so we were soaking wet but having the time of our lives. It was an adventure!

We stopped for the night in Macas and tried to enjoy our first real shower in three days but unfortunately our hotel had no hot water. That shower was not my favorite. In fact, I think I preferred the waterfall!

Sunday was another full day of nauseous driving. We stopped halfway to Cuenca for a tour of the Hidropaute dam. It’s an amazing construction that produces 70% of Ecuador’s electricity! Needless to say, it was a high-security facility!! We toured the machinery room where they produce the electricity. It was really interesting to learn how they can take the water from a river and make electricity to power my house in Cuenca!

We managed to stop for lunch in time to catch part of the World Cup Final and our group was pretty much divided in two between the Netherlands and Spain. I chose to cheer for Spain because I’m in a Spanish-speaking country, they speak Spanish in Spain, I speak Spanish now… it just sort of made sense!

And that’s about all I have to tell of my jungle trip. It was a whole lot of relaxing, hiking, and eating good food, and not much else. Thanks for all the comments and well-wishes! I’ll blog again next week! :)

4 Responses to “Welcome to the Jungle!”

  1. So happy to read about your jungle adventures and see the pictures! You have had some amazing experiences that you’ll never forget. I’m relieved all of you made it back to Cuenca safely. Can’t wait for the next update!

  2. Washing your hair in a waterfall — that sounds fun but loud. Keep sending photos!

  3. You are such a good writer Lins!! I feel like I can see what you are doing.

    Your pictures are awesome!! The colors are so beautiful!!

    Take care dear,

    Love ya

    Gram Marie

  4. Wow! I can’t believe all the adventures you have had. Thanks for keeping us up to date!!
    Love,
    Carol

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