We headed out on our day’s adventure by heading out to a port on the Napo River. On the way, we got relationship advice from our driver and exchanged stories about romantic cultural practices between our home countries.
We boarded a long, canoe-like boat, motoring our way down the Napo to the wildlife rescue center called AmaZOOnico. As we sat and listened to the rules about avoiding contact and not communicating with the animals, a large spider monkey came and sat directly beside Seren! He successfully ignored him 🙂
We also saw: a group of squirrel monkeys, scarlet macaws, caymans, turtles, toucans, jaguarundi, an ocelot, both a boa and an anaconda, a pecari and many more!
We ate lunch and floated part of the river in inner tubes, dipping ourselves in the cool water as we went.
Our next stop was a small house we walked to barefoot through the forest, where we used a 7-foot blowgun to shoot darts at a wooden owl! This was common hunting practice for Freddie’s parents and grandparents but not as much now.
Next stop was interrupted by fishing pole construction with vines and trunks of small trees before arriving at a small cayman lagoon where we used beef bait to “fish for cayman!” The cayman would come close enough to bite the meat so we could see them as they bit and then thrashed around, leaving our vine empty.
Our last stop was a town called Misahualli where we saw wild monkeys and swam at an expansive beach before heading back to our lodge, tired and happy from sun and fun!
We started off a bit late due to rain but arrived at one of the most exciting places we’d been yet, the second largest caves in all of Ecuador: The Jumandí Caves.
We waded through shallow pools to where our instructor Luis told us to follow exactly in his footsteps. We jumped into water over our heads, passing hand-over-hand, like Tarzan, and climbing up a small waterfall!
A “giant cauliflower” stood next in our path, making us shimmy our way around it to pass a column (a stalactite and stalagmite that have “married”) which produced droplets that gave fertility/wealth to whom ever drank them. (He recommended 2-3 to not be TOO fertile!)
We kept going past the column forest to end in a corner where we turned off all our headlamps and were told a story of the history of the caves.
In the next gallery of the cave we were taken by surprise when Luis dove into a 4 meter (he had just told us not to swim in) hole at the base of another waterfall from which he did not emerge for some time. Turned out the 4 meter hole was the first in a series of three holes that we would each be able to pass through if we wished, feeling the spiritual energy and cleansing ourselves in the back-pounding streams.
We turned off our lights again and to speak to cave spirits Luis played an enchanting flute that sent shivers down our spine. We climbed up the waterfall and crawled through a tight space toward…light! We were sad to feel the darkness drifting away and the energy of the cave dissipating as we woke ourselves from the peaceful silence.
In the afternoon Freddie (the incredible Quichua guide we’ve had with us all week) taught us how to make a thick chocolate fondue from the pure cacao seed which we roasted until they popped, peeled, grinded with honey, cinnamon and brown sugar and finally roasted again with lemongrass tea to eat with banana and strawberry!
The excitement finished with a bang as Finnigan, A, Seren and our guide ate a squirming, raw larvae by biting off its head and swallowing it hole or chewing it as it continued to wriggle in their mouth.
The process is four-part: 20kg of leaves are put on drying beds until they lose their water weight, bringing it down to 12kg. Next, the leaves are roasted in a large, cylindrical machine until they are crumbly. From there they are chopped and finally sifted into big and small pieces that become the tea leaves!
We continued on with a second hike through the jungle where we found a large waterfall that many students went under. The pressure of the water was described as: “many small rocks hitting my back,” “it brought me to my knees!” and “it felt so good!”
After lunch we had a language exchange with local Huasquila students and teachers/guides. Conversation was full of life and the fun confusion of language barrier!
We followed the village people into town to play soccer on the most beautiful, sandy/muddy playing field, a view of the Amazon behind.
The highlight was one small child standing with hands on hips with the ball, shouting “Who wants to die?!” in Spanish, an unknowing Finn standing before him.
This experience has thus far brought us so much laughter and joy 🙂
We woke up in Baños to our final breakfast before our long trip to Ambato on our way to Huasquila in the Amazon! The ride was a bit bumpy and we arrived happily in the light rain of Ambato to eat a delicious almuerzo (typical lunch) with our first sip of guayusa tea. The Huasquila lodge was a welcome comfort after a taxi ride to Cotundo and car ride to the lodge. We settled in and had a lesson before dinner where we explored various aspects of our identity and shared very honestly. Our first dinner at the lodge set the expectations high for the rest of our time here in Ecuador!
A breakfast of pancakes and syrup greeted us this morning at the lodge. After putting on our big rubber boots we climbed into the Amazon jungle, stopping to learn about many medicinal plants used for thousands of years to increase circulation, heal sore throats and function as second layers of skin for protection!
We dipped ourselves in a laguna (a small pool next to a waterfall) and waded through a cave where we saw scorpion spiders bigger than our hands and felt bats rush past our faces!
We made sure to ask permission from the cave spirit before entering by knocking three times with a rock on the exterior wall before entering.
We left Latacunga on a public bus headed for Ambato, a transfer city on our way to Baños. In Baños, we settled into our new hostel with a beautiful rooftop view of the tiny waterfall above the town. We treated ourselves to a pizza dinner which included such silliness as rewriting the EA birthday song in Spanish and Finnigan eating an entire slice of pizza with just a knife!
Our only full day in Baños we decided to rent bikes to travel the route of the waterfalls, ending at the biggest called the Devil’s Cauldron. We biked 80% downhill on a beautifully sunny day, basking in the spray of the falls when we arrived. The waterfall was stunningly powerful with a short tunnel that led behind the waterfall, which some brave participants explored. We treated ourselves afterward to various treats, including choco-bananas and strawberries on a stick!
As a part of our blog post for day 13, we wanted to share our best wishes to our mothers! Each student and staff wrote a note for their mother, which you can add to our blog 13 information!
I’m still alive. I have been having a lot of fun so far and happy Mother’s Day!
Hey Mom! Thinking about you here in Ecuador on this Mother’s Day! Just here to let you know of how grateful I am to have you as a mother. Excited to see you when I get back! Love, your son, Brian
From my dear Mother, whom I miss very much, I have learned my prudence, my caution and my attentiveness to the welfare of others. She has provided so much for me and I thank her endlessly for her hard work which has brought me to Ecuador.
Hey Mom, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. Love your Boogie, Seren
I would like to tell you that I love you a lot and hope that you have a wonderful Mother’s Day (and maybe go on a hike). I want to tell you that you are the best mom imaginable.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I hope you and Lanaea and everyone else are doing well! I’ve been having a lot of fun on this trip, thank you for creating me so that I can go on these fun adventures! I love you!
I miss you, Mom! Thank you so much for all the years of love and support. Have a beautiful Mother’s Day!
Have a wonderful Mother’s Day, hope it’s filled with hiking (not too long) and a backyard fire. Miss you and see you in a couple weeks!
After a very early night for a much-needed rest, everyone walked through the town up to the crater’s rim once more before shopping around Quilotoa village.
We left our El Alpaca hostel, all wearing our new alpaca sweaters, bound for the open air market in Zumbahwa! Walking around the market, there were so many new sights and tastes, including pigs head, guinea pig and aloe tea!
After the short bus ride to Latacunga we once again stopped at the market for lunch where students were challenged to find their own lunch with the money given to them. Students came back with plates stacked high, enough to fill to the brim. The evening was spent in a lesson, doing some writing and reflecting on our Quilotoa trek and treating ourselves to Mexican food at a fancier restaurant.
We left Mashpi early for a long drive to Latacunga with a break at the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument where we stood on each side of the Equator! We continued our drive to Latacunga, leaving the hot and humid weather of the northern coast and entering into cool, thin air. We wandered around and grabbed a traditional dinner to fill up on food before starting our hike to Isinlivi the next day – the first of three legs of the Quilotoa loop!
Our first hiking day started with a 2-hour drive on our first public bus of the trip! Views were spectacular as we pulled into Sigchos and found a traditional almuerzo before heading out onto the trail! We started out hiking in the rain and completed a full, muddy 9 miles hiked through valleys and steep cliffs. We arrive at the Llullullama hostel in Isinlivi and were blown away by how beautiful it was and how great it felt to be dry! We enjoyed a delicious three-course dinner and slept deeper due to our happy exhaustion. Hot chocolate was also enjoyed by all 🙂
After an early night some woke up early to enjoy the morning sun while others did yoga alongside a group of other hostel visitors from all over the world. We hit the trail much earlier and luckily had many more hours rain-free, sunshine-filled and perfectly cool temperature. The hike may have been a bit shorter length-wise but we were all challenged by the steep downhills into the valley and steep uphills following – what goes down must come up! We hiked for six hours, laughing and getting silly from exhaustion before arriving at our destination: The Black Sheep Inn. With coffee, tea, cookies and banana bread abound we settled in for the evening round the wood stove, listening to Seren on the guitar 🙂
Our first day at Pambiliño farm in the small, cloud forest town of Mashpi, we centered ourselves by understanding where we were in the world, getting to know the bioregion. We first took a walk through the wonders of the Andes-Choco rainforest, opening our eyes to new sights and ears to new sounds. After our delicious quinoa-based lunch, we walked into town for a much-needed swim in the Mashpi river. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent focusing on food and nourishing ourselves! We headed out into the agroforestry systems and harvested cacao, guayaba, plantain and some stinging nettles to prepare a dinner of patacones (fried plantains) with nettle pesto and hot chocolate, all traveling zero kilometers to get to our plates!
We started our day four with a permaculture lesson, building on what we had learned in the previous food cluster to interpret the agroforestry systems surrounding us in Ecuador. We then took a two hour hike on a agricultural restoration trail where we were served a delicious lunch, including palm hearts from his palm heart forest. For the afternoon session on water management we headed out with some hardwood trees to plant in the forest behind his house, when he informed us that an espantabobo might pass through. Espanta (fear) and bobo (silly person) refers to a rainstorm that passes through very quickly; one that silly people get scared of. Little did we know, this rainstorm would be the largest in 15 years (second only to one that passed two months earlier this year!) The storm struck our heads like a neverending series of pokes from someone trying to get your attention, beating your head and shoulders. We slipped and fell down the muddy slopes back to the farm and cheered our victory of surviving mother nature’s powerful blast.
After a day of pouring rain, we woke up to an early, sunny stroll with Alejandro, a local wildlife biologist also ornithologist. Using binoculars and a telescope, walking alongside the river, we spotted an unusual, ornate hawk eagle, parrots, hummingbirds and a striking, small blue bird. We had our first lunch in town, the most traditional lunch we’d had so far of a first plate of plantain ball soup and second of fried pork with rice. The swim in the river afterward reminded us of yesterday’s storm with it’s height and power, we swimmers unable to jump off the rock we had the day before for fear of being taken by the current. In the evening we returned to class time with questioning what it means to be representing our country and communities back home while visiting someone else’s, writing Where I’m From poems to be shared on the Quilotoa trek coming up soon!
Today was a powerful day for food justice conversation, continuing along the path of connecting with and harvesting the food we put on our plates. A local store and restaurant owner sold us a live chicken and we were tasked with the job of turning it into lunch! In a Spanish lesson combined with lunch preparation, Finnigan stepped up to the plate, killing the chicken as a sacrifice to nourish us for the afternoon.
In a process that took us an hour (which usually takes the store owner five minutes) we plucked the feathers, gutted the chicken and divided up the body to be prepared for soup and meat to be served with rice and salad. Although the chicken meat was a bit tougher than we’re used to, due to it’s healthy life wandering around the farm, we loved and appreciated the meal.
That afternoon we returned to town to play a game of soccer with the locals, along with interviewing them to find out more about Mashpi life, their view of tourism and their personal dreams for the future. After dinner we headed out on a night hike where we got to explore the many species of animals, especially amphibians and insects that are sharing this space with us even though we can’t usually see them.
Our final day in Mashpi we started with a visit from students from the local school who are a part of a program called Bosque Escuela (Forest School) that runs through Pambiliño. After some get-to-know-each other games, we went on a scavenger hunt through the farm looking for items such as: round seeds, five-fingered leaves and red flowers. We returned to enjoy some of the fruits that Mari (one of the farm owners and instructor in the program) made and some cacao-guayaba juice, followed by play time! After we were all settled, Mari told a Dominican Republican legend about las siguapas, people with backwards feet who live under the sea.