We were up early for a full day on the Jahtunyacu River whitewater rafting!
Arriving at the river, we were walked through a safety briefing. We went through scenarios of people falling out of the boat and how to recover them with Pancho, our guide.
The water was silvery white-capped and felt like someone smacked with a comforter each time it hit.
Moving through the waves was like a giant roller coaster, being tossed up and down, at moments facing straight up to the sky and at others looking straight down a wave like peering over a cliff.
Near the beginning one of us gracefully slid into the river, surfacing with the biggest smile, not at all concerned about being in the slightly chilly river 🙂
Right before lunch the skies decided to grant us with a shower…and we got a downpour which lasted until the end of our time on the river!
It made our adventure all the more epic in the mist and blinding rain as we met up with another crew of rafters and had splashing wars as we passed.
A couple students were also able to try kayaking in the whitewater waves with our lifeguard and photographer, Benanacio, a equally thrilling alternative to the raft.
An incredible day of fun and excitement with the small family we’ve created here in Ecuador 🙂
Our last full day in Huasquila we went for a 4km hike that we took slowly, enjoying our final walk through the Amazon rainforest. Freddie showed us even more medicinal plans and a clay mask (Amazon skin care!) from a pocket in the trail under our feet.
The trail was narrow and was on a cliff in some areas, Freddie walking us one-by-one at some points until we all settled into our final destination The Grand Canyon (of the Amazon).
We swam in the pool beneath a giant waterfall (which also gave us a nice massage to go along with our facial) and explored a cave, dove off rocks and ate our lunch!
The last leg of our hike was steep and involved climbing ladders and a lot of sweat. We arrived at our lodge once again ready for a shower and some rest before packing our bags to head home soon.
Our closing ceremony was beautiful, thank yous heartfelt and honest appreciations given to all. We are sad to leave and happy we were here in this magical place full of life and adventure.
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.
Everyone enjoyed roasted worm larvae afterward!
Our first stop was a Guayusa farm!
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 🙂
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!
We awoke on day 11 to a gorgeous, sunny sky on seemingly the top of the world at the Black Sheep Inn in Chugchilan.
Bagged lunches packed, we started a trek that would be the most difficult yet; one hour of downhill with a succeeding 6 hours of up!
Stunning views helped motivate us through the strenuous climb as we ended at the rim of the Quilotoa crater, created 600 years ago by volcanic eruption and collapse.
We were welcomed by grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cocoa at our hostel and had an early night, eagerly anticipating the Zumbahwa market in the morning!