So we just got back to Quito after a 6 hour long bus ride north west out of the Napo Valley region back to a bearable temperature and insectless (relatively) climate. To say the the rainforest is unlike anywhere I've ever been would be a vast understatement. Everything from the constant humidity to the wild sounds coming from all different directions and the incredible variety of colorful plants that may cure diseases, or indeed cause great illnesses was such a sensory overload. We began our adventure by driving up 2 hours into the mountains to natural hot spring baths and spent a few hours soaking in the warmth, and taking plunges into the cold water to keep our body temperatures a little more stable. We then ventured down, down, down, into the Napo Region to a city called Tena. (This is when the humidity really began). We wandered for a little and had a beer (estupidamente fría) to refresh, and then drove a little bit farther to our home for 3 of the 4 nights, the Aliñahui Jungle Lodge. The beauty of this place was overwhelming. All of the cabins were elevated to keep the nasty bugs away and to (hopefully) catch a little bit of the breeze, and of course there were hammocks galore.
The first night in the rainforest was certainly an adventure. With the stifling heat, wild noises from all around, and the promises of many unusual bug bites, I did not exactly sleep well. I think our whole group woke up the next morning from wild dreams and a very restless night. However the next day we all went on our first hike into the rainforest. Our guide was very knowledgable and we stopped to learn the 6 imporant uses of Pajaloquilla (including roofs, panama hats, rope, food, and jewelry), to gaze at the most amazing tree I've ever seen called a Seibo, and I have pictures of it, and to EAT a handful of lemon ants (ormegas de limon) that get their delicious citrus taste from a simbiotic relationship with the tree that they live in. Certainly my first (intentional) insect eating experience but once one person did it, we realized that it was totally safe and actually pretty tasty. After that we walked as a group and began to drop each student off about 5 miuntes apart and we each spent an hour all alone in the middle of the rainforest with only our thoughts and some water. It was really interesting because first off, time goes by so differently in the jungle, and second its such a humbling experience to sit down and realize that all of those bugs and such have no interest in you or your yummy blood, but are just going about their routines and you are jsut an oddly colored obstacle in their way. The craziest part about staying at the Aliñahui lodge was that the first night we're watching the sunset over one of the most peaceful scenes i've ever laid eyes on and we hear rumblings in the distance. I got excited that we were hearing a distant thunderstorm and even hoped we might get some of it later on. However after speaking with Fabian, one of our directors, informed us that the sounds actually were coming from the construction of the NEW AIRPORT right in the middle of the jungle. I couldn't belive it I was so distressed. And the next day during our solo all I could focus on were the distant noises of foreign machinery. Luckily it began to pour and i focused back on the beauty and intensity of the interconnected jungle.
That night we all went on a ngiht walk around the area and saw some absolutely insane creatures. The wildest were the spiders, one of which was about the size of my palm including legs and all, but not thick, quite thin actually. But we did get to see a tarantula that looked almost like a small squirrel it was so fuzzy and huge. And the leaf cutter ants are a beautiful example of the intricate relationships that some animals/insects form. The sounds are also so much more intense at night and it was a great test for the senses to be without sight but with the other senses very alert.
We spent the next few days swimming in the Arajuno river, hanging out with Mona the monkey at the arajuno lodge, talking about sustainable fishing, learning to plant bamboo (which is not native but is a key species to act as a buffer, filter, tool, and food) learning a little Kichwa, playing soccer with the local kids (they beat us easily) and watching the night sky from the top of the observation tower. I can actually say that the second to last night in the jungle was one of the most peaceful places i've ever been and certainly the most serene feeling i've ever had mentally and physically. even the food was outstanding. Then back out of the jungle up up into the mountains and back to the civilization of quito!
I'm picking up the entry from my room in my new homestay house in Quito. Today was our first day of lectures at the EIL office which is just a 15 minute walk from my house. This family is very different from my Los Chillos family who i loved very much. We all got along wonderfully and my host sister Andrea is one of the most amazing 18 year olds i know. I really lucked out in Los Chillos because many of the other students had wealthy and strict famliies, and mine was very down to earth and happy to welcome me as another daughter. I hope to visit them this week because it's only a 30 minue bus ride out of the city!
So back to Quito, this family is very nice and I have a sister who is 20 and a brother who is 27 (most Ecuadorians live at home until they get married, and sometimes even after that). My host dad used to be in the Air Force and we've already sat and watched fútbol matches and the history channel together. All three of them speak at least some form of English, but they know it's not allowed with me! And my host mom is very sweet, busy with friends and cooking (which she does very well) and loves her children very much. The biggest difference is that this family is very well off. I was not expecting it but although it seems odd to say, apart from the fact that they live in Ecuador, their lifestyle is quite similar to that of an upper middle class American family.They also call me "Ileesa" but i'm not going to argue, i don't think the "eyeza" sound is part of the Spanish language.
This next week will consist of lectures from all sorts of amazing people as we all get used to the city, our new families, and all of the exciting things to do. Then next week off to the coast to live with rural agricultural families in fishing villages which shall be a fascinating experience and really open our eyes to a different part of ecuador.
Apologies for the long post, I've been pretty bad at updating but so much has happened that I could have kept going for page and pages. I hope you enjoy the pictures!
all my love and wishes of safety and happiness to all.