Puyo is a lesser visited jungle like town. It took us less than two hours from Baños to get to Puyo and it cost $2. Originally we were only stopping in Puyo because had read about a monkey reserve of some sort awhile back when we started research. At first it was difficult to find information but we finally found out what it was called and how to get there so we decided to head to Puyo. Instead of staying in a hostel we decided to try couchsurfing for the first time. I signed up for it at the beginning of the trip but was slightly skeptical about the whole thing initially. But I found a middle aged couple who lived in Puyo and decided to contact them because based on their profile they seemed like really nice cool people. Their names were Hugo & Carolina and they were more than happy to host us. We arrived to their place around mid afternoon and after chatting with them (and playing with the pet cat and neighbors pet dog) for about an hour or so Michelle and I wanted to walk around the town a bit and check out things.
We found an ethnobotanical garden but we got there about 40 minutes before they closed and tours of the park were over an hour. So we said we would come back the following morning. From there we found our way to the town center to get to a supermarket to buy some wine for our hosts, since the next day was Carolina's birthday. By the time we were walking around it was dumping rain but still warm out. We had experienced mostly cold or cooler weather for the last three months so this was our first taste of jungle weather. We bought some groceries, wine & a cake for our hosts and got back to a meal for us all to eat. We had previously forgotten to mention that we were vegetarians so Carolina made arepas (a Venezuelan fried maize bread) and a beef dish to go with it. We didn't want to be rude so we ate the meal which did taste fine but it was the first real meat I had eaten in over four years so I couldn't eat much. We stayed up with our hosts until around 11 or so and then called it a night.
The next morning, Michelle and I woke up and got ready to go back to Parque Ethnobotanico Omaere for our tour. We got there around nine and they weren't quite open yet so we waited outside and hung out by el Rio Puyo. While we were waiting we saw the biggest butterflies either of us had ever seen, they were black and bright blue and about the size of our fists, so beautiful. Then Chris, cofounder of the park (who is originally from Salinas which was cool) arrived and we were able to start our tour of the place. Originally we were told that it would take about an hour but the entire thing was about three hours, which I was absolutely fine with. To visit Parque Ethnobotanico Omare costs $3 per person and was well worth it. The place is about 15 hectares of all Amazonian trees and plants. Chris' wife is a Shuar native (group of indigenous people in Ecuador) and purchased the land in order to replant it after the area had been deforested for cattle pasteurization. Chris and a few other people got involved and they brought back a perfect jungle oasis. The park is located right next to the city and river but once you enter you feel like you are in the middle of the jungle and isolated from civilization. For three hours Chris showed us a variety of trees and plants that the local indigenous people use for curing all matter of problems and diseases. I honestly wish I could have remembered everything but it was so much information and sadly plants are not my strength but all still was fascinating. He also talked about the Shuar and Waorani people and how their cultures are. Presently there are still about 30,000 Waorani people and about 100,000 Shuar so they are people who haven't lost their culture or tradition after centuries of human and habitat encroachment. Also during our time on the tour we also saw a variety of different insects (all big and awesome) and heard several birds. Chris said some animals were rereleased into Omaere (such as a few saddle back tamarin monkeys) but not many, the rest made their way in and call it home now. A few years ago Chris and his wife had discovered jaguar tracks even but a few weeks later a local man killed a jaguar supposedly around his house, since then no more jaguar tracks in Omaere. It would have been great to see the mammals and other wildlife he mentioned since I am more into animals but the plants and insects was good enough for me. I think if (when) I come back to Ecuador to work as a guide in Baños, I also want to spend some time volunteering at this park. For the last few years I became interested in medicinal plants and remedies and I think this would be a perfect place to learn. Chris even mentioned that his wife is an amazing healer and has even helped people with cancer. But Chris' legacy is dry toilets. He has worked on several projects and areas to build healthy, sustainable sanitation for people. Overall just a fantastic man.
Once we finished at Omaere, Michelle and I were really hungry and overheating. We walked around for a bit until we came across a Chifa restaurant (Chinese restaurant) which have become our saving grace for finding food. We each ordered a massive plate of rice and veggies, side of papas fritas and split a jar of really good limonada. We were feeling tired but we didn't want to leave Puyo without going to the monkey reserve. So we got a taxi that cost us $4 to Paseo de Los Monos on the outskirts of the city. We paid our $3 entrance fee and were a little disappointed in the facility. We had heard good and bad about the place so I was expecting worse but I was also hoping to be able to hold a monkey or have one climb on my shoulder. The "reserve" is not very large and some monkeys had better enclosures than others. There were a few that were pretty open with lots of green lush vegetation and a few had lots of tall trees for them to climb but other ones were completely in closed cages with not much room. Also the fences were electrical which I was not a fan of. Chris, from Omaere, told us that the animals and volunteers from abroad (who pay a good deal of money to volunteer) are fed poorly and we noticed that with the animals. The rescue center also had about a dozen tortoises which had lots of rotten looking veggies, a couple of coati (which were incredibly adorable), a few dozen macaws and parrots of different species, five species of monkeys and a serpentario (which was mostly all empty gross cages but there was one lone boa and a guinea pig). The center is set up in a loop and can be completed quickly so we circled a few times. The surrounding area I admit was beautiful, since there was lush jungle and a river next to it but the enclosures for the animals still made me sad, since all of the monkeys simply looked so hungry and like they didn't want to be there.
At one point I plucked a leaf from a plant outside the cage and handed it to a baby chorongo (monkey species) and it happily took it and ate it, so that was adorable. We were also warned that some monkeys roam free from their enclosures and are prone to stealing things from visitors and if visitors try to retrieve them then they get bitten, so we were slightly nervous about that. We got to an area where some of the monkeys were and noticed three were out roaming free, one squirrel monkey and two white capuchins, I believe, a mom and a baby. So we spent a good amount of time waiting for them to play with us but they were pretty disinterested in us, yet still the closest I've been to monkeys and fascinating to watch. Overall we only spent about an hour and half there and left wondering how the hell we were going to get back to Puyo since the center is pretty isolated and no taxis pass by. But as we were leaving, the owner was leaving with a volunteer to head into town for some supplies so he gave us a ride in the back of his truck which was very kind.
We made our way back to the center of the city, wandered a bit, had a cup of coffee and walked back to our hosts house. Hugo was working, from home on the computer (he is a university professor/researcher of ecology) and Carolina was taking a nap before her guests arrived for her birthday party. So Michelle and got down time to write our Baños blogs. Before guests arrived, Hugo insisted that we showered basically because he said we smelled, haha the joys of traveling. Around eight people started showing up and Michelle and I were not in a social mood but we did the best we could for our hosts and because it was Carolina's birthday. Throughout the night Hugo kept insisting on pouring me wine (which I just gave to Michelle) and later whiskey but I told him I don't drink but he kept pouring. Also it was a bbq so there was lots of meat, so again Michelle and felt obligated to eat it. After a bit I really was not feeling well, again after not having eaten meat in so long and then eating some two nights in a row did not make my stomach happy.
But their friends were very nice and Carolina and Hugo had a good night so that's all that matters. Michelle and I made it to 11:30 and called it a night, which is late for us. We woke up the next morning (Thursday morning), packed our things and said our goodbyes so we could head to Tena which is further north of Puyo. Overall Puyo was an interesting stop with the highlight being Omaere. Puyo may not be a very attractive city filled with lots to do but this enthobotanical park is a must visit for travelers in Ecuador, whether you are going to the jungle or not.
After about two hours on a bus and $2.50 later we made it to Tena, which is known for better whitewater rafting.
We made it to Tena, found our hostel, A Welcome Break Hostel, which was $8 a night and went in search of food. We were expecting Tena to be somewhat similar to Baños but it wasn't at all. Definitely not a city quite set up for tourism so finding food was difficult. But we finally found a pizza place, ate and then were in search of a rafting company. We went to five different agencies and most of which were closed (this was at 2:00 btw so they should not have been closed). But we finally found Caveman tours and they said they had no sign ups for the next day yet so we should come back later. We were told that they would close at 8:00 so we went back out at 7:00 and all of them were closed until lastly we went to River People. We spoke with the woman working there and she said four other people were signed up for the next day so we decided to sign up also. Originally the price was $60 but we got her down to $55 (whew saved $5 haha).
The next morning we arrived and saw the four people with us was a family (they were from the South Carolina but were living in Quito for about two years) with two kids aged 9 and 11. So Michelle and I looked at each other and just thought oh this will be interesting. The family ended up being really nice and I was impressed with the kids but the tour was definitely catered towards them, so honestly it would have been nice to be told or really pay less since it wasn't as adventurous as we were hoping. We had read Tena has some of the best whitewater rafting in the world but there was lacking information. Such as wet season (June-August) is the best time and some rivers are higher classes than others. You might read that trips are on Rio Napo but really most trips just finish at Puerto Napo. Overall the rafting was still fun and we had great guides. Our main guide, Santiago, was probably the most attractive man I had ever seen so not staring at him was difficult haha. And then there was Abby, who was on the safety inflatable kayak, called the ducky and she was also fantastic.
Once we got on the river, Santiago said the toughest wave was in the beginning and well it certainly was. Michelle and I were in the front, then Kim & David (the parents) and then Sarah and Andrew (the kids). As soon as this giant wave crashed into us Michelle, Kim and Andrew (all on the same side) fell in and then David did, and lastly Santiago leaving only Sarah and I on the raft. Santiago got himself back in and I went over and got Kim back in since she was closest to me but then I tried reaching for Michelle but she had let go of the raft in order to retrieve Andrew since he was floating further away. But after a couple of minutes we got everyone back on and Abby noticed that my leg was bleeding, which probably happened in the turmoil when Michelle and Kim both lost their paddles. David was wearing a Gopro and we believe the video was going, so I am hoping for that video haha. It all really just happened so fast. Though everyone was still in high spirits and we continued on. We took a stop on a little beach and were surrounded by butterflies which was really cool and simply taking in the beautiful forest around us.
The rafting in Baños had more rapids but was shorter, less than two hours or so. But we ended up rafting in Tena on the Jatunyacu river for roughly five hours. For the last hour or so, Abby gave Michelle and I the ducky so we could have a little more adventure on this trip. I was steering in the back and at one point Santiago and Abby were saying to us we needed to go through a particular set of rapids with our nose to the right but instead we went backwards, haha well we made it though. The scenery was beautiful around Tena and it was hot and mosquito infested. So by the end of the day, my legs were fried and covered in bites but absolutely still worth the trip. So for those interested in rafting in Tena, I recommend it but go June-August as the rivers are far higher and there are bigger rapids. But I have decided future rafting guide here I come, definitely one of my new favorite activities/sports.