PART TWELVE: JOURNEY TO MISHUALLI
Hola! Really long blog this one is gonna be as I've had quite an adventure recently....
Well I'm not your average English girl, quite an adventurous girl actually if you've not come to that conclusion yet from following the last parts of this blog. Anyway, I'm one to tire of routine and sameness and having been at the reserve for over a month, really wanted to explore the Amazon further, so I decided to pack my bag and go it alone.......well sort of.
Giving a call to a jungle lodge in a nearby town called Misahualli for the weekend. Their office was in Quito, so I spoke to this guy called Luis who told me I could join a group and be taken deeper into the forest and have an english translator - yes!
So.....having made arrangements, I got up early to catch a 6:45am bus outside the reserve, and sods law awoke to the foreboding sounds of horrendous crashing and rumbling on the roof of my cabaña and realised I had to get up and head into the jungle in a thunder storm. As I waited on the main road getting soaked, Francisco, an old man who is the handyman at the reserve, came out dressed in a white poncho and mumbled to me asking where I was going to. I told him I was heading to Misahualli down river and he was thrilled to tell me his house was there and that I could come with him (good news for someone not entirely sure where they were going). The bus came soaring down the road screeching to a halt past us and then reversing back to pick us up, very funny. The bus in the early morning was packed and I had to wedge myself between people while Francisco sat on the step. A few moments later, he yelled for me to get off the bus and stepped out onto the dirt track with a corroded sign saying ´Beinvenidos a Puerto Misahualli´.
The dirt track led into the forest which was smouldering with the 7am clouds as we started to trudge through the rain down the path greeting morning passerbys. The rain carried on until we came to a huge bridge across the Rio Napo leading into the small town of Misahualli. Francisco knew of the hotel 'Él Albergue Español' where my port of call was and walked me up a small hill to the hotel where we were met by this young girl who was slightly confused why I was there. It turned out, there was no group at the lodge and that her husband Pier - the english translator was sick.....great
So I really was taking a solo adventure two hours up river on a canoe which I had to wait an hour for. I hung around Mishaualli playing with the hotel dogs until I was called down to the bank. She had arranged for a canoe to take me to the lodge an hour and a half away up river and I helped push the canoe out into the river after some ´technical problem´with the motor and off down river we went away from the Port of Mishualli. I sat on the side of the canoe, leaning over and sticking my hand into the water, spraying it up and watching the riverside life go by.... men fishing, ladies panning for gold and washing little kids racing canoes. The clouds hovering above the forest canopy in a dream like illusion was spectacular to cruise into as I headed on my solo voyage further into the Amazon.
After a couple of hours, my driver slowed the canoe down and pulled up to the bankside where a guy was standing waving. He got on board and introduced himself as Ramon (another Ramon) and was my tour guide for the weekend! however....Ramon spoke no english - oh the fun to come! (I thought to myself this would be good for me, character building, no english speaking in the middle of the jungle all weekend). A short river ride further up, we pulled up to the bankside again to some steps, which you wouldn´t even have noticed if Ramon hasn't have revealed, very secret.
I jumped off the canoe and bounded up the stairs amongst maize fields till I reached this beautiful lodge. The lodge had room for 40 guests and I was the only one staying there! so I had this beautiful lodge all to myself in the calmness of Amazonia. After picking a room, spoilt for choice and dumping my bag. Ramon invited me to lunch in the restaurant where they gave me soooo much to eat! it was like three full courses. Around the lodge, birds were lingering - two green parrots and this huge Scarlet MaCaw named Miguel who tried to bite my boots, not the most friendliest of parrots - he clambered down his perch and walked off along the restaurant when he was bored with you!..charming......
After lunch, Ramon took me in the canoe down river where we had to hold on to a table that they were carrying in the canoe. We pulled up to the side of a bank to the ´Jaguar Reserve´where we had to clamber up the mud and into the reserve. Ramon was armed with a machete and we made our way through the vines, bugs and bushes - whenever Ramon saw something of interest, he would stop and try to explain to me what it was and I tried to understand the best I could (this is where I needed that damn English Translator!) but it was quite funny having to use body language and nodding along answering 'Si' ha. I actually felt privaledged in a way that I wasn't tagging along with a big tourist group struggling to hear what Ramon would be saying. Here I was having a very unique experience, having my own private ranger under no stresses or strict schedule or the forest being drowned out by many voices. Despite my lost in translation, Ramon and I had some fun in the forest.
Further into the reserve, we came across some vines of a 500 year old tree - it was the biggest tree I had ever seen in my life! Ramon gestured that I should swing on the vines but I had to hold on tight - I jumped (literally) at the chance and as I swung out like Tarzan the vines propelling me away and I looked down to realise I had swung out over a ravine!! ahhhhhhh!!!!! my grip started to slip slightly but fortunetely I swung back into the forest towards Ramon and we both started to climbing the roots of this mother of a tree - seriously they were GIGANTIC - but good fun. New leader in my tree climbing conquests.
Blending in with the wildlife...
After exploring more of the forest, discovering animal traps, lots of fungi and medicinal plants of the Amazon, we took the canoe further down the river to visit the indigenous family and a shaman. We pulled up to the pebbled shore where a young girl no older than about 12 or 13 was laying out clothes to dry in the hot sun. She seemed shy and walked ahead of us through the cocoa and corn fields as we shook hands with ladies coming through them. At the end of the path, we came to a clearing with a wooden house one storey high with clothes hung everywhere with chickens, puppies and kittens running around aswell as excited kids rushing to greet Ramon and I. Not being able to understand half of what was being said - I held a kitten and looked around their basic but simple home as we sheltered from the rainstorm that came shortly afterwards
We were then gestured to come upstairs into the house where a lady was lying on the floorboards moaning and asked if she was sick. I observed that a huge fireplace centred the house and the young girl we saw earlier sat with a baby wrapped around her wondering if it was actually hers. A much older, shorter, fatter man who looked in his 80´s was the head of the house and his son told me he was the shaman of the community and asked me if I wanted to be cleansed by him in a ritual. I agreed and was told all bad spirits and enegy would be exorcised from me and then positive energy put in me. What a once in a lifetime oppurtunity!
The room was dark and he sat me down on a stool, closing my eyes - he started to softly sing and whistle to me shaking 'Shu Panga' leaves (leaves that are noisy) over my head and draping them over me. Amazonian Shamans use these in religous ceremonies to ritually remove bad spirits from a person. I know it sounds weird but I felt like I was being lifted off the ground and things being sucked out of me. After a short while, the Shaman took my head and put his lips to it and started blowing for 10 breaths. It was a pretty unique experience - when I opened my eyes, it was really strange - I never felt better! Before leaving, I attempted to ask questions and managed to find out there were about 10 people in one house which was probably the size of my living and dining room at home - pretty close family! but not much privacy, y'know to do all your 'private stuff' I suppose they were spoilt for space with the countless acres of virgin forest they had surrounding them for a toilet anyhow! The son of the Shaman asked if I wanted to try some medicinal concoctions of a plant that helps stomach aches - I took a sip and wahooooohhh!!! what a stopper!! extremely strong!
I thanked the family and the shaman for his work and we headed back to the shore but not before trying some panning for gold! what most women are busy doing on the river bank. We collected some dirt and a load of small rocks in a large wooden disc and carried it to the river, the process is to add water and appear to swish it around emptying the rocks until you get the dirt - we then tipped the dish with the dirt left and looking closely, we saw we had caught some grains of gold! really cool!. But such a long process that these people do everyday here, but it is gold after all..... We rode back to the lodge down the river with the sunsetting over the River and Amazon and attempted to push the table on the canoe up the stairs! very bizarre
After my weekend was up, I took the canoe back down the Rio Napo taking in the scenery - I ported back in Misahualli and crossed over the bridge back to the dirt track which was bone dry from the heat of the sun. Armed with my backpack and rubber boots, I trudged down the dirt track aligned with lushious greenery you will ever see and stopped to look at birds and monkey´s high in the tree tops. I was then startled by a jogger passing me with ´Buenas Tardes Señorita!´and carried on running. I was passed many times by cars who wouldn´t give me a ride but thought it would be funny to wave at me speeding away. Reaching the end of the dirt track onto the main road, a house was opposite with 4 dogs who came charging towards me barking angrily ahhhhhh!!!! now I love dogs but wasn´t so keen to hang around and play so I decided to walk back from Misahualli which I calculated would be about an hour - it was great! like a lone walker finding their way home. Pick ups would stop to give me a ride but I decided I was enjoying my walk back too much - you miss so much when you´re speeding by in a car. Along my journey, I encountered a few people and children bidding ´Buenas Tardes´and asking where I was going and replying 'Jatun Sacha' regardless whether or not they knew where it was, but they smiled and nodded anyhow. I walked past many homes that were the same wooden shacks plastered with posters of local political figures holding their thumbs up saying ´Vote for Me!´ It was nice to see a vote for Lisa too for the women (I´d vote for Lisa) - women are second best in South America unfortunetely. Eventually, I reached the school 'Chichaca Rumi' where we planted the Ishpingo Trees so I had a little look to see how they were doing. Actually, a couple of the kids who I recognised from the school were playing marbles in the road and then running out the way when the bus came (They came up asking my name even though they´d seen me before and of course laughing at the response of Sal hehe I thought they´d remember!)
I noticed passing a sign saying ´Bienvendas Kamakmake´ which unless you were told was an animal centre where the animals just roam around you never would have known what it was. I reached the 'Centro Conservacion Plantas de Amazonica' I knew I was close to Jatun Sacha passing the dead horse with its totally decayed skelton with a few black vultures flying out as I approached. The sun was now setting over the canopy and the clouds were like pink smears across the sky - really pretty! and I even saw some parrots squaking and little black monkeys jabbering in a tree - cute!. The birds nests are really weird here they look like shigra bags hanging from trees.......I did make it back to the reserve by dark, just as well - I had no torch ha! but so pleased with myself that I took the plunge and did this on my own and I truly did end up coping on my own and having an unforgettable experience- what a ride!
Well the next day, we took the 30 minute walk back to Kamakmake - it was a real plush reserve and the first thing I saw was this cute little Amazon Pig running along with some children who I recognised again from the school dressed in typical Amazonian attire and showing us this cute little monkey that clambered on one of the boys shoulder and held on tight. Totally up for having a monkey on my shoulder, we managed to get him to clamber on me...then he wouldn´t let go. He was tightly clinging on and then even had the decency to pee on me!. Having the novelty of ha monkey on you slowly wearing off. One of the boys got a stick in an attempt to coax him off me which worked but then he clambered back on him again - it was so funny!!! Now that´s monkey business for ya.......
Signing off here at Jatun Sacha