Sleeping Alone in the Amazon

Monday, February 24

This morning was surreal. I wrote this entry in my journal the next morning:

“We arrived on the bus at 4:30am when it was still dark. I think I slept for a little over half the 6-hour drive. Our guide, Fausto, helped us unload our backpacks, rubber boots, water jugs, and boxes of meat, fruits and vegetables. We used our flashlights (which attracted swarms of bugs) to make our way down a boardwalk and wooden staircase to the lake, where a man in a motorized canoe was waiting for us.
The lake was inky black and completely still. Dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky, so we could make out the horizon of rainforest trees on both sides. The light from the bus stop was soon hidden behind the trees, but every few minutes a bright white flash lit up the sky. Distant lightning? When we got near the marshy shore, I saw that the lake was rimmed with glowing bluish-white bubbles. Natural oil? Fausto told us they were bioluminescent water bugs – millions of them! Then, I noticed that the trees held a light show, too. If I unfocused my eyes, I could see dancing white spots blinking on and off in each tall tree bordering the lake. Magical.
Fausto shone his flashlight on a huge caiman in the water right in front us of, but the boat driver didn’t see it. The caiman moved with a sudden splash just as we were almost on top of it. When we pulled up to a small wooden dock, we carried our cargo up the wooden steps and along a narrow, elevated boardwalk. We left the food in the kitchen, used the concrete outhouses with flushing white porcelain toilets, and immediately settled in to our beds in adjoining, wooden-plank, non-screened rooms. I adjusted my mosquito net and set my cell phone alarm to go off in three hours, at 8:45am, for breakfast. I was so tired I fell right to sleep – too tired to be scared for my first night sleeping alone in the Amazon.”

The welcome platform (seen in the daylight).

When I woke for the second time, I was greeted by Fausto’s delicious breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and fresh fruit. Incredible food would be a staple of the days to come.

We donned our uniforms of zip-off hiking pants, long-sleeved technical fabric shirts, and a gallon of bug spray each. I wasn’t about to mess around with malaria mosquitoes. Fausto gave us an hour-long tour of medicinal plants, including several in the family’s own garden.

A transparent butterfly in the wild.

A bat clinging to the trunk between the buttress roots of a huge ficus tree.

"Tallarin falso," false spaghetti. There's one version you can eat like noodles, and another you can use as perfume.

Baby toadstools. 

Sacho manduro, a favorite food of monkeys. 

"Planta de la penicilina," an antibiotic plant.

Papayuelo, a bright orange fruit. 
Atamuyo. Crack open the hard shell to find the soft, flat, thin seeds. You can light these on fire and use them like candles!

A "cien pie," or centipede.

The "vertebrae" of a secropia tree, which grows so quickly it fills its own trunk with water instead of wood.

Now for a little background on the location. Limoncocha, which means “lime lake” in Kichwa, is  an oxbow lake of the Napo River, It’s encompassed within a nature reserve, but one Kichwa family which lived on the lake before the establishment of the park still lives here. The family runs a “resort” for tourists which consists of a wood-plank cabin on stilts, a basic kitchen in the same style, two white porcelain toilets, and two concrete showers. Guides who bring tourists here must provide food, drinking water, and toilet paper. They must also cook. The cost is $8 per person per night.

The family's home, as seen from my identical abode.

Vecino, the starving mama dog.

The dogs finished our leftovers voraciously, then begged for more with the best puppy-dog eyes I've ever seen.

The family's kitchen, where fish from the lake are smoking under a piece of tin.

Chickens like to dust bathe all around the world.

Look, an exotic Gallus gallus appearing from the forest!

As Nadine, Sascha and I hung up our sweaty pants to dry and relaxed at the picnic table, Fausto rushed around the kitchen like a maniac, squeezing fresh juice for our lemonade, stewing chicken in “jungle cilantro” sauce, peeling and boiling potatoes. I peered into the kitchen and asked if I could help.

“Yes!” came the emphatic reply. I chopped carrots, peppers, tomatoes and carrots in my careful, inexperienced way. Fausto didn’t sweat the details – he was happy as long as the vegetables got chopped. I became so inspired by his quick, delicious, filling meals prepared from a few basic, whole ingredients that I decided to help prepare every meal. I hoped to befriend Fausto and learn a few Ecuadorian culinary skills to bring home with me.

After lunch, we headed out on the lake in a narrow, wooden, motorized canoe to fish our dinner: piranhas. We pulled over in the shady shallows and learned the trick: bait the hook with a chunk of raw beef, thrash the rod around a few times in the water to signal a fallen animal (piranhas prey on birds and mammals that fall into the water), and pull up quickly at the slightest tug.

Fausto caught six of our seven piranhas; Sascha caught the seventh. I was content that I had pulled a few fish out of the water on my hook, even though they had dropped back into the water before I could grab them.

The Catch.

The Kitchen.

Dinner was half fish, half bones, but it was muy rico!