Todo Es Posible, Nada Es Seguro

Friday, February 21

I woke up in the dark once again, but this time for a lesser cause. I had to catch the 6:30am Flor del Valle bus back to Quito, so I would be back at the Ministerio in time to pick up my visa. Everything went well, including the expected bureaucratic delays. I am so glad I had Gaby (the lawyer’s assistant) with me to pick up the visa. Even something so simple would be impossible without Gaby there to show me the third-floor room, or to ask the officer if he had forgotten our queue, politely at first and with increasing force until we were finally tended to. I was so relieved to get my Ecuadorian visa! This means that if all goes well, I might be able to get my Galapagos visa by Thursday and be in the Galapagos this time next week. Keeping my fingers crossed.

The rest of the day was chill. I had another Mercado Central lunch, this time a soup with sangre and cuero – that’s blood and leather, or cowskin, in this case. Can’t say they were my favorite flavors. I played some rainy, grassy soccer in the park with Brian, a long-haired hostel volunteer who always strikes up interesting philosophical or political conversations with me.

After dinner, I sat on the rooftop garden terrace contemplating my options. I could catch a bus to Baños for some cycling, rafting, and waterfalls. I could join a travel agency’s four-day trek around Quilotoa Crater. I could catch a bus to Puerto Lopez on the coast and visit my ultimate-playing friend from Seattle.

That’s when I met a friendly Swiss man who glasses, floppy brown hair, and a goofy grin. His name was Matthias, and he was planning to leave on a five-hour bus for Tena the next morning with his girlfriend, Rebecca. Matthias explained about his geography master’s project in the sleepy Amazonian town of Tena, the German-run hostel he would stay at, and the college-aged rainforest volunteers who would be there. Normally I would be shy about asking to join him and Rebecca on their trip, but I remembered I had been delighted when Daan confidently joined my travel plans in Mindo.

“Of course you can tag along,” Matthias told me. “We’ll share a cab to the bus terminal tomorrow morning. Breakfast at 7:30?” I ran downstairs to pack my things once again, thrilled at this spontaneous opportunity to spend time in my favorite biome in the world, the Amazon.

Saturday, February 22

Tena, here I come! I met Matthias’s girlfriend, Rebecca, at breakfast. With their nerdy passions, free-flowing itinerary, and Swiss-German humor, these two beautiful people formed an inspirational couple.

The bus ride was a magnificent journey from Quito’s high-altitude valley, up and over the eastern cordillera covered in the golden grasses of the Paramo, and down the slopes of the Andes through cloud forest, until we finally arrived in the Amazonian town of Tena. The climate, geography, and flora here are markedly different from Yasuni National Park, where I spent time earlier. Although Tena technically lies within the Amazon, it still has some altitude. The rivers are fast-flowing and rocky, not the lazy, muddy behemoths of the interior. The heat was less stifling, and the mosquitos are supposedly free from malaria.

I third-wheeled it all afternoon through an avocado-and-chicken bowl at La Tortuga Café and a stroll across the river. My bedroom was like a dream – a large window to the yard, a clean white tile floor, a comfy twin bed, and no roommate. Matthias assured me I’m still paying the $8.00 per night dorm-room fee for this lovely private room because the dorm beds were full. I’m not sure of anything, though, because there seems to be nobody in charge here. People cook in the kitchen and come-and-go as they please, but the reception is empty. I could sneak out tomorrow and no one would know the difference. But this place seems really nice, and I plan to stay a few days. Here’s to spontaneous adventures in the Amazon!

Matthias and Rebecca lead the way into the off-the-beaten-track hostel.

These giant snails (and their poop) were all over the hostel's garden.

A little red bug.

Tropical flowers grew everywhere.

Sweat bees, partaking in nectar for a change.

The panoramic view for which the hostel is known.

A Blue-Gray Tanager in the yard.

This mammoth bug lived in the garage. He must have moved in when the neighborhood was named "Antennas!"

The driveway.

Everything was written in German.

A table of plastic cups filled with dirt and seeds -- part of the hostel's reforestation project.

Sunday, February 23

I woke up planless yet again. Matthias and Rebecca weren’t around, but they had mentioned a little mini-mart down the road with groceries, so I decided to do a little early-morning bird watching while I walked there.

The hostel isn’t located in the jungle, but there are still lots of trees along the muddy roads and paths here. The hostel is in a new neighborhood named “Sector Las Antennas” for its location partway up the hill to the new radio/cell towers. Urban sprawl in the Amazon, yuck. Anyway, I saw some cool birds on my way to buy eggs and bread.

Silver-Beaked Tanager?

Yellow-Tufted Woodpecker.

Blue-and-White Swallow.

The same mystery bird from Mindo??

I then found the store, which is actually a living room filled with groceries. I was calling, “HOLA?” through the white ironwork over the open-air window when Matthias and Rebecca showed up for their breakfast. Through our combined efforts, we finally attracted the attention of the shop’s owner and purchased our individual eggs and white rolls in plastic baggies.

As I cooked breakfast, I introduced myself to the other members of the hostel and met a German couple, Nadine and Sascha, who were planning a jungle tour to Limoncocha. Of course, I asked to join! They said I was welcome, especially since three people would make the tour cheaper. We rushed down to a café to meet the guide, a young Kichwa man named Nixon, to decide the details. The couple wanted to make sure they liked this guide, after a poor experience on their last tour. Over juices, the plan was arranged and we agreed on a price of $180 per person for three days and nights. It sounds like a lot of money compared to an $8 per night hostel, but it would barely cover one night at a hotel in Seattle. Food, lodging, transportation, a full-time guide and cook, and three days in the Amazon – sounds like a good value to me!

I spent the afternoon walking through the rain with Matthias and Rebecca in a park called La Isla. It’s not actually an island, but rather the center of the “Y” formed by the confluence of Tena’s two rivers. Although both sides of the river are highly developed, this central region has been preserved as primary forest. In the park, we found captive monkeys, herons, turtles and caimans in a sort of zoo. Wild squirrel monkeys also abounded. In the gazebo, I came across a white-haired lady from Oregon studying her Spanish homework. We talked for a while about her nursing volunteer work, and she showed me a giant tarantula she’d been eyeing. She reminded me so much of my mom!

The tower and bridge over the confluence of Tena's two rivers. A sign proudly states, "Brought to You by The Petroleum Industry."

Three indigenous figures in a public park.

This evening, I scrambled to prepare for the trip to Limoncocha. It begins with a 7-hour night bus through Coca all the way into the interior Amazon. Talk about adventure! I packed food, got money out of the ATM, stored most of my luggage at the hostel, and caught a taxi down to the bus terminal with Nadine and Sascha. There, we were greeted with a new guide, Fausto, and Nixon hurriedly explaining that he couldn’t come after all. Fausto was carrying our rubber boots and several cardboard boxes of fruits, vegetables, grains, toilet paper, and water. They say in Ecuador, Todo es posible, nada es seguro. Everything is possible, nothing is certain. I have never heard a more apt slogan.

I found my window-seat next to Fausto, wrapped my orange bandana around my eyes, and settled in for a long, bumpy night.