One of the best days in Ecuador started out with another language problem with our driver Manuel and his wife Rosa. You will remember that we had ridden with them from Quito to Puyo and met up with Jesse and her professor buddies. From Puyo M&R were suppose to take us to Tena, spend a few hours at the mercado and then head to the Arajuno River to take a water taxi to the Arajuno Jungle Lodge (definitely follow that link). It was the part about killing a few hours in Tena that got confused. When we arrived in Tena, M&R stopped the van along side the river and started looking for something or someone. We were not sure what. We were expecting a market, but there was none. M&R seemed to want to cross the river, but the bridge was out. Why they wanted us to cross the river was a big question. We walked back to what seemed like a dead end, but down on the river was a guy with a canoe and a pole. M&R seemed to want us to get in that canoe and cross the river. There was no way we were going across the river until we knew why were going there. Toby went in search of someone who spoke English. He came up with Andi, a young Kichwas or Quichuas man. . Andi made all the difference in what could have been a bad day, but it turned out to be one of the best.
Andi started by explaining that there was an animal park or zoo across the river, but since the bridge was out, you did have to take the canoe across. So, Toby, Me, Jesse, Rosa and Andi got into the canoe. We all squatted down and held on for dear life. The locals normally stand up in the canoe. Once in the park, Andi took us around and showed us different animals including a black caiman and a tigrillo (small tiger). He told us about the different plants and trees.
Then he borrowed Toby's knife to make Jesse a hat. He made one for me too, but mine was not nearly so flattering. He made us throw the hats away as we were in a park and not suppose to cut down the palms. He pushed Jesse on a swing - he was rather taken with Jesse.
Once back across the river, it was decided that he would take us to his cousin's cafe for some traditional jungle cooking. M&R went somewhere else to eat, but we had a real treat. We ate tilapia cooked in palm leaf, heart of palm, and yuca (like a potato). He also talked us into eating a palm beetle grub. Yep, I ate a worm - fried worm actually. First we played with the live worms rolling them around in our hand and then they fried them up for us. Nothing like playing with your food before you eat it. And we drank lots of guayusa tea, which was just pretty wonderful since it was rather steamy that day and it supposedly had lots of medicinal value. While we ate, we learned more about Andi. He had traveled to Korea and New Zealand as well as other places because he was a champion river rafter. His actual job was as a river rafter guide. He was also a salsa dancer and he twirled Jesse around in the street a few times. After we ate, he took us to the mercado where we picked up a few items before he returned us to M&R. We had a great time doing the local thang. M&R were pleased also.
Next we were on our way to meet the water taxi and head into the jungle. This taxi was quite a bit different than the canoe across to the park. We had little benches to sit on while we relaxed for a short ride to the Arajuno Eco Lodge. It had been a rather steamy day, and something that we learned about Ecuadorians is that they don't tend to run the air-conditioner. The van ride to the water taxi was suffocating. We were drenched in sweat. But once we got to the lodge, we changed into our swim suits and went for a swim in the river before supper. It was heavenly. We floated on the current and lazed around. Afterwards we had a shower and cleaned up for supper with the other three guests at the lodge. I'll explain more about the lodge and its owners as well as the guest we met there later, but for now, that was a great day.