Ecuador(2) – The Jungles
1.Papallacta Home 3.Rainforest and People

Elephant Ear Leaves It took us 3 hours of bus ride to desceand from cold and rainy Andes highland to Tena, a small town on the edge of Amazon Jungles. Sheer cliffs lined the unpaved twisty mountain road. We saw the vegetation changing from dull green, to lush green, to a kind of green that we had never known existed. Even the air surrounding us was green and moist. As if you could just grab a palm of air and squeeze, and water would be dripping down your hand.

I was, however, sick the entire 3 hours. I’ve never remembered being car-sick before. High-altitude sickness must have played a hand. When I could take a break from the continued vomiting and hanging my head out of the windows, I saw a few gorgeous waterfalls hanging off the cliffs right by the road. It was surreal. They were exhibiting their beauty in such an extravagant fashion, and they were at every turn of the road. Meanwhile, Sarah and Caroline were gawking at the large rainbow colored Parrot sitting on the Quichuan boy’s shoulder; A puppy lying on the little girl’s lap in front of me was having a shouting match with the chickens tied inside some rice bags in the aisle. No one paid much attention to the milky ways hanging down the cliff outside of our bus. Speechless, I was too weak to confirm with Sarah whether they were only my hallucination.

I came back to life the minute we got off the bus, and hungry, too. In Tena, the kind faced Quichuan couple, our host and hostess, Delfin and Estela were waiting for us. We all boarded a rental pickup truck, advanced toward the deep of the jungle in the rain. We sat on our luggage in the back of the truck, feeling the rain drops on our faces, watching the sceneries flowing by like a green river: plantations and jungles intertwined. Occasionally, a couple of school children surfaced from the ocean of green, waving at us “Buenos Dias!” We yelled back “Buenos Dias!” They laughed.

Forty minutes later, the truck stopped at the end of a dirt road, beside a small brook. We were surrounded by dense forests, no trace of human habitation was visible. Carlos said “This is it.” Jumped off the truck hesitantly, picked up our own luggage, we followed Delfin and Carlos into the trees. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness in the forest, I saw a three-person wide stone steps extending uphill. It was lined with large white wild orchids and blood red birds of paradise. The tangled up branches above us formed a natural canopy, which blocked the daylight as well as the rain.

Ten minutes later, the steps delivered us to Delfin’s estate: four bamboo huts. In between the huts, there were a lovely kind of trees with small white flowers. Large leaves hanging down both sides of the branch in an orderly way, as if a flock of green birds just landed on them (later I learned they are coffee). A “hammock hut” received us first, under which six or seven hammocks were waving slightly in a breeze. Guest huts were on top of the hill. Between guest huts and the hammock hut, we saw the main two-story hut that served as the living room, dinning room, as well as the family’s bed room. During our two-day stay, there were at least 5 other neighbors kids eating and sleeping with Delfin, Estela and their youngest daughter. Carlos said in each Quichuan tribe, the children belong to all. They could stay, eat and play at anyone’s house. Estela was the only teacher in the tribe’s only elementary school, which was said to have one classroom only.

In early 1970’s, Ecuador banned serfdom. Large haciendas were forced to divide its land among its serfs (most serfs were Indigenous people). Delfin received 75 acers of rainforest. Other tribal families slashed and burned the forest they received and converted the land into plantations or farm land. Delfin, however, listened to a Peace Corp young man from the US, decided to preserve his rainforest and built up this travelers resting place. The name of this valley is Pimpilala, in Quichuan, it means “Butterfly”. Palm sized blue butterflies were everywhere. Later, I chased after them all day, still was not able to capture them on film. :(

To stay separate from the all year round wet floors of the jungle, all the huts stood above the ground, on top of 2-3 feet tall stumps. There were 7-8 chickens patrolling the estate, together with a couple of roosters and a group of newly hatched chicks. Roof was waved using palm leaves, and the wall was made of bamboo. All the walls were not higher than 6 feet, which was approximately 5 feet shorter than the ceiling. Wind blew right through the room. Each of us was given a single bamboo bed, covered by a mosquito net that was hanging down from the ceiling. It was like camping. We were so close to the elements that it reminded me the first time I curved around a mountain road on a motorcycle. It felt like I could reach out and touch the wind, the dew, and the rain.

Writing about it made me miss the jungle’s night so dearly. In the daytime, the jungle was peaceful and serene. Red dragonflies and colorful butterflies were the most active elements. If you were careful, you would see armies of ants carrying fragments of leaves, hurrying away. Once the sun set, the jungle simply exploded with sound. All kinds of animals, frogs, and insects’ voices mixed together. As if competing for the loudest, no one wanted to lose face. I could almost imagine them blowing their trumpets so hard till their faces turned red! The astonishing sound surprised all of us. I seriously thought I would turn deaf the next day. Our hut was next to the Pimpilala River. There was a thunder storm during the first night. This symphony of the jungle mixed with the sound of the river, of the thunder, of the raindrop upon palm leaves, it was, grand. The funniest moment of all was right before dawn, around 5am; as if someone just pushed a button, everyone stopped at exactly the same time. We were all woken up by the sudden quietness.

Carlos said one’s sense became sharper in the jungle, and one was more connected with nature. For me, I felt content and happy, as if I was home, finally.

Tomorrow Delfin will take us to the jungle “for a walk”(Carlos’ words). Tomorrow night, Delfin will make “Ayawashca” for the daring ones among us.