After the grand festivities of Christmas, I hung around Baños another day or two. This town is so small and I have gotten to know quite a few people. With that said...there is also a lot of drama and gossip. My friends and I have named ourselves the Mala Influncias (bad influences). We go out and have fun several times a week....dance all hours of the night. Some of the guys think that if you dance with them, then you are "with" them....and then that is when all the drama starts. At first it was a little frustrating because none of us were doing anything wrong, but then we decided to get over it and not worry about it....we were all leaving after New Years anyways. So, to let some of the drama cool off, we decided to head to the jungle for a few days.
There were 6 of us that went to the jungle. Stella from England, Jorn from Norway, Jules and Marina from Ireland, and Tamara and Me. We took a 4 hour bus ride into the town called Tena, which is the gateway into the jungle. On the bus, I sat next to our jungle guide, Estuardo aka Pajaro (bird)...I immediately got a good vibe from him. He didn´t speak much english so I was able to practice my spanish with him on the bus. My friend Marina is fluent in spanish, then I am the next in line for speaking it (far from fluent as we all know). But I think since I sat with him on the bus he felt comfortable with me....he would go off in spanish to me and want me to translate to the others. Sometimes I would understand and other times I would ask Marina for help. Regardless, it felt good that he thought I could understand....at least I was getting good at "acting" like I knew spanish.
Once we arrived in Tena, we all hoped into a camisetta, which is basically some dude that owns a truck and says he is a cab driver. We stuffed all of our belongings into the truck and took off towards the jungle. On the way, we stopped in a small town called Misahualll. This town had all of these spider monkeys that run around the center. The story is that a person had a pet spider monkey that got loose in the town. In order to find it, they brought in another monkey and let it run wild as well. Now they have about 50 or so monkeys everywhere. They are mean, and they steal peoples belongings. It´s pretty funny!
After a long day or traveling, we finally arrived to our jungle lodge. Wow, was this place nice! We weren´t sure what to expect because we had heard horror stories about people sleeping in shacks in the middle of the jungle with their bodies exposed to the snakes and critters. Well, this was far from a shack. It had plush gardens everywhere and little cabinas with running water and electricity from 6pm-9pm everynight. That afternoon, Pajaro took us to a watering hole and we all swam. I was sitting on this rock in the water and Marina was next to me. All of a sudden she screamed and I looked over to find one of the biggest spiders ever just chilling on the rock next to us. I flipped out...Pajaro calmed us down though. He said this particular spider wasn´t dangerous....and that it ate small fish and insects from the river. All I know is that any spider that can eat a fish sounds pretty freaking scary to me. I wasn´t very comfortable swimming there anymore. After swimming, Pajaro took us to a locals house where they make "jungle juice". Jungle juice is basically cane liquor fermented with tons of different fruits. We all bought a few bottles and sipped on it. It tasted ok and was fun because of the moment, but I probably would not order it on the regular.
We all went back to the lodge and Jules taught us how to play this AMAZING card game. It is called "shithead" and I am addicted to it now. I guess it is pretty popular in the traveling circuit because it is super easy to learn and a lot of people can play at once. I plan on teaching all my Austin friends how to play when I am back visiting in February.
As I was getting ready to head to bed the first night, Pajaro called me over to this dark area. I went over there to soon realize he was calling me over to show me this big ass Tarantula just chilling a few feet away from my cabina. It was probably not that best time to show me a spider like that....I was so exhausted, but I knew there was no way I would be able to sleep well after seeing that. Tamara and I shared a bedroom together and after inspecting my bed and sheets thoroughly I layed down and tried to relax. That was about the time when I started noticing all these little holes in the screens and the hatched roof. My mind started to go crazy...imagining all of the insane creatures surrounding our cabina. The sounds of the insects were almost deafening. Then, I heard a loud "thump"...jumped up in my bed and let out a little yelp. "What the hell was that", I said. Tamara started laughing hysterically.....she had just hit her elbow against the wall and that made a loud thump. Let´s just say...I layed there that night with my eyes wide open peering over my sheets....just waiting for some massive tarantula to fall on my face through the hatched roof. Once again, I thought...why do I get myself into these types of situations?
The next day we had a fresh breakfast and headed off to the river. We were going to be taking a canoe around all day to various areas of the jungle. My friend Jules had a horrible rafting accident in Chile were she nearly died. She is now pertified of boats in the water. She was soo scared to get on the canoe with us. The canoe was pretty safe, but you have to respect someone when they have a true fear of something. After my incident with the heights, I totally understood where she was coming from. I told her that I was a pretty decent swimmer and if something were to happen I would go in for her. Jules is a very spiritual person. She lives in a spiritual compound in Scottland and refers to herself as a new aged hippie. I told her I would send her good energy on the canoe ride if she sent me good energy with my fear of a spider falling on my head in my sleep. We had a deal! She ended up doing really good on the canoe.
We canoed to an animal refuge. This is a place where they keep hurt or disabled animals and help them heal, then hopefully release them back into the wild. We saw monkeys, birds, wild pigs, and other weird animals that I had never heard of before. I took pictures of a lot of the animals and you can see them on my picasa.
Next, Pajaro took us to a museum where he showed us different hunting methods that the indigenous people still use today. He also used a die from a pod plant and painted designs on our face. I felt like a jungle warrior princess....especially when I was holding the machete. We also visited a woman who was making pottery. She was using clay from the jungle and paint from the plants. Then she would glaze the pottery with resin from the trees. It was all very interesting. I was really enjoying the jungle.....now if someone would just turn up the A/C and remove the mosquitos....I could see myself hanging in the jungle for awhile.
We headed back to the lodge and after dinner, Pajaro took us all out for a "night" walk to look at insects and snakes. It was really fun! We were all walking close together with our flashlights in the middle of the Ecuadorian Jungle. I felt really safe though...Pajaro knew his stuff. He was born and raised in the jungle and knew all of the bird calls and survivor tactics. We walked up to this little pond and he took out his machete and stared at the water for awhile. Then all of a sudden he went "Whack" with the knife and killed a fish.....seriously...he was a badass!
I decided that I was going to drink a lot of jungle juice this night so I would forget about the critters that were going to hunt me in my sleep. Good thing I had a few cocktails because when Tamara and I went back to our cabina....we were greeted by the biggest freaking cockroach I had ever seen (and I live in Texas!). It was just hanging out on Tamara´s bed and we almost thought it was fake. I yelled for Pajaro...he came running in thinking something was seriously wrong. When he saw the cockroach he just made a comment about us being silly tourists and then picked it up and threw it out the door. I was kinda buzzing from the juice...and although the roach creeped me out...I just kinda said..."ya know...were in the jungle...were in their territory..and I doubt they want to seriously hurt us"....and drifted off to sleep.
The next day was the full fledge jungle trek. We all put on our wellies (jungle boots) and tons of bug repelant. Pajaro grabbed the machete and we were off....heading into the heart of it all. IT WAS AWESOME!!!! He showed us all of these medicinal plants, birds, monkeys......we ate ants. Yes, I actually ate some ants and to be honest they tasted pretty good. Like little squirts of lemon juice in my mouth. He said if you get lost in the jungle you can eat these ants for energy. Then he showed us ants that can kill people if you get stung and all other sorts of interesting things. We swung from vines like tarzan and acted like stereotypical jungle gringos....but it was tons of fun!
I forgot to mention....a day or two before I left for the jungle I went and sat in the volcanic baths in Baños. I went underwater and had a weird pop in my sinus cavity of my head. Ever since then, I had a terrible headache in my sinus cavity and it didn´t seem to want to go away. Pajaro saw me rubbing my head several times and he would rub herbs and lime on my head and give my temples a massage each night, but it did not seem to help. Jules, the new aged hippie, told me that maybe I was struggling with something and that it was my 3rd eye trying to deal with it. She told me to talk to the trees and look for an answer..... I just figured I busted a capillary in my head from the heat of the volcanic rock. Whatever was wrong with me though....my head it hurt...and it hurt for days.
With Jules being real spiritual and studying shamanism.....Pajaro asked a local Shaman from the jungle to come visit us and "cleanse our souls". Pajaro also told the Shaman about my head problems and if he could do anything about it. I wasn´t sure what was going on....I am kinda spiritual I guess...but I know NOTHING about shamanism.
The Shaman was this 80 year old man who had been practicing his entire life. He was the 3rd generation Shaman in his family. We all formed a circle and he appeared to us in his shamanic dress. He drank ayahuasca, which is a hallucinogenic drink made from plants. He then passed the glass around for all of us to try. We took a very small sip, nothing that would have any effect on us. It was REALLY nasty. He drank like half a bottle and then we had to wait 15 minutes for it to take effect. Once he was in his "trance" like state....he then went to each of us one by one and chanted and shook plants around us, etc. It was actually a really cool experience. I was trying my best to really be in the moment and let my soul be cleansed. It was good for the Malas Influencias! HA! After the Shaman experience, we all huddled around a bombfire and exchanged stories and drank a little bit of jungle juice. Jules asked me if my head was still bothering me and to my amazement I had not thought about my head since the Shaman. The pain was nearly gone! Now....I´m not saying it was because of the shaman...it could have been a coincidence. All I know....is some dude chanted to me and shook a plant and drank some hallucinogens....and my head did not hurt anymore. Believe what you will....but still....kinda freaky, right?
Jules suggested that maybe it was meant for me to have a pain in my head as sort of an awakening into a more spiritual life....
Our last day in the jungle was spent visiting some Quechua families. They welcomed us into their home and taught us how to make Chichua (spelling???) which is fermented liquor from Yucca plants. We went from chopping down the yucca tree and going through the entire process....and then tasting the drink. We also tried various fruits from their farm and made natural chocolate from cocoa beans. It was a really nice day....in fact...the entire jungle trip was awesome! We all went back to Tena and said our goodbyes to Pajaro. I am really going to miss him...he was such a lovely guide.
Then, it was back to Baños.....back to my home. I was excited to get back...plus, the next day was New Year´s and it was going to be one big fiesta!
Once we arrived into town I ran into my Alaskan friends. They had come back from the coast to celebrate New Years in Baños as well.....I was so excited to see them!
New Year´s in Baños.....and for most of Ecuador I think, is pretty crazy. The men dress up as woman and beg for money and all the kids dress up in costumes like we would do for Halloween. For weeks before the holiday, each Barrio (neighborhood) builds their own display of fake people and stages. Some have political statements, others are just funny jokes etc. It is sort of hard to explain, but if you view my New Years pics on Picasa you can see what I mean by the displays.
Anyways, at midnight on New Year´s the barrios then burn the displays in the middle of the streets.
For New Year´s dinner we were all invited to our local friend´s house, Marcelo. He is a famous jungle guide in town. We all went over and he cooked us Choncha (pig). It was sooooo tasty. We ate and drank and bought masks to wear in the streets. After dinner, we went walking through the entire city to view each barrio display. It was a RIOT. The men were dancing in high heels and mini skirts and begging for loose change so they could go by beer in the bar later that night. Kids were holding ropes across the streets to stop cars and making them pay money in order to proceed. There was music blaring everywhere and people hugging and kissing all about. This was HANDS DOWN one of the best New Years I had ever had. Nothing could compare....so different then anything we would do in the USA. One of the barrios made a haunted house. We went through it and it scared the crap out me....people running after me with chain saws and sparks flying everywhere. I am not sure how safe it was either. Like as in not safe.....I mean that I would not be surprised if it was a real chain saw....Ecuador is crazy like that!
Anyways, at midnight the fires were lit and firecrackers were going off everywhere....it was such a intense site. We were running around hugging and trying not to get hit by firecrackers....laughing...dancing....CRAZINESS! We then proceeded into our favorite bar, The Leprechan, and danced and drank and acted silly. FELIZ AÑO NUEVO!!!!!!!!
The next day I felt like shit....Yo estuve chuchaqui....I was hungover! But it was all well worth it.
I love Baños and will never forget this town. I am leaving tomorrow with my friend Marina to Colombia for a few days....before I head to Argentina. It will be sad to say goodbye to everyone, but it is time for me to go (especially with all the stupid boy drama ...hee hee). I did talk to my school though, and it may be an option that I return here to teach english after my travels. English teachers are in high demand right now....so...we will see.
My package still has not arrived yet....which I am very frustrated about. I am going to stop at the post office and see if they can just send it back to Texas once it arrives. Who knows....it is only material goods and they can all be replaced...just kinda sucks.
Ok...VAMOS A COLOMBIA.....cheers and good luck to everyone in 2009! I spiritually feel that it will be a grand year for all :)