After two hours by motorised canoe and another two hours by bus, we were back in Lago Agrio. We only just made the 2pm bus to Quito. No time to buy food and hardly enough time to go to the bathroom. Six hours and only two quick toilet stops later, we were in Quito. Starving and exhausted and without accommodation. While we were on the bus, the owners of the apartment we had a confirmed booking for, decided it was inconvenient to come into the city and simply cancelled our booking. Nice! We managed to find a 10 out of 10 rated apartment in the historical part of the city on bookings.com, a little over our budget, but oh well.
The taxi driver nearly killed us on route from the bus terminal to this “great place”. And then… we get dropped off in a dark alley in front of a dodgy building. We ring the bell and the small iron door buzzes open. We climb through the small opening to find an ugly passage leading to a dirty staircase. On the second floor we meet an unfriendly man who speaks no English at the reception desk. It takes a long time to establish that we have a booking in a part of the building he has no keys for. He phones the owner, who promises to be there in fifteen minutes. More than an hour later, a slick (or is it slimy?) man walks in. Both Eulain and Esto have fallen asleep on a dirty couch. The owner leads us out of the building, onto the street and unlock the doors of a shopping area. He leads us to the back of the building and into our “apartment”. Oh my! We nearly passed out from the smell. Mouldy basement mixed with the overwhelming scent of toilet block (the ones we used to have in the bathrooms in primary school). We say nothing, but we are all in shock. The man promises to open the doors at 7am and lock us into the building. It is very late and we are very tired. Jarik and I “settle” on bunk beds in the kitchen and the kids in the only other room. No hot water in the disgusting shower. Only Kali and I brave it. The rest promise to face it first thing in the morning. We climb into the dirty beds. Our skins crawl and we itch all over. I pray for sleep to rescue me, but it takes a long time, despite my exhaustion.
We could not get out of that place quickly enough. The breakfast, which was included, consisted of one dry bread roll and a small plastic cup of weak, black coffee. We should have known when we saw the sign in reception the night before that reads: “breakfast – one bread only per person”.
We leave our bags there and go in search of a place with wi-fi. Our 10 out of 10 place’s unlimited wi-fi proved to be nonexistent. The first few places we try send us away telling us that there is no wi-fi in this part of the city. We’re not giving up! We stumble upon a lovely restaurant with wi-fi. The breakfast is fantastic and we manage to find an apartment not too far from where we are. After ten minutes the owner emails to say he is out of town, so the apartment is not available. Just before this, one of the friendly ladies at the restaurant tells us that they have accommodation above the restaurant. We all feel this is meant to be, so the email confirms it for us.
We go back to our horror “apartment” to get our backpacks. Hugely relieved to file it away as a bad experience we survived. All of a sudden we feel a lot better about Quito. Bring on the next chapter!
Everything we did and experienced in the Amazon Rainforest was special and amazing in its own unique way. But my highlight was definitely plunging off the canoe into the large lake. The tropical water was black, warm and very deep. Just thinking of what was swimming below made me shiver, there could be anything ranging from an anaconda, to a caiman!!!!! I ignored the thought and just enjoyed it. Swimming in the Amazon! To me, this was the thing I looked forward to everyday, a nice swim in the lake. It was magnificent.
If I was to write about every single minute of our Amazing Amazon Adventure, I would complete an entire book. It was fabulous! These are a few of my many highlights during this crazy, wonderful, spectacular and amazing adventure…
Every late afternoon after the day’s exciting events, all the groups from the various lodges would meet at the large lake to have a relaxing swim and watch the sunset. The lake is around 5-7m deep and as brown as the muddy and swampy banks that surround its far edges. After being told that the caiman and anacondas roam these waters, and that the only security that I have from being devoured is the surrounding boats and people, I was at first terrified of jumping into the dark murky water with who knows what swimming beneath me.
I was standing at the edge of the canoe, when, after being in mid-air as a cannon ball for a split second, found myself swimming to the side of the boat. I quickly got used to it. It was loads of fun! Us children swam to the nearby boats to visit friends and sometimes coax them into the terrifying water. The water itself was nice and warm like the hot and humid jungle air outside. Mum and Dad had to literally drag us out of the water as it was getting quite dark and dinner at the lodge was waiting. The Sunset Swims were definitely one of my highest highlights.
On the first night, we went with Diego, our wonderful guide, to an area of the jungle to observe insect and spider activity. It was great fun to trudge through the mud with our gumboots and light our way with our head torches. Suddenly, Diego motioned for us to stop dead still. He pointed to a large hairy object less than 2m away. A tarantula! It was bigger, fleshier and much hairier than I had ever thought. I felt a cold shiver make its way down my spine as we all edged closer to take photos and have a look. It was scary and terrifying, yet at the same time exciting and pretty cool.
In the beginning of the Amazon Adventure, I had seriously considered having a tarantula crawl down my arm, then into my hand. However, all these ideas instantly evaporated when I saw the hairy beast.
We went to visit a local village by boat. As we approached, we saw a few timber cabins with nearby plantations and fruit trees. On the one bank, some of the local women were washing their cloths in the murky, brown river. There was a faint trail of soap making its way down stream.
A local lady led us to a traditional structure known as the feasting place and kitchen. There was a wood fire burning and half a hollowed-out tree trunk lay near it. After a minute of fanning the fire, the lady grabbed her machete, slipped on her sandals, and led us to the yucca plantation. She dug around in the fertile soil, then motioned for the boys to uproot the tiny tree. After many grunts and groans, the boys looked proudly with red faces at the many yucca roots that lay near their feet.
The lady cut these off the tree, then expertly chopped off the ends, made a small slit in the skin, then handed each of us a yucca to start peeling. Her speed and accuracy showed very clearly that she had done this many times before.
After we had returned to the kitchen area, we all started grating the yucca. It was quite hard, for this was no ordinary way of grating. We sat on a bench in front of the hollow tree trunk, and with two loose metal graters, started transforming the stiff, hard yucca root into a sort of mash.
The lady scooped the mash into a net of woven bark, hooked it onto a pole, and started twisting it so all the juice dripped out. This made yucca flour. Next, she flattened it all out onto a clay plate that was hot on the fire. The flames licked at the sides of the yucca bread and after roasting for about two minutes, it became crispy. Making yucca bread is a very specific process, and once again the lady did it with incredible expertise.
We ate this, called cassava, with a tuna salad. It was very tasty! After lunch, the lady brought out some bracelets. They were made of all kinds of seeds and natural beads and held together with finely platted bark strips. Mum and I bought a bracelet each. Every time I look at this bracelet, it will be a reminder of all the amazing amazon jungle adventures we had.
The Sharman or Jungle Doctor
After our village visit, we went to a special meeting place. There, in complete isolation, is a shelter, with a few wooden benches and a special chair and side table for the Sharman, or Jungle doctor.
The Sharman is dressed in a colourful outfit with many symbolic and beautiful accessories such as colourful necklaces made of seeds and other natural things found in the Jungle. He wore a feather crown and he even had a feather through his ear.
Before modern doctors, the Sharman or Jungle Doctor used medicinal plants, leaves, fruits and natural sources to cure the local people of various illnesses and diseases. Nowadays, though, he is mostly in charge of spiritual guiding and he helps make important decisions for the community.
We learnt about the many different rituals and traditions, and about the process of becoming a Sharman. Diego painted our faces with the sap of a special fruit. I really liked it. After the session, the Sharman brought out his blowpipe, and stuck a wooden model of a small toucan into the ground. Next, he slid his small arrow into the back of the blowpipe, and blew very hard. The arrow shot out the front and missed the target by a mere 3mm.
He motioned then for us to have a go. Everyone blew as hard as they could, aiming as accurately as they possible, but nobody got the toucan. Then it was my turn. I held the heavy pipe up to my face and looked through it. I could see the target, and so the Sharman slid the arrow into the blowpipe. Holding it to my mouth, I blew as hard as hard as I could. When I looked at the toucan, to my astonishment, there was the arrow, stuck in its neck! They even struggled to pull it out.
is a highlight for me, because I really loved learning about the traditions and rituals of the local people and the Sharman. I also enjoyed shooting with the blowpipe. The fact that I got the target straight in the neck, is a miracle. 😜
It was so much fun to sit back in the motorised canoe, and search for wildlife, hidden among the jungle rainforest and the banks of the river. I do not know how Diego and our captain could see the wildlife so far away, so tiny and so hidden, all with the naked eye. I would be right next to the animal sometimes, and still I would not be able to spot it!
In total, we saw 9 out of the 10 species of monkey, the toucan, caiman, anaconda, more than 15 species of birds, the tarantula and many more. It was amazing to see all these animals and insects, not forgetting the Spiders!
In these pictures, we are waking through swamps and tasting acidic ants. What an adventure! 😆
All in all, I absolutely loved our Amazon Adventure! Around ever river bend, up very tree, awaited a surprise you thought you would never in your life experience. I would do it all again anytime! 😀
Our time in Baños was really special. We ended up meeting wonderful people and had a great time hanging out with our hostel staff and guests. It’s amazing how every encounter with another person enriches your life and adds to your adventure.
Our journey from Baños to the amazon jungle entailed an overnight bus journey as well as a very memorable stopover in the town of Lago Agrio. We arrived at our accommodation at 6:30am and spent an hour resting in hammocks before devouring a scrumptious breakfast and many cups of strong, black coffee. A quiet day in and around the pool was just what the doctor ordered. Bliss!!
In the afternoon a lovely British family arrived. Mom, dad and a nine year old twin boy and girl. We spent the rest of our day and night chatting and swimming and falling in love with these people.
The next day was the start of our amazon jungle adventure. After breakfast and big goodbye hugs, we got on a bus for our two hour journey to the jungle. At the bridge we enjoyed a lovely lunch before getting into our canoe for a two and a half hour trip to our lodge. What an experience! Incredible, breathtaking, life changing, indescribably wonderful. We saw many different kinds of monkeys, birds and other animals and my personal favourite (to see only!!), an anaconda!
Arriving at our lodge by canoe was such a treat! It is the only way to get there, by the way. The first thing you see is the “resting area”, which is a stunning space consisting of bamboo furniture and colourful hammocks on a wooden plank floor and under a palm branch roof, surrounded by bamboo railings with “BAMBOO LODGE” crafted out of thick pieces of bamboo. Behind and to the side are wooden walkways leading to the kitchen and dining area on the left and the rooms to the right, all in similar style. We have arrived in paradise.
Over the next four days we had the adventure of a lifetime. I had to pinch myself several times. There I was, in the heart of the amazon jungle, with my precious family, experiencing things I never even dreamed of. Wow, wow, wow!!!
Among the highlights were our daily sunset swims in Lake Grande and watching the most spectacular sunrise from a boat in the middle of the lake. I will never forget this. It has topped every experience I’ve ever had.
We also rowed in smaller canoes, searching for pink dolphins and caimans (crocodiles) and went on walks in the jungle and swamps in rubber boots and covered in insect repellent. On our night walk we encountered the mother of all tarantulas. Bigger than a big man’s hand and fat and hairy and everything a tarantula is supposed to be. No other spider will ever scare me again. I’ve experienced the ultimate. Up close and personal. And I didn’t even scream. I wanted to, though!
Bamboo Lodge can host 20 guests. We had it all to ourselves. We had our own personal chef (who produced amazing meals!!) and our own personal guide, Diego, and a captain driving us all over the amazon in a motorised canoe. Both our guide and captain were unbelievably good at spotting animals. We saw two anacondas, nine types of monkeys, the elusive pink dolphin, caiman, many different species of birds, beautiful, brightly coloured butterflies and so much more. Diego went out of his way to ensure we had the best possible experience. And he is VERY knowledgeable. We learnt a ton of things and enjoyed every minute of being with this friendly, warm, wonderful man.
We bumped into our British friends three times. Once in the middle of the lake during our sunset swim (where all the guests from all the lodges gather in canoes every day), once in the jungle and once exploring the river by boat. Every time we all went wild with excitement. We also saw a few other familiar faces from various places across South America. Always such a nice surprise.
We were rather sad to leave the amazon jungle. The kids said we should have stayed longer, but we all knew it would never have been long enough. With very full hearts and the most beautiful, precious memories, we said our sad goodbyes to the place and people we would never forget. The amazon jungle was everything we hoped for and so much more.
At the moment, we are staying in a beautiful little town called Baños. It is situated between the rough mountain range that separates the coast from the Amazon jungle. Baños itself is made up of cobbled streets lined with many small and interesting businesses and eateries.
We decided to do some biking to some of the nearby waterfalls. We were told this is a lot of fun for the whole family, and after a whole day on a bus, we needed something active to do.
A small agency provided us with clearly well used bikes and so eagerly we started our adventure. Most of the way was downhill! We biked along a road which we shared with the trucks, buses and other vehicles. Many small villages are scattered along the way with small side road stalls selling a variety of fruit, drink and other things. It certainly was a lot of fun!
A steel and concrete structure announced the call for some adrenaline. After watching some other people dive off the platform and sail across the river, clinging onto their harnesses, we decided to go zip-lining. At first I was strictly and strongly against this idea. I am petrified of heights! Also, I do not like rides or activities where I am not in control. I want to know that I can stop or speed-up whenever I feel like it. So as you might be able to picture, this was definitely not my sort of fun!
As dad was handing in the money to pay for the others, except me, I suddenly got the urge to put up my hand and do it. I was very surprised with my decision, very scared and nervous too! As the staff were strapping us into the harnesses, I got a shiver of regret down my spine. I was very scared!
I was in the front with mum while Ruzow took up the rear. This, I think only made my fear worse, and as they opened the gate to push us out, I started screaming! As our speed rapidly increased, I shut my eyes in terror, but kept my mouth fully open, yelling as hard as I possibly could. Thinking about it afterwards, though, the screaming didn’t slow us down, stop the ride or even make me feel better.
We stopped abruptly. I was so happy the second I could free myself from the tight, uncomfortable harness. I was shaking all over while watching dad and the younger two sail through mid air. I really didn’t like it! Though, I was very proud of myself, as I had made a very wise decision. If I had just stayed in the little structure, and watched the others, I would have missed out. Not only on a big memory, and something I’ll never forget, but to be able to say, ‘Yes! I did it!’.
We carried on biking until coming to the entrance of a local attraction. It was a 15 minute walk to get to the large waterfall. To be honest, I was blown away! Not only literally, from the strong, crashing water that fell from the high ledge, but from the astounding beauty of it all. At one stage, beside the waterfall, we had to crawl on hands and knees, under a natural ledge, at a hight of 80cm! Also, it was very wet, and at certain places, the water would spray all over us.
By the time we were back on our bikes, most of us were soaked from head to toe. There was another waterfall that had a pool we could swim in. We were going to go there, but as it was already nearing the late afternoon, and we (the children) were dying to play soccer with the local kids, we headed back home.
Us, along with our many bikes were loaded onto the back of a small truck, which would take us back to Baños. It was quite a rough ride, and the two benches we were seated on were not fastened to the floor. But it is better than having to cycle uphill all the way back!
As I mentioned before, we were anxious to play soccer, or football as they call it here, with the local children. Just near our hostel there is a large sheltered communal area, with two big soccer fields, and here every afternoon we meet a group of local children to start the game. The games are filled with fun, laughter and confusion, as we cannot understand each other. Slowly others decide to join, and are quickly assigned to a team. This was one of the best ways we’ve connected with the local community so far. And it was so much fun, for both groups.
We woke up early, to start our trip to Ecuador. We had been staying in Chachapoyas, Peru and had quite a few bus, mini van and motor taxi rides ahead of us before we would reach the border.
After having been on rough, windy mountain roads, with numerous land slides, places where the road had given way to the cliffs and many more hazards, for nine hours, we arrived at the border. We had a late lunch / early dinner, before getting ready to cross the border. After about twenty minutes in customs on the Peruvian side, we were allowed to cross the bridge into Ecuador. In Ecuador, the customs took only about ten minutes. At long last we had arrived.
We walked over to a truck, that had been turned into a people mover, by adding benches. We climbed aboard, securing our bags to our legs, as the truck was crowded and had no sides to keep anything inside, just the benches!!! We had one and a half hours on this thing. About an hour into our ride, Eulain went to sit next to Dad so another man could have a seat. She was still standing on the ground, when the driver started going! She just jumped onto the side and held on, till she could be seated again. That was the only exiting happening of the ride. A while later, we arrived at Zumba, the small village where we were going spend the night, before going to Cuenca the next morning.
In Zumba, we walked down the small main street for about a minute, then we spotted a hotel. We went in and got two rooms. We were all really tired and straight away got ready for bed. We were ready for a good night’s sleep.
Baños is beautiful!!!! Green mountains all around. We loved it the moment we saw it. Strolling from the bus station to our hostel, all uphill, we passed a square containing a market and a soccer field. No sooner have we dropped our bags, or our children announce they’re off to play soccer. About an hour later, Jarik and I found them in the middle of a soccer game, having the time of their lives. We watched them for about half an hour and then left without them to explore the rest of the town. We had to literally drag them to dinner later that night. So much fun to be among other children!
Our room with six bunk beds in our charming little hostel is in the basement. We share a bathroom with a handful of other travellers. It is clean and… IT HAS HOT WATER!!!! Whoodeewhoopwhoop!! Breakfast is great and we happily pay the additional US$1 per two eggs.
Our kids announced earlier tonight that we should only stay in hostels. That was after we had a delightful evening with a bunch of other travellers from all over the world in the hostel courtyard. Always fun to hear others’ life and travel stories. The staff here is a great lot as well. We love chatting to them too.
We’ve now enjoyed a full day of bike rides to different waterfalls with a quick zip line adventure in between, as well as a day of hiking in the mountains which included a swing over the valley on the famous National Geographic front page picture swing off a tree house.
Tomorrow will be a quiet day, including some school work and planning our amazon jungle adventure. We will definitely grab food from Sam’s, as they produce the best homemade burgers and fries at the best prices ever. Not your normal fast food joint at all!! Even the mayonnaise is freshly made right there. Delicious!!
To get to the deep jungle entails another overnight bus ride. I shall not think about that for the next two days. I shall focus on beautiful Baños and drink it all in. How very privileged we are.
I was very exited as we walked towards the men handing out equipment. The men fitted me into a harness. When we started walking up the metal stairs to the platform, I felt adrenaline surge through my body. I stepped out onto a tiny platform with railing around it. Kali, Mum and I got hooked to the metal line. The gate opened, my eyes closed, nothing happened, I opened my eyes just as … whoosh (video)……….. we had left the platform.
Kali closed her eyes and started screaming from that moment, until her feet touched the ground at the end. Meanwhile, Mum and I were gazing at the river and forest bordering it, drinking in the scenery. It was over within half a minute.
Ecuador, beautiful Ecuador! We have lost our hearts in this gorgeous, green country. Crossing that border from Peru into Ecuador was like driving over the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Worlds apart.
We spent our first night in the town of Zumba in an old fashioned hotel with rock hard beds and dirty linen. We were exhausted from two excruciating days on the road, so we didn’t even care. The shower was lukewarm and flooded the bathroom, but that was fine too. We only spent a few short hours there before hitting the road again, this time busing it to Cuenca.
As the road snaked up and down the green mountains, Jarik and I took turns hanging out the windows to try and capture the beauty surrounding us. As crazy and uncomfortable as these bus rides are, they are totally worth it for the view. If you can manage to keep your head up and not vomit all over the bus or wet your pants as they never stop for bathroom breaks, you actually get a pretty good view of the country. Not that you can capture it on film for sharing with anyone afterwards, though. It’s way too bumpy for that!!
Once again we were the only non-locals on the bus, and once again we were the only ones begging for toilet stops. To be fair, the locals hop on and off in different towns, so quickly the bus never stops moving, but we were there for the entire journey. I marvelled at the poor old ladies, who could hardly walk, being shoved on and off the bus at the speed of light. “Vamos!” and off we go again.
It is winter in Ecuador, and even though it is shorts and t-shirt weather, the locals on the bus wear long sleeves and shouts “frio!!” (cold) when you open a window. You can at most get away with opening that blessed window for thirty short seconds before getting reprimanded. Even when it’s just a slither for some oxygen. First world problems, I know!! But for someone suffering severe motion sickness on the best of rides, this gets a little rough.
We arrived in Cuenca late at night and walked a few kilometres from the bus station to our hostel. The streets close to the town centre where we stayed are lovely and interesting with ornate, colourful buildings. Quiet on weeknights. Tramlines are being constructed in two main roads. That will ad even more charm to this lovely little city.
All six of us absolutely loved Cuenca. We spent three nights in a gorgeous old building with beautiful wooden features and old fashioned pressed ceilings. Stunning, stunning, stunning!!! Breakfast was included, which is a rare treat for us.
We spent our first day exploring the city and it’s beautiful cathedrals. We found our way into beautiful, old buildings and interesting markets. I seized the opportunity when we stumbled upon a cheap hairdresser/ beauty salon. It took quite a bit of convincing to have my eyebrows tinted. The lady could not for the life of her believe that I wanted my blonde eyebrows dark. I think she’s still in shock.
The next day we had an early start to do a big hike in a nearby national park. The staff at the registration office tried their very best to deter us from doing the longest, most difficult track. That’s the normal reaction to our four young children, so we know exactly how to deal with it by now.
The walk was spectacular! I loved every minute of it! We had it all, clouds, mist rain and a brief moment of sunshine. I discovered my favourite wild flower. It’s called Andean tulips and it is everywhere along that walk. We veered off the path several times only to discover more of these beauties hiding in the grass. I find it amazing that most of these will never be seen and enjoyed by anyone.
We never saw another human being the whole way. We did, however, cross paths with a bunch of lamas. What a great experience!
By the time we faced our next bus journey from Cuenca to Baños we could happily have stayed another few days. So far Cuenca has been our favourite city. It keeps getting better and better!