So, the rest of my vacation: Pretty great.
I decided I didn’t like Tena or Misahualli, and moved on to Puyo. Misahualli I was in for about….20 minutes. I stepped off the bus, and immediately was hounded by men from 10 different tour companies wanting business, and a good 20 or so different men started catcalling me. I was like….um…no. And went back to Tena on the net bus.
Puyo was great, though. There was soooo much to do, but most of it was well outside of town, so I didn’t do most of it. The nice thing about Puyo is that they have this Pedestrian Walkway by the river where they’ve allowed the natural Amazonian fauna to grown back, allowing tourists to see a beautiful view of the river. It’s all done up and touristy, but does give a little bitty taste of the Amazon. It’s great, because you get to walk over these ricketty old bridges, etc. But the best part of the path is that it goes to an ethno-botanical park called Omare which is run by an American biologist and his Shuar wife. They are absolutely wonderful people who lead people on tours through the park, explaining aspects of Shuar, Huarani, Kichua, and other indigenous cultures. They built the park themselves, and in the last 16 years have turned what was cow pastures back into its native rain forest. So, as they lead you through the park, they point out various medicinal and ceremonial plants and explain exactly how the indigenous tribe used them. It was amazing learning about the various native jungle cultures of Ecuador. My guide even explained to me the basis behind the Shuar shrunken heads. Fascinating. Absolutely worth it.
The best part of Puyo was the monkeys. I went to a monkey rescue place where you could hang out, and play with the monkeys….WAYYYYYYYY back on a dirt road outside Puyo. In fact, you couldn’t help but play with the monkeys…the second that they saw you, they were climbing your leg to sit on your head. At first: terrifying and amusing. Then: so much fun. The only problem is when they don’t want to let go – they pull hair….hard. THe funniest part was that it was almost eactly like being back teaching kindergarten. I mean, you had whiny, needy children climbing all over you, begging for attention, and WANTING TO PLAYYYYYYYY. I walked out of there like I walked out of my job every day: tired, dirty, and with my hair all messed up. Some of the monkeys were so sweet. Many of them had disabilities that prevented them from ever being released – such as two monkeys who were born with no bones in their forearms. But the monkeys ADORED us all. Even better, the reserve backed up on the Amaon forest, so I actually got to walk in it with two other tourists. The funniest bit was, this other female tourist had a monkey on her head that wouldn’t get off. So, she hiked the entire trail, with a monkey on her head looking every bit the wide-eyed little child discovering a new world. It was fabulous. I even made new friends with a vacationing Ecuadorian couple, who may invite dad and I to watch the burning of the old year with them.
Then…banos. Now, I know that the Volcano is erupting – but it had been erupting for a week, the threat was gone,..so I went anyway. And, I got to watch the volcano erupting at night from the overlook in a Chiva – sooooooooo much fun. They even gave us canelasso…and this time I was prepared. The first time I’d tried that particular drink, I was in Quito and bought it because it was a traditional drink that smelled like apple cider. I knew I was in trouble when the woman asked if I wanted it strong or weak. So, she made it half water, half canelasso. I tasted it and was like….”OMFG. THIS is WEAK??!!”. I think the weak one was still about 2/3 alcohol…oh my god. So, this time…didn’t get it with alcohol..it was tasty.
Then, I went off to Ambato, a Sierra town 2.5 hours south of Quito. It’s smaller and nice. My favorite part was the Quintas…old country estates on the edge of town. A single enterance fee covers two Quintas and their gardens. Remember the movie the Secret Garden?? Think that – only Bigger and tropical. It. Was. Fabulous. I spent hours getting lost touring the gardens and the houses. It seemed like the paths for the gardens never ended. And the homes themselves were GORGEOUS. I was like – why can’t I live here????!!! Just, stunning.
I also met some interesting people. I must say, the absolute best come-ons I’ve heard in Ecuador were from this man I met in Ambato. To strike up a conversation with me, he honestly said (in Spanish): “You are a Gift to Ecuador!! Ecuador SHINES with you in it!!!.” I laughed. It was so ridiculously funny, I had to. But then I talked to him. Hey – he was nice, and polite – and complemented my rather than hissed at me. He deserved it (even if I did refuse to give him my phone number). He even asked my permission to sit next to me on the park bench. Then, when I told him I was leaving Ecuador in February, he was stricked and like “The soul of Ecuador will suffer because you are no longer with us!!” Hahahahah. So. Freaking. Funny.
And, I got to have traditional LLapingachos in the central market…yum. They’re potato and cheese pancakes served with an egg and avocado. Also there…fresh juice. I mean, seriously fresh juice. The women are surrounded by fruit from local farms, which they use to make jugs of juice with fresh water. When you order a juice, they use a ladle to pour the juice into huge beer cups. It is delicious…a wonderful and cheap lunch or breakfast.
Then, I headed back to Quito. Now, this is the most terrifying part of my trip, if you’ve read my facebook status.
So, we were about 30 minutes south of Quito on the Panamericana, on the bus heading to Quito when we saw a platoon of 20-30ish soldiers and police blocking the road. THey pulled over every bus and car, including ours, and most of them were holding automatic weapons. When our bus stopped, one of the gun-totting soldiers got on the bus and said something along the lines of “Everyone get off the bus. Have your ID cards ready. Bring your bags. Now.” So, when machine-gun-totting soldiers tell you to do something, you do it – immediately. So, we all got off the bus, where we saw the other bus passengers being searched. THe soldiers instructed the women to go to one side, the men to go to the other. Then, they lined the men up, with their hands against the bus, where they hand-searched their bangs, and patted them down. They also searched the bus. In the mean time, us women were all being guarded by soldiers with machine-guns…pointed at us. Then, they turned to us. The female police officer checked our IDs, searched our bags, and patted us down. As each woman was searched, she was then allowed back on the bus. During this time, the machine-gun guys had moved on to guarding the buses lined up behind ours. The men were kept guarded, standing along side the bus. Then, they were allowed to board the bus, and we went on our way. I don’t know why it happened, I was concerned in the moment that the military and police had decided to strike and take over the roads….again. But, they hadn’t. The nearest we can figure was that it was a random drug/weapons/security inspection that happens every once and a while. Whatever the reason, having your bus boarded and searched by the military, and being held by men with guns was frightening. And not something that I want to repeat. But, hey to new experiences.
So, not quite the way I wanted to end my overall wonderful vacation. But, I’m safe, I had fun, and I have plenty of stories to tell.
Till next time…