October 18-21, 2007
My next Ecuadorian stop was a small jungle city called Tena. Walking around Tena brought back lots of memories as it had been nine months since I had been properly in the jungle. The area was hot and humid, the whole region was the greenest of greens, people relaxed in hammocks everywhere, and fresh Amazonian fruits and piranha were for sale at the market. The only bad memory that returned was the daily downpour. They don't call it the rain forest for nothing.
One of the area attractions that I checked out was called the Jumandi Caves. As soon as I got there I realized that I was completely unprepared when the guy who was assigned as my guide asked if I brought my swimsuit and sandals. No on both accounts. I figured it was just a cave to walk through so I only wore regular clothes and my hiking boots. There were some extra rubber boots laying around, but they were too small for me, so I resolved to go barefoot. At least I brought my waterproof bag for my camera.
When I was told I would need a guide for the caves, I thought the owner just wanted my money. But when I saw that there was no lighting and a fast river to walk through in the cave, I realized that it practically would have been impossible without a guide. At one point, the river was so deep I couldn't stand, and it was rushing rapidly enough to sweep me away. The only thing that saved me was a rope that spanned the river for me to hang onto while swimming across. It still wasn't easy to do in the complete darkness, and I was surprised they would let just anyone enter the place.
Once we got across the river, we entered an area with a slippery muddy floor and lots of natural formations. Besides the usual stalactites and stalagmites, there was the cauliflower structure, the "Penis of Jumandi," and an area where the local women came to make beauty masks out of the mud. It was all interesting, but I was more focused on not destroying my camera or accidentally falling into a whirlpool or sinkhole. To add to the dangers, on the way out there was a large centipede and lots of ants walking around my bare feet. In the end no harm was done, but I probably should have researched the caves more before making the trip there.
While walking around Tena, I found a foot bridge that crossed onto an island set up like a zoo. An ostrich and a few monkeys were running free, but the rest of the animals were in cages that seemed way too small. I said hi to a spider monkey, but it grabbed hold of me when I got too close and wouldn't let go. I think it just wanted a little affection because it had to spend all of its time in a tiny cage with nothing to do. When I tried to leave, it screamed at me until finally I yanked hard enough to get away. The island was supposed to be a beautiful botanical garden and zoo, but it just served to make me sad.
One day I got together with two Kiwi girls from my hostel named Angela and Leigh for a trip to a nearby town called Misahuali. When we got off the bus, we saw that there were monkeys running freely in the plaza. The local people fed them, but they mainly just stole their food from unsuspecting restaurant patrons. The devious thieves were very fast and most people just laughed when they saw someone else lose his lunch. We also walked around a lot of paths including a very slippery uphill one that ended up at a waterfall (of course). I think I've seen just about every waterfall in South America, other than the highest one of them all. That adventure is still to come.
The photo album for this entry is here.