From the Andes to the Amazon

It turns out that our ride from Baños down into the Amazon river basin was not as white-knuckle a ride as the one into Baños. We dropped another couple thousand feet in elevation, but the road was graded nicely. It was also a very scenic route. We started off twisting through mountain roads at the base of the Volcan Tungurahua, and we ended up in the jungle with views of some enormous rivers that feed the Amazon. Along the way we passed about a zillion spectacular waterfalls.

One of the many, many waterfalls we passed.

The enormous river basin.

We reached the rather large town of Puyo last night and stayed on to explore it today. It’s hardly what you’d expect of an Amazon jungle town (more like a concrete jungle), but that’s just because it’s so big. It’s really like any other city. The surroundings turned much more jungle-y once we started biking in the river basin (I am pretty sure I saw a panther or some large cat cross the road at one point — it was definitely bigger than your average house cat and there weren’t any houses around anyhow).

In Puyo we visited a “Pedagogical Ethnobotanical” park called Omaere. We didn’t really know what to expect, but for $3 each we got a full tour of the premises. I really enjoyed the park.

The man who guided us through the park was very knowledgable and quite the character. Originally from California, he is now clearly invested in this park and other related projects (such as educating everyone about water purification and ecological waste management). His wife, an indigenous Shuar woman, helped found the park in 1994.

I won’t bore you with every little detail of our fascinating tour, but allow me to hit a few highlights:

We both got to paint our skin orange with one plant, chew on another leaf that tasted like cinnamon, and drink the red wine-like juice that our guide squished into his palm from another plant.

We learned about plants that neutralize snake bites (that usually are handled by amputation), serve as birth control (or female sterilization if you have too much), and help treat cancer and other serious illnesses.

We learned about the Shuar people who still exist in large numbers in Ecuador. Many of them still live very traditional lives deep in the Amazon as well. The Shuar people are the head-shrinkers of the Amazon.

(The Zysman’s will appreciate this one.) Our guide treated us by proudly displaying a specimen of his feces from two years ago. He’s really into promoting ecological dry toilets, so he showed us the facilities and then his poo. He’s even had it examined to determine that there are no more worms or diseases in it. The wonders of waste management!

The dry toilet.

And our guide’s poop from two years ago.

The following day we left Puyo to complete our very trying two-day journey to Macas. The route was only 130 kilomenters, but 40 of those kilometers were unpaved. And that is the understatement of the year. Sometimes the dirt road was well packed for a stretch of up to 5 kilometers, but other times we were practically carrying our bikes over fields of rocks. The going was very tough at times, and never before had I considered biking a full-body exercise. I was using all the strength in my abs and arms just to keep my bike upright most of the time.

After our first day of biking we stopped at dark in a small village. Our best guess is that is was called Tsantsa, though we’re not really sure. It’s definitely not on the map. Nonetheless, someone informed us that there was a house that ocassionally rented rooms. We never found it, but we did find a sympathetic family who let us camp in their yard and use their toilet. For dinner we cooked up some ramen since there wasn’t much for restaurants or stores in town.

We got up bright and early the next day, although it was more rainy than bright outside. After 20 more kilometers on our favorite dirt/rock road we made it to a large bridge crossing the enormous Pastaza river. This also brought us back to the heavenly pavement (I kissed it; I was so happy). Even so, we still had about 60 kilometers to bike. By the time we pulled into Macas, right at sunset, we were pooped.

We stayed in Macas today just so that we could recover a bit before our next harrowing trek: tomorrow we start biking back up the Andes. That’s right, over the next few days we will be biking something like 10,000 feet up. Feel free to include my thighs in your prayers.

Well, that’s all my news for now. Keep us in mind and write us every now and then. We miss all of you! Sorry I haven’t been as consistent with my posts lately — good Internet connections are a bit harder to find in South America (and I’ve been busy grading).

Here I am on our canyoneering trip from Baños.

Here’s Mike on another waterfall in the canyon.

This is a picture that we took on a hike above Baños. Although you can’t really see it, that’s the town in the background.

Some of that famous Baños taffy, which tastes pretty good!

4 Responses to “From the Andes to the Amazon”
  1. Deb says:

    Now…what makes you think that the Zysmans would enjoy the toilet story?!?!?!?My best wishes for your thighs girl!

  2. Dr_Omega says:

    The elder zysmans love the poo story! More when we reach Blo tomorrow

  3. Anonymous says:

    You have some awesome pics. It would be neat to see all the waterfalls. The story about the poop wasd rather interesting. Thank goodness for our good plumbing! I really enjoyed my eggroll while reading your blog. Good luck biking up all those mountains etc. Take care. Mike, Rose and family

  4. Dr_Omega says:

    Hi you 2! We have returned from our adventure in India. It was a fun & very interesting time.I am exhausted & can’t imagine how you 2 have been biking & on the road for so long. I guess it is smart to do the travel adventure when you are young but since we didn’t do it then we need to do it now. D is all psyched for the next trip- Peru here we come???Hope Jackie’s thighs are holding up on those mountain roads. Take care of yourselves & keep those blogs & pics coming when you can. We now understand how hard it is to do while on the road.Love, Mom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: