Surviving in the Amazon Jungle

(Picture of my brother and me swimming in a lagoon in Ecuador’s Amazon Jungle.)

Last week, my brother and I spent four days in the Amazon jungle in northeast Ecuador in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, which is a 250,000 acre rainforest with 13 lagoons, 15 species of monkeys, 60 species of orchids, over 500 types of birds, and dozens of swamps and lakes. Few parts of the world have as much biodiversity.

When our canoe pulled up to our camp site of sorts (huts elevated above water by stilts), a guide put out his hand to pull us up to the dock and said, "Welcome to the jungle. Get your stuff ready. We’re going piranha fishing."

And so began several days of getting in the canoe, winding our way through endless primary forest, checking out animals, listening to sounds, watching for freshwater dolphins, hiking through swampy forest, and meeting indigenous people. The color green dominated. The forest was so green that a non-green anything seemed out-of-place. The green forest simmered all the more against a deep blue sky populated by marshmallow-like clouds. Beautiful. I felt like I was in Planet Earth.

We visited an indigenous community. It’s surreal to see an indigenous kid run around, barefoot and dark, wielding a machete to cut up some yucca for dinner. Does he even go to school? What are his days like? Has he ever seen a computer? What would his reaction be if placed in a Wal-Mart?

We visited a Shaman — a healer who uses local plants for medicinal purposes. He had an arrow inserted through his nostrils horizontally.

Jungle living requires certain lifestyle tradeoffs, of course. No electricity in the huts. No hot water. A toilet that struggles to process a flush. Sleep on a mattress underneath a mosquito net. Bugs dead and alive surround you. Bug bites galore — especially when you first wake up.

It feels strange saying this, but one of the most interesting parts of our Jungle stay had nothing to do with nature. Instead, it had to do with meeting and talking with others staying at the Samona Lodge. People from Denmark, Germany, Ecuador, U.S., Russia, Korea, Italy, elsewhere. After we had gotten into bed the last night, we could still hear loud bouts of laughter coming from the common area where after-dinner conversation stretched on. As I lay there, sleep elusive due to the laughter, I pondered what was happening outside: strangers from all over the world sharing their ideas, cultural customs, odd idioms, Jungle stories, political views. The next day, we would depart, and probably never see each other again. But the few moments together reinforced for us all a concept often talked about in travel circles: our common humanity is more remarkable than our cultural differences.

This process was magnified, I think, with the backdrop of the Jungle. We’d all trekked into this remote part of the world, with varying levels of apprehension about the lack of modern-civilization accouterments; but, we survived, shared tips, stories, and food. Common goals bring together uncommon people, and sometimes even teach us how we’re actually not all that uncommon after all.

An outdoor adventure trip was a refreshing change from the usual pattern of visiting big cities and their museums, urban parks, and skyscrapers. I recommend Ecuador. South America intrigues — I’ll be back!

More informal blow-by-blows and pictures on my travel blog.

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