We woke up to the sound of the forest for the third consecutive day. It was the last day of adventure in Amazon. Tomorrow we will have to wake up and pack our bags and leave back to Quito. With that in mind we started our early morning hike at 5 AM. There is a very unique way to look at everything once your mind contemplates the significance of it. “This is the last time you‘ll go for an early morning walk in the Amazon woods, Anitha!” My mind’s high pitched voice reminded me. I told myself “Stop being so dramatic” and looked around the tall trees towering all around us. It felt like all the animals and the birds in the forest were so excited to start their morning. I couldn’t help but wonder if I am that excited to start off my regular day as these other fellow companions in the forest. With the exceptions of vacation days and some special weekends, I act like a mechanized robot going about my day. And many people I know think of it the same way. “Do only humans behave this way? Are all other species super excited to start their day? Is this a side effect of having the sixth sense?” My mind chose the voice of Morgan Freeman and it echoed in my head like a ‘voice over’ in a documentary. “Stop thinking, Anitha!” I told myself again. After a brisk and refreshing early morning hike we went back to the camp and had a “D”elicious breakfast. Thanks to our wonderful cook! I cannot thank him enough. Amazon was the last place in the world where I had expected to find a delicious vegetarian well-balanced diet.
Without much ado in describing the sights and sounds of the rainforest which I now regard as the most holiest and sacred place on Earth, let me describe our day hike. Our canoe set sail on Rio Shiripuno. We were a party of five – me, Ash, Plato, our guide Fernando and Sebastian. As soon as we got off the canoe and stepped on to the ground, Fernando exclaimed “Hold on! I see fresh prints “. Puma tracks! If this had been the world of Harry Potter, and if Fernando was Hagrid, he would have yelled “Merlin’s beard”. And I, Ash and Plato would be Harry, Hermione and Ron respectively. (You may ask why I am playing Harry?! Well I am telling the damn story). Back to the muggle world, so here we are with eyes popped out on seeing a Puma’s fresh imprints on the ground. That elusive puma had been there earlier this morning. “Will we get to see the puma, when we begin our journey? Will we get to say a hello or run away in fear?” I heard Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head again and I hushed it and we began our hike.
We started our morning hike and this one hold your breath was on Clay! Yes that good old rainforest clay. If you are the type of person who skims through lifestyle magazines in waiting lounges, you would know that people pay a lot of money to get a rainforest clay spa treatment. A walk in that clay -Take that! Fernando gave us a heads up about this clay. Textbooks can only prepare you a little. Not everyone who has read the famous book by Dale Carnegie – “How to win friends and influence people” is a pro in making friends and influencing people. If so, I would have been the next Oprah or Ellen and everyone would love me. So here we are at the beginning of this clay trail , I took one step and my leg sank knee-deep in clay and the longer I stood that way , the longer and harder it was for me to get my feet off the clay. There I was standing like a statue one feet on the ground and the other sunk deep in clay, like some abstract modern art(?!) style street performer . Sebastian and Fernando urged us to take quick steps to have a “smooth” (air quotes intended) walk in clay. It was complicated at first but then later it was fun, it was in texting style lingo, S followed by so many O s’ much fun! Six of us walking and splashing clay everywhere. It was like a Clay Holi. (For those of you who do not know what Holi is – well, google it!). My cleanliness freak /OCD friend Plato was having issues with piles of clay dirt in his legs and now on his face and hands. I reminded him of the expensive rainforest clay treatment which we were now receiving for free. We took those physically draining long hard steps and made our way to this wonderful clearing. It was beautiful.
I wish I was F.Scott Fitzgerald and I can elaborate you the sights and sounds the way he had done in Great Gatsby so that your mind can capture the image and present it to you like as though you were in a VR. I am no Fitzgerald (Yes my friends, it’s true!). So you will have to settle for the still-trying-to-find-my-voice version of me. The goal now was to lure a jaguar. You read it right, a Jaguar! We were sitting atop a small mound overlooking a pit. Fernando began making animal noises-the kind which attracts Jaguars. We were all quiet except for Fernando. All my senses were on alert. I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. My eyes were sharp and tuned to the vegetation. My ears could up pick sounds from afar. My body was pumped up with adrenaline. There was no Morgan Freeman’s voice-over in my head. Within moments I was transformed from a millennial with an attention span of five seconds to a Caveman true to my senses and relying on my instincts.
I felt some movement behind my back and then that insane thought crept in. What if the jaguar comes from behind us when we were watching the pit? As though he overheard my thoughts, Sebastian chose that moment to walk over to the other side of the pit to keep a watch. The suspense and the nail-biting moments all came down to an anti-climax as the Jaguar did not show up. Much like the series ‘Lost’. It was all fireworks in the start but the ending wasn’t right. (Yes, I heard you. It’s such a cliché to cite ‘Lost’ for things which got screwed up in the end).Well that’s most of life. Sometimes we put in a lot after much thought, be that project at office, relationship, stock market. The project will get scrapped, relationships’ll end and the stock market will go down the day after you invest. It’s just life. Sometimes you just have to enjoy the journey because the destination will be screwed up. Journey was all that was. You will have to learn to be thankful and move on to greener pastures.
We hopped on to the canoe and went back to the camp. After a sumptuous meal we lied down in the hammocks and rested for a bit in the afternoon. A well-deserved rest before we commenced our evening hike. It’s one of those times when your body and mind are in sync and calms down and goes into what I call as the ‘Zen Mode’. After an hour we hopped back on the canoe and began our last hike of this trip. It was a steady uphill hike. The general protocol when you hike in the forest is to try to be as quiet as you possibly can when you walk in the woods. There should be no swift movement or any loud talk with your companions. All five of us started our hike uphill quietly. Every one of us lost in our own thoughts. When the hike started, my head was a cacophony of thoughts so loud, I could barely hear the sounds of the forest. After a while it calmed down and all of a sudden I was completely in the present, mindful of me and my surroundings. We walked this way for an hour and then the sun started to go down. We reached a clearing and watched the sun set. We were deep in the rainforest. It was miles and miles of tall trees and thick vegetation as far away as my eyes could see. The Sun was almost down and the sky had a mix of colors. The lighting was mellow and perfect which made us feel more at ease and at peace with ourselves and the surroundings. It was the kind of scene you would want to come home to after a long hard day. Effortless unwinding. Its nature’s way of saying you had a nice day, now go relax! It’s the kind of sunset where you don’t long to be with someone you love to watch it with you, but you feel content with yourself and that you are a part of all the nature around you. I stood there and took it in as much as my senses could. I didn’t want to get distracted from it even for a second to record it in my camera.
After that splendid sunset show we started our hike down. On our way back Fernando stopped in his tracks and pointed out the ‘Army of ants’ marching in a straight line on the ground. Army of ants are very interesting inhabitants of the rainforest. They have social structure like queen, brood, workers, and soldiers. A group of birds rely solely on the army of ants and follow them to find their food. Ants go in search of food and these birds just follow the ants. This has been this way for the past 6 million years. Hence if anything goes wrong with this rainforest and the ants because of the deforestation caused by the oil drilling, Global warming, it will have drastic impact on the ecosystem. We continued our hike down and heard something move in the distance. Fernando asked us to pause and we looked around. With my headlamps on, I strained my eyes in the dark to spot anything significant and there it was. A pair of eyes glowed in the dark and stared at me. After few seconds the animal ran away. A rendezvous which lasted few seconds turned out to be a defining moment for the day. “I wondered if the animal would have felt surprised or threatened by us. Those glowing eyes were sure something. I am going to carry that image to my grave. Will the animal also remember this encounter as “something” for the rest of its life?” Morgan Freeman started to yap again in my head. That thought trailed away in distance as we moved away from that spot. But the image, yes sure, I am going to paint that in my old age and live off the money from auctioning that picture (Yeah crazy wild ambitions! You got it right, I am a true delusional Capricorn).
Next day we woke up and had a grand breakfast, bid goodbyes to Carlos, our cook and Sebastian and got on to the canoe. As the canoe started drifting away from the camp, I turned back and gave one long look at the place which had left a great impression. The place which gave me lasting memories to tell my friends, acquaintances, strangers and my unborn children and their children. Things were a bit different after that trip. It taught me to appreciate and celebrate life within me and around me even in dire times. But it wasn’t just that. Something in me changed. I left a piece of my old self and a bit of my baggage in the forest and came back light with a bit of a clear head and fresh insight on life.
After a three-hour canoe ride and a one and half hour road trip we reached Coca airport. We thanked Fernando for the trip and his guidance, waved him goodbye and boarded our flight to Quito. Amazon was far away from us in distance but the memories of it were so fresh and we know it will always be that way intact at the top of our heads. No matter where my life journey will take me, Amazon will always be the place where the true travel bug bit me and where it all started. I peeped out the window and saw the flight pass Mt. Cotopaxi. The flight attendant announced that we will be landing in Quito shortly. Our next adventure – Andes.
We had called ahead and requested our hotel to send a English-speaking driver to pick us up from the airport for our 4 hour trip to Chucchilán which is a small town located in the Andes. We had no contact info or the description of the person who is going to pick us up. Will he be there? Will he speak English? Will we able to reach Chucchilan in 4 hours? The answers to all the above and the trip’s highlight (which turned out to be a bad-ass adventure) explained in the next series. Stay Tuned!
Credits: Thanks to Fernando Vaca and his team for this memorable experience. https://www.shiripunolodge.com/