Dr. John Goddard led ten of us neophytes on a wonderful excursion to Ecuador.
First we visited a tributary of the upper Amazon for four days.
Next we spent 2 days in the mountains, visiting villages north of Quito above 9000 feet.
Finally we had the privilege of visiting the Galapagos Islands for four days.

It was a thoroughly memorable experience.

7/13 - Thursday

5:30am:       Jim & I hugged goodbye, happily looking forward to meeting in Miami in the afternoon in plenty of time for our 7:10 pm departure for Quito and our new adventure!

7:00pm:      Panic sets in. Jim's flight is 2-1/2 hours late. I waited at the arrival doors until the last possible minute before having to run back to catch my flight for Quito, no Jim. I had frantically made arrangements for his luggage to follow us to Quito with a wonderful man in charge of United's luggage, but it wasn't meant to be. Turns out Jim was trying to work out his own arrangements at the gate and we simply missed making connections. I hated the thought that he would have a difficult time catching up with us, as we were to depart early in the morning for the trip to the Amazon and our Flotel. My fingers are crossed that he will find a way.

10:30pm:       Arrived in Quito. It took about an hour to go through customs and round up luggage. Jim's never showed up and Phyllis ended up missing her cosmetic bag, which would eventually catch up to us upon our return to Quito 4 days later. Left a message for Jim on his home phone, hoping he would be able to work out finding us in the middle of the jungle!

      Knowing me and my penchant for making mistakes which become part of the family legend, I came to Miami a day early. I scouted everything so when the time came I could sail on through and NOT MISS THE PLANE! I didn't have a Marcia looking after me!

      While in Miami I had a chance to visit both the Fairchild Gardens and the Parrot Jungle, a bonus.

7/14 - Friday

      Departed the Colon Hilton Hotel at 9:15am for the airport and the short 35 minute flight on TAME Airlines to Lago Agrio, where, upon landing and hanging out for an hour, we finally boarded a bus for the 90 minute ride to the dock on the Aguarico River that had our "speed boats" waiting.

      The bus ride was what I would call primitive. Up and down and bumpy. There had been a lot of oil work there and as I remember, an overground pipeline was alongside for most of the trip.

      Had to laugh at the Ecuadorian version of "speed boats", sort of a large, flatbed boat with plastic curtains to protect us from the wind and water.

      It was a very interesting trip although we did have to bundle up a bit. I was impressed by how low the jungle was. It wasn't the high open jungle one associates with the Tarzan movies. I suspect this might be second growth after someone has come in and harvested the first one. I suspect I'll hear from someone about this.

Photo-1 Photo-2 Photo-3

Left, the bus ride

    Above, Chris, talking to our "driver" on the skiff.

We passed this village

      John Goddard was my boat partner for the noisy, 2-1/2 hour, 80 mile trip to our Flotel Orellana, a 48 bed passenger vessel which was to be home for the next 3 nights. All cabins faced out. Bunk beds, tiny dresser and even tinier bathroom were the quaint, but adequate accommodations.

      After a briefing about the layout of the boat and how to get our rain ponchos and rubber boots, we were treated to a special surprise. A village down the river a bit, made up of the Quitochua Tribe, was going to put on a pseudo wedding for us, with all of their traditional customs and attire. The whole event took about an hour (the real thing takes eight days) and no photos were allowed in the very dark house,one big room with benches along the wall and a hard dirt floor.

      Prior to it starting, a young man explained about the medicinal plants they had planted outside and a reminder that many of the things we would be seeing do not exist anywhere else in the world.

      The ceremony started with the parents of the bride coming in and sitting down, followed by the groom's parents, who had to ask for permission for their son to marry their daughter. Then the bride and groom came in with some attendants, and each spoke with the parents in turn. Likely an acknowledgement of their love and devotion to each other and promises to take care of each other. A flute then began playing to signal the start of the wedding. The simple ceremony was followed by music from the flute and additional drums were brought in and then there was much dancing within the wedding party.

      We were then invited to partake in a wedding toast made up of fermented yucca leaves, sort of a white pasty concoction. Jane and I went up, as did about 8-10 others from around the room. Odd tasting, but OK. However, rather than one simple toast/tasting, it turns out all 8 of the wedding participants did a special dance before each of us, involving us taking 8 individual spoonfuls of the mixture. All this was followed by more dancing. Each bite got harder to swallow and by the time they were done, I had a bit of a buzz.

      We returned to our Flotel for dinner, totally delicious. The first course was a soup made up of some sort of cheese, potato and some kind of leafy vegetable. The entre was rice, small pieces of beef, a beet and onion mixture and some cooked broccoli and red pepper. Dessert was hot bananas with something very sweet poured over them.

      Turns out Jim will catch up with us tomorrow afternoon. He will miss the first day in the jungle, but at least I signed him up for spending the night out there so he would have something special to look forward to. I hope he's thrilled with this idea. We then had a briefing to go over the details for the next day and then went to bed for a fitful night's sleep.

      We will not actually ever be on the Amazon River, we are in it's basin and on tributaries that feed into it. The start of the Amazon is about 350 miles away. There are hundreds of species of plants and animals in this very remote region. In fact, the 6000 acres we are on "The Cuyabena Wildlife Reserve" is one of the most concentrated areas in all the Amazon for varieties of plant and animal life. There are four naturalists as guides on board ship,1/2 for the Spanish speaking group and 1/2 for the English. Our group will have 11 when Jim arrives. There are about another 10 English-speaking folks. The guides are Christina, Raul, Robbie and Isabella. Oswaldo and Louis are the 2 main ship directors. The Captain had the title "Purser"and his name is +++++++ There is a doctor on call 24 hours a day, the bartender and wait crew.

7/15 - Saturday

      Woke up at 6:00 am to soft, lovely music being piped into the cabin, a very nice touch. Had to be up and ready for breakfast at 6:30am. Breakfast consisted of fried eggs, croissants, some sort of other roll made from the same yucca leaves as the fermented toast at the wedding, fresh fruit, cheeses, juice and coffee.

      Meal companions have been Jane, Phyllis, Claude, Charles, and yesterday, Jim joined us. Much fun was made at my attempt to eat the passion fruit, a mucousy looking concoction with seeds.

      After breakfast we all boarded a smaller boat for a trip down the river, spending hours looking for birds and other wildlife. This is what I remember seeing: Toucans, Macaws, red howler monkeys, Kingfishers, a tiny pocket monkey, the smallest known species in the world, a tree bark loaded with bats, a 3-toed sloth, vultures, a white breasted falcon and a number of other birds. Part of the trip was by catamaran, definitely not the California version. This was a modest, dug out something or other with slats of wood attached for seats. Sits very low in the water.

      About 4-1/2 hours later we arrived back at the camp where we had a great lunch, consisting of shish-kabobs (sausage, beef, pork and chicken), roasted baby potatoes, huge kernel maize on the cob, macaroni salad and watermelon. Delightful.

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