In October of 2009, my Mom and I go through the motions of heading to the airport, parking, security, heading to the gate, spending 5$ on each bottle of water, boarding and then…the dreaded, feared and infamous pilot announcement that the check engine light has come on.
Fast forward what felt like a week, many delays, a very unnecessary night spent in Miami and we secure a speedboat in an attempt to catch up with our river boat that has already started working its way up the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon with all of the other passengers in tow. We later learned they saw pink dolphins and had lovely weather right up until we got onboard, which still, 9 years later, irritates us endlessly, as this turns out to be pretty much the only wildlife sighting.
From my trip journal: “Spotted some of the first wildlife, a horse and 2 Chihuahua looking dogs. It’s pouring and I’m sitting in a lawn chair on the top deck of The Manatee, a boat that I can safely say looks NOTHING like it did in the brochure. A wide variety of bugs crawl across the Astroturf looking for prey, which is me. The good news about being out in the open, is that it’s not anywhere else on the boat with a roof where every inch is covered in spider webs and unfortunately the evil beings that live in them. This includes inside our cabin where I am forced to cover everything but my eyes to prevent what all other spider fearers know is a real possibility, you know what I’m talking about. I’m surrounded by Spanish speakers who, lucky for me, do not yet know I speak Spanish which is always a fun time.”
Now going into this I’m picturing that I’m J-Lo in Anaconda the movie (my mom can be Ice-Cube). Excitement, adventure, beauty, exotic animals galore, as you’ll quickly learn, this was not our lot. Adventure, yes, but not always the kind you seek out.
As I mentioned before, the rainforest may have been teeming with colorful wildlife, but we sure as heck wouldn’t have known it. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs, just the highlights, good and bad:
-Shooting a 5-foot blow dart gun in the middle of the jungle with locals that I like to imagine had poison darts in it.
-Checking swinging from a vine in the jungle like Tarzan off the ol’ bucket list, surprisingly challenging, no wonder he was so jacked.
-Guide :“Who wants to get out and swim? There are only Electric Eels, Caiman Alligators, Sting Rays, and Pirahna- probably not the blood sucking kind.” Everyone else: “That’s a no. Me: *Grabs pool noodle and cannonballs in much to my mother’s dismay. I swear I only felt a couple of things brush by me while I took a nice, mid torrential downpour swim.
-Me and Mom: “Do we need our boots for this little nature walk to see more plants?” Guide: “No.” Us: *Full blown army ant attack sending us literally running and screaming in shockingly searing pain that lasted for some time. This led to one of our most proud socks and sandals moments.
-Meeting a 30-year-old Grandmother and having a couple of beers with her at the bar on the boat, only to learn that reproducing at age 15 is culturally expected in Ecuador.
-A horror movie moment including spiders and a canoe in a lake full of Caiman Alligators at night, which honestly deserves its own post, stay tuned for my spider series.
Looking from the outside in, none of these things seem super shocking as it is a jungle, hello, and I like to think that had we seen more than all the bugs and some sleeping bats, it might have seemed that the challenges would have been worth it.
We emerge from the dark, damp jungle and what felt very much like a Joseph Conrad novel, to spend a couple of days in Quito. We experienced having a foot on each side of the equator, which was not nearly as hot as they made it seem like it would be in 4th grade geography. We shopped at local markets and ate and enjoyed not fearing spiders crawling into your ears while you sleep and laying eggs, which I maintain, is a rational fear.
The lesson here is, have realistic expectations, be prepared to find the joy in the little things, the company, checking things off your bucket list and having incredible (incredibly stupid) stories to tell when you come back that will always be better than your friends’ stories. Lastly, this is probably obvious to people who are not me but, DO NOT go to the jungle if you have a pathological fear of spiders. You’re welcome.
Stay tuned for the hi jinks that ensued as we continued our adventure to Peru!