With reports of friendly monkeys in Misahualli town center, I make a brief stop there as I leave Tena. Unfortunately, the town center is only filled with a gathering of uniformed students. Apparently, the monkeys have skipped town.
You know what's worse than finding a whole worm in your guava? Half of one! I continue hoping.
The roads signs from Tena to Banos are almost as bad as from Quito to Tena although in general are much better. Colorful buses with “Puyo”, “San Francisco” and or “Banos” give me some assurance that I am headed in the right direction. Passing through many small town and villages, I am surprised to see one with an “Escuela JFK”.
I guess some Ecuadorians are as fond of the former US President as others around the world.
Another surprise comes further down the road where there is a police check point. Dressed in gray camouflage the officer is nice as he requests my “licencia” and inspects my rental car car papers. “Gracias and buen dia” as he sends me on my way.
A lunch stop at Amarillo De Corazon in Puyo and again I am disappointed with the the main course a shrimp fried platter.
Across another ever popular footbridge and down a sort paved path, I am at the entrance to Parque Etnobotanico (www.fundacionomaere.org).
A $3.00 fee and I am on a guided tour with Chris the husband/coordinator of this private Amazonian Preserve. The tour begins in a replica of an indigenous Indian home with a nice presentation of their everyday life including a blow dart demonstration. Next a hike around the preserve with an explanation of various plants and their medicinal uses ... from the treatment of diabetes to fertility issues.
A stop at one tree and I am told to prepare for a little quiz. I am given a piece of the tree leaf and told to to identify it by putting in my mouth.
Wow .... I am chewing on a natural “Big Red Gum” or “Red Hot Candy”. It's the leaf of a cinnamon tree ... Historically, cinnamon was an important spice exported and traded from Ecuador and part of the reason it was once called “The Land Of Canela”.
Inside another hut and I am learning about the life style of the Shuar Indians, the most interesting of which is a man (Saint) can have up to fifteen wives. His first wife is arranged when he is about 18 and she is about 6 years old although the marriage is not consummated until after she menstruates. Outside the hut a few berries are found and my arm is tattooed in natural bright red, orange and purple colors.
Chris a “Florida Gator” biologist demonstrates at the end of the tour one of his latest projects an ecologically friendly bathroom system that includes hand washing using captured rain water. I am impressed.
Before long I am singing “Happy Birthday” and clapping hands with family and friends.
I view a few natural medicines that Chris's wife has prepared along local Amazonian items they have for sale. I am offered birthday which I share with the family parrot that gently eats it from my hand.
On the road again, I leave Puyo and make a gradual climb along mountainous roads to Banos. The scenery is amazing although there are few spots where you can stop to take it all in. Off the beaten path, I climb a dirt road in search of a “La Casacada” (Waterfall) and come upon a local lady walking up the hill. I offer her a ride up the hill and drop her of at her home. I never find the waterfall as the road soon turns to mud from local rain showers and I am afraid of being stuck. I do a 180 back to the beaten path.
I do manage a visit to Diego falls passing through communities that make their home along one of the many rivers in Ecuador. It is not uncommon to see signs reminding us that ..“El Rio es La Vida”. The River Is Life.
I arrive in Banos about 7pm in the evening and park across the street from main bus terminal. Soon, I am checking into Hostal La Cascada where I am given a room with a view for $12 per night.