Saturday, April 23, 2016

Just Monkeying Around

 In Which, We Visit Tena and Misahualli

So one of our trips when Mom and Dad were here was down the mountains and into the edge of the Amazon to a little town called Tena. It's about 2 hours past Banos, so roughly a 3-4 hour trip, as the bus trundles. 

It's warm here (it's the Amazon...duh) with lush greenery *everywhere* which was a fun difference compared to Ambato, which is chilly and somewhat brownish these days.

We had booked a tour with a local hostel in Tena called La Casa Blanca. What a great place! Michelle was our hostess and she was wonderful. She hooked us up with a wonderful tour guide, and on Saturday morning, after a breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit, we loaded up with our new Canadian friends we had met the night before for a a day of adventure.

First up: the monkeys of Misahualli. 
Enjoying the fruits of his thievery

These guys were everywhere. I think we were the second group of visitors to arrive that morning because although they were plenty happy to take out grapes, they weren't quite as swarming as we'd heard they could be.

This little guy took the entire bunch of grapes that John had...

Even with that, we still had plenty of  interaction with them. It was fun to see how the troop interacted. The matrons tended to stay further away in the street, while the youngsters were the bold ones climbing down poles and trees and coming right up to us.

Just chillin

This guy in the tree might have been the most mischievous one of all. Right before we headed on to our boat tour, he snatched the hat of a passerby and wouldn't give it back until the man traded him something for it!


After the monkeys, it was time for a boat trip down the Napo River. This was actually really fun! The Napo is a tributary of the Amazon, and it's a fairly good-size river in its own right. We motored for about 30-ish minutes or so until we reached the family farm of our tour guide.

Getting ready to go down the Napo!

Here we heard more about the traditional Amazonian way of life, including how to harvest and plant yucca, and how to make chocolate!

Harvesting and replanting yucca

Then we came back to the homestead fire and set about making chicha, which is a traditional Kichwa drink made from fermented yucca. We mashed it for a bit with some salt and butter, and it actually tasted a lot like mashed potatoes.

The finished product requires several days of fermentation, so we sipped on some that had already been made. The taste was...interesting. Not overly bitter, but not really flavorful either. It tasted most similar to slightly muddy water with a bit of a tang.

The makings of chicha...or mashed potatoes

After the chicha, we set about making some chocolate from the cacao trees there on the farm. It required roasting, shelling and grinding.

Dad working for his portion of the chocolate

After grinding, then there was boiling, adding sugar and water and mixing, so make it palatable.

The fruits of our labor!

At the end, we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor with some fresh (and huge!) strawberries and bananas.

Hello from the Amazon!

In between the farm and the animal sanctuary, we did also stop at a butterfly farm, but I didn't take many pictures there. It was really interesting though. It's run by a man from Germany, and they actually raise and export the pupae to other sanctuaries, zoos and collections around the world! The entire operation appears to be very well run and organized.

Our last stop on the trip was Amazoonico, an animal refuge. This was probably my favorite stop, even though it was sweltering in the jungle humidity. The animals and all their stories were awesome to see! I even saw several animals that I'd never heard of before, which is always fun.

Tapirs! These guys are so cute and cuddly...if they weren't 400 pounds...

They give 'raucous' a new meaning

Beautiful and lithe!

There were far more than I have pictures of here, maybe I can convince John to sit down and create a video from his GoPro...

Either way, it was a spectacular experience, all in all, and I highly recommend both La Casa Blanca and any of their trips to anyone who's interested in seeing a bit of the Amazon.

On our way back UP the Napo, with our Canadian friends in the back

That night we decided to walk around the city of Tena for a bit. This bridge is right above the confluence of Rio Pano and Rio Tena. We walked up one side, crossed over and walked down the other.

Tena at night

Tena at night is lovely. It loses the mugginess but still remains cool enough for shorts and light shirts. I doubt we'll go  back before we leave for home, but this will remain one of our most favorite trips so far!

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