Exactly at 7.45 we get picked up by taxi – again we have a cookie breakfast today… but after the quite exhausting rafting yesterday we couldn’t think of getting up even earlier. I really hope that the snacks will give us enough energy to survive the day…
We stop at a junction and José, the ranger and our guide for today gets in. A little later we reach a gravel road which leads into a forest. We move forward quite slowly because we have to cope with a steep ascent. “I wonder if it gets cold here at night”, mutters Verena. We seem to have gained a few meters in altitude and have in the meantime driven through some fog.
The gravel road ends at a clearing and a “rock/clay road” follows. Manuel, José’s father, and his horse are already waiting for us here. We load our clothes on the horse and continue only with the absolutely necessary (We have taken each 2l water with us and also receive some isotonic drinks from José. We will need them for sure) slowly up the gravel path. Not at all easy, because the rain of the past days made the ground quite slippery. It takes quite a while until we reach the Mirador: A great view of the landscape is our reward. But we are not even remotely in the jungle. We keep walking and see the first inhabitants of the forest: Some leaf-cutter ants cross our path.
Although Ecuador is a rather small country with only a percentage of 0.2% of the earth’s surface, over 25,000 plant species can be found here. José is completely in his element: He discovered already the first interesting plants, whose juice can be used e.g. for dyeing in neon orange or whose leaves can be used as improvised toilet paper. Even the berries of the “toilet paper plant” are edible (but don’t taste particularly good ).
While we are still walking along the muddy path at a leisurely pace, Manuel has already caught up with us. The horse running beside him adapts to his walking speed. Wow… How can an old man have that much energy? We hardly started the hike and are already gasping for air.
While Manuel continues to follow the path, we take a turn into the jungle. José opens a path through the jungle with a machete. I am really glad that we received rubber boots for the hike. This would not have been possible with normal hiking boots. The loamy ground often gives way and we have to try very hard not to slip and fall. After a while, we reach the stream that flows through the canyon. From now on we have to wade through water, climb over trees and abseil. An extremely exhausting but fun experience. We are often standing chest deep in the water – definitely a good decision to take a drybag backpack as a daypack . Several times we abseil down smaller waterfalls – always refreshing . Time goes by fast – after another “bath” in the canyon stream, we reach a wider spot with a larger boulder: The perfect table for lunch! We all set the table with some large leaves and José pulls some Tupperware out of his backpack. They don’t last long: I probably have never gulped down my food that fast. I didn’t even notice how hungry I was.
We rest for a while until we have to move on: We should be at the clearing before sunset – walking through the jungle at night can be dangerous for inexperienced people like us. I have completely lost all sense of time. Funnily enough, José is asking for the time right now – nobody took a watch or a mobile phone with them. The recording time of my last camera picture, however, could help. Unfortunately, I haven’t changed over to Ecuadorian time yet and still have GMT+1 in it. After some arithmetic (7 hours time difference) we come to the conclusion that we are quite well on time.
The ongoing journey is no less exciting: We come across a waterfall, where we have to rope down 15m one after the other. At the end a natural pool is waiting for us… REFRESHING!
But apparently, we look quite exhausted. Several hundred meters farther there is still a bigger abseil point about 30m. But we decide on José’s request to rather climb up again… and in retrospect, I believe he is glad that we have judged ourselves correctly: Not only does our energy decrease drastically, but also the climb up to the side of the canyon with the help of the rope is difficult. The ground is extremely slippery here and it takes a lot of effort to slowly get up the steep (that’s a good 60% ascent!) forest floor. More than once we have to take a break to regain our energy. I think the additional 30 meters we would have had to climb when we had visited the next waterfall would have finished us off. In the meantime, José tells us about another group that he had led through the jungle, which had overestimated themselves far earlier to the point where we had reached. It took them until 2 o’clock at night to finally reach the campsite.
Reaching almost the top of the path José instructs us to wait and approaches a nearby tree branch. He swings out with the machete, reaches for the ground and throws something far into the bushes. “A venomous snake”, José tells us when we ask what that was. A bite from it would be lethal after 3 hours without treatment. “Are there other dangerous animals here as well?” There are probably still some things in the jungle to watch out for – also a subspecies of the coral snake, or “20-minute snake”. The real killer here, however, seems to be the berries of a bush that looks almost identical to the “toilet paper plant”. You can only really tell them apart by looking at the color of the fruit pulp. “You don’t have more than 10 minutes after consuming them”. Alright. I definitely won’t eat anything I find on the way. When we finally reach the path at the top of the canyon, our legs are as flexible as rubber. However, it is more pleasant to be walking up here. Along the way we stop again and again and José shows us interesting specimens of flora and fauna: There are some plant species here which have milk-like liquids that have an antiseptic and pain-relieving effect. Even bites of bullet ants could be treated with it. I also would have never thought that apart from the resin of a local tree also rubbed-on termites (interesting lemongrass smell by the way) give a mosquito protection on the skin.
After about one more hour we arrive at the camp. Time to rest and enjoy the view. While we set up our tent, José and his father prepare dinner. A delicious smell leaves the hut. Hungry! This hike has really stimulated our appetite. We have a tasty paella-like dish with rice, chicken, potatoes and lots of chili. Tastes similar to a dish my grandma makes (Kritharaki with chicken) .
It turned dark quite fast – time to go to sleep, even if it is “actually” early… Tomorrow we have a long hike ahead of us again. Shortly before we crawl into the tent, we see a light approaching from afar. José welcomes the hiker who walks through the camp with a flashlight. Does he want to walk through the jungle at night to get to the city in the morning? I’m not surprised by the people who live in the jungle anymore – how can you be sure-footed in the middle of the night?
A night in the jungle is not exactly a quiet night – you can hear rustling and animal sounds everywhere. There are a lot of critters here that are nocturnal. Paired with the tent interior, which is isolated from the outside world, the whole place feels quite trippy. Eventually, nature calls and I crawl out of the tent entry. Whoa, cold! The sleeping bags are really needed. During the day the sweat ran down from all my pores. Arriving at the outside toilet a spider greets me, sitting on the toilet paper and I have also found some crawling things between my feet before: A dead scorpion or the skin of it? I should be careful where I step – under a UV lamp you could see the critters glowing by the way…