The church in Archidona.
Our first meal in the Amazon: Bolon de Verde.
On Tuesday, we took the bus to Archidona, in the Amazonian province of Napo.
Travel to Archidona was very long and arduous, complicated by the fact that we left extremely late. Almost all the buses to Napo were full, so we finally had to go back to Quito to catch an empty bus in the terminal. Otherwise, we could have gone, but we would have had to stand for the duration of the five hour trip. This would have been especially difficult with Valentina's two young children who travelled with us.
The road to Napo is characterized by extreme contrasts. On the one hand, we witnessed breathtaking scenery unlike anything in Spokane. On the other hand, the road took many dangerous turns. Sometimes I held my breath thinking we would either crash into another bus, or fall off a cliff, especially when the driver started passing other vehicles around blind curves at uncomfortable speeds. Other times I marvelled at the beautiful mountains and waterfalls as we crossed the continental divide of the Andes Mountains.
We finally arrived in Archidona at around 8:00 in the evening. The sun had already set two hours earlier. We wandered through the streets for a while, trying to find our next contact. Valentina's friends met us at a street corner and invited us to take a light dinner.
We had a most interesting and different meal called bolon de verde (pictured above). As I understood their explanation, this food is made of green bananas or plantains that have been mashed to a pulp and then formed into a perfectly round ball. They fill the middle with cheese and then fry the entire ball in oil.
We also tried a couple delicious juices made from local fruits: guanabana and maracuya. I can't even begin to describe them, except that maracuya has a somewhat citrus flavor and guanabana reminds me somewhat of coconut, only sweeter. Nothing in English compares.
Then we took a taxi down a dark road outside of town.
After a brief trip through the darkness, the taxi stopped in a remote jungle area with no electric light or other signs of civilization; we saw only the black outline of palm trees projected against the moonlit sky. We all unloaded our bags and watched as the taxi lights drove away, leaving us in the night. I reached over to touch Rhonda's arm, and could feel her anxiety rising through her skin. She was none too pleased at that point.
Our guide was Elias Mamallacta. He walked at the head of the line wearing a small light on his head. Walking in a single file, we followed him up the hill, through the dense vegetation and tromping through mud. At one point Elias slipped and fell, which I'm sure did not inspire confidence in my poor wife.
After about twenty minutes, we arrived at a small opening in the forest where a tall house stood with a thatch roof and open walls. A small group of bats flew out from the house just as we arrived. Rhonda sat on the bench and closed her eyes tightly until a small dog approached and touched her hand with its nose. She screamed and I could only imagine the hatred she must have felt toward me in that moment for bringing her to such an isolated place.
I must admit we didn't know we were going to be in that kind of place. We honestly thought we might stay at a hotel with a swimming pool, because we were told to bring our swimming suits for the pool. We never imagined the pool was actually a river and our lodging was a guest hut near the main house. We finally lay down to sleep on board covered with a thin mat and a mosquito net. I only prayed Rhonda would feel better in the morning.