As I write this, I’m sitting under the high thatched roof of the main lodge, made of wood and stone and bamboo and leaves and awesome. The walls are open to the jungle where it’s pouring rain. The sound is soft, and all the green, everywhere green, is peaceful.
After an 8am breakfast this morning, we went across the cable seat again and hopped into a pickup truck. There wasn’t enough room inside for all of us, so Fernando, Griffin and I rode in the back, standing up and holding on to the roll bar. The road was ridiculously rough so we had to hold tight to keep from getting tossed out. Griffin was smiling the the biggest grin I’ve simply ever seen.
Only 10 minutes but 259 pot holes later, we arrived at our morning excursion: Zip-lining! I’d never done a zip line before and I have to admit to having a few sweaty palm moments as we were getting ready. (Gary and Oakley had already decided they’d prefer to explore the area, so Fernando took them off on a jungle adventure.) The instructions from the zip-lining guide were translated for us, and more than once I wasn’t sure if I was definitely supposed to do something important, or definitely *not* supposed to do something important. Griffin volunteered to go first, and after getting rigged up with a harness, helmet and special gloves, he was up and ready. He stepped off the ledge like he’d done it a hundred times before and… WRRRZZZZZZZ! The sound of the pulley spinning against the metal cable was loud, lowering slowly in pitch as he headed to the far side. Fawn was next with some serious trepidations, but lots of laughs and screeches to go with them. Next, my turn, my chance to see what it’s like first hand. The line is strung through the very canopy of the forest, between trees – palm trees – over deep jungle ravines that seem a hundred miles down. It’s fast and high and far – my heart was in my throat from the moment I stepped off the ledge. And it is damn fun. I really have never done anything like it before. The course is 13 zip lines in total, 3.5kms (2.1mi)! There is a trek between each one, sometimes steep, and in the heat and altitude it was good exercise. 2nd time the same: clip, harness, safety rope, cable gloves, and GO. Repeat on a new cable, steeper, longer. Literally thrilling. Griffin loved it of course, and said his heart got racing on the first one, but that he didn’t even think about being scared. Fawn said it was a step beyond her comfort zone but did it anyway; I admire her for that.
Afterwards, we met up with Gary and Oaks and took a few minutes to find a pair of toucans that they had spotted earlier on their walk. With Fernando’s telescope, they really were impressive to see. Incredible colours and graceful slow movements as they looked around and preened each other. Griffin was even able to use my iPhone to snap some great shots of the view through the telescope.
We were joined at lunch by a family from Missouri: Matt, his daughter Alaya, and Matt’s mother Judy. Nice people, and they decided to join us for the next part of our day: a tour of the local chocolate factory!
Set at the end of a dirt road spotted with piles of gravel and cinder block, in an unlikely home with no sign, the chocolate factory is run by Francesco, a very nice Ecuador-American who took us on a tour of the facility. We learned about the history of the various cacao plants (3500 years old!), how different cultures have produced it, and the fact that the chocolate that we eat today was invented a relatively short 150 years ago. We spent some time outside learning about the plants and flowers on the property, the fermenting house (SMELLY!), the drying racks, and, for some reason, a pig. He also had us try eating two different plants and we soon went back inside to see the press, the grinder and a couple other chocolate-y contraptions. Next, and at last, the taste testing. We started with raw, unsweetened chocolate on its own (yuck) and then combined it in turn with sugar, ginger, and chilli peppers. It was like taste acrobatics. Finally, the real goods: chocolate bars, brownies and cookies. I bought them all. Because really.
Many thanks later, we left the chocolate factory and walked around town for a bit. Not sure I’ve ever seen a place like it. Poor, with cinder block and corrugated metal everywhere, but at the same time, touristy. A strange combination. It was raining steadily by now – it rains every afternoon here – and the town was deserted. It’s the kind of place I could photograph for days on end. With Fernando’s help we found a much needed laundromat and dropped off a few loads of clothes to be done. We were joined at one point by a scruffy looking dog that took to Alaya. She fell in love with him, named him Scruffy (naturally), and he followed us around until it was time to go.
Back at the lodge, there was a fire going and Alaya soon came by. We talked for a while, a great conversation about family (split parents, separate houses, siblings), education (the high school she’s going into, college), and religion (catholic school, atheism, Roman Gods). She’s got a lot going on for a 13 year old and it’s obvious she’s going to do well. With a rebellious nature, she’ll also hit a few speed bumps on the way, but such are the best lives.
Dinner was filled with conversation about yoga, meditation, theta waves, healing energies, and seeing connections between people and things through Ayahuasca, a vine-derived, DMT-based hallucinogenic tea. It apparently heightens your senses and breaks down the core beliefs you have about your own life, and the world itself, letting you see the true connections between things, the oneness of the Universe, and the consciousness that is shared by all living plants and animals. So yeah, things got very deep very fast. Some of it was new-agey beyond my interest, but much of it was incredibly interesting, a conversation that was totally unexpected.
A walk back to the cabin to cap the night, past the lit tiki torches and the unnaturally dark jungle that you could actually hear crawling with night creatures. Not the time to think of all the spaces between the boards that the cabin is made of. Out here, we’re all just roommates.
(March 15, 2012.)