Christmas 2015: Ecuador, part 2 – the Amazon!

Before I begin, this is a disclaimer that this blog post will probably end up being more of a photo montage of all the things.

The next stop of the Lu family’s Ecuador adventure was the Amazon – the whole reason we went on this trip in the first place! We stayed at Yarina Ecolodge for three days. It’s a small lodge located in the Amazon rainforest that’s only accessible by boat from the nearest town, Coca, and has no wifi and electricity during a few hours of the day. At first, I thought that having no internet and no phone connection and no electricity was going to be quite awful, but it turns out we were waking up so early and were all so tired from our activities during the day that when we weren’t exploring the area, we were dead asleep.

Yarina Ecolodge – we stayed in those little cabins, 2 people per cabin!
Yarina Ecolodge – this is the welcoming center and also where we ate
our catered meals every day

We had a nature guide, Wintel, who spoke no English and knew we understood nothing he was saying (we also had a translator) but was a sweetheart and was so excited about everything he showed us. His enthusiasm was infectious, and we definitely wouldn’t have learned and seen as much in the rainforest and taken away so much if it hadn’t been for him and his stories. If you ever get the chance to go to Yarina, definitely ask for him!

This is Wintel! He’s making Hera a little crown out of leaves.

With Wintel, we went on a couple hikes into the rainforest to look for animals – we saw LOTS of bugs (which were rather gross), birds (one made a laughing sound, which was hilarious), and tiny monkeys (which were adorable!) – and to learn about the foliage. Cue the photos:

This is the “Tree of Rain”, notable because the fruit grows
on the trunk and not the branches. Apparently the indigenous
people in the Amazon believe that if you run around one of
these 3 times and, on the last rotation, pick one of the fruits
and throw it behind you and run away quickly, it will ward away
tumors.

They rather do look like tumors.

This is a type of mushroom that you can write on! The
indigenous people use it as markers in order to not get lost.
This is the tarantula flower, named because its hairy. 
These trees had roots that grew out like ribbons, so
we started calling it the ribbon tree. Here’s one, with Hera
for size (she’s 6).
On our night hike, I managed to get some pretty clear photos of bugs!
More bugs. We also saw spiders, but I opted out of taking photos (I really,
really, really dislike spiders.)
Aaaand a cute little frog! This was one of quite a few
that we saw that night.

During one of our hikes, Wintel brought us to a vine that had been fashioned into a makeshift swing. Yes – you’re thinking right: I, and my family (although we didn’t get a video of my mom, just know that she basically screamed for her life because she was rather scared), literally swung from vines like Tarzan. I’m cool, I know.

We also visited an indigenous people’s village near the ecolodge, where they had a (small?) cacao plantation!
I have no idea what this fruit is called, but the little “seeds”
shown are crushed and used as war paint.
This is a tree with a hole in it (the tree is still alive, too) and
it’s used to crush sugarcane – the juices flow down into
the metal plate and then collected with a cup!
In case you ever wondered what coffee flowers looked like –
this is what they look like. 
Wintel made my dad and Hera little crowns out of leaves!
Apparently these leaves are generally used to make skirts
and roofs, and can last more than a decade with proper
treatment.
Cacao!
The inside of cacao: the white fruit is really juicy and delicious! The seed
inside is chocolatey and really bitter.
Obviously after visited the cacao plantation, all we wanted to do was learn how to make chocolate. We ended up making fresh chocolate from these cacao beans (they’re dried in a hut under the sun for a week first):
Step 1: (Wintel) quickly roasted cacao beans
Step 2: shell the cacao beans for the “meat” inside
Step 3: make small child (I suppose the adult
could do it too) grind the beans

The beans have to be ground twice or more in order
to be the right texture, and it becomes a sort of paste!

Step 4: Steal chocolate off of the grinder because someone
can’t control themselves, clearly.
Step 5: the paste is mixed with some milk and sugar to become chocolate!
The chocolate that we made is not the same as the chocolate you buy from the store – commercial chocolate is processed so that the cacao oils aren’t in the chocolate anymore. This allows consumers to eat as much chocolate as they want. Apparently, if you eat too much of the pure chocolate that we made, it will give you a very upset stomach.
We also got to go fishing in the Amazon, and Hera caught her first ever fish! From the Amazon! She is going to be the coolest kid in her class.
Lying in wait for the fish to come.
Dad was the first one to succeed. He went on to catch 3 more fish.
I guess you can take the boy out of the farmlands but you can’t take the farmer
out of the boy… 
And then I caught a fish! It was very exciting and when the fish was flopping
around it apparently hit Hera in the head.
Last but not least, here is a picture of a tiny child
with the fish that she caught all by herself looking very
pleased.
The fruits of our labor!
Mom didn’t manage to catch any fish (not without a lack of trying though) but she did end up cooking the fish that we did catch, so we got a little extra food at dinner that night.
The last thing we did during our stay at Yarina was learn how to blow poison darts (there wasn’t actually any poison on the dart, though). Let me tell you – Hera is a natural at this. We were trying to hit a lemon a couple of yards away and she managed to graze the bottom of the lemon – none of the rest of us got nearly that far (although dad kept trying to fight Hera for the blow pipe to one up her).
Hera being instructed on how to blow a poison dart!
Our stay at Yarina was a ridiculously fun experience and we were fed really well! I would say the only downside of the entire experience was my accumulation of 51 mosquito bites. And yes, we did have bug spray. Apparently I’m very tasty. Hera only got 17, and I’m still a bit salty about it.
I would really recommend the lodge and the experience – and now my entire family gets to cross the Amazon off of our bucket list! Although, I’m still waiting on going to see those pink dolphins…
What’s on your bucket list?

Read about part one of this trip here.
Read about part three of this trip here.

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