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Amazon Jungle Adventures

I held up a grape and a wild monkey descended to my shoulder. I'm smiling, but that warm little monkey bum on my bare neck was a bit too personal.

Life is full of unexpected delights. When our youngest son, Thomas finished his two year church mission in the Salt Lake west mission area, he wanted an exotic adventure. Looking at prices and variety offered, he decided Ecuador was the place to go. When a friend changed his mind, he asked Jeff and me to go instead. So after Thomas told Jeff some of what he wanted to see and do, Jeff made all the arrangements. We went high in the Andes and also explored Quito. There's too much to write about in one post, so today, we're talking Amazon. . .the real Amazon.

One thing I loved about this trip was that we got up-close and personal with life in Ecuador. One day we went white water rafting on the Jatunyaku (say Hot-ten-YAH-ku) river.

We were with some Swedes who were currently living in Istanbul. It was their first rafting trip. We laughed later. This river had some BIG water. The guide told us if we started to fall out, NOT to grab our raft-mate but let them pull us back in by our paddle.

In the first rapid, the girl behind me, (I'm in the yellow shorts), started to fall out and flung her arms around me to save herself. Luckily, my feet were well wedged and I was able to pull both of us back up.

We disembarked for an included lunch. Villagers waited at the riverside, selling the wares they were making even as they waited for us. Here is the necklace I kept for myself. It's made entirely of unpainted seeds. Another one I gave away was shades of gray, blue and black and also strictly native seeds. I paused to watch the young woman weaving a similar necklace using fishing line.

Later that afternoon, we walked around a state park with dense jungle and lots of tropical birds and wildlife. But the show stopper was this wild tapir. His bristly body reminded me of a pig. We later learned that they only eat vegetation. He was curious about us and we let him

get close enough to sniff around us. After that, he followed us everywhere we went! There were no fences. He was truly wild.

The next day, we took a guided hike through the jungle. Our guide started us out with fancy leaf hats and headbands. He said the natives used those leaves for hats to keep the critters out of their hair.

A little later, he showed us a termite nest. He scratched the outside of the nest to bring out the insects. When they swarmed over his hand, he crushed them on his palms and rubbed it on his neck and arms as an effective mosquito repellent. We were already thoroughly deeted so we didn't rub them on ourselves. He also said that the natives ate the termites and we did try them. Jeff said they tasted peppery. I thought they tasted piney, similar to rosemary.

Thomas and I have our boots on and are waiting for the trek into the deep, dark jungle to begin.

The rain had fuzzed up my hair by the time we got to this village. They served us a meal of fish and yuca steamed in a banana leaf. When we finished, an old woman roasted some coco beans over a fire, showed us how to grind them, added sugar and milk and let us eat the chocolate on banana slices. It was a little gritty, having been coarsely hand-ground, but the taste was intense and fantastically delicious. The bananas in the picture had just been cut from a wild tree to show us how heavy the bunches are.

The women and girls of the village put on native costumes and performed a dance and then they gave us some time in their grass hut co-op where I bought more woven seed necklaces and Jeff bought a painted vase. The craftspeople were there to point out their own work in hope for sales. The prices were so low, that looking back, I wish I would have bought 10 times as much to give more as gifts.

This tour was designed for foreigners, but throughout our trip we bought from the local fruit stands, ate in open air restaurants with live grubs and guinea pigs (Cuyes) on the menus. We stayed in Air B&B's where the families prepared breakfast for us and watched us eat as they tried out their broken English.

We went to church in Quito and again in Tena (down in the jungle) and were warmly welcomed. The people seemed universally warm and friendly. The Relief Society meeting lesson I attended as part of church was on family budgeting$. The teacher used a sample budget for a family of 4 of $230 a month. I asked about it later and she said that would be pretty typical in that small, southern Ecuador town.

Everything in Ecuador was inexpensive, including lodging, food, transportation, (including taxis) restaurants and even most souvenirs.

There's much more I'd love to tell, but that's for another day. Happy trails!

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