For my next installment of belated recollections from the past, I submit to you my first trip to El Oriente, Ecuador’s wild west. Or rather, wild east. And while the western deserts and mountains of the United States are tamer than ever, the jungles that make up a bulging third of Ecuador’s territory to the east of the Sierra are still, to a great extent, salvaje. And, since I made my way there back in February, during the peak of Carnaval celebrations, it was a lot more wild that I’d wager it is on a regular basis.
Tena is the nearest jungle municipality from Quito, Ecuador’s capitol city and a major tourist destination. It’s proximity to both civilization and wild jungle makes Tena a town geared to tourism as well, and thus, one of the more attractive of the established communities we visited on our tour. Tena, on the other hand, is one of the farthest towns from Cuenca, where I teach and live. By the route we took, we found ourselves bussing about 14 hours to make our way there, stopping in a couple of other jungle towns on our way. Those two, Macas and Puyo, were worth exploring in their own right, more for the excursions deeper into the jungle that you can arrange from town than the communities themselves.
To do a jungle trip right, you ought to have at least a week to get deep into the undisturbed rain forest, for the simple reason that, being undisturbed, there’s no roads in and you’ve got to do some walking. This time around, we had five days free, and so contented ourselves to explore the settlements carved out of the jungle as we did in the jungle itself. We weren’t disappointed.
By the time we crawled out of our bus in Tena, it was already late afternoon. So with our packs weighing heavily on shoulders bent out of shape by the bus ride, we walked downhill from the bus terminal to the town center and our beds for the night. Along the way, being Carnaval, we got very, very wet.