Carnaval in the Jungle!

By Anne D, USA, March 2011

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Carnaval in Ecuador…what to do, what to do?! Wild parties at the beaches, fiestas in the mountains…or THE JUNGLE! Yes. Fair warning from the get go: if you are in Ecuador over Carnaval weekend, you are guaranteed to get wet. It’s tradition here to mojar passers-by with water-balloons, squirt guns, buckets, hoses… you name it. You have to embrace it and play along, or it will be a long, soggy weekend.

My best friend was visiting for 10 days so we wanted to do something that would allow us to take part in Carnaval activities, and also make the most of her time in Ecuador. We decided on the jungle because it provided the perfect opportunity for both.  From Quito, we caught a bus south to Tena, and from Tena we caught a taxi to the (normally) sleepy town of Misahuallí. Our lodge was about 25 minutes by taxi-truck from town (suchipakari.com, locally owned and operated). Upon arrival we grabbed a quick lunch before heading down to the river, conveniently named the Misahuallí River, a tributary to the Amazon. Having traveled all day we spent a lazy day by the river sipping on some cold Pilsner—wonderful on a hot, jungle afternoon.

From the lodge we had a choice of activities, but we decided to head out with a guide on a hike to a lookout point. The trail was through lush jungle, and throughout the walk the guide would stop and point out various plants, flowers and animals and explain how the local indigenous population, Kichwa, would use them. We stopped to make crowns from a local palm—this was a personal highlight for me because I really liked the idea of having one for the afternoon celebrations (more on the party in a minute). At the lookout point the guide painted our faces using the sap of a nearby tree (again, also perfect for the upcoming party). On the way back we walked up a creek bed (the rubber boots were really handy for this). It was amazing seeing the different levels of the jungle along the way, with the sun peaking through the canopy.

After lunch we headed into town, ready with our crowns and face paint. The ride there is worth noting, as it was a favorite for both my friend and me. Because the roads are rough, trucks are the vehicles of choice in this part of the jungle. Since most people don’t have cars, it’s common to flag a truck down on the side of the road and catch a ride in the truck bed. My friend and I landed front-positions in the truck bed. It was like being on the front seat of a roller-coaster through the jungle.

Upon arrival in Misahuallí we were immediately initiated into the festivities. Before we could get off the truck, we were showered from both sides of the road with buckets of water. From that point, there was really no going back to dry, so we decided to embrace it! We paid the $3 to enter into the festival going on alongside the river. The first thing we noticed were the monkeys swinging high up in the trees (does it get any more jungle than that!?).

Closer to the entrance there were food stands and games, and at the other end, about 100 meters down, was a stage with ongoing Ecuadorian musical acts. We quickly bought foam canisters because we realized that we’d need them in defense of Ecuadorian children running around spraying everyone in sight. If we walked too close to the river, as we learned the hard-way, we were sprayed by happy partiers using the river to refuel their homemade squirt guns. Caught up in the jovial atmosphere, and already soaked to the bone, we found ourselves in the river along with the others. At another point I found myself holding someone’s pet boa—maybe that’s a bit cliché for a jungle party, but I couldn’t resist.

After several fun hours of festivities, we were happy to return to our mellow hammocks back at the lodge. That evening at the lodge the hosts prepared chocolate from scratch, from the cocoa trees on the property-- a great finish to a great day. The following day we had the option of taking a canoe tour to local villages to see the traditional way of life in the area, and an animal reserve.

On our way back to Quito, about halfway, we got off the bus to spend the night at Papallacta, volcanic thermal baths. The thermal baths are beautifully placed in the middle of mountains, with great views of the volcano Antisana on a clear day. If you can time your trip to Papallacta, try and aim for a weekday when the 25 pools are less crowded and you can really relax.

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