Misadventures in Misahuilli

This story begins when I was 6 years old and my family made their first trip to Ecuador. At that time, we decided to take a trip with our family friend to Misahuilli (pronounced Missa-Why-hEe), the so-called entrance to the Amazon. That trip led off with a flat tire on the side of the dirt road leading through the jungle to our hotel. We were picked up by some locals heading in the right direction and brought back to the car to fix it the next day by the hotel staff, at which point it had been invaded by an army of biting ants. The car, so you can properly create the image, was a two-door Fiat.

Once the tire had been fixed, our adventure continued on the road to the jungle lodge as we arrived at the Rio Sindy. The Rio Sindy is typically a small, gentle stream that can easily be driven across. However, on this particular day, the tiny stream had turned into a raging river due to the intense downpour of the previous evening. A little local girl came floating down the stream and we played on the river bank. As we sat along the edge of this river debating what to do, hoping the water would calm, a bus came barreling down the road and plunged straight into the river and made it across with little problem. A moment later, a four wheel drive truck came down the road, paused for a moment, and continued through the hip deep water as well.

The apparent success of these vehicles crossing the river emboldened my father to come to the conclusion that we could also make it across the river without mishap. Christian dutifully handed over the keys with a nervous laugh and my mother forbid me to go anywhere near the car. My dad took off with enthusiasm and made it approximately halfway across the river before the car lost traction and the back end was pulled sideways by the current. With white smoke billowing from under the water and the engine revving, everyone held their breath until the tires caught on a good patch of the riverbed and the car lurched over a rock and up onto the bank on the other side of the river. The rest of us waded across the river, me on the back of the local girl, cheering and ready to continue the journey.

We reached the lodge and stayed for a few days. It was during this time that I was in the bathroom while my mom was in the shower and she all of a sudden started screaming.  I jumped off the toilet and my dad came barging into the bathroom. The water heater attached to the shower head had caught fire while she was rinsing her hair. If you’ve never showered with one of these death traps you’re missing out.

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After that, I got bitten by a monkey.

Needless to say, Misahuilli definitely has a history of adventures for my family. Nevertheless, I was excited to return and have a jungle experience, one that I would remember more of. We had planned for three days in Misahuilli and took off early to begin the trip down from Quito. This time we were in a Ford Explorer with four wheel drive, so I was ready to take on what the Rio Sindy had to offer. We made it to Tena without mishap and asked for directions to Misahuilli from there. The directions took us right into the town center where we asked for directions to the lodge. We had decided to return to the same place that I had stayed with my parents and Christian nearly 20 years before.  And this is where our misadventures began.

We drove out of Misahuilli in the direction of the lodge and spent an hour and a half looking for this place. We found the jungle reserve that is supposed to be connected to the lodge and asked about the hotel. They directed us up the road. We asked probably 8 others along the way and got sent up and down the same road for the next 45 minutes before someone finally told us the lodge had closed because the airport had just opened. At some point along the way we crossed the Rio Sindy (I have been kicking myself for not taking a picture of it ever since) which now has a lovely little bridge as well as a paved road before and after.

We drove back to Misahuilli to find a new hotel. A tourism man in the town center took us to a place to look. It was fine but we decided to drive out to Suchipakari because our friends had recommended it to us. They had tours run from there. The sign in town said 11km to the lodge. We started driving and followed the signs out to a dirt road.

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45 minutes later the dirt road ended at a river and a shack. No Suchipakari in sight. We turned around and tried the one turnoff road where there had been no sign. A woman there said to go back to the end of the road we had tried before, park, and walk through the jungle. At that point we didn’t care where we stayed as long as we could get out of the car. We drove back to the end of the road and got out to make a ten minute traipse down a path through the jungle.

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Eventually we came to a bridge and a cement staircase. At the top we found Suchipakari. We could have cheered at the sight. The man there gave us a room in a rustic cabin with green mosquito netting on the windows and a pungent smell suggesting that nothing ever dried in the muggy climate.

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There was also no electricity. We asked and were told it would be on later so we just used our flashlights assuming it would come back on at some point. It never did come back on the whole time we were there. We had dinner by candlelight along with the six other guests and decided that in the morning we would look for somewhere else to stay as we were too far from town to do anything but the lodge’s tours and we weren’t particularly interested in the option for the next day.

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I ended up getting sick in the middle of the night at which point we decided that we were definitely leaving the next day. We had to ask for a refund as the owner had requested both nights of the room to be paid up front. He was quite nice about it, but charged us $12 each for dinner. It apparently wasn’t included despite the fact that there was nowhere else to go to eat. We had read online that meals were included, but I guess only in their package deals.

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We left there planning to go to Amazoonico. On the way back down the dirt road a giant rock pile had appeared over night in front of a small stream we had crossed the day before. We had to 4 wheel drive over the pile through small space where they were building a rock wall. The picture doesn’t even begin to do justice to the situation. The pile on the left that you can barely see was actually about four feet across and three feet high.

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When we finally got back into town, the tour people told us it was an $80 tour from there to Amazoonico or a 45 minute drive on our own. We gave up on that, not wanting to have a repeat of yesterday’s experience of driving aimlessly around the jungle. We headed back to Tena and stopped for breakfast (because the breakfast the hotel fed us was not appetizing, though apparently included).

At that point we asked about traffic because we were considering a return to Baños as we had enjoyed our time there, but we knew the next day was Election Day. Ecuador’s policy on elections is interesting. Every Ecuadorian is required to vote. They are given a card once they vote and this card is required for all future interactions with the government, getting a driver’s license, enrolling your children in school, registering a vehicle, and a building permit are just a few examples. The woman at the bakery said traffic would be terrible so we headed straight back to Quito.

Because there was no electricity at the hotel while we were there, we were not able to charge our phones, which we had been using for GPS to get around. We stopped to buy a map at a gas station for when they phones inevitably died, but they didn’t sell them. The attendant said that if we followed the highway the whole way we would eventually end up in Quito. Thank goodness she was right.

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We stopped at a zoo on the way back and got followed around by a monkey not in a cage. Roland held onto his glasses, afraid that the stories he heard about thieving monkeys would end with him and without glasses. At that point, I was just waiting to get bitten again.  After two near death experiences on the road, one of a bus passing a tractor trailer truck on a curve in the clouds so you couldn’t see more than a hundred feet in front of you, and another similar incident, we were very glad to see Quito and its predictable bad traffic. We have decided that we should probably just give up Misahuilli as a loss because it never really works out for us.

Staying Busy

One of the things that I really wanted to do when I started this blog was slow down and enjoy life. I have been going nonstop for years and I’m exhausted. What I’ve found through this process is that I’m totally incapable of slowing down. In the past six weeks, I have been away for the weekend literally every other weekend. The weekends I have been home have been filled with events locally as well as trying to accomplish all of my household goals.

I was initially very frustrated in the beginning of March as I looked ahead to the next three months and our calendars were literally filled with activities, events, and obligations. Two weddings, a tux fitting for Roland, a trip to Boston to see my family and the Boston Marathon, a grandmother visiting from out of state, a friend’s going away party, then a day packing their house to move, Run or Dye, a week long training in Connecticut, and the list just goes on… and on and on. This is exactly what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be running all the time, busy, and foisting my poor dog off on people every few weeks when she couldn’t make the trip with us.

I stopped one day in the midst of it all as I once again scoured the calendar for some way to reduce the chaos in our busy schedule. Looking at the calendar, I realized that there was nothing on it that I didn’t want to do. This revelation that Roland and I had chosen all of these activities and cared enough about them to plan for them months in advance completely altered my perspective on the situation.  These were not just events and obligations, these were people.  This was not just dots filling our schedule, this was time with the people who make up our lives.

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I’ve always been busy and I probably always will be, but instead of continuing to grumble and attempting to paddle against the tide, I will choose to be happy in the midst of it all.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday.”          – Henri Nouwen

This is one of my favorite quotes. I have it posted in my office and show it to people all the time.  One of these days I will truly learn to live it, but until then I will continue to strive for it. I don’t want to put my head down and push through.  I want to enjoy life.  So, halfway through the month of April, I look forward to the coming weeks and months of continued busyness and constantly chaotic schedules.  I will not be stressed about it. It is a blessing.

Happy Wednesday All!  I hope you are choosing joy in your lives today.

Visiting the Equator… Twice

Thirteen countries across the globe cross the equator.  If you couldn’t tell from their name, Ecuador is incredibly proud of the fact that it is one of them.  So proud in fact, that they built a monument, a museum, craft markets, and restaurants to celebrate and promote the tourism around the equator.

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There was only one problem with this beautiful monument to La Mitad del Mundo… They built it in the wrong place. Whoops. Construction of the 100 foot tall monument took three years and was completed in 1982. The equator village has grown exponentially since that time.  It is not clear how exactly the equator line was calculated to be in the wrong place, but in their defense, they are only off by a 240 meters.

In an effort to correct the mistake, a much smaller and less impressive monument has been built on the correct location. Take a GPS to the spot, you will find yourself standing on Latitude         0˚ 0’ 0”.  The monument is a sun dial. It is simple and unassuming, with a nice view of the countryside.

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There are some informative signs about the history of the place and the effort to build on the line.  The history of monuments along the equator line and how they have been moved around over time is actually quite interesting.  You can read more about it here.

The fun part for me was that we obviously had to take pictures twice.

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The original monument is definitely worth a visit, in my opinion, despite its inaccuracy.  It has a definite wow factor and the feel of standing in two hemispheres simultaneously.

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Inside the monument there is a fabulous museum on the subcultures of each different region across Ecuador. It was the best breakdown of the history and culture of the country that we saw while we were there.  An elevator takes you to the top of the monument where there is a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and valleys.  From there, you work your way down through the floors and the exhibits on Ecuadorian culture.

People seem to be strongly settled in one court or the other.  They believe you should visit either the accurate monument or the classic monument.  I personally don’t sway one way or the other. For me, I enjoyed both monuments for different reasons and I was glad that we had time to make both trips.

The Baths in Baños

We can say we did it. That is about all that Roland and I got out of our visit to Las Piscinas de La Virgen, the natural hot springs in Baños. We made a valiant effort to like it. We really thought it would be fun. But it wasn’t.

Roland and I arrived at the Las Piscinas for the evening session. We waited in line for a few minutes behind families of locals and groups of young tourists, purchased our tickets, and headed in looking forward to a relaxing visit.  The baths sit in the shadow of the Volcan Tungurahua, the source of the thermal water and the view includes some pretty little waterfalls and a statue of the virgin.

As we walked toward the changing area, there was a sign saying you must shower, with soap, before entering the pools. The next sign said a shower cap was required. The guidebook had mentioned neither of these required items, but luckily there is a little shop for the uninformed to purchase both.

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After purchasing the necessary items, I walked over to the shower and was immediately greeted by several bare-breasted women. I suppose I should add at this point that the shower is co-ed and easily viewed from the pool deck.  These women were unphased by any of that information, so I entered to rinse off.  As I looked around began to appreciate the fact that even though these women were not entirely dressed for the occasion, they were in fact washing with soap. I wish the same could be said for the groups of crunchy backpackers who, although properly attired by American standards for public baths, were making only a cursory dip in the shower, if at all, before continuing on to the pool.

Our friends had prepared us for the water to be yellow.  However, between the junk floating around in the water, the smell of sulfur mixed with sweat, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers, we were tense. Not quite the relaxing healthy experience we were hoping for. The clean locals joined the smelly tourists in the tightly packed mid temperature bath. We sat in the murky water through which I was neither able to see my legs nor even my belly button.  I was waiting for something to eat my toes while Roland was expecting a fungus to begin growing on his skin.

After about 7 minutes in the pool, we agreed it was time to go. We walked out of there and never looked back. That was one South American experience I can say I feel no need to repeat.