Tena, Ecuador: Floating Donuts – by Connor

We’ve spent two days on the river in the Amazon rainforest! Today started out with us heading downstream on a motorized canoe on the Napo River. After plenty of time had passed, we pulled up to a rocky sandbar and jumped out of the boat.

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The tubes had been traveling with us on the roof of our boat so we pulled them down and plopped them into the river. In no time the sun heated up the black inner tubes so they were too hot to touch and we had to dunk them in the water before flopping into them.

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I found it even more relaxing to flip over and ride the tube on my stomach. The rapids were only class 1&2, unlike yesterday’s enormous waves but they were still fast enough to keep the tubes moving quickly and even make you wet at times.

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At the beginning of our trip downstream there were loads of waves as the river turned a corner. I was about ten feet away from this when I rolled onto my back and enjoyed the bumpy ride! The waves got to about 2 feet in height, which kept things exciting!

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We traveled downstream for about 1/2 an hour. The motorized canoe stayed close to keep an eye on us and take pictures. Finally, the boat pulled up to shore and they told us it was time to head in. Caleb arrived first and they pulled him and his tube out of the water. The rest of us followed, except for my dad, who was on the other side of the river and continued on downstream, missing the boat altogether! In the end, we had to speed down the river with the boat to catch him but he eventually made it in safely as well.

I found tubing even more enjoyable than rafting. I like being able to have a bit of control of myself and my speed, which I have with the tube. I also enjoyed the slightly calmer waters, which were still lots of fun.

Amazon, Ecuador: Day Tour – by Caleb

We went on a day tour through part of the amazon rainforest and learned all about the wildlife and about the culture of the Kichwa people. The itinerary of our day tour went like this: visit the Kichwa people and learn about their culture, take a flat bottomed boat down the river to an island made of rocks, tube down the river, lunch, visit Amazoonico (I’ll tell you about that later), take the flat bottomed boat back to shore, drive back to our hostel.

Watching a Kichwa woman pan for gold – this is done regularly as a source of income

Making pottery – another source of income.

The making of “chicha” – a local drink/meal.

Trying the blowgun.

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 I’m going to tell you about Amazoonico.  Amizoomico is a wildlife rescue centre take takes care of wild animals that need help before being released back into the wild. Amaizoonico is located in the amazon rainforest right on the edge of the Napo river (the river we tubed on). It is not accessible by cars, only by people that have to walk on a designated path through the jungle, or by boat. Once we arrived, we walked up a long flight of dirt stairs up to the main office where we started our tour.

Our guide through the rescue centre was a student that just finished high school and was supposed to be on a school trip in Amsterdam, but instead she volunteered to work at Amazoonico.

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We went through a windy path past cages full of exotic birds, and enclosures home to some unique animals. We saw toucans, macaws, parrots, pigs, anacondas, caimans, ocelots, and a few other weird animals. Our guide explained to us how these animals got injured, and why they needed to be looked after. Many birds and the ocelots were house pets, so they lost the ability to hunt and so if they were released into the wild, they would die. Other birds were traded around, so they had their wings smashed so they wouldn’t fly away. Some monkeys were orphans, and many other animals came with injuries that were created by something unknown. This was certainly a fun and amazing learning experience!

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Amazon Region, Ecuador: White Waves – by Connor

How many of you have gone white water rafting? Well I have only gone once, and here I am in a car waiting to get on this little island of paradise called a raft. I haven’t had much experience; the biggest waves I’ve been on (in Costa Rica) were only level two+ and that still made me crouch on the floor of the raft. But this is my second time and the average wave is supposed to be three plus! The guide said that there were even some level four rapids. We have arrived and we are going through the safety procedures.

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There are nine commands that we have to follow. Like, “left back” which means that the left side of the boat paddles backwards and the right paddles forwards. For “right back” it is the same procedure except reversed. After all of us are on the boat we practice the commands.

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After practicing for a few minutes, our guide Alex hopped over all of us and then untied the rope holding the raft in place and hopped back in beside me in the back. We hurried down the river and followed his commands exactly as we were told.

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Daddy got to jump out so we could practise rescuing him!

The first set of rapids came and I heard him yell, “Paddle! Paddle hard!” Before I knew it I was on my bum on the floor of the raft! A giant wave splashed over me, drenching all of us as we headed down the river.

For the next hour I continued to find myself on the floor of the raft again and again. The water felt like ice as it crashed over me. We spotted a small sandy area and our guide yelled again, “Paddle forward”.  We glided onto the smooth sand and were able to hop out of the boat and take a break for lunch.

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After the lunch, we climbed aboard, setting out into the rapids once more. At one point the guide told us we were entering our last set of rapids. He asked if anyone wanted to do “the cowboy”. This is where you sit perched on the front of the raft, hold onto the safety line and swing one hand in the air, hollering “yeehaw!” as you ride the waves. Caleb chose to give this a go. At the end of the rapids, we met one giant wave that started to curl. Caleb held on as we headed head-first into this wave. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and crouched onto the ground. When I opened them again I was surprised to see Caleb sprawled out in front of me! Thankfully, he was not hurt and we arrived safely to our destination, without flipping.

Overall, if you’re new to rafting, it was a lot fun but you might want to try the smaller level 2 rapids first.

Amazon Region, Ecuador: Roaring Rapids – by Caleb

Today we went white water rafting on one of the many rivers in Ecuador, close to the Amazon Rainforest. I’ve gone rafting before, with friends on a school trip, and in Costa Rica with family, but this was something completely different. These rapids were 3+ on the water rapid scale, meaning these rapids sometimes got pretty extreme and the boat at points almost rolled over. We went with another family of three, and a guide resulting in there being eight of us in the raft.

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The whole ride was really fun, but there were three points throughout the experience I remember specifically because I almost flipped out of the boat or just had the best time. My first favourite memory is close to the beginning. We went through a rapid that was about a number three, but at the end of the rapid was a HUGE wave. I was at the front of the raft, so I felt the impact the most alongside the lady sitting across from me at the front of the boat. The wave shot the nose of the boat upward with such speed but then quickly drove the raft back down onto the surface of the water. Well, when the raft suddenly plummeted back down to planet earth, I was catapulted into the air, so the nose of the raft went down, but I’m still going up! Finally I went back down and landed on the side of the raft a bit further back from where I was sitting before I was flung into the air, but that defiantly put a smile on my face for the rest of the trip. 

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The second memory was a massive rapid that was class four, and I understand why too. Our guide was yelling, “PADDLE PADDLE!” while we were heading through these massive waves and then our raft passed over a huge wave, dropped down the other side of the wave, then went head first into an even bigger wave on the other side. Again, I was at the front of the raft and the impact was so hard, I flew back into my dad and he had to hold onto my life jacket so I didn’t fall out of the boat. That certainly was a great memory. 

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Finally, the third and favourite of the top three. Our guide let one of us do something called, the cowboy, through the last rapid. The cowboy is where you sit strait on the nose of the boat, let your legs dangle over the edge of the boat, you hold the safety cord with your left hand in the centre of your legs, and then you can put your right hand into the air and make a cheering noise. I volunteered. After I got into the position the others in the boat started to paddle into the final rapid of the trip. It wasn’t a grand finale, just a small, class three rapid. After bobbing up and down over the waves, we went strait into a massive wave that was just curling. The water hit me so hard in the chest that I lost my grip on the safety cord, and went flying into the boat. After the wave had passed, the guide started to laugh at me because I was sprawled out on the floor of the boat, with my legs hanging over the side of the raft. That was the best experience rafting today. 

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Overall, this was the best river rafting I have ever done. The company we went with was called Aqua X-treme and our guide was called Alex. This was something I loved a lot and is something I would certainly do again. 

Archidona, Ecuador: Demanding Monkey – by Caleb

I’ll make this blog short and sweet. When staying at Orchid Paradise in the amazon jungle, monkeys seemed to come and go throughout the dining area and outside the kitchen. We thought the staff fed the monkeys bananas because we kept seeing monkeys eating banana slices. We also saw one of the staff members giving a big fat monkey a banana. My dad got a picture of the monkey coming and sitting outside the kitchen waiting for its banana. But when it didn’t get it in a few seconds, it started to get demanding. 

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Where’s my food?

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Hmph!!

Quito, Ecuador: Grateful for Friends – by Barb

Clay and I taught internationally for a number of years and thanks to social media, such as Facebook, I’ve been able to stay in touch with some of our friends from the various schools we worked at. Trae and Clay became good friends when we worked in Venezuela and they formed a band (along with another teacher) and performed in nightclubs around Caracas. We hadn’t seen Trae and his wife in 12 years, nor had we met their children, but when I got in touch with them, they invited us to stay at their home in Quito.

We were so excited to meet up with them but also a little apprehensive. What if we didn’t have anything to talk about? What if our kids didn’t get along? What if….?

But the moment we arrived at their home, we knew this visit would be one of the highlights of our entire trip. You know those friends you meet up with and you just pick up as though you’d seen them yesterday? That’s how it was! We sat up late chatting and our boys hit it off immediately with their two boys. We shared stories, swapped advice, and just thoroughly enjoyed each others’ company.

 

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The boys “bonding” over a video game!

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The Hollands – We miss you already!

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Our last morning together.

It was another one of those moments when I realized just how truly blessed we are. No matter how many places you visit or things you see, it will be friends and family that bring you the greatest blessings and that was clearly evident with our visit to Quito. Thank you Trae and Eva for welcoming us into your home! We can’t wait to see you again.

Cusco, Peru: A Little Under the Weather in Cusco – by Barb

We have been incredibly fortunate on our trip. (Knock on wood! We still have two weeks to go!) I had expected we would suffer from illness several times, but aside from Caleb and I getting 24 hour flu in China (way back in August) and each of us having a couple of days of upset stomach, we have remained healthy.

As Caleb mentioned in his blog, I had researched our trip to Machu Picchu and knew that many people struggle with altitude sickness in Cusco, so we drove straight to the Sacred Valley to try to avoid this. For whatever reason though, we all still suffered from headaches and shortness of breath in Urubamba. We had planned a mountain biking trip. We booked the bikes. But the morning of the trip we had to call and cancel because we did not feel well. I mean, we were not vomiting, but just had headaches and no energy. It was a laze around and do nothing feeling. So that’s what we did. By the time we caught the train to Agua Calientes (at the base of Machu Picchu) we started to feel better. But then Caleb got food poisoning and Connor spiked a high fever and got a soar throat. We were down for the count again.

We were grateful that we decided to go without a guide to Machu Picchu because Connor couldn’t walk more than 20 feet without having to sit down to rest. He still needed medicine to ward off the fever. Caleb wasn’t able to eat anything because he’d been up all night vomiting, so he was lacking energy as well. But fortunately the beauty of Machu Picchu did not disappoint and we all still enjoyed it as best we could – at our own pace.

Upon returning to Cusco we hoped we were all on the mend. Caleb started to feel better but I caught Connor’s cold and felt horrid and Connor was still incredibly lethargic. Luck was on our side, however, as I had (for once) booked a nice hotel in Cusco. It even had TV with a couple of English channels so we lazed around for another couple of days. The hotel sat high on a hill overlooking the city so when we ventured out for something to eat we had to climb down about 500 steps into town and of course, hike back up to get back “home”. That was about all that we could manage! We did laundry, got the boys haircuts and visited the market. But our plans for biking, ziplining, and hiking around Cusco will have to wait for another visit.

 

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The walk down to the town!

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Little girl at the market.

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At the market.

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The boys with their purchases.

Goodbye Cusco! You have a lot to offer and hopefully we’ll be in better condition to enjoy it next time we visit.