Sunday, June 01, 2008


Downtown Tena.

Napo River near Tena.

My capybara friends. Capybara's are the world's largest rodents, about the size of a hedgehog or beaver.

In December of 2003, I suddenly got the notion to go to south or central America- I wanted to see the jungle.

Just before I was suppose to go, I came down with a horrible flu. I continued to busy myself with preparations, which made the illness worse. I made it through the remnants of a recent snowstorm to the a daze,I boarded.
The plane went to Houston, for a layover. That night, I heard the news that US troops had captured Saddam Hussein.I felt like I was dying.The next day I was on my way to Ecuador.

The flight went well, but my sickness got worse. And worse. I dragged myself off the plane at the Quito airport...I was surrounded by a sea of curious brown faces. I could barely stand, or even see. It was late- almost midnight. Luckily, at the exit I instantly got a ride from a nice man who gave tours to foreigners,his manner was almost 'Americanized'... he spoke perfect English.
Finally I reached my hostel. Up inside I went... the room was quite modest, without any TV. I collapsed on the bed, about as sick as I had ever been in my life. For three and a half days, I lay there, virtually motionless, except for the once a day walk to get a sandwich...This was a serious illness, a bad flu made much worse by my frantic activities getting ready for the trip- all my friends tried to dissuade me from the journey. I wanted a doctor, but knew that was out of the question.

On the fifth day, I felt better.

I was in Quito- right on the equator, yet so high up that the temperatures were bearable. This was December, and it was a comfortable 67 degrees. Ecuadorans are mainly mestizo-a mix of Indians and white Spanish. On the north west coast are blacks. A lot of the people-about 40%- are pure Indian.There is a small minority of pure white Latin Spanish, and they control the country- they won't even allow Indians to be seen on TV commercials.

Quito has a lot of people living in stucco -adobe looking two room dwellings terraced on hillsides. Some parts of the city are kinda modern, yet most of the city is older and somewhat dilapidated.

I took a cab to catch a bus- the cab fares were cheap- about a buck to go seven miles (Ecuador used American money for its currency back then...I don't know if they still do or not). My cabbie got on the main highway and outran a bus, he actually made the bus pull over into the dirt, just so I could get on. Amazing.The bus was packed, I barely found anywhere to sit.Part of the trip I had to stand. Every ten or-fifteen miles the bus would let off a few passengers, and take on new riders. Every time this happened, two or three musicians/beggars would board, and sing or tell a story or something, and then pass the hat, then get off at the next stop.

We hit a military-police checkpoint. All the males had to get off the bus- except the geezers and infants-there was an inspection of papers and person. The army captain automatically excluded me from this inconvenience.

Gradually, the bus entered the jungle zone. The change in vegetation was striking-we went from barren rock to lush forest, in about four hours.
I got to my destination- a place called Tena.

Tena is a wild place- on the edge of Amazonia, a small town,full of very beautiful young women and very bad food. There were no paved roads- just a few rows of shacks. I trudged up and down a dirt road about five blocks, lugging my bag and my recuperating self. Then I saw it- almost like a miniature palace- a very nice looking modern villa...up the stairs I strode, onto a porch (I noticed the steps were carved for much smaller humans.The tiling must have been quite expensive too)...A door was open- I stepped across the threshold, into a living room or den- a big screen TV was on, there was air conditioning. Everything was brightly lit and sunny. Suddenly, a Caucasian man with a slight beard came from around the corner. In English, with a German accent, he spoke. "Mr David -------------? Glad you made it.You are only a few hours late. Welcome to Tena." A Indian woman emerged from a hallway, and gave me some liquid refreshment- ice was in the cup "these people are very wealthy" I thought. In Spanish, she asked me what I wanted for dinner...

(to be continued)


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