Sticky from humidity and surrounded by school kids playing internet video games before dinner time, Alex and I Google somewhat frantically. We are in Tena, Ecuador and are looking for a way to get further into the Amazon rainforest without paying $200 a night at a place that offers welcome juice and tours with more tourists than we generally care to be around. It seems nearly impossible to find an authentic, budget option. But we know there has to be something out there! I see one on the map we´ve picked up from the tourism office: Nanambiiki. It appeals to us because it doesn´t include the word lodge, and it´s in some tiny, seemingly unknown river town that isn´t known for its lodges. We find their website, and we like it because it doesn´t look fancy and it´s easy to find their prices. A couple phone calls later and we´ve arranged our visit and decided to stay 3 or 4 nights out in the jungle.
First we headed out of Tena to the Jumondy Caverns for a short caving tour.
The next day we got on a bus bound for the river communities and, after some confusion as to where to let us off, our bus boy and fellow passengers dropped us at unmarked junction that they were pretty sure about. At the bus stop we were greeted by a young French girl, cigarette in her mosquito-bitten hand. This is Melanie, a smiley 22-year old tourism student who is running the daily operations at at Cabañas Nanambiiki for 3 months.
A 15 minute walk from the road and we found ourselves at Nanambiiki, a small property with an outdoor eating area and a few dirty local kids watching the TV, a couple rustic wood cabañas, and the Rio Napa just a few steps away.
Looking back, after 4 days here, it was clear that we made a great decision on where to spend our money and our time in the jungle. We were the only guests at Nanambiiki, and we felt like we got a really personal and authentic experience, and were especially pleased that it was reasonably priced. If you´re looking for something a bit more rustic in the Ecuadorian jungle, I can´t recommend Cabañas Nanambiiki highly enough!
That afternoon the 3 of us roasted in the sun and sweat in the humidity as Melanie showed us the little town of Campococha. That night we made chocolate with her. The cocoa beans we used were grown on the Nanambiiki property, and had already been dried in the sun. The next step was to cook them on the stove until we could easily remove the peels. We then removed the peels and cooked them again. Then it was time to grind them by hand a few times. When the beans were ground to powder we added powdered sugar and put it all through the grinder again to mix it and make it more creamy. Then, we swirled the plate of chocolate around the tabletop like a frisbee until everything was evenly mixed. Finally we wrapped it up in foil, just like good ole store bought chocolate!
Next up in our jungle stay was an all-day motor canoe trip around the Rio Napo. The first stop was a museum, where Melanie acted as our tour guide and showed us a plethora of Kichwa hunting traps and handicrafts.
Next stop on the Rio Napo was Amazonica, an animal rescue center that was started by an Ecuadorian-Swiss couple twenty years ago. The center is run by a handful of volunteers that circulate through, and they take in animals that were previously house pets, injured by hunters, etc. My favorite was a pair of outcast monkies that none of the monkey groups at the shelter would accept because they were ´slow and wierd,´as our guide put it. So, they live together and get along quite nicely. 🙂 We also got a good look at some Ocelot cats.
Finally, we visited another river town and sat down with a woman there to make pottery as she explained to us the process of pottery making that the indigenous people here have used for hundreds of years.
The next day was the start of our super jungle adventure 🙂 Under wonderfully overcast skies we left the cabañas with two local guides, Hernesto and Enrique, for two days of hiking and a night of camping in the jungle. The guides led us on the community trails that wound around and up and down the nearby hills. The thickness of the jungle and the amount of plant life was astounding to us, and felt impossible to capture in a photo. Everything seemed interwoven with everything else, creating a tangle of green all over the hills.
Back at the cabañas, our final activity with Melanie was to pan for gold in the Rio Napo. With a large wooden bowl, she showed us how it was done, and then pointed out to us a few specks of gold dust left in the bowl! Alex gave it a go, but I was feeling super nauseated- maybe from the breakfast larvae?…who knows…- so sat this one out.