For the past year, I’ve been taking Spanish classes online. The people in your class change from day to day, so typically, the teachers start by having everyone briefly introduce themselves. Where are you from? Where do you live? Why are you learning Spanish?
Consequently, one of the first phrases I learned was “Vivo en Tena, Ecuador. Es una ciudad pequeña rodeada de la selva!” Or, “I live in Tena, Ecuador. It’s a small city surrounded by the jungle.
This might seem silly, but it’s a fact that I often forget on a day-to-day basis since most days I am in the city. However, about an hour away from Tena on the banks of the Napo River is Anaconda Lodge, which quickly reminded me that we actually live in the Amazon basin!
We booked the 3 day/2 night package, which started with a ~20-minute boat ride down the Napo to the lodge, located on Anaconda Island (which doesn’t actually have anacondas, much to Sis’ disappointment). We met Francisco, one of the owners, at Punto Ahuano, quite literally where the road ends, and then off we went!
Day 1: The Chocolate Tour
After settling into our room and having some lunch, we were off to our first activity. A quick boat ride up the river took us to la Isla Cacao Wasi, a small family-run cacao farm.
This is where things got interesting, and not for reasons you may think. Let me start by saying our guide, Fredy, was fantastic. He took us on 3 of our 4 guided adventures and really opened up with us by the end. We were all joking around with each other and having a great time! And he’s super knowledgeable about the area. The catch? He spoke Spanish the entire time!
Now, maybe you’re thinking… why is this special? You’re in Ecuador; of course, he spoke Spanish. Well, Sis and Terry don’t live here and aren’t actively learning Spanish, so, based on our arrangement with the lodge, we expected our tours to be in English. However, in an effort to be friendly and practice a little Spanish himself, Shane struck up a conversation in Spanish with Fredy, and the rest was history!
Shane and I became Spanish-to-English translators! 😳
This was actually quite a confidence boost. We were both a little shocked at how much we easily understood and could relay to Sis and Terry. It was nice to see that our learning efforts were actually paying off!
Anyway, back to the tour.
First, we did a short walk around the property. Fredy explained that many families living near the Napo grow primarily one crop to sell (it was cacao for this family), but they also grow smaller amounts of other things for personal use or secondary income, such as sugar cane, yuca, bananas, and guayusa, which is a regional tree, the leaves of which are used for tea.
Gettin’ some of that sweet sweet sugar cane!
Next up was the important part, the cacao! This tour was similar to the one I took in Mindo, where they explained the entire process, from cacao to chocolate. The difference, however, was that this chocolate was made before our eyes over a small wood fire! Also, we actually participated in roasting, peeling, and grinding the cacao beans, then melting the cacao paste into chocolate. Once you have dried beans, the entire process (at least for our small batch) takes no time!
The best part? We got to eat it (served with guayusa tea)!
And finally, we got to THE most anticipated part of the afternoon… the blow dart! This thing is HARD to use.
First, I have no aim. This is nothing new. Second, despite having my contacts in, I couldn’t even see the stupid dart after shooting it. I was a lost cause. Luckily Sis was equally as bad (no offense, Sis). Shane and Terry both managed to hit the target*, though!
* “I hit the target on the first try, thank you!” –Shane
Day 2: Hiking, Tubing, and Caimans!
We had a packed day of activities planned for our one full day on Anaconda Island. First up was a hike through the primary forest, a short boat ride away with a mirador (viewpoint) of the river and Anaconda Island.
You might not realize it, but the Amazon basin is not flat. I mean sure, it’s flat compared to the Andes mountains to the west of us, but when you’re walking through the woods, you notice the uphill! Not to mention, it’s hot and humid in the rainforest, which means we were all sweating through our shirts after about 20 minutes… and through our faceprint, for Sis and me.
Ecuador has a large indigenous community, including the Kichwa people, which is an umbrella term for those who speak Kichwa (sometimes spelled Quichua), which evolved from Quechua spoken in other places like Peru. Quechua, as we learned on this trip, was spoken by the Incas, and the language was created to unify the various tribes under Incan rule.
Eventually, the Spaniards arrived in Ecuador and made their way east to cities on the edge of the Amazon, enslaving the indigenous people. Those who escaped fled to the banks of the Napo river and other areas of the Amazon basin and established the Kichwa communities we know today.
Oh, and a little geography lesson: the Napo River feeds into THE Amazon River in Peru, which eventually makes its way to Brazil. So, this river is a big deal.
All of this to say, some of the Amazonian Kichwa paint their faces for various occasions with achiote seed pods, which make a beautiful natural red/orange paint!
We didn’t see any crazy animals on our hike, but Fredy did point out various trees and their uses, for example, the tree used to make the blow gun and the Chonta palm tree, where chontacuro (the grub I made Sis try) live. We also saw a dead tarantula (RIP) and leaf cutter ants and TASTED these tiny little ants that live inside a specific type of tree. They tasted like lemon. It was wild!
Oh, and any guesses on the best natural bug repellant?
Break off a chunk of their nest, let them crawl on you, then quickly rub them up and down your arms (smooshing them in the process). Surprisingly, it doesn’t smell bad… a bit musky, but not bad. And, indeed, we repelled bugs! Just gotta get over that creepy crawly first bit…
We were hot and ready to relax after the hike. So, a lazy-river tube down the Arajuno river, on the other side of the island, was next on the agenda.
Our phones were in the boat for this one, so there were no pictures. Except, remember how Sis and I had our faces painted? Well, in case you were wondering, sunscreen took it right off. I completely forgot about the face paint and turned myself into an Oompa Loompa. Yay for natural products! 😂
After lunch, our next activity was a walk to the Caiman Lagoon on Anaconda Island with Francisco, one of the owners. There are two types of Caiman in this protected lagoon. Which kinds, you ask? I’ll have to refer you to Francisco for that because I don’t remember.
What I do remember is how beautiful this lagoon was and how cool it was just to hang out and watch them lingering in the water!
Our final walk of the day was after dinner at night. In the dark, the forest is completely different. I’m sure there were many creatures we didn’t notice, but what was abundantly clear were the swaths of ants that emerged! Small ants, medium-sized ants, BULLET ANTS. Yep, the ones with one of the most painful stings. And there was a legitimate 500 meter (at least!) ant highway, which we named Ant Avenue (obviously, cause You gotta walk on through the Ant Avenue!… please tell me you sang that).
And that about sums up our time at Anaconda Lodge! I would be remiss to not mentioned is how delicious the food was and how Francisco and his wife and co-owner, Silvia, work closely with the community to provide support and protect the land. Both of these really made the our experience there feel extra-special.
So, if you’re looking for a little taste of the jungle, I highly recommend spending a few days at Anaconda Lodge!