We looked at our room with the awe of a child looking up at a treehouse and learning it was his.
Because in a way, it was like a treehouse. A very simple but beautiful wooden room that even had a new bathroom. Two and a half hours into the jungle, with no wifi, no t.v., and only the sounds of insects at night to put us to sleep (And also Gaston’s snoring – i.e. no one… drinks like Gaston!). The struggles and amount of time it took us to get there made it even more special.
After a long 12 hour bus ride and a brief sleep at Hotel D’Mario, we were picked up by the Jamu Lodge for another two hour bus ride and a quick stop for lunch where we started to get acquainted with our group as well as Pedro, our guide for the next few days. Our group consisted of 13 people whom we came to know and love.Three solo travelers – Stefan, Adam, and Asaf – and an Ecuadorian/American family – brothers, sisters, and cousins and two cuties that were 9 and 12 – Lucy and Ben. They had amazing attitudes – ones which capture many of the things I strive to be, but don’t always succeed.
Then we began our river journey. We cruised lazily down the river, stopping occasionally to listen for monkeys or for Pedro to point out different birds and even a sloth or two, hidden among the dense forest.
Three hours later, we pulled up to a sign that read Jamu Lodge. The canoe slowly chugged through a tunnel of dangling tree branches to dock along a rickety bridge where we disembarked and walked to the open aired lodge. A big dining room with a hammock loft was surrounded by the treehouse as well as other cabins, suspended on planks to keep them above the water.
After receiving a welcome juice, Pedro instructed us to put on our bathing suits so we could head to the lake and watch the sunset. With the motor in full force, we zoomed through the winding river, everyone quiet, absorbing their new surroundings. Just as the sky was turning golden yellow, we arrived to a big, flat lake. Pedro stopped the boat right in the middle and turned off the engine. It was calm and still – that is until Ben cannonballed off the edge of the boat into the crisp water.
“You guys have to get in! This is AWESOME!” he proclaimed to the rest of the group. And one by one, the rest of us jumped off the edge into the chilly lake. We swam, took pictures, and tried to absorb every second as the sun sank down over the jungle trees and the lake began to feel colder and colder. After flopping back onto the boat, we slowly cruised back to Jamu, where everyone put on warm, dry clothes and met in the dining room for dinner.
The 13 of us plus Pedro gathered around the table that was beautifully set for a lovely warm dinner. Candles flickered and lit up everyones faces, as we were otherwise enclosed by the darkness of the jungle. We all took turns asking about each others lives, as well as everyones’ travels in Ecuador. Ben was again very enthusiastic and his dad, Juan, told us that he had been looking at pictures and counting down the days until their trip to the Amazon.
“The pictures were pretty cool, but in real life it’s just SO MUCH BETTER,” Ben said, making Daniel and I chuckle. His enthusiasm for this trip as well as life in general was contagious. He made it seem so simple and you could tell how much he was enjoying every second of the experience.
Ben and Lucy stories continued to be some of our favorite parts of our days at Jamu. We trekked through the jungle, visited a small village and learned how to make yucca bread, and went on plenty of boat rides, where we got to see monkeys, snakes, birds, caymans, and even some pink river dolphins. On one particular cruise, Daniel and I were sitting behind Ben and Lucy and I said to Daniel, “Ah, I really don’t want to fall in!” as the canoe rocked unsteadily in the water.
Lucy turned around, overhearing our conversation and exclaimed, “But if we fell in the river, at least it would be a good story!”
This again made us laugh, but also reminded me how their attitudes were so impressive for their ages. True, not so great things may happen, but the way you think about them or react to them is the only thing you have control over. Their spirits made the trip even more special.
On the third night, we headed to the lake for one more swim. The evening was chilly and a little cloudy, and we were going on a nighttime hike after the swim. Daniel and I both didn’t want to get jump in the lake and be cold as we hiked. But it was the last night. After a little indecision, I jumped off the side of the boat, and swam towards Lucy who was splashing around by her dad.
“Is Daniel coming?” she eagerly asked.
“No, he doesn’t want to be cold,” I told her.
“But it’s the last time! He has to get in!” she exclaimed, in disbelief that anyone would choose to stay in the boat when they had the option of floating around in the lake.
“You’re right Lucy. Let’s go get him in,” I said. And she swam right up to the boat and with the cutest puppy dog eyes, convinced Daniel that he needed to get in the water because it was the last chance he had to swim in the Amazon. Reluctantly at first, he started to pull off his warm clothes, and then with a little more enthusiasm, jumped in and started to swim after Lucy, who was delighted to have another friend in the water.
On Sunday morning, we packed up our backpacks and had one last breakfast before hopping in the canoe to start our journey back to Quito. After only four days, we were sad to say goodbye to our new friends and our camp-like schedule of doing activities and eating meals together, but also very thankful for such a magical experience. The place was simply amazing, but it was also the people we shared it with that made it even better.
While we were in the Amazon, Ben and Lucy reminded us to not only look at our treehouse with childlike awe, but at everything in life.