October 07, 2008
Cuyabeno, Ecuador (Amazon Rainforest)

It's been quite the ordeal to get here. Two days ago, I ran my first international marathon in Guayaquil; the very next morning I boarded a 10 hour bus to Quito, then an 8 hour bus to Lago Agrio to start my five day trip in the Amazon Jungle. I woke up at around 2:30am during the overnight journey to realize the bus was stopped on the side of the road and had been sitting there for quite a while. I learned that the bus broke down and driver decided he was going to just sit on the side of the road until 8am when the next bus came along. As people started to wake up, realizing we were no longer moving the commotion started. I began asking around in my broken Spanish hoping to find other people traveling to the Amazon: a woman behind me from Spain (with exceptional English), Ana took me under to wing and had me stick with her and her friends . The rioting passengers got the driver to figure out the issue – we broke down three more times before finally arriving at our destination.

A van was waiting to pick us up and drove us another two hours to the village of Cuyabeno.  There, we got on a motor-canoe for another two hours that brought us down the narrow, windy Cuyabeno River to our campsite.  When we arrived I discovered that I wasn't actually assigned to a group, that the English speaking group actually started the next day;  Ana suggested I stay with her and her friends and that if I were ever confused she could translate. Being that I have had about six years of education in the Spanish language, I figured it would be a good learning experience to put my rusty knowledge to use, for once.

The lodge is also home to a domesticated six-month old monkey named Pancha who lives here because a group of tourists tried to smuggle her out of the jungle to be their pet. Now, she hangs around clinging to a new friend by perching on their shoulder with her paws in their hair, tail wrapped around their neck. A mischevious little lady, she also loves stealing food from the dinner table.  One night she decided to try and steal my food; one of the guides went to grab her and instead of fleeing, she wrapped around my arm, clinging for dear life.  He tried pulling her off of me and upon doing so, she started screaming loudly like a four year old girl for a solid minute. Everyone at the camp was staring at this ridiculous sight while I just sat there with a man and a monkey playing tug of war with my arm......

October 12, 2008
Cuyabeno, Ecuador (Amazon Rainforest) 

The Spaniards left this morning, allowing me to spend my final day in the Amazon free from a tour group. I spent the day paddling around the river with a personal guide searching for wildlife and fishing for piranhas. Being that the extent of my knowledge of these fish comes from kitschy horror movies, I was, understandably, a bit nervous (especially judging from the state of the canoe - can they eat through this thing? That's just Hollywood elaboration, right? RIGHT?). The strategy is quite simple. I was given a thin tree branch, similar to one you might use to roast marshmallows, with a string tied to the tip, and a hook on the end. I'm given a quarter-sized piece of raw meat for the hook. Instead of waiting patiently and quietly for a bite like lake fishing, the strategy is quite different. To attract a piranha stick the tip of the "pole" into the water and thrash it around aggressively to mimic struggling prey. After trying a few different spots I finally caught one. My fear subsided when I pulled it out of the water; grey with a bright orange belly it resembled the Sunfish I'd catch every summer in Minnesota. Except the teeth. Stay away from those things or you'll lose a finger. I thought it was best to let my guide unhook it to set it free.