On my first trip into Ecuador’s rainforest, I wasn’t fixated on details. I focused on the big picture – jungle, flora, fauna – not thinking much of the lack of hot water or availability of drinking water, what we would eat, how I would handle daily activities or fitting into a group of strangers.
The reality was extremes – I survived being soaking wet every day, endless mosquito bites, sore muscles and wearing clothing repeatedly – more than I want to admit. But, I was surrounded by a fascinating group of travellers, who like me were engaged to learn about the lives of our host family as much as about ourselves. We became a family.
Every day my senses were engaged – from the first moment waking up and listening for the gentle fall of the early morning rain and sipping rainforest-inspired tea with breakfast to my pre-bedtime stroll up a jasmine-scented path, before feeling the brush of the mosquito net as I tucked myself into my bed, straining to spot stars in the night sky.
From the moment of stepping off the truck to walk into the camp, the lushness of the rainforest surrounded me. During hikes around our rainforest home, whether it was heading uphill through creeks and waterfalls or to the edge of a raging river to be greeted by a toucan or around the camp seeing daily life unfold, my eyes were filled with natural beauty, each a welcome addition to my brain’s permanent photo album of the rainforest surroundings.
I forced myself to bathe in the creek temperature shower to prevent any untoward stink from myself, and I detected no stench from my fellow travellers. Every day I took a deep breath when I awoke, inhaling the air that was scented with the intrinsic freshness of the rainforest and was happily shown to stop and smell the tropical flowers of the jungle.
Daytime sounds were a melange of voices speaking Spanish and English, the clucks of the chickens as they wandered looking for insects to eat and the occasional bark of the camp dog. At night, the laughter of camaraderie, impromptu karaoke of pop songs and the constant hum of unseen creatures was my nightly lullaby.
From eating a worm that tasted more like roasted fat than bacon or sipping the bittersweet taste of local beer, my favourite palate pleaser was when we were shown how to roast cacao, grind it and then cook it with spices, milk and sugar, transforming from its former citrus flavour to the sweet richness of chocolate.
While hiking to learn about the rainforest’s healing plants, I would always let my fingertips glide along their leaves – trying to learn their secrets. My favourite memory was getting a hug from a local little boy, a recent addition to our host’s family who then became part of our family.
Hiking waterfalls, playing tag with kids, exchanging stories by candle light, standing on the back of a truck as it headed along dirt roads, boating the Napo River and surviving the rain – to me, this was my sixth sense awakened, thanks to the Local Living program.