Last night was my last with the colonel. I found myself at dinner with 2 army colonels and a hotelier--needless to say all 50 yr old men. I couldn´t scratch my way out of the situation so I ordered a steak and some wine and held tight.
Inevitably, the colonel wanted to talk about women in the military (to show how progressive he was). The only problem was their getting pregnant (not allowed, I guess)--so he cleverly remedied it by interviewing all female cadets every month. ¨Are you pregnant?¨ (No, he didn´t ask me).
They proceeded to talk excitedly about tourism projects--which ranged from fitting a plane salvaged from a crash in the river for acquatic tours to putting a gondola over the country´s highest waterfall because the access isn´t very good. Shortly, I assume Ecuador will have very few visitors, except for those who couldn´t get reservations in Vegas.
The colonel had gotten on my shit list for his canoe arrangements--the public canoe to the border (14 hrs one way) didn´t want to make stops for me to see the jungle lodges, which was absolutely necessary. Not even his fame could change this (and I was somewhat relieved, as 11 adults and 2 babies were traveling with us, it would have been awkward to sequester them to my 10 hr mission). He was known to comment thoughout ¨they don´t recognize me¨ or after meeting someone, ¨did you see? He recognized me...) Apparently he is a war hero from the conflict with Peru five years ago. As a result we boated all the way to the Peruvian border, stayed the night in grim conditions and took the 5 am ferry back upriver, not wanting to wait for the army helicopter lift the following day as it would be cancelled if the weather crapped out and then we really would have been stuck.
Nueva Rocafuerte, the border town, is an Amazonian outpost with roads but no cars. There are 2 foot weeds coming through the cracks in the street. Drinking is the main sport and when the sun set a guy who does jungle tours set up a grill on the sidewalk next to the river and brought the large color tv outside for some fine entertainment. At least he fed us--there´s no restaurant (or, there are but you have to request a meal hours in advance, so they can kill it I suppose). And then he told us about his expeditions, one aspect of which is hallucinating off the juices from the stem of a big tropical flower called floriponeo. I must admit, if I had to live in Nueva Rocafuerte, I´d look into hallucinogenic options.
At least before that I did get to stay at a few amazing lodges. These places are luxury in the jungle. You canoe up in a small twisty blackwater river filled with lillypads and morpho butterflies (blue giants the size of my hand) and there´s monkeys and toucans and caiman, and, of course, buffets.
Now I can see the end of the tunnel--three major jungle cities (towns) left, 20 hrs of road, then I am treating myself to a flight back to the capital!