I've endured a gruelling 24-hour bus trip to the remote 'village' of Morona, deep in the southern Ecuadorean Oriente, which turns out to be a couple of wooden shacks standing self-consciously by the riverbank. To make matters worse, the driver then informs me that this bus isn't returning to Cuenca for a week. Step forward Pedro, head of a local Shuar family that are about to take a canoe upriver to their finca, or farmstead. They're keen to have me as a guest for a few days in exchange for me paying the cost of the canoe trip.
Two hours later we pull into the side of the river and disembark. After an hour's hike through the dense undergrowth we reach a clearing, in the centre of which stands a simple circular wooden structure with a thatch roof. After a dinner of fish soup and boiled bananas, I turn in for the night and lie in my sleeping bag listening to the rain and the sounds of Pedro and his brother-in-law, Wilson, sharpening their machetes.
Next morning – after breakfast of fish soup and boiled bananas – we set off in heavy rain, Pedro and Wilson carrying ancient flintlock rifles, bow and arrows and a fishing line. After a two-hour slog through knee-deep mud we come to a clearing where a dugout canoe is moored at the side of a large lake.
As we paddle our way across the lake, Wilson points to a caiman in the water; "Quick! Shoot!" I grab my camera. "No, with this!" he rebukes, handing me his rifle. But by the time I've worked out how to fire it, the caiman has disappeared. Wilson snatches his rifle back and glares at me.
A few rain-soaked days later, suffering from mud overload and becoming ever more fearful that I might outstay my welcome, we agree that I should leave.
Back in Morona I feel like I've arrived in a bustling metropolis. And I only have to wait two more days for a return bus.
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