“You did what in the Amazon?” my mother asked, her eyebrows sky-high as we regaled my parents with tales of our honeymoon.
In a spur-of-the-moment decision, we had chosen Ecuador as our honeymoon destination. The country hadn’t even crossed our minds until I stumbled upon an irresistible trip through Travelzoo, a travel deal watch list I subscribe to. The trip was an eight-day guided tour of the central part of Ecuador via Gate 1 Travel. I reviewed the trip itinerary, proposed the idea to my fiancé, and we booked the trip the next day.
To start the trip, we flew from Denver to Miami, where we spent the first night of our honeymoon sleeping on the airport floor. It was not the ideal way to start a vacation, let alone a honeymoon, but I must confess we planned it that way. Our flight arrived late in the evening in Miami, and our next flight left at 6:00am. We agreed to save a bit of money and camp out in the terminal. We did not anticipate, however, that we would arrive too late in the evening to get through security to sleep at our gate. Our dreams of airport chairs without armrests vanished, and we made do with the cold, hard linoleum floor just outside the ticketing counter.
The next morning, we boarded the plane as two very tired and somewhat cranky newlyweds. After a brief layover in Bogota, Columbia, we finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city.
The city sits high up in the monolithic Andes, a mountain range dotted with active volcanoes and filled with the rich history of the Incan Empire. We went on a city tour to explore the Plaza de la Independencia, the historic main square, and Compania de Jesus, a gilded Jesuit church, to learn a bit about the Spanish Conquistadores who conquered the Incan people in the 1500s. We also took a trip to the Middle of the World to straddle the Equator, placing one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere.
Next, we headed to Otavalo, a small lakeside town with a famous handicrafts market where we purchased several alpaca wool blankets. The third day of our trip, the tour took us through the Cloud Forest to Papallacta, an intimate resort built over a natural hot spring and nestled high in the Andes. We relaxed in the thermal pools and got a couple’s massage, finally participating in what seemed like a typical honeymoon activity.
The highlight of the trip was our stay in Casa del Suizo, an eco-lodge on a private rainforest reserve deep in the Amazon. The only way to access the lodge was by boat via the Napo River, a tributary to the Amazon River. The lodge was surrounded by jungle so dense that a person would easily lose all sense of direction within ten feet of entering the underbrush.
Our tour guide went above and beyond and got us the luxury suite since it was our honeymoon. This deluxe room turned out to be a private cabin at the very edge of the hotel complex, complete with mosquito nets, vaulted ceilings, and screens for windows. We even had our own veranda with a hammock overlooking the river. It sure beat sleeping on the floor of Miami International Airport.
By now we were convinced that Ecuador was a hidden gem in South America. It’s geographic diversity and the rich culture of its people, both modern and indigenous, were incomparable to anything we had experienced before. To put it simply, Ecuador had it all.
That evening, the rainforest lived up to its name, and the sky unleashed a deluge. We fell asleep listening to the sounds of the jungle compete with the rain.
The next morning, we took a boat upriver and participated in a guided walk through the rainforest. From the moment we got off the boat, the earth’s abundance and diversity were inescapable. I had never before experienced an environment where every inch of space was occupied. Plants grew on top of each other and trees grew extra roots to shift their position in the jungle, all to compete for precious sunlight. Insects and birds zoomed through the air unconcerned with our presence. Enormous termite nests hung along the path. A small brown tree frog watched as we passed by. Monkeys skittered through the canopy above.
We, as human beings, were superfluous in the Amazon. That much was clear.
Our rainforest tour concluded with a raft trip back down the river on traditional balsa wood rafts which were constructed by loosely strapping several logs together with rope.
We climbed aboard the raft with a couple of our tour mates, sat down on the logs, and drifted out into the current. Our combined weight forced the rudimentary raft to sink about six inches below the water, which meant that our legs and hips went underwater as well. It was a rafting experience unlike any I had had before. It felt more like rafting through the river than on the river.
Five minutes into the float, we heard a shout and watched one of our tour mates jump into the river, declaring that he would swim back to the hotel. Everyone looked at the gentleman like he was crazy. The river was in fact a tributary to the Amazon!
Our guide, however, seemed unconcerned. She explained that the rain the previous evening had caused the river to rise about ten feet, meaning there was little chance of getting stuck on something underwater. She also said that most of the deadly river predators preferred still or slow-moving water and were not likely to be swimming in this rushing torrent.
That was all Aaron needed to hear. He took off his shoes, handed me his hat and dove in. I watched in disbelief, plagued with horrific thoughts of piranhas, giant anacondas, and unknown Amazonian river beasts. Aaron, on the other hand, was frolicking like he was in a swimming pool, hollering to the wild with a joyful smile on his face.
The river’s current started to pull Aaron faster than the slow-moving balsa raft. In dramatic fashion, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to lose my husband. If we die in the Amazon, so be it.”
So, I jumped in too.
Pushing all thoughts of piranhas from my mind, I swam to catch up to Aaron. As we floated down the river, we held hands and grinned like fools. This was what a honeymoon was meant to be! A memorable life-or-death adventure taken together!
The river was indeed moving tremendously fast, and within ten minutes we were swimming for the beach in front of the lodge. The rest of the tour group finally caught up to us at the lodge, all exclaiming their disbelief at our bravery.
When we later recounted this story to my parents, they also struggled to believe we went swimming in the Amazon: “You did what in the Amazon?!”
It was an unforgettable honeymoon indeed!
Our takeaway from the Amazon: Sometimes you just have to go for it!
-Annie, Your Friend at Orange Backpack Travel