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Not all who wander are lost

7am. We sit in the canoe waiting to leave camp like grizzled army vets about to be extracted from the theatre of combat. “Man, the things we’ve fuckin seen here! Life will never been the same,” says Menna, hands trembling as she rolls a cigarette. “We ain’t the same people who came into this jungle […]

Beware the Otter

Today we have left the motoroised canoe behind and we are progressing upriver Indian style, by paddle, at dawn. We are on the trail of the giant Amazon river otter. Diego has a lead. He has heard of a suspected otter nest a few miles upriver. We will approach it by stealth, paddling silently through […]

Night Walk

Humans are not well equipped to deal with the nocturnal environment. This becomes ever more apparent as we grope our way along the jungle path; leaves, creepers, spider webs tickling our faces in the darkness. We inch forwards following the intermittent light of Diego’s torch somewhere up ahead, weaving through tangled silhouettes like a willow […]

The Shaman

Diego played a trick on us yesterday. “Press this root to your forehead,” he told us, handing around something like a small spongy potato, “You will feel a tingle, but then the ancient wisdom of the forest will flow into you.” This morning we all have indelible purple stains on our foreheads yet none of […]

Amazon

When morning breaks we are stiff and grumpy. We have been tossed around on dirt roads all night, jolted over speed bumps, woken by angry motorbikes buzzing past us in the darkness. We’ve passed through roadblocks and forded rivers, squirming all the while, trying to find comfy positions in the back of the bus while […]

A Mental Breakdown. Part III

From: Will Nicholl <willaccio@gmail.com>Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2021 at 01:58Subject: Criminal conduct.To: customerservice@ExxxCar.com.ec; and CEO Caroline Pxxxx <caroline.Pxxxx@ExxxCar.com> Dear Customer Services, We have had the worst experience that is possible with your company. It is bordering on criminal. You have stolen money from us. I’m not sure if ExxxCar Ecuador is genuinely part of ExxxCar […]

A Mental Breakdown. Part II

We pace around the van discussing next steps as the sun sinks in the west. All options seem to involve me trekking off alone into the sunset, either up or down the mountain, for 20km or so. But before I can set off, salvation arrives. And salvation looks like an old and battered pickup truck […]

A Mental Breakdown. Part I

The Quilotoa crater lake is mind-blowing. It glows with a strange blue luminescence as if some nuclear reactor lies hidden beneath that menacingly still surface. Perhaps it hides the subaquatic lair of some supervillain. Perhaps it truly is a bottomless gateway to the underworld, as the locals believe. We trek right down the crater to […]

Wild Water

The river surges around us like angry whipped chocolate. It is muddy, foamy, bubbling, fast. There are grey skies and driving rain above, grey rocks and churning water below. Either side of us the river cliffs loom up into steep forested banks that then fade into mountain mist. We are somewhere on the Rio Pastaza, […]

Ghost Train

We drive up to Alausí to ride the fearsome Devil’s Nose train. El Nariz del Diablo is a hairpin, switchback railroad that winds its way up a vertiginous cliff. The turns, they say, are so extreme that the train must be shunted off into sidings then backed up certain stretches before being refitted to the […]

A Tale of Two Cities

A city visit is like a cardio blast in our otherwise fairly low-impact workout. This week we have two planned. We’ll go in, hit em hard and get out quickly. Maximum activity in a short burst: pounding the streets, circuits of the historic centre, galleries, squares, promenades, fighting beggars, hustling coin, running from the cops, […]

Three is a Magic Number

Three is a magic number. And today we find ourselves surrounded with symbolic trios and trifecta, errors in triplicate. Three pelicans flying against the mountains, three salamander trails skittering through the car park dust, three bags heavy in my hands as a I count slowly to three, absorbing this news for the third time. “Three’s […]

Ave Maria

“Maria!” calls Angel in a high falsetto. “Hola! Maria.” There is the sound of water trickling over leaves, wind in the canopy, far off birdsong. The forest is breathing around us but of Maria there is no sign. Arthur and I shuffle awkwardly but Angel gives us a reassuring smile. “Sometimes she is far away. […]

The Key to Success

The clock is ticking and we are all feeling it. Time is running fast now, the tempo of our trip has picked up. It is only a couple of months until we need to return to the UK, so we have built a fast-paced and ambitious itinerary to maximise our time in Ecuador. But first […]

Cold Mountain

“I learn something every time I climb a mountain,” said Michael Kennedy before he skied into a tree and died. Today we are climbing a mountain and we too are learning something: about preparation and planning, about lackadaisical approaches, about extreme weather. We are learning that mountains are cold places. “I learn something every time […]

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