Travelblog SA#8: Tena – Ecuador

6th-8th August 2018

Having left Merazonia, which had been my home for almost six weeks, it felt strange to be back on the road again. I was no longer a volunteer but, once more, a backpacker. The transition was somewhat diluted because on the day I left some of the other volunteers were heading to Puyo to run some errands, so I was given a free lift to the bus station, where I said my farewells and climbed onto a bus to Tena.


Tena was a bit of a strange experience for me. Not at all what I had been expecting. My original reason for venturing there was because I believed I had a space on an ayahuasca retreat nearby but, shortly after my arrival, I found out that it had fallen through due to a rather scatty shaman’s miscommunication, and they no longer had space for me. I was disappointed, but maybe it happened for a reason and that centre just wasn’t meant for me. Taking part in a ceremony is on my bucket list of things I want to do by the end of this journey. I had already decided I didn’t want to do one in Iquitos – the place in Peru, which is most famous for it – as I did some research (as well as watching The Last Shaman, a documentary I highly recommend) and it seems that the ayahuasca industry there has become very touristy and inevitably been corrupted by greed, so I now have my sights set upon a centre in Bolivia.

Despite this upheaval to my plans, I made the most of my time in Tena. Travel guides speak of the Parque Amazónico – an island within the river, which is home to a series of local plants and animal enclosures – but I guess they haven’t kept up with their research, because I arrived to find the place abandoned and, from the look of things, for quite some time.


But I actually thought of this as a nice surprise. I love scenes like this. It simultaneously conjures feelings of melancholy and awe to witness the tenacity of nature, and know that nothing is permanent. Eventually, everything withers and is replaced.


I also saw one of the most beautiful trees I have ever glimpsed. A ceibo, which are known as the ‘grandparents of the Amazon’ not only for the colossal size but also because as they grow they become hosts to all kinds of flora and fauna, and each one is a mini-ecosystem in itself.


I also saw lots of birds. But they were all either too fast or far away to get a decent picture of them. I did, however, get some half-decent snaps of squirrel monkeys.


On my last day in Tena, I went on a day trips to AmaZOOnico as I thought it would be interesting to see a larger centre with a slightly different approach to the one I volunteered at. AmaZOOnico holds two licences, as both a refuge and a zoo, so it accepts visitors.

Unfortunately, when I arrived it was pouring down with rain, so I didn’t get to see too many of the animals, and the ones I did see I don’t have photos of. This was of no fault to AmaZOOnico, of course. I was quite impressed with the place. Being both a zoo and a rehabilitation centre can be a recipe for a conflict of interest, but they seem to tread the balance well. The animals which still have a chance of being released are kept away from the public.


I rather enjoyed the journey to AmaZOOnico too; catching a rickety local bus which skirted along the Napo river, past some Amazonian villages, followed by a short boat passage where I got talking to a pair of men and surprised myself with how much Spanish I knew.


Later that afternoon, I gathered my things and caught a bus to Baños, feeling a little wistful as I went past Mera. I bumped into some of the friends I made at Merazonia when I arrived at Baños (they were on their day off) and we caught up for a while just before I hopped onto another bus; this time, an overnight one destined for Cuenca.


For more photos from Tena, click here.

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