Thunder echoed through the jungle as a heavy rain fell upon the black Amazonian waters that surrounded our small fishing boat. Our bodies hunched over, we covered ourselves with large pieces of wrinkled tarp as we waited for the rain to subside. I peered out from underneath with wild fascination, listening to the symphony of the rainforest all around us.
I was halfway through a 10-day journey through Ecuador with one of my best friends, Saem. We were both layered in exotic bug bites, sweat and sticky bug spray. I had never felt so alive.
“Do you want to meet the Jungle Prince?” Saem enthusiastically asked me one month before our trip. Saem grew up in the bustling metropolis of Quito and the “Jungle Prince” she was referring to was Felipe, an old high school friend who grew up in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Felipe’s father was the Chief of the Cofán people, an indigenous group native to the area. It required a day’s journey from Quito by bus, plane, car, and boat, but when we arrived we were welcomed by the warmest of hosts. It felt surreal to have reached a world that seemed so utterly foreign and yet so comfortable.
We stayed in a large two-story wood hut that Felipe’s father had built for their family. Two hammocks made of rope hung from wall to wall in their living room, and there we found Felipe’s two-year old son, Nigel, playing contentedly with a three-wheeled toy truck. Their bungalow was the only home in the whole village that had an electric generator, so kids would crowd inside each night to watch TV. I loved the sense of “togetherness” we experienced there. The way Filipe and his wife treated us and their neighbors made us feel like we were all family. I especially enjoyed the simple and raw moments of sharing meals together and laughing on the floor after several intense rounds of card games.
One morning, several members of the community arrived at our doorstep at dawn to take us on a day-long fishing trip. Machete in hand, our guide cut down fallen branches that blocked our path and navigated us through a series of smaller streams that trickled out like veins throughout the jungle. Giant blue butterflies fluttered by, trees shook as monkeys swung from branch to branch, and birds with the most exotic feathers watched us from the treetops above. I felt like I had stepped into a National Geographic photograph. When the rain came, I only felt the natural beauty enhanced.
Coming face to the face with the magnificence of the jungle and the ability to hear its resounding heartbeat nourished my soul. It’s easy to forget that in a world full of cars, machines, and constant messages that places like this still exist. I think that’s why there’s something enchanting about experiencing the wild places of the earth – there’s a sense of timelessness and unfading beauty that is hard to find anywhere else. Home felt a world away, but there in the depths of the jungle, I was reminded that wildness is a necessity. As John Muir put it, “Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.”