When Andrés (Norbi) was young, going to Tena was a day’s adventure. Tena is one of the entry cities to go into the Amazon rainforest. Thanks to Ecuador’s newly-improved road system, that day’s journey is now a smooth 3-hour car ride! Before leaving Quito’s Andean province of Pichincha, you ascend into the paramo, and then wind your way down through the “cloud forests” (bosque nublado) into the tropical landscape of the Napo province until you reach Tena.
You can be in Quito for a meeting in the A.M. and have lunch in the rainforest! I find that pretty awesome.
Our main motivation for heading to Tena for a weekend was to learn more about Guayusa. Andrés’ sister, a Master student in Food Science in Vienna, is writing her thesis on the functional properties of this amazing leaf. Tena prides itself as “the home of Guayusa” (a.k.a. wayusa).
You may have heard about this tea if you are a regular at Whole Foods and have drunk a Runa product. They source their tea leaves from the Tena area. We got to take a tour of their facilities, after having participated in a “morning Guayusa ritual” (not to be confused with “ayahuasca“, a very different Amazonian leaf…). A tour partner picked us up at 4:30 A.M. and in the pitch dark we headed into the rainforest on foot, eventually reaching a small indigenous community where some of the locals (and a shaman) shared their (2-3 hour) morning ritual with us as the sun was rising. Then they gave us an introduction into the plethora of medicinal and nutritional plants that grow in their chakras (read all about this traditional and sustainable agroforestry system).
After the tour we had some local food including Maito de Talapia (tilapia cooked in a huge Bijao leaf ). Andrés opted for a little appetizer of Chontakuro. I took a pass on that one. I’ve had some insects before, but I wasn’t in the mood that day….
While in the area, we also had a chance to visit a Guayusa monoculture plantation, which belongs to the Huasquilla Lodge . The family that owns both of these is absolutely lovely. After getting a tour and picking our own Guayusa (to send to Andrés’ sister for her thesis), life gave us some fresh lemons and we of course made some fresh lemonade, while we waited for the rain to pass.
We headed back to where we were staying in Tena ( Pakay, a beautiful hostel with little private lodges), took a nap, and headed out to what was surprisingly a very fun night out in Tena! We were pleasantly surprised to find that one can party until the break of dawn, starting at the Guayusa Lounge (which had a distinctly Berlin feel) and seeing where the night takes you! Who would’ve thought?!
The next day we slept in late and mosied our way back to Quito, stopping at the beautiful (and quite hidden) Hollín waterfall. We’re already looking forward to our next trip back to the rainforest, whenever that may be!