Trip to the Jungle


After 3 months in Quito I was eager to escape its urban din and cross those mountains that looked down upon me every morning. Large cities become very similar no matter what continent you are in and I was getting sick of the walk back and forth to work, the endless lines of buses and incessant cars beeping and roaring around the streets. I had come to Ecuador to climb the Andes, mix with the indigenous tribes, learn from the people and bathe in the warm Amazon River not join the queues and hordes in inner city toil. At last Semana Santa (Holy or Easter week) was my chance to escape.

I had searched the internet for a place that provided cultural breaks and found “The Suchipakari Eco Lodge” which was situated on the edge of the Andes and promised the right mix of relaxation and adventure. It lay about 20 miles south of the town of Tena, a small city that depended on tourism and cinnamon as its main industries. I had to make my own way their but the bus fare would only cost around 10-12 dollars return and I was assured that a local would pick me up from the station when I arrived. So straight after work I headed off to the far edges of Quito and Quitumbe Bus station. By bus it was a good hour to get there so I splashed out for a taxi and zipped my way to the station reaching the busy depot just before 9 o’clock.

Latin America suffers from a stereotypical old fashioned reputation especially the Andean countries where you expect locals to be toiling up hills with donkeys and all the buildings to be tiny adobe walled huts however Quitumbe bus station was more modern than any bus station I had visited in Europe and easy to find your way around. The bus companies each had their own little booth and had their prices, destinations and timetables on view behind attentive and friendly staff. As the biggest holiday week in Latin America the bus station was heaving and people packed out the main hall. Couples were huddled together, kids scrambling about, whole families lying on mattresses and old women were wrapped in thick homemade blankets. Many locals were sipping on coffee in an effort to fight the evening temperature, as when the sun goes down in Ecuador the altitude kicks in and the bitter cold takes hold.

A ticket collector directed me to the proper terminal which already had more waiting passengers than possible for a 50 seated bus. There were a few families in the queue, each with large boxes and overfilled bags. An old woman held a cat in her arms and little boy trailed a wild eyed dog. As I leaned back on a post I heard a quack and looked around to see a couple of bags rumbling at my feet. It was a bag of ducks, alive and being transported along with us humans. I felt sorry for those poor birds tied up in a sack. As usual in Latin America there was a mini battle to get on to the bus and although I had booked a ticket I initially feared that I may not get on. Manners and politeness go straight out the window with the locals, its every man, woman and child for themselves and as soon as the bus driver opened his door the passengers barged, shoved and jostled their way on board. I only managed to get on because I was harder to budge and such a hassle to everyone’s embarkation.

I never find it easy to sleep on buses abroad, there is always the apprehension that someone may rifle your bags or pick your pocket as you snooze also tonight I had the constant meowing of the moggie two rows down and as result the squeaky pine of the overexcited mutt. (Luckily for me the ducks were stowed in the hold below). As it was a night journey the lights were turned off leaving the garish luminous glow like those of low end strip bars to enlighten the bus. I did managed to get sporadic moments of sleep in 10 -15 minute spells but as the journey was a good 6 hours I could hardly say it was restful. I remember waking for the last time after a mini snooze and watching the sun rise over the huge mountains.

The landscape had changed drastically and even within the air cooled bus you could tell the temperature had warmed gathered my gear together while the other passengers began to wake and ready themselves for arrival.  I jumped off at Tena bus station, an old broken down building that hadn’t been cleaned or painted in decades. I did have a phone number to call but there was no answer after several attempts and it quickly became obvious that I would have to make my own way to the lodge. As it was early in the morning there were not many people about so I had to hang about until lazy taxi drivers started to show an interest. I finally managed to secure a lift down to the town of Misahaulli where I was promised I could get a 4×4 deep into the jungle where the Lodge was. I arrived in a small town 30 minutes later which had small monkeys nibbling on scraps on the street and chasing cats. These were the famous Capochin monkeys that stole tourists’ cameras and handbags, disappearing up trees with their bounty. Luckily, a local driver was able to leave immediately so we jumped into his new pickup truck and set off down a dirt track and into the never-ending foliage. Plants with huge leaves dominated the sides of the roads, wild banana trees and long grass and vines encroaching on the road and strangling the manmade structures. The only signs of inhabitants were the wooden shacks that were built on huge stilts to protect the owners from floods and crawly beasts below. The track road was uneven and rough and twisted like a long snake up, down and through the harsh terrain.

I managed to strike a basic conversation with the driver.

“Where are you from?” he asked in Spanish.

“Scotland” I replied.

“Where is that, in America?” he asked.

“No, in the North of Europe. Do you know the film Braveheart?” I asked.

“Ahhh, William Wallassh, with the skirts, ha ha” He replied.

“Yeah, that’s the one” I said.

He was middle aged and fairly overweight with a beer belly that spilled over his belt. He was wearing a yellow, Ecuadorian Barcelona shirt (they are the big football team from Guayaquil on the coast) and we were able to share our love for football, our teams and Lionel Messi. Like many taxi drivers the conversation he was keen to learn about the different types of whisky and the women in my country, fed him some invented information given that I knew little about either. After a further 30 minutes and a sore arse from the billion bumps in the road we reached another shack by a dirty slow river. Again there was no one to meet me or offer assistance. The only signs of life were to two horrible spiders lying in the middle of their vast webs that spanned the shacks rafters. I decided to ignore them ad tell myself they were probably harmless. I paid the driver and I reminded him to pick me up again in two days, he laughed and directed me up a dirt path to the Lodge. I could feel the mosquitoes nip my legs and many varied flies bump off my face as I traipsed up the track. There were a million noises made by a million insects, birds and anonymous jungle beasts all around me, this was their home and I was the intruder. In truth, despite the nervous excitement all I could think of was getting a few hours’ kip and maybe a shower before a pre-planned jungle trek in the afternoon.

I was welcomed by a worker at the entrance who needed a bit of coaxing, by showing my invoice, to let me into a room. My room was basic and completely assembled out of wood from the chairs, table and walls to the roof above. The sheets were clean and draped over two sturdy beds at either ends of the room, there was no TV nor internet but one electric plug to charge your phone or IPod. Thankfully there was a net covering the glassless windows as I knew at the dusk those dammed bugs and mossies would be eager to sneak inside. I dumped my stuff and joined a table where a group of tourists were already tucking into breakfast.

As is often the Lodge didn’t look as plush and luxurious as the internet photographs. It was fairly run down and struggling to strive within the jungle. It was really just a big shed decorated with indigenous paintings and ornaments and was attractive in a basic sort of way. It was surrounded by thatched roofed cabanas which were linked by narrow footpaths and shaded by grand palm trees. There was an old swimming pool out front which was full of dank water and green algae with some type of beetles skating on the surface. Large butterflies glided from tree to bush and wasps and dragonflies buzzed in and around the many exotic flowers. At the bottom of the garden were couple of raised platforms where you could lie in hammocks and gaze down the valley. The main reception was also a bar with a beer fridge and spirit bottles on shelves, there didn’t seem to be any computers but a large TV sat above the bar showing some early morning soap opera. In the main dining area there was an old pool table and 5 wooden tables and chairs and some furniture made from tree trunks. There were no windows leaving the whole place open to the jungle but a large corrugated tin roof protected everything from the afternoon downpours.

The other guests were already finishing their breakfast so horsed down my meal of exotic fruits, local delicacies and homemade coffee. I was just beginning to relax when a guide came to my table.

“We leave in 15 minutes, for Jungle trek” he said smiling.

I strained a smirk of faux enthusiasm but it betrayed my utter devastation at the news.

The Palco experience

Yesterday I paid ten extra dollars to watch the Quito derby from the “Palco” section of the Atahaulpa. The reason was two fold: the ability to sit undercover and so avoid the 5-8 pm daily downpour and also to experience the “behind the bench” fans.

Typically, it didn’t rain a drop so my $10 was wasted in the first respect (on Sunday I saved my money but third degree burns to my knees, arms and face) but the fan entertainment was hilarious and strangely familiar.

The Palco section is usually half-filled with various club officials,tracksuit suited staff, players wives and businessmen but the real characters are the old Waldorf and Stadler like pundits eager to offer advice and abuse with gusto.

In front of me were a group of silver haired darlings either giggling at their own jokes or roaring expletives at their players.

Now my Spanish is by no means fluent but even a beginner could decipher and understand the general “craic” and this was because the behaviour and language (but in Espanol) is exactly the same as in Scotland. 

The last game I a went to in Scotland before leaving was St Johnstone vs Rangers in the McDiarmid Stadium, Perth. Thinking the game would be a sell-out I bought my tickets 3 days before so not to be disappointed. As a result I got tickets for the main stand, just behind the dug-outs, right among the local heroes. 

For 90 minutes I had to listen to a selection of bawling donkeys, droning on to the Saints manager, Steve Lomas and because of  the proximity of fans to dugout these aged experts were clearly in Lomas’s earshot. In the end Lomas actually responded, only encouraging the muppets. It wouldn’t of been too bad if the various shouts were witty or funny but it was just noise. Like a farmer shouting at his cows.

It was similar in the Atahaulpa last night but two things were different:

Firstly, as the dug-outs are separated by an “Olympic running track, long jump pit and 10 metres of concrete from the fans unless you have the roar of a lion the managers will never hear you. As result any pleas or offers of advice are totally futile.  Dog barking at the moon.

Second, the abuse leveled at the players or management is much stronger and un-pc than back home. The cries of “Chuta Madre, Puta, hija de la chingada” etc(and not to mention the “negrito” chant) would get you arrested back home but in Ecuadorian games it’s quite the norm.

Because the Palco area is mixed part of the stadium their was choice banter exchanged between the fans, sometimes only rows apart. Surprisingly neither side took the bait nor rose to the occasion. Several times the old geezers openly berated and mocked much younger fans behind them.

Maybe alike Scotland the younger fans accepted their seniors were merely old, loud mouths quite entitled to their opinions and not worth the hassle.

Much the same opinion I have of the old bawlers back home. 


New stadium plans in Quito



The Estadio Olimipico Atahaulpa has seen better days and more than deserving of a lick of paint and a general spruce up. If its character you want then Ecuador’s national stadium has it in spades but if its comfort and safety then your better to head to the Casa Blanca, home of Liga de Quito.

I have only been in the Atahaulpa once when it has been full, and i mean full to bursting point. Usually it’s league inhabitants: Deportivo Quito, El Nacional and Universidad Catolica barely attract a 3rd of the stadium.

In July’s World Cup qualifier versus Colombia there was not a free seat in the house. Thousands more than the official capacity of 40,948 were rammed into the crumbling old amphitheater and with hundreds of people sitting on the stairwells and down the aisles it was dangerous in the extreme. Also with a deep pit below and between the fans and pitch it was not hard to imagine the possibility of disaster.

That being said the atmosphere was amazing even when purchasing a beer or visiting the toilet entailed a slalom course of hell. It was probably as close as you can get to 1980’s British match experience. The likes of which we will never see or feel again.

The stadium was opened in 1951 and it’s hard to believe it has changed much in the years since. It is a big  concrete block of a structure which looks like the home of a Soviet Bloc team or nation. Unless you pay extra for the covered Palcos area you will be left open to the weather, its beating sun or sometimes torrential rain and similarly the Palcos/Tribuna are is the only place with seats.

The proposed breakdown of seating in the Atahaulpa stadium.

When you are paying only $6-7 dollars for a normal match-day ticket a seat could be viewed as a luxury but at $25 for the international matches it is the least you could expect. With this in mind the Ecuadorian Football Federation has decided to seat the whole of the stadium at the cost of $17 million.

The refurbishment will decrease the overall capacity but as the security at capacity games seems to be lax in the extreme it will likely not make a difference.

However as the Ecuadorian Football federation invest in their national stadium they also face the possibility of losing two of their main tenants. Both El Nacional and Deportivo Quito have released plans for their new stadiums and while these have been protracted ambitions it seems they have real pretensions to fly from the national nest.

plans for Deportivo Quito’s new stadium


While Deportivo Quito’s  plans have been on going for a a few years El Nacional have taken the next step and rewarded the construction contract to a Mexican company. Both teams however will be hoping a change of venue will inspire their teams into an unprecedented era of success alike their city neighbours Liga de Quito who went on to win the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana post flit.

El Nacional’s new stadium plans.