Ecuador Part 1: Packing list & arriving in the Amazon!
It’s been a few weeks since I was in Ecuador, but it is still tugging at me, in the sweetest, best possible way. So: it’s time to sit down, write it out, and share PART 1: prepping to go to the Amazon.
I hadn’t been out of Canada for a few years, since buying a house kiiiind of puts a damper on travel plans. It’s a decision I made, to choose house over travel, but after a little while I started to get the itch! I used to camp with my family every year growing up, so it was unusual to be so static. It’s not that they were luxury trips – just the road, the trailer, and much cheaper gas than nowadays.
So, here I am with a travel itch, and I knew I’d need to find some creative ways to get that scratched. Out of the blue, I was asked if I’d like to leave for Ecuador in 2 weeks to do some travel photography. The opportunity almost literally fell out of the sky as I was working through solutions in my head. Naturally, I said yes almost before they could finish the sentence.
Two weeks (and lots of logistics later), I was on a plane to the Amazon Rainforest. I won’t lie; I didn’t know what to fully expect. I had chatted with all my colleagues who had travelled there before, and I was warned:
“It’s going to be unbearably humid!”
“There are SO many bugs, and they’ll even crawl into your shoes!”
“The rubber boots you use on jungle walks and in the community can be weirdly sized and awkward!”
But all that considered, the biggest thing everyone said was,
“It was one of my favourite places to visit. We made such genuine connections with the community, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
So off I was, with a ton of Silica Gel packs that I grabbed from Amazon (the website, not the Jungle…HA!) stuffed into Ziploc bags for each day – including a waterproof camera gear case. It was a bit excessive, I thought. (turns out it was the smartest piece of advice anyone had ever given me).
We landed in Quito, slept, and took a small flight to Coca where we stepped out of our vehicle to a series of behemoth concrete steps that descended to the milky-coloured Napo River. It was pulsing way more quickly than I’d imagined a massive river could. It moved like it was young, its expanse looked ancient.
We stepped into our fiberglass canoe, and were off! For a 2-hour ride into the heart of the Amazon to the lodge. It cut through the waves with little sharp thuds. We hadn’t adjusted to the heat yet – Quito is such high elevation that it’s chilly enough to be Canada, and when we landed in the Amazon we were met with a sun on our skin with the intensity of a burner next to our faces. On the canoe, our guide Mauricio laughed and said the wind assaulting your face while riding the canoe was “the air conditioning of the Amazon.”
I LOVE hearing those kind of phrases. Like in Alaska, when a local called sunshine “cloud failure.” It really gives you the quickest look into how a community perceives and interacts with the earth around them.
Anyway, I don’t want to bore you all! I want to share some of the best things about Ecuador, invite you to ask questions about them, and share a bit about what I packed!
My clothing packing list consisted of:
EVERY DAY’S OUTFIT being packed into an individual Ziploc bag. This isn’t very low-waste of me, but going into the Amazon required some darn good humidity-proofing, and I can use them for dirty clothing bags when travelling again. The air alone will make your clothes wet!
- SILICA GEL PACKS (don’t go without them!)
- 1 airport/Quito outfit (tee & jeans for travel there & back)
- A pair of jogger-type pants for each day
- A long-sleeved, loose shirt for each day (I stand by very thin, crisp cotton or chambray button-ups)
- Underwear & a sports bra for each day
- Pyjama pants & tee (with a fan at night, it was cool enough for very light pants)
- 1 pair of sandals for around the lodge
- Sun hat (wide brim, foldable straw hat. This was necessary – you’ll want it!)
- Bandana (a lifesaver once your hair hits the humidity and sweat.)
- 1 pair of ethical, sustainable rubber boots from Alice + Whittles
So, the boots. I remembered seeing photos of people on Amazon adventures wearing huge yellow rubber boots, and thinking – if they fit so awkwardly and it’s hard to walk in them, why don’t I just bring my own? I know. It’s not exactly minimalist packing. But I was there to do photography – and I mean running after people snapping away all day – so I needed flexible, versatile, easy-to-run-in boots.
I kid you not – as I was thinking that very thought, I got an email from Alice + Whittles asking if I wanted to partner up. It was like they knew the adventure I was about to go on! I’d never heard about them before.
Alice + Whittles was started by Sofi and Nick, who met working with the United Nations Refugee Agency in Tunisia and are both passionate about improving human rights in productive, sustainable ways. They use 100% natural fair-trade rubber from farms that are FSC-certified and audited by the Fair Rubber Association. Beyond that, the boots are even hand-made ethically.
I was totally into everything Alice + Whittles stood for! I love finding brands that make the more unusual items, like stockings or bras or rubber boots—because I want people to be able to find ethical alternatives to those hard-to-find items, too!
I messaged them back quickly and told them I was about to embark to Ecuador, and I’d love to test out their boots!
I chose the Minimalist Black + White Ankle Boot in size 8, going up from a 7 because they were listed as a narrow fit. They arrived the day before I left, but were snug. When I reached out, they made the smart suggestion of removing the insoles! As soon as I did that, they fit perfectly and were super smooth and comfortable.
So, back to the Amazon – here I was in the canoe, finally stepping onto solid ground – or rather, a solid concrete step and met with an immediate staircase that thrust into the mouth of the jungle. I couldn’t see the top, but scampered up quite quickly and was blown away not by the heat, or the humidity, or the lovely cobblestone trails—but by how freaking ENORMOUS the plants were.
Every single minimalist houseplant you could imagine was there—but 10x bigger. I saw plants that I didn’t know could actually grow into trees. There were plants growing off of other plants in 3 layers. I realized that we have NO IDEA how diverse and thriving the environment can be when we step back and allow it to be.
The Minga Lodge is perched on the side of an incline, inquisitively peeking upstream of the Napo River. Every morning the sand banks take a different shape, sinking and rising and transforming with the flow of equatorial rainwater. The staff tell me that they are continuously chopping vines away from the structure as the jungle tries to reclaim the wooden lodge – a veritable urge to digest it into Amazonian compost. But it’s immaculately maintained—and the staff are probably extremely fit from cutting down all the eager vines.
Over the next 4 days, we trekked through the jungle to see monkeys the size of chipmunks, helped a family dig for a septic tank, met female artisans who taught us how to weave using natural plant fibres, learned about cacao farming and MADE CHOCOLATE with the most hilarious farmer Melquiades (who tried naming his son Cacao because he loves it so much!), played a mini-olympics of blow-darting and spear throwing with our guide’s family downriver, met his grandfather who is a kunandero (shaman), and made our canoe driver finally laugh on the last day. Which wasn’t easy, by the way!
While we were mid-way through our trip, we felt a cool, cool wind. Our guide Mauricio told us that cool wind always meant rain. When we spun around to look over the horizon of trees, the sky was a dark indigo-grey. The chickens fluttered, gobbled and hastened under the floorboards of the house of the family we were visiting. The dogs disappeared. Then the rain came, and I mean fast. It was nearly horizontal. I was laughing – it’s raining in the Amazon, it happens! Until I saw Mauricio with his hand resting on one of the house’s concrete support beams and eyeing it with worry.
“Tell them to stay on this side,” he whispered to me. “In case the house gets blown down. I’ve never seen rain like this.”
This, coming from a man who had grown up 5 minutes away from where we were standing. Okay, so maybe not a funny rainstorm. BUT the good news is that after a violent 10 minutes, we managed to stay in one piece, the family kept the tarps up on their new in-progress latrines, and I managed to stay dry.
Ok, well that’s a lie. We were all SO wet. My feet were nice and dry in my boots – until I frolicked out from the house and promptly stepped into a knee-high puddle. Well, you take some, you leave some. Maybe next time bring the knee-high boots? Either way, they dried quite quickly overnight with a couple packs of silica thrown in to eat up the humidity.
Through all of those hilarious adventures, there were 3 heroes:
- Chambray always wins. I kept going back to my chambray button-up, even when it was still kind of damp from the humidity. It was just so breathable!
- Bandana was a miracle item for my hair once we got a few days in and I was working too long editing photos to have a shower…lol. Tie it in a topknot and it’s instant wilderness style!
- Bringing my own boots was definitely the right choice. They were flexible, smooth, incredibly light, and understated. I was able to sprint around without even thinking about what I was wearing on my feet.
Now here’s the thing – I didn’t want to get rain boots that I’d only wear a couple of times. Because that’s useless and wasteful. So when they let me choose a style, I went for ones that would fill the gap of a black ankle boot for the winter! Dual-purpose.
It was important to me that I was able to style these boots not just for camping or running through the jungle – but for the city, too.
My top ways to style Alice + Whittles ankle boots:
- Rolled Levi’s 501s
- Paired with leggings
- Wide-legged jeans and a chunky sweater
Once the fall hits, I’m sure I’ll find even more ways!
Check out their full collection of boots at aliceandwhittles.com.
Read a Q&A about why Sofi and Nick started Alice + Whittles over at selflesslystyled.
Want to learn more about where I stayed in the Amazon? Check out ME to WE Trips here.
Alice + Whittles is a sponsored partner. That means, if you love them like I do (and make a purchase clicking any of the links in this post), I’ll receive a little commission to help support the blog <3