Queer Adventures in Tena, Ecuador

The Tena river that runs through the city

2019 April — The road to Tena was nice. We passed through the lush green mountains. It was like seeing nature’s hanging gardens. Just like in Centro Historico, there are a lot of really romantic places where one could get down on one knee and propose to someone with the most picturesque surroundings setting the mood.

The Tena river and the tower at Parque Amazónico.

The Hostel

The common space at the hostel.

The hostel we stayed at was chill. There were hammocks and tables outside. It was a really nice place to chill. There aren’t any outlets outside though. There’s an outdoor kitchen tucked away in the corner of the property. I wouldn’t call this the best kitchen situation because the single fridge is shared among all the guests, so there isn’t much room for meal prep. Keeping food in the room isn’t a good idea either. The tropical environment would invite bugs to the food instantly. In hindsight, we should have gotten sandwich materials or something that doesn’t require much space or cooking. That could have saved us a lot on eating out. Despite that, the places we ate at were all delicious. It was a great time nonetheless. There was little to no wifi, so we had no way of being as productive as we usually are. In a way, it was a blessing. It is very important here to go outside and explore, so we decided to make the most of it and spend time in nature.

The walkway that leads to the common bathrooms and outdoor kitchen.

Parque Amazónico

The night we arrived, we wandered around exploring the town and figuring out the lay of the land. The next day we went to Amazónico “La Isla” Park. It was very beautiful. We spent all evening wandering around, taking photos, exploring, and just being in nature. It was very quiet except for the sounds of the Amazon rainforrest. The park looked like it was once very active. However, now it felt a bit abandoned. There was one person working there who charged us $1 to enter. We only saw a few other people wandering around in the several hours that we were there. The path that takes you through the Amazon landscape started off as wood planks with wood railings and light posts. Eventually, there were no more light posts, then no more railings, then no more wood planks to walk on. Finally we were walking along on the concrete frame structure that had already begun to be retaken by nature with full force.

Parque Amazónico at the start of the trail where everything is mostly still complete.
The part of the trail where we start to see the railings are no longer there.
Deeper into the trail when the built path is nothing but its underlying supporting concrete frame.
There are non-built, dirt trails that are detours along the path that take you to spots like these.

It was a humbling moment to be among the ruins of Parque Amazónico. To see the force of nature consume what mankind had put on the earth reminded me of when I nearly drowned in the ocean while in Montañita. We had total respect for the power of nature. We felt like we had entered its domain. It reminded us of our insignificance. It was also a reminder that nature will always prevail. There is no use in fighting it. We respect and enjoy what it is. It is beautiful. I hope that more people come visit and support this beautiful space. It only cost us $1 per person to enter. It is a really good deal! Afterwards, we were starving, so we went to a nearby restaurant and ate so much food. It was delicious.

We were determined to continue down the path, so we went through some intense overgrown areas.
We made it to the end of the trail.
There are non-built, dirt trails that are detours along the path that take you to spots like these.
A juicy Hawaiian burger after a long Amazon hike. Right across the street from where we were exploring where you can find an entire street of places to eat.

Laguna Azul

The entrance to Laguna Azul

The next day we went to Laguna Azul per recommendation of our hostel host. We were warned that only a few days ago, someone had drowned there, so we had to be very careful while swimming there. We began our journey by bus. It was an adventure trying to find the bus in the first place. We stopped by the bus station where we were initially dropped off upon arrival into Tena. Then we asked around and were told that there is another bus station a few blocks away that takes people to Laguna Azul.

We bought some jugo de coco from a guy selling it for our hour long bus ride.

It was a very pretty ride. Lots of school children were getting picked up and dropped off at their homes. We rode through lush green terrain and enjoyed the view. When we arrived, we paid the entry fee. There are two different fees. One for locals and one for foreigners. Luckily, Viviana has a citizenship, so we were able to pay the local fare. Honestly, the fee is super affordable. Something like $4 USD. So even if you don’t get the local fare, it’s still very reasonable.

It is a little Kichwa town overlooking the river tucked away in the lush green mountains.

Once inside, we were impressed by the overall aesthetic. It was bamboo/wood construction with palm leaves as thatching for the roofs. Very traditional construction styles were used everywhere. It was like we were in a magical village in the Amazon by the river. In fact, it actually is a magical village! The people who are there are the native Kichwa people. Children were bathing in the pools and people were living their normal lives. It is a very peaceful and beautiful place and I hope that it continues to thrive.

As we made our way down towards the water, we saw a cute little kid wandering around and playing in the sand.
The first natural pool (right) which feeds down into the main river (left) has ropes strung across it to make sure people don’t get carried by the current into the rapids.
From this first pool, you can see the rapids that feed into it as well as the bridge above it that allows you to hike to the pools that are further up and deeper in the forest. You can also see someone using the ropes to climb out of the strong current.

If you continue walking upstream, you’ll find more secluded pools deep in the forest. It is a nice hike and the canopy of the trees keep you very cool the whole way through.

Our journey to the pools further upstream.
Pool number 3.
We made it to the final pool deep inside the forest and enjoyed the cool shade from the trees as we lounged on the large smooth rocks.

Downstream from the entrance, where the pools feed into the main river, there is a beach area. It is a short hike to get there. The beach has soft, silky sand and large rocks that allow you to lay out by the rushing river and soak up the sun. It was a completely different experience from the pools in the forest. We nearly got sunburnt, but it was still very relaxing and beautiful.

Hiking to the beach.
People are not allowed to enter the main river because the current is incredibly strong and someone had drowned only a couple days ago.
Rocks, sand, and a raging river. The village up above overlooking it all.
This is paradise.

Next, we had to check the status of the bus. We had been so engulfed in the magic of the place that we nearly forgot that we had to make it back home. We went back up to the front and confirmed that the last bus had not come yet. We decided to get a much needed meal at the restaurant there. We were served the most beautiful plate with the most beautiful view of the river and the mountains and the trees. It is so hard to capture the full extent of the paradise that we experienced there. After we ate, we hung out in some hammocks by the pools and just lounged in the shade until it was closing time. The park closes at 5pm, so we waited outside of the entrance for the bus with some other travelers. They were from France and we got to pass the time making conversation with them until the bus finally came. It was definitely a relief because the sun was setting very quickly.

Probably the freshest fish we have ever had.

The Town

The next day, we explored more of Tena. We kept stumbling upon these Internet cafes and gamer cafes filled with young guys playing Fortnite. The biggest one was the one called Zona Gamer.

Kids playing Fortnite

Making your way around the whole town doesn’t take very long. The river cuts through it and makes for a wonderful spot to hangout. Multiple pedestrian bridges cross the river and the views from them are great. There is a plaza where people are selling food and there’s a cool statue with seating around it to take a break from walking for a bit and enjoy the surroundings.

Low tide, blue skies.
A statue in the plaza once you cross the bridge.

We visited a nice, well-kept park. Tena park has a bike trail and a running trail. There are multiple places to sit and enjoy the view. There are lots of playground areas too, but we got in trouble for playing on the see-saw. Apparently, there are cops walking around making sure that no adults play on the equipment. After wandering around for a bit and working up a thirst, we enjoyed fresh jugo at a cute juice spot nearby called Julian’s.

Tena park.

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant later that evening and then we walked along the moonlit river enjoying the view of the night. The next night, we had dinner at the place next door called Guayusa Lounge. It was very beautiful and the atmosphere is very chill and hip. Of course, it advertises events, so there are probably nights when it is extremely active. For us however, it was a nice romantic dinner. We had been seeing people selling Micheladas for quite a while, so we finally decided to try it out since it was on the menu. There are a lot of varieties. We chose the Menta flavor. It was delicious!

Romantic moonlit walk along the river.

Zoologico El Arca

Our final day in Tena, we went to Zoologico El Arca. Our trip began with our favorite drink, jugo de coco, and some street food. Getting there was interesting because the bus dropped us off on the side of the road and we had to walk a good ways to get to the entrance. There wasn’t a sidewalk to walk on either, but the view was really nice! The view is always really nice around here.

Our pre-zoo meal during the bus ride.

When we arrived at the zoo, we paid the entry and began our journey. The entry fee was about $3 USD each. It was so peaceful. There was hardly anyone there. It was like we had the entire zoo to ourselves. It was a nice shady walk because we were beneath a thick canopy of trees. There was a nice variety of animals and it wasn’t too long to complete. There is a swimming area that corresponds to the park, but you have to leave the park and walk further down the main road to get there. It wasn’t open when we arrived. We still aren’t sure what the hours are, but the place looks really nice. It makes a great companion to the main zoo.

Monkeys on a jungle gym island
We ran into a parrot along the way.
The lions were super cute and super chill, but the cage they were in seemed way too small.

Tena was like having one foot in the technology realm and another foot deep in the Amazon disconnected from everything else. It is a great time to get a glimpse of how powerful the life on earth is. It also helped us realize the importance of spending time without wifi. This was the part of our journey where we had the most outdoor adventures. It was a lot more necessary than we realized.

Another beautiful Tena night.

We Started a Patreon!

Chicxs Happy Brownies officially has a Patreon account. We want to take a moment to appreciate our new supporters including Clint, Cecilia, Salomé Egas Molina, Zoe Tamara, Rachel D and Carlota. Finally, our very first Patreon patron gets a special shout-out not only for being the first, but also for contributing above the given tiers. A good friend, Paul Sonifrank! He is the founder and CEO of PaulsSound which focuses on making leading edge audio equipment. Please checkout his work on his website! He is taking requests and has room for more clients. We have gotten a chance to see his work first-hand. He is incredibly skilled and passionate about all the work he does. It has been an honor to watch him tackle any and every project that comes his way. Follow him on Twitch too! He’s a great artist and super fun to chat with.