Puyo: Forest city

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I heard somewhere that Puyo is a city of “moments”. There are plenty of calm moments here, enveloped in the sounds of the surrounding jungle. But you can’t trust them. The clouds in Puyo constantly change. Sometimes they waft through the town with warm refreshing rains. But sometimes they truly disgorge the evaporated mass of the Amazon on its inhabitants, feeding the nearby, swollen rivers. Thanks to this natural cycle (or maybe ritual), life is irrepressible here, proof of the impermanent reality in which the people of this Amazonian capital are immersed, day in and day out.

Bronze sculpture celebrating women and cultural diversity in Pastaza (Boayacu Puyu).

The exploration begins outside the city center. Not far away, about 10 minutes walking, you find the iconic Barrio Obrero. The place was founded by more-recent settlers, which is why the streets bear the names of Ecuadorian provinces. Along Calle Cotopaxi you can enjoy a privileged view of the jungle. Here lies the Malecón Boayaku Puyo, the ideal place to meet the locals, or vendors from nearby communities selling their crafts. In the middle of boardwalk, a prominent copper monument rises, representing the seven indigenous nationalities who inhabit the province of Pastaza. In the evening, this is a major meeting place and entertainment hub.

As you reach the bridge that crosses the Puyo River, you’ll come to a huge metal structure that’s hard to miss. This is the Torre de los Gatos (Cat Tower), a small place run by a family who, you guessed it, have uncannily feline features. From here you can make out the division of the jungle and the city. It’s an ideal spot to take panoramic pictures.

Clear skies reveal the Andes from the Amazonian lowlands.

Crossing the bridge, your tour of the Río Puyo Tourist Walk begins. The 2-km-path is bordered by the river’s waters on one side. Find areas for sports, picnic areas and even a place to swim. Stop at the Omaere Ethnobotanical Park. This community project shows the modus vivendi of the Waorani people (an indigenous nationality of Pastaza and the Eastern Amazon) and the close relationship they maintain with their land. Walking for about 45 mintues among the trees, Nenquerei — a native guide whose name means ‘brighter than the sun’ — will tell you all about the flora and fauna you can find here. At the end of the walk, you can buy products fashioned by local Amazonian families from the jungle deep.

Puyo River promenade and Omaere Etnobotanical Garden entrance.

Back along the boardwalk, on Calles Cotopaxi and Azuay, look out for the Restaurante Astoria. Everyone knows it because of the authentic Puyo volqueteros (the truckers’ special): a tuna-fish ceviche but chock-filled with other ingredients. The iconic dish was created over 40 years ago by Homero Escobar, who proudly tells us that he created it to ensure workers enjoyed a hearty meal. Together with his family, Don Homero continues to serve this recipe, which will surely be declared part of the town’s tangible heritage very soon.

With full bellies, the heart of the town beckons. In a straight line to the north is Calle 20 de Julio. From here you can take any bus downtown and hop off at the first roundabout. You have to walk a little to Calle 10 de Agosto to reach the central square, 12 de Mayo.

This is a major meeting point for families, visitors and devotees. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary rises with its white facade and a cross on top. In front of it, in the middle of the square, find a playground where adults and children mingle. Tourist agencies offering activities both inside and outside the city ring the square.

If you cross the park toward Atahualpa Street, you can continue to Puyo’s Ethno-Archaeological Museum, small in size yet immense in value, as it houses archaeological objects found throughout the province. Some of these pieces date over 2,000 years. Among the most impressive items in the collection are the large funerary urns made with Amazonian clay by ancestral communities. Admission is free and the museum can be visited Monday to Friday.

Antique pottery and musical instruments at the Etnoarchaeological Museum.

The walk back from Calle Atahualpa to Ceslao Marín is short, colourful, pretty folkloric and full of shops and restaurants: the street is engulfed by made in China products. However, there are places to reconnect with native culture. Waorani Hecho a Mano is a small shop with beautiful crafts sold directly by the women of this community. Product labels tell you the name of the material used, as well as the person who created it. Right next door, Cafetería El Fariseo draws you in with the aroma of Amazonian chocolate and delicious desserts. Or you could cross the street to Café Escobar to taste traditional yucca chicha with delicious treats, a place comparable to any craft beer spot in our more cosmopolitan cities.

Word on the street.

At 1 km in a straight line on Ceslao Marín, you reach Calle Eugenio Espejo. You many notice the tall blue slides. This is the entrance to the Morete Puyo Water Park, a place locals go to to play sports or enjoy the weekend, with three swimming pools (some of them with artificial waves), two slides, jacuzzi, sauna and more. In front of the Colosseum, check out the Kalú Gastro Bar, which offers a truly delicious and imaginative menu. It is easy to notice: its walls are decorated with murals of indigenous faces.

At this point you are very close to the Puyo bus terminal, located on Alberto Zambrano. If you walk from here to the east, you will find the Pastaza Cañicultores Association, a market for products derived from sugarcane. Colorful liquors are kept in Jack Daniel’s or Jagërmeister bottles: find exotic flavours such as mint, chewing gum, strawberry or “7 palos” (distilled with 7 jungle herbs).

From the bus terminal, you can continue the adventure to other nearby destinations. Taking a bus north towards Tena, at km 6, get off at Fatima, a small town where you can visit the impressive Fatima or Puyo River caves. Heading south on the Macas road, at km 3, you can visit the popular Exotic Bird Park (with peacocks and ducks) or the more interesting Las Orquídeas Botanical Garden, a kaleidoscope of colors, flowers and Amazonian wisdom.

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