Editor’s Note: The subject of this article is glad to share part of her story with our readers, but prefers that her real name not be disclosed. So Jungle Jane will have to do.
We have a friend who is known in some parts of the world and in Ecuador as “Jungle Jane.” She has been living in the Amazon basin of Ecuadoron and off for almost a decade, supporting herself with money she makes back in Canada.
Growing up in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Vancouver Island, B.C., she decided to become a Jehovah Witness missionary after high school graduation.
“My grandparents really inspired me. They were my spiritual models. My grandmother moved to Guatemala after my grandfather died and taught the indigenous Guatemalans how to apply Bible principles in their daily lives.”
Jungle Jane went to Quebec, learned French, and then traveled to the Solomon Islands as a missionary. There she was told to leave because she was encroaching on the “religious territory” of practitioners of other faiths. They had divided up the islands amongst themselves with invisible boundaries.
Finding herself in need of a stronger vehicle to drive in order to continue her mission, she returned to Canada to work and save money to buy another car. Her brother secured her a job painting the fire department. Then she came back to Cotacachi, packed up her belongings and moved back to the jungle.
Her brother had previously found her a job building a laundry room in a fire department. “It’s much easier to build a laundry room than to build a hut in the jungle. Just getting a pound of nails where I lived could take up to 3 days!”
Jungle Jane also does work as a translator, speaking fluent Spanish and French. It’s the perfect job for jungle living, since she can translate online. She has a phone service called Allegro, which operates through her cell phone and is quite reasonable in cost.
She can call her family in Canada for $.10 a minute. There is also a good "Claro" signal (Ecuador phone company) in the jungle, so being remote isn’t what it used to be.
She has been supporting herself on her savings while living in Ecuador but that income can disappear quickly. “In the oil town of Coca, one hour from where I was living in the Amazon, prices are 4 times as expensive as in Cotacachi,” she reported. Coca is a petroleum town and costs are accordingly high.
“Although my basic needs are few—just rent money, gas and food--it cost about $250 just to rent a truck to move my belongings to Loreto when I moved there. Luckily, I had a young Ecuadorian girl who speaks Kichwa as a roommate and we shared expenses.”
The first time our friend lived in Ecuador was in Manta, on the west coast of Ecuador.
“It was hard for me. Coastal men are very forward. I had to practically wear a dress to the beach and take it off just before getting in the water, or the men would become flirtatious.
“Sixteen years ago, it seemed that some Ecuadorian men based their idea of foreign women on Western movies they had seen, which depict North American women as loose morally. In addition, the buses were really bad, the coast smelled and the cultural shocks were many.”
After 1½ years there, she went home to Canada to work as an English teacher to replenish funds, then landed a contract with the local fire department to do renovation construction and painting.
Her first jungle move took her to Nuevo Rocafuerte, a town on the Ecuador/Peru border right on the Napo River, a headwater of the Amazon River.
She has also lived in Loreto, which is on the crystal-clear Suno River that flows from the Sumaco Volcano. The area is known for the hundreds of parrots that flock there to lick minerals for nutrients.
“I’ve learned a lot of compassion from Ecuadorians,” says Jungle Jane. “Before, I distrusted beggars in Canada. Ecuadorians treat beggars differently.
“They are kind to them. And their kindness is balanced with superstition based on the belief that if you treat beggars well, you will have good luck. This is related to another superstition that if you are a shopkeeper and you lose the first or the last sale of the day, you will also lose your good luck.”
One remarkable incident from her life in Ecuador occurred years ago not far from Cotacachi. There is a section of road between Quiroga and the nearby town of Otavalo that she had been warned never to travel at night, especially by herself.
She was traveling this same road one evening around 7 p.m., not exactly alone--her dog was in the car with her. All of a sudden her car stalled at the very same section she had been cautioned about.
Looking up, she saw a man standing on the road near her car, holding a boulder. She hurriedly locked her car doors, then watched in frozen horror as the man raised the boulder to crash it through her windshield!
At that very moment, a truck drove by. The man hid in a ditch. Fearful that he would return, she was first relieved, then alarmed to find that the truck’s occupants were 3 coastal men from Guayaquil who looked like they could be murderers. They also seemed really nervous.
When they tried to start her vehicle and failed, they flagged down a dump truck and then quickly left. The dump truck was driven by an older man. He told her that the $10 she offered him for help wasn’t enough and he drove away, too!
To be honest, Jungle Jane is not sure if the men’s behavior could be completely blamed on bad manners, greediness or lack of chivalry. After all, there is more to the story. . .
There is a legend that years ago a foreign woman out walking along this same section of road was raped and killed. Since then, all accidents that occur in that area are blamed on her. Perhaps the men passing by on their way elsewhere were aware of the legend and so they chose not to linger. In this case, it seems that the legend may have prevented an accident rather than cause one!
Quechua is spoken throughout the Andes of South America and Ecuadorian Kichwa is a derivative of this ancient tongue. Natives in Ecuador have a unified Kichwa, but the jungle Kichwa is slightly different; some say resembling Peruvian Quechua.
In Chimboraso and Imbabura, Kichwa sounds similar and can be understood by both indigenous groups.
Many Ecuadorians add an “ito” at the end of certain words, as a term of endearment or to express the diminutive or smaller version. Thus, Jose may refer to his small son as Joselito.
While many think this is a Spanish thing, it is actually a Kichwa thing, which is why it is more common in the mountains, since that is where it originated. In the area where Jungle Jane teaches there are still 97 Kichwa villages that Jehovah Witnesses have yet to visit.
Jungle Jane is a courageous single woman who has not only made Ecuador her new home but has also found a way to live comfortably among people with a culture far different from her own Canadian upbringing. For her, this has led to a life of exciting exploration and surprising discoveries.