Welcome to the beautiful Amazon! Need we say more?
Good morning sunshine…
Arriving off the bus into Lago Agrio at stupid o’clock with little sleep we weren’t really prepared for the onslaught of people yelling at us for taxis, tours to the jungle and the questionable toilets that greeted us. There were also a bunch of chickens underneath the bus… not being in Guatemala yet we were surprised to see them.
Lago Agrio is one of the last small towns before you reach the Cuyabeno reserve, where we stayed inthe Amazon, it is a relatively new town having only been settled as a basecamp for oil drilling in the 1960’s. Outside the bus station we discovered what little tourism Lago Agrio has, some small “shops” across the road with instant coffee (thank gosh they had some kind of caffeine) and a few streets. Sorting ourselves out we made our way to the meeting point for our Amazon stay at Caiman Lodge and then decided it was time for more coffee.
While waiting for our tour bus to arrive, we were greeted by a man off one of the other tours walking around with a baby anaconda in a bag, then some American tourists who conveniently held up their bus by an hour (after it was already running on South American time), and eventually our minibus driver. We drove for two hours to a small holding pen next to a river, and then were shovelled onto a motorised canoe for a two-hour trip into the deep Amazon.
Welcome to the jungle…
In our little boat, fearing that our bags may get wet from the water spray, or eaten by some kind of animal (remember there was a fairly severe lack of sleep here), we stopped off to see a few different types of monkeys, and started learning about the kinds of things that lurk near the river. Our tour started on different day to the ones that the company usually has, which meant that we only had five people in our group - the other three were Swiss-German ladies who were equally as terrified of spiders as Dee… This was going to provide the rest of the group with a lot of entertainment.
We arrived to our lodge safe and sound with the laptop in tact from the torrential downpour on the way, it was time to have some food. For lunch we had a bit of (well cooked) beef with beans, rice and fried plantain. During the lunchtime rush, we were attacked by the Mealy parrot. Later in the afternoon, James went for a quick snooze in our penthouse room on top of the tower, while Dee did some admin and played cards with Jasmin, Alison and Laura.
At 5pm, we went for a canoe trip back up the river to see some wildlife, no monkeys this time around but we got to see a few Herons, and learn about some of the Amazonian eco-system. Once finished with our wildlife tour we rowed back down the river and stopped in a giant lagoon for a swim during sunset. James braved the water, Dee on the other hand decided to stay in the boat and keep dry for fear of an ear infection, and some of the lurking animals underneath. On the way back after watching the beautiful sunset we saw the splash of a dolphin, but not the dolphin itself and then came the mosquitos. Covered in a few bites once we got back to the lodge, we got ourselves covered up and sprayed, then ready for a delicious dinner of Telapia (fish) steamed in banana leaf with rice, fried plantain and a small tomato and cucumber salad followed by starfruit for dessert. After, with tiredness setting in and another impending rainfall we headed to bed.
The Amazon is like a world of it’s own, completely removed from civilisation, it’s peaceful, quiet and filled with every creature imaginable. Thankfully, for us, the creatures hadn’t visited us throughout the night, but they were around breakfast… howler monkeys in the trees, nearby, and a large number of insects. Once we’d finished our fruit, omelette and tomate de arbol (tree tomato) juice we were ready to explore the Amazon, gumboots, togs and waterproof bags in hand. We rowed the boat for about 5 minutes then hitched a ride with another boat, then another one after that.
For those who know Dee well, small insects and the like are not her forte - she scares very easily and can be very jumpy when she has not had enough sleep. The Amazon may not have been the best place to test her coping skills with small bugs and giant spiders, however she provided the group with a little entertainment whilst attempting to row through the tree branches.
Getting through the branches, the spiders and the occasional flying bugs we made it to the Canangueno Lagoon (the Hidden Lagoon). Miguel, our guide was very excited to take us to the lagoon, it is a rare experience that most people don’t get to see, even if they have gone on a tour. Whilst on a trip there we saw:
- Squirrel monkeys
- Woolly monkey
- Chorongo monkey
- Capuchin monkey
- Heard a howler monkey
- A lot of spiders - none of them deadly
- Stinky turkey (Hoatzin) who has two intestines smells like a cow
- Greater ani
- Black vulture
- Blue crown
- Military ants
- Fire ants
When we got to the other side of the lagoon we stumbled our way out of the boat through the mud and into the jungle. Before leaving in the morning it was a little bit of a mission to find a pair of gumboots that fit Dee’s giant feet… unbeknownst to Dee, there was a massive hole in the back of the gumboots - when she climbed out of the boat she got waterlogged in the thick mud and couldn’t move, then walked around the forest for two hours not being able to lift her left leg properly because of the amount of mud accruing on the inside!
The lagoon was an experience and a half, but alas it was time for us to head back to the lodge for lunch, an afternoon swim and then off to a night walk in a different area. We arrived into the darkness and the mud, and with Dee in her second set of holey boots, then ventured into the night to find some more insects and spiders. While in the darkness there was another torrential downpour, we unfortunately didn’t get to see as many creatures as expected; however there were still lots of spiders for Dee to be terrified from. Sufficiently scared and tired we headed back to the lodge, on our boat, in the rain and decided we needed to have an early night for our next mornings adventures.
For a lodge in the middle of the jungle, we were very impressed at the standard of our rooms and the food we were receiving. Ready for another huge day we were up at seven and had breakfast, which was cheese empanadas and ham scrambled eggs with lots of coffee and some papaya juice. Miguel got us ready to go and took us to the boat, thankfully a motorised boat and not a row boat this time around. On our way down the river toward a local community we saw lots of wildlife including:
- Cappachin monkeys
- Howler monkeys
- Wooly monkey
- Squirrel monkey
- Milk drinker monkey (small black one)
We learnt a lot of information about the eco system and how the wet and dry season affects the wildlife. Since the river is quite high it’s harder to see anacondas and caimans at the moment, as they live one the edges of the river. After an hour or so of looking in all of the trees wanting of seeing something other than monkeys we had just about given up all hope. All of the sudden our boat driver yelled, stopped and turned us around, heading toward a set of bushes, hanging over the side of the river. Hidden in the trees was a giant black anaconda with big yellow spots… it apparently was a baby (at a mere 3 metres long) and not as dangerous as the big ones. In reality, a huge snake is dangerous when your boat runs into the tree the snake is in, and your guide gets attacked by fire ants. Thankfully the snake was not phased by the intrusion.
Our next stop was in the forest somewhere to see one of the large capoc tree which produces seeds that have a cotton type flesh inside them. The tree was 80 or so years old. We trudged through mud to see it, and got eaten by a million mosquitos (James even got bitten once!).
We continued down river and went past two of the local Siona communities, before stopping at the third. We went on a quick tour of the village, walking past a few houses and rough looking chickens wandering around. One of the houses had satellite TV they had installed to watch the 2014 soccer world cup, which was one of the few modern things they had.
We went to the other side of town, and dug up some yuca (cassava) roots. Taking those fresh roots to the community house, the lady cut the skin with a machete, so we could remove the outer skin and then wash them with water. There was a trough made of wood, which had a folded metal sheet over the side with many punctures, forming a grater. We had to grate the sides of the yuca first so it wasn’t slippery, and then grate the whole thing down. You can eat a little bit of raw yuca, which tastes like a potato-y coconut, but not a lot since it will give you stomach problems. One of the Swiss girls cut herself slightly on the grater.
The lady put the grated yuca in a woven belt, which was closed and then hung over an extension of a rafter, and turned to squeeze all the water out. There was a huge amount of starchy water coming out, which they collect to ferment into a pale brown paste (a bit like spicy vegemite). Next, the desiccated yuca is sifted so that it is nice and smooth.
A clay plate able to withstand around 200 degrees had been warming up over a small fire. She measured a bowl (made of pumpkin skin) of yuca flour to put onto the plate and then began to spread and smooth it out into a nice circle, using a wooden knife and the back of the bowl to flatten it out. As it cooked it started to stick together, and then using the knife to check under it occasionally, it was flipped over once it had started to brown. When the other side was done, she took it off with her hand and put it up on the sifter rack to cool slightly.
We all broke a piece off to try, since we were starving by this point. Miguel had brought some tuna and tomato-onion mix, which we ate like a small taco. One of the Swiss girls had a turn at cooking another one. Miguel had also brought some cooked rice with salchipapa, onion, capsicum, chicken and other things in it, which we had for lunch with more of the yuca tortilla. Dee had a go at cooking one as well but couldn’t get it looking as nice as the one the lady cooked in the demonstration. After lunch, Miguel took the remaining rice to give to the community.
The local shaman came over to us and told us some information about what they do, their history, the plant that is brewed into a hallucinogenic drink call Yagé (their language) or Ayahuaska (Quechua). He was wearing the traditional necklace and head-dress, made with teeth of jaguar and other animals, and the semi-traditional robe - before interaction with other cultures they never wore clothing. We performed a ritual to call for good spirits to surround us and protect us, which involved singing while shaking a small branch of leaves over us.
On the way back to the lodge, the shaman’s magic must have worked, since we got to see some pink river dolphins. Apparently dolphins originally evolved in rivers then moved out to the sea, but now there is only one type of dolphin that still lives in fresh water.
After the local community, we headed back to the lodge for a brief rest and later went out to the lagoon to see sunset again. James went on a night walk, where someone had a black light to see one of the scorpions lit up. Dee, after having been terrified enough the night before, stayed at the lodge to do some blog writing, and have some beers. This turned into no blog writing, and a game of four kings with some of the other tourists staying at the lodge.
On Tuesday morning Dee went out to see the sunrise and do some bird watching. When she came back, she nearly stood on a tarantula and a green tree snake… the animals obviously had sensed her fear and felt that they needed to come after her. After packing ourselves up it was time to head back to civilisation, we caught the boat back to the bridge. We expected the trip to be fairly similar to the one going out, but it wasn’t uneventful - as we turned around a corner, there was a shout and we suddenly stopped the boat, as we had just gone past a black caiman (like a crocodile)! It disappeared within a few seconds, so no photos, but seeing it at all was cool.
Once back to the tiny town, we too the minivan to Lago Agrio, and then the evening bus to Quito, getting in to the hostel around 11pm. We were exhausted and ready for bed… the Amazon was amazing but we were most definitely ready for civilisation without mosquitos, or snakes, or tarantulas!
Go see all the photos from the Amazon jungle. Really, go look - there are way too many things to see to fit them all in this post.