A jungle walk and a sunset cruise

Early morning reflections
Early morning reflections

This morning, Terese and I both woke late so we had to leap out of bed and have breakfast straight away. Our agenda this morning was a ride down the river to the Grand Lagoon and a hike for 2 or 3 hours in the jungle.

This, to me, was a little disappointing. Pedro showed us a few medicinal herbs and we heard a couple of toucans in the distance. Otherwise there was little sign of life. It is either necessary to go much deeper in to the forest to see more animals and flora or my expectations are too high having watched all those David Attenborough programmes in which he finds all sorts of amazing things! It may also, of course, have been that we were just unlucky.

We met the canoe at a different point to the one at which we had started, and went for a swim in the lagoon before going back to the lodge for lunch. The water, this time, though, was quite cold in patches and not as warm as it had been the other evening. It was so hot and sticky that I, for one, gave no thought to the creatures that might be lurking beneath me! It was also a lot easier to get back onto the boat now that I had had some practice.

The afternoon was spent lazing in a hammock, reading, which was a very pleasurable way to pass the time.

In the late afternoon, we set off in the canoe once again and out on to the Grand Lagoon. On the way we were lucky enough to encounter some pink river dolphins. They are quite elusive as they spend most of the time underwater, just coming up, periodically, for air when they are desperate. They do not leap out of the water to the same extent as other dolphins I have seen so it is difficult to see their entire bodies.

Pink river dolphin jumping
Pink river dolphin jumping

Nobody wanted to swim this evening, so we waited in the shallows until it got dark and then went on the cayman hunt once again. It must have been our lucky night as Pedro found a black one and a white one close to the banks of the lagoon. I use the term ‘saw’ fairly loosely though, as the white one was just a splash, too close to the boat for my comfort, and I had trouble distinguishing the black one from the surrounding branches.

A boa constrictor - no zoom was used to take this photo!
A boa constrictor- no zoom was used to take this photo!

On the way back to the lodge, Pedro also spotted a boa constrictor lurking in the trees. He found all of these creatures by shining a torch along the vegetation and looking for eyes reflecting in the beam. The driver chopped the branch of the tree, complete with snake, and they brought it into the canoe. I happened to be sitting at the front and I can say that it is a little disconcerting having a branch containing a boa being waved in front of your face!

The evening was most enjoyable and I, for one, would not have been disappointed if we hadn’t seen any animals as it was quite beautiful being out on the lagoon at that time of night.

A visit to a jungle village and a night walk

We had a full day away from the lodge today. Starting off at about 9.30am, we drove away from the lagoon and made our way, extremely slowly so that we could look for animals, to a village further upstream.

This turned into quite a disappointing day as we spent a long time in the canoe getting there, probably because there were several groups going to the village and they had to be spaced apart, and, also, because the only activity was to see how the villagers made yucca bread. This seemed to take an inordinate length of time given that it is a daily activity.

Pedro looking for wildlife
Pedro looking for wildlife
Collection of boats tied up on the river
Collection of boats tied up on the river

Firstly, the local lady, Becky, had to chop the yucca plant to unearth the root. This was peeled in the field and then washed and grated back in the hut. Following this, it was wrapped in something resembling a macrame plant holder and squeezed to force all the juice out so that the residual yucca was completely dry. Becky had assistance from various helpers in our group and, in between, went off to feed her very unhappy 4 month old baby. She then decided the yucca wasn’t dry enough to make the bread so the squeezing process was carried out again.

Having a go with the blow pipe
Having a go with the blow pipe
Target for the blow pipe
Target for the blow pipe

Whilst we were waiting for the bread, Pedro took out a 6 foot long blow pipe, which he cleaned, then found an arrow and we all took a turn at blowing it at a target comprising a piece of fruit on a stick. I am proud to say, I was the only one of the group, apart from our boat driver, who was able to hit the target and was offered a free beer as a prize!

The yucca was eventually spread in a pan and cooked over a fire. We ate the resulting ‘bread’, which was rather like a tortilla, with an authentic tin of tuna and a ‘boxed’ lunch of chicken and vegetable rice that had been sitting in the heat for the last 3 hours. It seemed to me to be a major health risk and I tried, at least, not to eat too much of the meat.

The Shaman
The Shaman

Afterwards, we were entertained by a Shaman, who volunteered very little information but was open to responding to questions. These were interpreted by 2 Spanish speakers in our party, our guide having disappeared! The Shaman was attired in traditional costume, decorated with feathers from various birds and wild pigs teeth. He has to drink ayahuasca, an hallucinogenic drug, to be able to diagnose the ailments of his patients and, once diagnosed, he either treats them with herbs or refers them to a hospital. It apparently takes 15 years to learn the skills to become a Shaman and anyone can do it, although, according to him, young people are not so interested in learning about it these days.

We eventually left the village at about 4pm, having spent a great deal of time sitting around and waiting for something to happen, and drove to the next village where we alighted to walk into the bush to see a ceba tree. The latter has roots like walls or battlements and grow extremely wide and tall.

Roots of the ceba tree
Roots of the ceba tree

On our way back to the lodge, we came across a large troop of spiders monkeys. These were quite delightful to watch as there must have been at least 100 of them swinging from branch to branch in such a way that it appeared as if they could fall at any moment. It was certainly the highlight of the day.

A tarantula - not my hands!
A tarantula – not my hands!

Back at the lodge, we had a short time before dinner after which is was off again for a night walk in the jungle. I have to say that I wasn’t over enthused about going on this. It was extremely hot and sticky and we had to wear long trousers and gumboots, which made it even more uncomfortable. As it happened, we saw very little, apart from a few spiders. I am beginning to wonder if there have been too many tourists visiting this part of the Amazon basin and the animals have retreated further into the depths of the jungle.

Jamu Lodge and sunset over the lagoon

Supply pick up on the way to Cuyabeno
Supply pick up on the way to Cuyabeno

After a warm night, I packed up, returned my beer bottle to the old lady, who reluctantly gave me my $1 deposit, and went to meet the tour group in the hotel next door. Maxim and Katerine (the German couple I had shared a taxi with yesterday) were already there but so were a whole lot of other people. The hotel was a meeting place for all the jungle tour groups and there are about 18 lodges in the one area of Cuyabeno Park.

We identified the driver from his clipboard advertising Jamu Lodge and got onto the bus with the other 8 people, and then had to wait whilst he looked for 2 others. It turned out they had flown in so we set off for the airport to pick them up. We were eventually on our way at about 10.15am. Our party comprised a young English couple (Alan and Lucy), a Dutch couple, an Austrian lady (Terese), with whom I shared a cabin, and 6 Germans.

We had about 2 hours in the bus to reach the entrance to the park and our driver. The trip took us through lush and tropical scenery and we stopped once in an anonymous small town for a break. It was very hot and sticky and a typical country town with a number of little shops and a surprising number of people, given its size.

Once at the park, we were greeted by Pedro, our guide for the next 3 days but, before setting off for the lodge, we had to have our boxed’ lunch!

The rest of the journey was in a motorised canoe, with the 12 of us in one and our bags and assorted supplies in another. On our very slow 52km passage, we saw 4 different types of monkey, including the yellow hand, the Woolley and spider, as well as a sloth, the nose of a pink dolphin, which had surfaced for a great gasp of air, and a variety of birds.

On reaching the Lodge, we had an hour or so to settle in and then it was off to the Grand Lagoon to see the sunset. But first, we had to hunt for anacondas and caymans and then go for a swim with the aforementioned beasts that, luckily, we had not managed to find.

The Grand Lagoon
The Grand Lagoon
On the Grand Lagoon
On the Grand Lagoon

Jumping out of the canoe into the water was easy, once I had overcome the thought of swimming with piranhas. However, trying to get back in was an exercise in group bonding as several of us had to be hauled unceremoniously over the side.

After dinner, which was a marked improvement on the lunch, we chatted for a while over a drink before going to bed. There being so many Germans, the German language naturally predominated but, of course, the majority of them spoke English (as well as a variety of other languages).

Reflections
Reflections
Sunset at the Grand Lagoon
Sunset at the Grand Lagoon

Goodbye Quito, hello Cuyabeno

On the road
On the road

It was with mixed feelings that I said goodbye to Ana Maria and Francisco this morning. On one hand, I was ready to leave Quito but on the other I was sorry to leave their home. The travel nerves also once again kicked in, as well! I got a taxi to Quitumbe and then the bus to Lago Agrio, the nearest town to Cuyabeno National Park, which is where I was to join the tour to the jungle.

The journey took 7 hours on a semi comfortable bus and took us up and over a 4,000m pass. On one side of the mountains, the landscape was quite dry and rocky and on the other very green, with many trees and bushes clinging to the steep sides of the mountains. As per usual, the driver was in a hurry and hurtled round the bends. We had a couple of stops, one for toilets and the other, I think unscheduled, when a young girl on the opposite side of the aisle to me was, not surprisingly, feeling sick.

Roadside cafe between Quito and Lago Agrio
Roadside cafe between Quito and Lago Agrio

As we got closer to Lago Agrio, more local people used the bus for short distances. Other than that, we had a few people selling goods whilst we were still close to Quito, one of whom was a salesmen for a health product, who droned on and on for about 15 minutes above the noise of the music on the radio, which in itself, was quite piercing. I was extremely glad when the salesmen stopped. He didn’t appear to sell very much for all his sales pitch.

Apart from this, the journey was uneventful until we reached Lago Agrio, where the driver attempted to leave us all at a stop outside the town. He was obviously keen to finish his trip to Coca. However, luckily for me, the other passengers vociferously objected to not being delivered to the bus terminal in town and refused to get off! As it happened, the place where he wanted us to alight was a long way from the terminal so I was extremely glad that everyone forced him drive into town.

View from the cafe stop
View from the cafe stop

Once there, I shared a taxi to the hotel with a young German couple, who were the only other foreigners on the bus. By this time, it was about 5.30pm and after I had checked in to my basic but clean room, I went to reception to ask for the wifi password. As I was standing there, an older lady approached and it turned out that she was another solo traveller. It was such an unusual occurrence and the meeting so coincidental that, of course, we ended up chatting and later going out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant she had found.

Prior to that, I went in search of a beer and found one a couple of doors away in a very small dark shop where an old crone, huddled over her pile of cash, directed operations. Having selected my beer, I was offered a bottle opener. Apparently, the price was for drinking it on the premises and when I indicated that I wanted to take it away, I was charged a higher price on the assumption that I would get a dollar back when I returned the bottle before 7 pm when they closed. I would have to drink it fast. Of course, they were already closed when I returned on the way to dinner at 6.45pm!

Dinner was enormous and I couldn’t even eat half of it. My new friend was Canadian and had been travelling for 5 months on her own. It was interesting talking to her but I think she would have exhausted me if I had spent too much time with her!