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  • Niki Harry

Ecuador: The Amazon Jungle

After the shortest flight I have ever had (25 minutes!) from Quito to Lago Agria, we then had another hour and a half by small vehicle.

​The driver plus 4 of us were squished into a small truck, with luggage in the back and all our backpacks on our knees. It wasn’t the most comfortable drive and we were all glad when we finally arrived at El Puente, the river junction where our journey began down through the Amazon Jungle. After lunch, we were packed up into these motorized canoes, along with all our luggage. Luckily our group was very small – only me & John and two guys from Holland, so it was very comfortable. We had another 2 1/2 hours down the river until we finally reached our destination; Cuyabeno Lodge.

Along the way, we stopped and admired any wildlife that we came upon. We lucked in with seeing 3 types of monkeys; black monkey, a squirrel monkey and a capuchin monkey. We saw many birds, butterflies and caimans.

We saw some amazing butterflies but most were too difficult to photograph as they move way too quickly. There was this one in particular, the amazing large vibrant blue butterfly, but no matter how hard we tried, we could not get a photo. They are just way too fast.

​Our lodge was stunning. In the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by jungle and water.

The water levels were really low, so we could not use the normal disembarking spot here.

​We had to get out of the canoes on the opposite side of the lodge and walk through the mud and sludge to get to the resort.

Our hut only had screens as walls and there were open areas between the beams and the roof. We had many critters in the room and we were told to check our clothes & shoes daily for scorpions and tarantulas. Also no electricity, only very dim solar light, which was useless as my eyes could not see anything at night. We used our flashlight mostly. Also we only had cold water for showers.

Looking out from our room. The sounds were amazing; the strange sounding birds, the crickets, the jungle noises each night. The heavy rain at night with rumbling thunder was amazing! My favourite sound at night.

​One night we had to chase a very large frog out of our bedroom. Several times we saw massive cockroaches and really weird looking large beetles and bugs.

Later in the afternoon, we went for our first scout for anacondas. Our guide Francisco told us shorts and flip-flops were fine. I fell in love with the flooded forest and these amazing Macrolobiun trees. You can see how high the water actually gets, almost to the bottom of the branches. Surreal.

We were a little surprised when he got out of the canoe and walked barefoot through the mirky waters looking for anaconda’s! Especially since there are caimans everywhere. But then we were even more surprised when he told us to get out and follow him!! It felt really weird walking through the muddy water, as it was so goopy, our feet would be sucked in like a suction cup and it was really hard to walk without loosing you balance and falling into the water.

Finally he found an anaconda in its den. Unfortunately, the waters were really low making the water really hot so anaconda’s dont like the heat much. They were hiding and sleeping in their dens. We did see about a foot of this one’s body (see below).I must say, I truly had a great time doing this. It was so much fun. Normally this entire area would be covered with water and be about 4-6 feet deep. A bit of a bummer that we had such bad timing being here.

The next day we went for a long jungle hike during the day. The first thing we saw was jaguar poop. I SO wanted to see a jaguar but that is supposedly next to impossible to see. They are sly & are around, just very hard to spot.

Some sections of the jungle were very thick. Believe it or not, NO bugs or mosquitoes! I was so shocked. Nothing irritating or buzzing around our heads like back home. A bit shocking to say the least. One of the guys in our group asked about malaria as he was told by his doctors to take malaria drugs before he came to Ecuador. Francisco only laughed at him and said “there is no malaria in Ecuador, you have nothing to worry about”. HA!

Francisco then found a nest of Conga ants. He rubbed a stick under all of our armpits, then put it in their nests. The human scent makes them really angry. He got 3 of them on the stick to show us. The sting is extremely painful & poisonous and will make you very ill with fever and paralysis, sometimes even death. Yeah no thanks! The ant below got very close to his fingers as he kept playing with them on the stick.

Just touching the red part on the frog will paralyze your entire arm. Compare the size of the frog to his thumb. Yup, extremely small and hard to see in the jungle.

Then we came upon the mighty viper. So camouflaged … we almost did not see it as we walked literally 3 feet by it. A viper can strike up to 6 feet away. One sting and in 4-5 hours you are dead. Not a good thing if you are in the jungle and it takes more then that just to get to the nearest hospital! Yeah, this one make me a bit nervous and after seeing how easy it was to step on one, I wasn’t so keen about jungle hiking after this.

This is a walking pine tree. So very cool. The tree literally moves over so many years until it finds the perfect spot with the perfect conditions that it needs and then it finally roots itself.

He showed us many types of medicinal plants and trees. The bark of the tree on the left is what quinine is made from. It is what is put into tonic water and is also a natural cure for malaria. He had me try it. Bitter tasting but good.

​Then we came upon a true swamp. Sucks you in like quicksand. Again, I truly thought he was joking when he said we had to cross it! Are you kidding me!? We all had backpacks on & John and I each had a large camera and long lens around our necks. We had rubber boots on and everything was slippery from the rain the night before. The swamp was full of leeches! We had to follow exactly where he stepped into the water as otherwise you could go down 3-4 feet! I was not happy about this but was told I had to go.

We almost made it to the other side when OOOPS! yup, I fell. We came upon a very thorny bush and I turned to warn the guys behind me, my right foot got sucked into the mud and I lost my balance. Down I went!! My first and immediate concern was LEECHES! EEEK! Then my camera, then my backpack, but I did it ever-so elegantly and made sure I fell on my ass but not without my elbow landing into the thorny bush first. Ouch. I sat there stuck. Francisco had to come back and yank me out. Oh good times. I was just so happy that no leeches were on me and that my camera was fine!

We survived the jungle hike and later that afternoon had the option to go swimming in the river. There were quite a few people swimming but after seeing caimans everywhere and MASSIVE weird fish jumping out of the water, along with knowing there are piranha’s in the water, etc., we decided NO THANKS! I think this is the one thing that I can skip from checking off the bucket list!

That little bump in the water – well its caiman eyes! Just waiting and watching… he was literally a few feet away from where everyone swims. Like I said, no thanks!

Each evening we would head out and watch as the sun went down. We had some amazing glorious sunsets, just sitting there in silence in the canoes, watching & taking it all in. Hard to fathom where we really were. I was just missing my glass of wine!

Dinners were fantastic, mostly local Ecuadorian food. Lots of healthy good eats usually starting with a delicious homemade soup. The lighting again was very dim, only solar powered. Everyone would eat at the same time in the open dining room. It was a place to chill, have drinks, relax in the hammocks and eat of course.

After dinner one night, we went for a night hike. Again, I was shocked and thought he was joking. Seriously?? Hiking in the jungle at night? It was PITCH BLACK!! I clung on to John because the only thing I could see was a foot or so in front of him as the flashlight guided us (as the middle photo demonstrates below). Francisco found massive spiders & some more poisonous frogs. At one point he wanted to demonstrate what it would be like to be in the jungle at night. So he made everyone turn off their flashlights and stand there in complete silence.. listening.. for 2 minutes. WOW!

PICTH BLACK. Could not see your finger in front of your face. The loud sounds of the night animals, crickets, birds, weird calls. SCA-RY! But beautiful at the same time. The thought of jaguars at night did not thrill me that much. He told us a story how a guide years ago got lost and everyone had to spend a night in the jungle, huddled together while a jaguar kept circling them all night. Just what we all needed to hear!

He was trying to get tarantulas to come out of their hiding spots but none would. Thank God. But we came upon a few massive spiders.. all sorts of varieties. YUCK!

Each day we would do a variety of tours, looking for wildlife & Francisco showing us really cool things. Like the amazing marching wasps or the madre luna.

At first we thought it was a trick question.. but turns out not! Its called the “madre luna” – “mother moon”. The bird literally looks like its made out of wood and does not move. We sat forever watching it and it did not flinch.

Another day we got stuck in the river when it got too shallow and had to paddle our way back out, the thick branches and leaves hitting our heads, making me a bit nervous as I really did not want to have to get out and push!

We had many cute little parrots around our resort but one actually talked! It came in one morning and stole our cheese. It says “Hola”, it whistles, it mimics our laughter. When the second parrot came, they fought over the cheese and one said to the other “Corre!” which means “Run”. We never laughed so hard. It was the cutest thing ever.

One morning, we got up at 5 as Francisco wanted us to experience a sun rise. The view was to die for. The morning mist coming off the water and trees, the water calm and smooth as glass. We paddled out into the lagoon and again just sat and watched in silence as the dawn turned into a magical sunrise. There were a ton of different birds, parrots and cranes. I was really disappointed that we did not get to see a toucan.

The jungle is full of these specific birds called stinky turkey. Their meat is stinky so nothing will eat them. And they make really weird hissing sounds.

On another day we went to visit a local Siona tribe. The ride down the river was over 2 hours. They lived in nicer homes then I thought but still very primitive. No electricity or running water . Margarita was showing us how to make “casabe” flatbread. Little did we know we were actually going to cut a tree and have bread in less then 1/2 hour! First she cut a small tree down with a machete, then pulled the roots, then peeled them. Then we had to grate the roots, then she wound the pulp up into this contraption which she twisted until all the liquid came out. The liquid is saved and soup or a hot sauce is made out of it later. We tried the hot sauce, it was delicious. She then put the dried pulp through a sieve and out came flour! At which point she spread the flour over a hot clay plate which was heating up over a fire. She flattened the flour with her hand and in 2-3 minutes she flipped it and VIOLA! Delicious flatbread which we ate with tuna and the hot sauce. No preservatives. No gluten. Nothing else added. Just casabe root. Talk about pure and natural!

Margarita told Francisco that she saw a jaguar the day before at the river and they are terrified of them, especially for their little children. YIKES!

Francisco then took us for another hike through the fields and banana plantation nearby. He wanted to show us “the BIG TREE”.

All I can say is WOW. I was so amazed and in love. This tree was the biggest tree I have ever seen. The canopy was MASSIVE. My first thought was “Avatar”, that massive tree in the movie. It truly reminded me of it. It was fascinating. We stood for a while and just marvelled at its beauty, its size, its energy. Couldn’t get it all in the photo, even with my widest lens. Francisco told us that they think its somewhere around 3000 years old.

We spent some time here, just staring at it, photographing it, walking around it. It truly was something I will never forget especially with my love & fascination with trees.

Each day we had “siesta” time, after lunch and when it was the hottest. We walked around on our own, took in the sights and wildlife, and even got gutsy and walked out to the water barefoot, without Francisco, just checking things out. Fascinated by where we actually were.

​On another night, we went out for a motorized canoe ride.. in the pitch black! This made me even more uncomfortable then the night hike! He would only use a flashlight briefly, flashing it in the water or on shore to see if he could spot eyes. That is how he would find wildlife. The eyes always reflected back. He stopped under some trees and spotted snakes. He said they were boas. I couldn’t see them as I was looking for large boa constrictors. Turned out they were small tree boas but when I finally saw it, it was hanging right over my head! I nearly lost my mind, screaming at the driver to paddle back. I had visions of this thing falling on me! The snake was not happy with us and he was literally coiled but hanging from the branch.

Then we came upon some caimans. (One night we actually went by foot into the muddy water areas and spotted 3 caimans right by our resort. Walking around barefoot, by flashlight only, in infested caiman waters. Yeah seems smart to me, but what do I know!??)

This one was massive and he came into the water and right beside our canoe. He was literally a foot from John. It was a bit unnerving and I hated being in the water in the dark like that. All I could think about was “what if”?

And sure enough, on our way back, we hit a sandbar and got stuck with our canoe! The men all had to get out into the water and push the canoe back in. That was a bit of excitement I wasn’t looking for!

But all too soon our adventure came to an end. Overall, it was fantastic even though I was hoping that we would encounter more wildlife then we did. Regardless, it was an experience that I will never forget and am so grateful that I can check another item off my bucket list! And the off to Cuenca we went for our next adventure!

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