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Ecuadorian Jungle, Trip Report 2

Elvis at GuacamayoI thought they had said at the travel agency that the jungle lodge had Wi-Fi. Now that I type that, it seems absolutely preposterous. I’ve dropped completely off the grid, I bet no one is concerned, an after the initial shock, I didn’t miss the grid at all.

On day 2 on my journey I booked a 5 day 4 night trip to The Guacamaya lodge in Cuyabeno. The short hand description, for those of you who have been to Costa Rica —this is sort of like Costa Rica on Steroids. (When I said that to a fellow South American traveler, he said that the Brazilian Amazon is the Ecuadorian Amazon on steroids. I guess it’s all a dosage issue.)

reflectionI had forgotten the excited calm of swamp and jungle. After an all-night bus trip (with a remarkably safe bus driver) I was to be dropped in the dark wee hours in Lago Agrio, a town described by an Ecuadorian website as “an infamously dangerous and unattractive city.” Fortunately, I quickly figured out that all ten of us on the bus were being sent to the same little pseudo-Italian restaurant to wait for hours. I joined a family of three from Germany (a physics student touring his folks around Ecuador where he had spent a volunteer year some time ago) and we learned that we were headed for the same lodge and in 2 to 3 hours someone would pick us up. Hopefully

And eventually someone did. It turned out that the couple sitting next to us, from the UK, were also headed there and the 6 of us stuck together for most of my time in the jungle. We were a great group. After a couple more hours on the lodge bus we were transferred to large “canoes” (flat bottomed boats, really) and spent another couple of hours motoring down river (a tributary of the Amazon.)

We zigged and zagged through the lush undergrowth, over-growth, sounds and smells of the wet, the blooming, the rotting, the flying, the hiding, the jumping, chanting and trying-not-to-be noticed, all around. The first whiff of the life jackets repels. A moment later, it’s part of the scene. I am in the jungle. This is not my turf, but I’m grateful to be invited, grateful to have sent myself here. And some secret part of me awakens. I love deep green channels lined with vegetation and trees that grow right out of the water with barely any land in sight. We are escorted by a relay-team of 7 giant blue morpho butterflies.

After lunch at the lodge we got our room assignments (nothing fancy here, electricity for a couple of hours in the evening, mosquito nets critical, bats roosting under the beds) and piled back in the boat for an explore and a night tour after dinner.

It was wonderful to go to bed early, in the thick dark full of jungle noises and humidity. I got up at 6 for yoga on the boat dock. My swimming visitor greeted me silently. I later heard him referred to as Numero Tres—a reference to the giant 3 tattooed on his back. He was a Russian, unusual for this neighborhood.

After breakfast, we went out by boat to see wildlife (my gang of 6 joined by a couple of Danish girls with their Ecuadorian sort-of-boyfriends.) I was super impressed to see the pink river dolphin of these parts. I saw them several times afterwards—this was a good omen for our wildlife viewing. (no pics–sorry.)

This is a small dolphin that doesn’t really jump out of the water, but breaks the surface. Sometimes there were as many as three playing; then we got better views of their nose and back. We also had a tour of forest pharmaceuticals and great bird examples. The night tour specialized in insect and arachnid life. Big hairy tarantulas are really common and are especially fond of our dining area. We saw a bird-eating tarantula, a couple huge wolf spiders and other spidery-sorts of things. This is a great place to be a creepy crawly.

Our bilingual guide, Elvis, is from one of the indigenous communities near here. He calls them Quechua but I later learn that’s a language, not necessarily a people. The lodge is located on Siona land—another people—and we will visit two Siona communities.

draining manniocAt these communities we do slightly hokey planned cultural eco lodge sort of things that I was familiar with from Cambodia. KYSD,my NGO in Cambodia , took me to a village where they had helped a community transform their climate-change depleted economy into an eco tourism destination. This is a probably good transition for local people who are losing their forest-based ways of life due to climate change, deforestation, bad practices, etc. Here in Ecuador we made Cassava (Manioc, Yucca) bread with Rita—our official person. She was a woman of 58, energetic and strong (and I think considered old for the community.) She spoke to us in Spanish. Elvis translated our reciprocal greetings. In short time, and a latke-prep sort of process, Rita made a perfect round of flavorless starchy cassava bread.

After lunch we got to meet with the community Shaman, and have him explain what he does and do a little demonstration. This guy had the very best outfit and jewelry, including a jaguar- fang necklace. We returned with a little time before dinner and I was very excited to find hot water in my shower for the only time.Shamanic neckwear

That night after dinner, our boat trip happened upon all the crocodilians in the area: white caimans, black caimans and most adorably, a juvenile dwarf caiman. Elvis was a totally amazing spotter. Since we cruised sometimes before breakfast, after breakfast and each evening, it’s already starting to swim in my mind. I’ll just give a general shout out to the 5 kinds of monkeys we saw (spider, pygmy marmosets, wooley monkeys, capuchins, Sakis and impressively heard-but-not-seen, black howler monkeys. Ooops the next day we saw them too.) Other great finds: both a juvenile Amazon tree boa and an adult, and many cool birds and bats, near the river bank. I’ve already mentioned the Pink River Dolphins, the coolest of all.croc

For my last day of touring, I was all alone with Elvis. The returning guest boat towed our canoe about an hour up river and the two of us canoed back to the lodge. It was heaven to lose the motor and the human chatter and just absorb the lush green humidity and wildlife.monkees3

Food during our stay was very local and delicious. Ecuadorians eat a lot of meat and that was well prepared, often with a fruity sort of sauce. We got tastes of local fresh fruits—my fave is the babaco—it’s a member of the papaya family but built like a giant starfruit with a more pleasant texture than starfruit and a nice refreshing sweet-and-tart taste. Dinner always started with a veggy soup.

And now, returned to the lovely civilization of my sweet family at the Tambuco guest house, after a luxurious hot shower, I don’t quite smell like the jungle anymore. Quick to bed–we leave for the airport at 6:30 and I’m off to San Cristobal , Galapagos.