From Quilotoa we were then off on a long and winding trip to Lago Agrio in NE Ecuador via Latacunga and Quito. The trip included two trucks and two buses totalling 15 hours with Lago Agrio being the jumping off point for spending 4 days in the Amazon jungle in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. We had planned to continue south from Quilotoa to Tena but had read that it is no longer primary forest and most of the wildlife has left the area hence the long backtrack! Once we met up with our tour, we had another 3 hours on a bus and 3 more hours down river in a motorized canoe to reach the Caiman Lodge. At least the boat trip involved actively looking for wildlife and didn’t disappoint. We saw 3 types of monkeys (Black-mantled Tamarin, Monk Saki and White-fronted Capuchin), a Black-headed Calico Snake, a Laughing Falcon, Blue and Gold Macaws, Amazon River dolphins and a continuous trail of butterflies following the river in the opposite direction. Simply amazing! We finished the day with a sunset swim in the lake (quite relaxing knowing the area is home to caiman and anaconda! though reportedly not in this deep calm
lagoon) and caiman spotting after dark. It felt a world away from the chilly and cloudy conditions of Quilatoa the day before.
The second day we went for a hike in the primary rainforest and learned about the poisonous and medicinal plants and animals found there. Our guide carefully pointed out the bullet ant which can deliver a sting more painful than any other insect and then whilst trying to enable a better look, got stung! Although in tremendous pain, he kept his composure while trying to remove the poison using a suction tool, which didn’t work. We were all pondering our ability to get back out of the jungle should our guide collapse, but he insisted he was ok. If you are interested in the pain inflicted by the bullet ant, look up some videos of people’s reaction. We also did more wildlife spotting from the boat and went on a night walk spotting insects, lizards and a giant tarantula and passing over the Equator.
The third day involved a visit to a Siona community where we helped harvest and prepare yucca into bread and had a visit from the village shaman. The process to make yucca
bread is incredibly labour intensive and thankfully the remainder of our meal had been prepared by the chefs at our lodge that morning. The shaman talked about his role in the community as a healer and the required training, starting at age 14. He has achieved the highest level of shamanism which enables him to use the psychoactive brew ayahuasca to achieve trances and visions. The shaman performed a demonstration cleansing ritual on Becky and I, and while normally done in an ayahuasca induced trance, the ritual still makes some people report feeling cleansed and revitalised. Maybe we felt cleansed...but that also could have been the pouring rain for the boat ride back to the lodge! Unlike other areas near Lago Agrio, the Cuyabeno communities many years ago chose to preserve the jungle for low impact tourism rather than destroying it for petroleum. As a result, they will continue to see benefits and will be able exist in the jungle for years to come. The interaction with the people of the Cuyabeno only consisted of the shaman and his daughter who taught us how to make yucca bread. The lodges deliberately don’t take tourists into the villages to avoid being
overly intrusive into the villager’s lives.
Our last day in the Cuyabeno involved a dawn boat ride to spot wildlife before heading back to civilization. On the morning boat ride, a new species nearly jumped into Becky’s lap, the elusive arapaima fish, the largest fish in the Amazon, often recorded over 100 kg and 3 metres in length. Then on the boat ride back we saw more Blue and Gold Macaws and the final big ticket species: an Anaconda sleeping in a fallen tree over the river. Even though it is one of the largest snakes in the world (up to 5m), it is still incredibly difficult to spot in the dense jungle. Thankfully our boat driver had sharp eyes and stopped for us to get a really good look at it. With our Cuyabeno Amazon experience now complete, we headed back on a 10 hour bus trip back to Quito. Our Amazon experience at the Caiman lodge certainly lived up to our expectations in terms of accommodation, wildlife and culture offerings, and our only complaint is the level of noise made by other tourists when trying to observe wildlife. For some reason the people in our
group really didn’t understand how being quiet provides the best opportunity to see wildlife before being scared away.
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