Manatee tour on Ecuadorian Amazon


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May 26th 2009
Published: May 26th 2009
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Destination two on the world tour is Ecuador. We arrived in Quito from Mexico City, via a short stopover in Panama City and spent the first night in the old town of Quito. Quito is the second highest capital in the world at nearly 3,000m (that's 3 times the height of Ben Nevis) so it is cold here at night and breathing is a little harder than normal. The old city is situated on the hillside with cobbled streets, plazas, cathedrals etc.

The next day we headed back to Quito airport to embark on our tour of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The trip to the Amazon involved every mode of transport apart from a bike with a short flight to Lago Agrio, a 2 hr bus trip to Coca, then a 1hr 30 mins motorised canoe ride to our home for the next 3 nights, the cruise boat "Manatee". We were on board with 5 other tourists, several crew and our English speaking guide, Ernesto.

The boat was lovely, with pretty cabins with en suite, and the service and food were excellent (and plentiful). We got to try some fruits we had never even heard of before let alone eaten and some Ecuadorian specialities.

But the main event of course was the jungle and river itself. We were actually on a tributary of the Amazon called the Rio Napo. On the first day we arrived mid afternoon. After lunch we had a talk from Ernesto about the area and then in the evening we went for a night walk in the jungle. This was a very interesting experience and we were both literally awestruck by the clarity of the night sky away from the light pollution we are used to in the UK. The walk was difficult due to the darkness, it was pretty much pitch black, and we needed to constantly watch our feet to avoid tripping over the many vines and roots on the jungle floor. We didn´t see much animal life other than insects (including super sized ants, called Congo ants whose stings are equivalent to 10 wasp stings or being shot - not a comparison we were keen to find out about!) on this walk but we certainly heard the noises of the many, many species of the jungle. The one thing Sarah encountered far too much of was the mosquitos, which laid siege to the only exposed part of her body - her face so she spent the next few days looking like a zitty teenager again and itching like crazy.

On day 2 we set out for a full day trip in the canoe. We headed to a tributary of the Rio Napo, which we cruised along slowly for 2 hours observing the wildlife in the jungle around us. We mainly saw many different species of birds and butterflies, but we were also lucky enough to see some squirrel monkeys. We then cruised further down the river to a lake known as Pañacocha, which means Piranha Lake. We bravely followed our guide into the water for a swim in piranha infested waters, yikes! The truth is piranha´s have a bad reputation thanks to Hollywood and are actually not at all aggressive so we escaped with all our fingers and toes in tact. Sarah was, however, perturbed to hear after she had got out that the lake is also home to electric eels, stingrays and anacondas!

In the afternoon we trekked in the jungle for 2 hours with Ernesto (who was very knowledgable) providing information on the many plants and animals we came across. The walk was tough going, I think we probably got a bit lost at one point. Sweaty and exhausted, we were relieved to get back to the canoe for our trip back to the boat.

On day 3 we spent the morning going to see parrots licking clay, sounds weird but has something to do with the minerals in clay detoxifying the seeds they love to eat. We spent quite a lot of time waiting for the parrots to get down to the clay walls from the trees but we got some good footage (to be added later). After a relaxed afternoon on the boat we headed back out at 4pm to visit a biological reserve named Limoncocha. We both felt this was probably the highlight of the trip. Limoncocha is a lake set back from the main river, it has set world records for the number of bird species present and is also home to caimans (of the alligator family). We reached the lake about an hour before sunset and cruised slowly along the shore. The wildlife here was more active than at any other point and we saw several different species of monkeys making their way through the trees (Joe has some exellent video footage that we will try to upload) and again we saw many species of birds, including some weird turkey-like birds. Once the sun had set, which was beautiful in itself, we went in search of the caimans, which only come to the lake surface after dark, and we were lucky enough to spot 3 including one that stayed above the surface for several minutes. On the cruise back to the jetty, the stars were out and the shoreline was ethereally lit all along by glow worms, and bats would flutter by our eyes, so all in all a very memorable experience.

An early rise on the last day saw us heading back to Quito where we are staying until Thursday when we will depart for the Galapagos Islands. This Amazon cruise was truly an unforgettable experience, we would encourage you to go sometime if you get the chance (and for the oldies, Saga book the Manatee for 34 weeks of the year!).

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