Just got back from the Amazon rainforest, and you know what, that’s exactly what I needed. No contact with the outside world, no internet, no phone, no roads. No electricity. Just us, our jungle treks, and our canoes to go up the river. I feel more at peace (although we’ll see how long that lasts when I reach the Salsa Capital of Colombia later today). I booked the tour after walking through Quito and seeing a travel agency called Dracaena Amazon Adventures. I’d done my research beforehand, and there are two main Amazon nature reserves: The Yasuni and the Cuyabeno. The Yasuni is still completely untouched, whereas parts of the Cuyabeno had some oil exploration in the 60s/70s, so initially I wanted to go to the Yasuni. However, after speaking to several tour operators, it became clear that Yasuni is a more high-end and expensive destination, usually for people in their 40s / 50s who want a hotel-in-the-jungle experience. Cuyabeno on the other hand is a bit more rural, cheaper and had a younger crowd. And the place run by the agency listed above is several kilometers further upstream is an untouched area of the Amazonian rainforest, and also run by the local Quechua community. So that ticked all of my boxes, I was sold.
After a 7 hour overnight bus ride from Quito, followed by a 3 hour mini-bus ride to the river and a 2 1/2 hour motorcanoe ride, we arrived at Nicky Lodge, run by the agency above, and our guides Andre and Rita. The lodge was basic but lovely, beds with mosquito nets, private bathroom with water from the river, but no electricity.
And what sort of things have I done in the last four days?:
- Seen a lot of birds as you take the motor canoe up the river once or twice a day. This includes a lot of parrots, eagles, smaller birds and of course Toucans!
- Seen a lot of monkeys. Usually we’d see them briefly through the thick tree cover, and often they are dark coloured so hard to spot. But our guides we’re great at spotting them, and I’ve seen all sorts, including howler monkeys (very loud), squirrel monkeys (we had a whole troupe follow us as we floated down the river), capuchins, spider monkeys, marmosets, and of course Wooly monkeys. There is a baby wooly monkey called Leilana who lives across the river from the camp, she was adopted by one of the guides, and sometimes came with us in the boat as we went around. One time, the three german girls in our group took her for about half an hour, but then couldn’t get her to return to her tree at the end. Whenever they got her into the tree, she’s swing about 2m through the tree and then jump on the back of the boat again. I thought it was hilarious.
- Walking through the jungle / swamp at night. Our guides were great at spotting all of the insects / frogs that come out at night, and you do see a lot of them, including spiders, crickets, tree frogs, centipedes, glowing beetles, and more.
- Daytime walks through the jungle. Here we were shown a lot of the different types of insects and plants and got explanations about the diversity. We got bitten by a lot of ants, and so as revenge, we tried eating one type, as it tastes like lemons! But, more importantly…
- I ate a beetle grub. You cut open a seed which looks like a mini-coconut, and there are beetle grubs living in there about an inch long. Three of us ate them. Now, let me reiterate, I hate grubs and wormy-things. So when I chucked it in my mouth, and bit down, it both crunched and squirted weird juice all around my mouth. It was horrible, and I nearly gagged. But I kept it down.
- Swimming in the river. On the first day, we just stopped at a river bank and got in the river. The current was really strong, and the water was cool, but not cold. On the next day, we took out the canoe and all jumped into the river, and just let the current pull us along to our next destination. We were really moving!
- Afternoon with a Quechua family, helping them cook traditional Yuka bread and seeing how to harvest the local fruits. Apparently my “Yuka do it if you put your ass into it” joke got old after about the fifth time. Can’t see how.
- Getting a jungle tattoo. There is a seed with a clear juice, but if you leave it on your skin, it gets darker and darker until after about 5 hours it’s dark purple / black. It’s a bit like henna, and is used to do tattoos. So I got one on my shoulder of Leilana the monkey. It looks really cool, and it’ll last about a week.
- One night I had a pet frog in my toilet bowl who obviously swam up through the water. I couldn’t bear flushing him down, but also needed to go really badly, so the little guy got a golden shower.
- Fishing for piranhas. I was the only one that caught one. And we ate it for dinner later. Well, not just it, since it was only about 8cm long.
- Seeing pink dolphins, caymans and a sloth.
- Paddling around in the canoes. It’s so quiet, and the water in the morning is like a mirror, where you cannot see where the plants end and the river begins.
- Chilling in hammocks. Man, I love hammocks.
I would definitely recommend this lodge and this agency. The food was good, the guides were great, the owner of the agency spoke perfect english and wasn’t pushy at all, and it was just great fun. Now back to the hustle and bustle of the city. And I think I need a shave…