It’s that spur of a moment conversation that you have with travellers in a hostel that makes travelling fun and interesting. This was one of those moments. Having breakfast one morning at our hostel in Quito we started up a conversation with two young girls who had just come back from a 4 night tour to the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador. They had seen caimans, monkeys, toucans, sloths, snakes and many other birds and insects and had experienced treks, sunset canoe trips on the lake and visits to a local indigenous community and it’s Village Shaman. They gave us the name of their travel agency and also a tip about taking the private bus down instead of the public bus. We booked a three-night package to the Amazon Jungle through Diana of Galapagos Last Minute Travel:
Our Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Day One in the Amazon Jungle
The private bus left the Mariscal Foch area around 11pm getting us into Lago Agrio the next morning around 7am. The drop off point is a small hotel where you can have breakfast whilst waiting for the next bus for the two hour journey to El Puente the drop off point for a 2 hour canoe ride to the Ecolodge.
The operation to get you to the lodge is smooth and efficient. The 2 hour canoe ride whets your appetite for what you will see over the next 3 days.
In the first hour we came across two different types of monkeys chattering and screeching whilst swinging from branch to branch, a boa constrictor just hanging sleepily on a branch we were travelling under, a sloth in his 20 hour sleep sojourn who was not going to be woken at any cost and many different types of birds. Our guide Nesir was very experienced and knowledgeable about jungle life, its inhabitants and its uniqueness.
Luckily we arrived just in time for lunch. All meals are included whilst you are at the Lodge but wine and beer are extra. The vegetarian options were very good. After checking in, we spent the afternoon relaxing and getting to know our surroundings before we headed off in the canoe for a swim in the lake at sunset.
Arriving at the lake we witnessed a stunning sunset, the huge red ball slowly descending on the horizon behind the jungle giving off its last rays for the day. Some of our group enjoyed the refreshing swim in the lake. Our boat then dropped us off at a river bank for our one hour night walk through the Jungle. Gumboots and plastic ponchos on and with the light of our torch app on our iPhone (not really strong enough for the darkness of the jungle) we head into the unknown with Nesir leading the way.
It is dark, really dark and there are spooky shadows looming all around us. We are in the middle of the wet season and the ground in places is slippery thick squelching mud or raging rivulets of rain water running treacherously down paths. Nesir pauses and points to the bark of the tree in front of us, ‘scorpion’ he says. All we can see is black bark, how on earth could he see it. He produces a blue light and there right in front of us is the first live scorpion many of us have ever seen.
Loud noises erupt around us. Apparently it is frogs not animals as we all thought calling out to their mates.
We trudge through the darkness only to stop again where we have the pleasure of meeting our first very large black hairy tarantula on the ground in front of us. We learn they live for about 20 years. 20 years too long for most of our group who are not keen to be too close. We have tarantulas in Australia, but these are giants compared to ours. Other spiders loom on trees around us sharing the jungle with termites, red ants, crickets and something similar in shape to praying mantis but much larger.
The hour felt much longer in the darkness but soon enough we find ourselves back at the boat. Our lodge is about 20 minutes away and on the return journey Nesir searchs for caimans, birds, more snakes and anything else that is awake at this time of the night.
A well deserved beer at the bar and then a hearty dinner followed by a good nights sleep was very welcome.
Day Two in the Amazon Jungle:
Breakfast the next morning was at 8am where we were briefed on our activities for the day. First off a 20 minute canoe ride through the lake to the Jungle for our 3 hour trek. Gumboots and ponchos are a must as we are still in the wet season and it has already started to rain. We arrived at our destination and headed up the steep muddy pathway already slipping and sliding, what we didn’t know was this was the easy bit. Nesir explains the flora of the jungle area and how certain plants can be used for your survival. He stops and points to a large tree growing along the path and jokingly calls it the gin and tonic tree. The bark of this tree is quinine bark one of the rainforests famous trees and used to treat malaria and of course, a small portion of quinine is the basis for tonic water used in gin and tonics.
The rain is now torrential, it is hard to take any photographs of what we are looking at. We trudge through the mud, tripping over tree routes that have become hidden by the muddy ground until we reach a small overflowing creek. To navigate our way across there is a small tree trunk that we have to balance on carefully – one foot at a time. When we near the end we are told to run through the mud bank, easier said than done. The first of our group suddenly loses her gumboots as she sinks into the dark mud, it takes three men to pull her out of the sinking unforgiving mud and she is told to run. Running with gumboots full of mud, the rest of look on with fear. We all take that first step, feel the mud and try to run through it, not sure whether to laugh or cry but we eventually all make it and start our ascent up another slippery slope to the top of the hill. Nesir is still pointing out flowers and trees and most of us at this stage have given up listening, all thinking of the lunch waiting for us back at the lodge. As we descend we can see the lake in front of us through the pouring rain and our canoe waiting for us. But wait! There is no engine. All we can see are sets of oars on the hull. Lunchtime looks a long way off. With the rain teeming down, we all set off rowing in different stroke times until the rhythm is established. Some of us has never rowed before and probably won’t again after this adventure. What took 20 minutes with an engine took 90 minutes rowing. Only the thought of lunch kept everyone rowing at a regular speed.
In the evening we headed off for another sunset on the lake, last night’s was certainly more spectacular. Tonight, though, we are looking for the elusive wild pink dolphin all hoping to get a glimpse of these spectacular mammals that ply the waters here in the Ecuadorian Jungle. A boat speeds by and the driver points to a side estuary where he has seen the signs. We head off in the direction and soon we see the ripples, it turns out to be a lone dolphin hunting for fish. He does not surface but we can see where he is by the churning of the water. We leave him to hunt his dinner and as one of the group needs a toilet stop we head to the closest lodge.
Pulling into the pontoon two big eyes suddenly come out of the water followed by a swish of a long tail – a caiman, right there in front of us. He glides to within inches of the boat and we all move back in fear. He eyes us hungrily and we eye him back fearfully. We all wanted an encounter with a caiman and we got one, not thinking it would be this close. Not many selfies were taken at this point, and luckily it was time to leave.
Day Three in the Amazon Jungle:
A beautiful morning as we head down river this time for one and a half hours to reach the indigenous village of the Siona community.
We are treated to a demonstration, cooking and tasting of bread made from the root vegetable manioc. It is quite a process from the cutting of the manioc root from the garden to the eventual eating of the hot bread, but it is a necessary one for the sustenance of the community and the young girls of the village. Their expertise in this traditional form of bread making endows them with a happy married life, as their marriage depends on their capability in this field. The bread is tasty especially when the local chilli paste is applied. We all eat so much hot bread that we have not left room for our boxed lunch that was provided by the Lodge.
After lunch we all have a go with a blow pipe to see if we can reach the set target. It is harder than it looks, and only the seasoned professionals make the mark.
We are lucky today as we are told the Village Shaman is in residence and has time to explain to us his secrets and ancesteral knowledge of shamanism. We head off through the fields until we reach his home. Through a translator we learn how his grandfather and father before him were the Shamans of the village and how he undertook his training to carry the tradition on. He explains that he has a special potion that he gives to pregnant women 15 days before their due delivery date. The effect of the potion allows the baby to be born very quickly and without any pain at all to the woman. There is another potion available for women who do not want to conceive. Here in the jungle there is a special tree where the bark is used by teenagers to drink which allows them to be still able to give birth in their 70s and 80s if so desire.
We head back to the lodge and rest and for those wishing to have one more swim in the lake at sunset another excursion is planned at 5.30. Nesir was given some manioc to bring back with him and he prepares hot manioc chips for us all to try. They were the best chips we have tasted for a long time.
Day Four in the Amazon Jungle
We depart our Lodge at 9.30 for the 2 hour canoe ride back to El Puento.
We sight another sloth just lazing about, many different types of monkeys in groups at different parts of the river and many birds and brilliant blue butterflys. A short wait and we are taken to the airport 2 hours away for our private bus back to Quito. 6 hours later and we are out of the heat of the jungle into the cool cold air of Quito.
Our trip to the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador is highly recommended.
Cost of our trip to the Amazon Jungle: 3 nights/4 days USD$240 per person
Private Shuttle Bus to the Amazon Jungle and return : USD$15 per person each way
Not included: tips for the guide, driver and staff within the restaurant and Lodge
Not included: community fee for the Siona community i.e. USD$6 per person
Tip: Bring wet weather gear, although they provide gumboots and ponchos but if you have your own all the better. A strong torch is a must. Sunscreen and repellant. Zip lock bags for your camera equipment and extra battery. They do have a charging station for phones and computers.
Have you travelled to the Amazon Jungle?