Jungle Stuff

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, September 21, 2007

Some travellers take the gruelling overnight bus ride to Lago Agrio from Quito. Most of them stretch their budget to buy a plane ticket for the way out.

We arrive by plane, mid-afternoon after a delay of 2 hours in Quito. I'm waiting like a junkee for the humidity hit, that wall of thick, fragrant warm air you're enveloped in as you emerge from the airconditioned environment into the tropics - I'm not disappointed.  A guide is waiting for us at the tiny jungle airport. Marcella is also waiting, another traveller who arrived on the red-eye bus at 5 am and has been drifting between sleep and a zombie-like state in the stifling humidity for the last 7 hours.

To reach Samona Lodge we bump along a gravel road for 3 hours leaving the oil town of Lago Agrio and following the pipeline over deforested alotments, small rivers, and villages. We pay the park fees at a concrete building by a bridge, where other backpackers are anxiously awaiting the van to connect to flights from Lago Agrio. A few minutes later we're skimming along a waterway in a long, narrow wooden boat.

The river is dark, flecked with afternoon light, and with that delicious odour of wild, unchecked vegetation! After an hour and a half it opens into a wide lake, lined and dotted with half-submerged trees reflected in the warm orange water. We pick up 3 Czech girls and their guide swimming around a canoe in the dusk. We find out later they've been working as life guards in Miami for the summer vacation and are here on a flying visit.

The lodge is located downstream from the lake and accessed from a tiny jetty with a set of wooden stairs. The buildings are basic, of rough wooden construction, with thatched rooves and arranged in a closed circle connected by candlelit walkways. All around, the forest is alive and friendly, filled with croaks, bells, bleeps, and chirps of every description.

The next 5 days are a tour-de-force of animal and plant encounters led by our passionate guide Naiser who can find a frog by its croak from several kilometres, or a python in the night by the glint in its eyes. He is faced with several conservation problems including greedy oil companies, and local indigenous people with the need to survive, all who want a piece of the Cuya Beno Reserve. Standing in the jungle or floating silently on the river, it's heartbreaking to think of anyone destroying this paradise. For some background on Ecuador, oil companes and missionaries, I can highly recommend Joe Kane's 'Savages' a textbook of anthropological reportage.

I can highly recommend Samona Lodge for its no-frills experience of the jungle. After-all, 5-star accomodation is no guarantee of close-encounters of the animal kind.

For the record, here are the animals we saw, although most of them didn't exactly do handstands while we photographed them!
Pink dolphins, 2 types of sloths, anaconda, emerald python and 2 other types of snake, pirańhas, caimen, numerous frogs including poison-dart frogs, tarantulas, fishing spiders, orb weaving spider, scorpion spider, humming birds, blue & yellow, and scarlet macaws, numerous other birds, bats, capuchin monkeys, pygmy marmoset, yellow-handed monkey, howler monkey, marching wasps, blue morph butterflies.

Obviously the more time you are in the jungle, the more likely you are to see things. For example, we were there for 5 days and saw many of the 'big' animals in the first 2 days. A good pair of binoculars is handy, and if you want closeup photographs, a 400mm+ lens is necessary as well as a good flash for night-time shooting.
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