Trip Start Oct 07, 2010
43Trip End Mar 13, 2011
Pictures here: http://picasaweb.google.com/gstace/AmazonianWaterworld?authkey=Gv1sRgCLfivvT9puSq0wE
From the coastal heat of Mantanita, it was time for a trip to the Amazon via cold Quito. I toyed with kitesurfing but it was low wind and started raining on the coast. The trip to Quito was a lesson in efficiency, straight from the hostel to bus to Guayaquil (very schlick Chinese knock-off bus that looked like a replica of the new Mercedes buses and played a Hollywood movie with a ridiculous amount of violence, nice family stuff). Flight to Quito for $75 with another great view of the capital coming in
So I booked my jungle tour and caught up with a local Quitoian I met in Mantanita and went out to a great restaurant with a good view over the old town. This was my first middle upper class experience with the locals and it was a similar vibe to Bolivia and Columbia in terms of the people and the look and feel.
From there it was to the bus station and an overnight bus to Lago Agrio, close to the Columbian and Peruvian border in the Amazon (ie east north east). I did hear of a few stories of peeps having things stolen but no issues for me. Interestingly they had security check bags and guys for weapons getting onto the bus. The bus got in early, so after a nap by a pool hotel our pickup took us 2 hours drive to the river. We met our cool guide, Miguel, and headed down a river for 3 hours. There are stories of it taking 9 hours in the dry season when it doesn't have enough depth for the water. This time we had sunshine and saw a number of birds (a constant feature here) and a small very furry black monkey
The lodge was a camp of about 10 raised wooden huts for about 8 people each and a common eating and napping (hammock) place. Pretty modern setup, solar panels provided power for charging cameras and the raised walk ways between everything. There are a number of similar lodges around the place, so it's the place for it. What makes the Cayambe national park interesting are the lagoons that dot the river. They have glorious Maycam?trees in them, which somehow survive in 2m or so of water for around 11 months of the year. I am kind of perplexed how they can grow the 2m to get high enough to get above the water in the one month it's dry enough.
From the lodge, it's 2 weeks to the major tributary inside Brazil and another 3 weeks to the Atlantic. Though supposedly being the dry season, it had spectacular thunderstorms each day which made for fun fishing, bird watching or whatever activities. The river is a black river, meaning its all local water and not from the Andes. The Bolivian amazon I remember came with a huge flow straight off the Andes, so this setup is really quite different. The Amazonian tribes have apparently evolved these languages very recently after many were pushed off the Andes by the Incans and in the past 100 years. I am unsure how 5 languages evolved here in 4 generations but that's the story.
The next morning was up for a 6am for a bird watching trip. It was quite foggy but great atmosphere on the lagoon and though it was a little too foggy for lots of birds, we did see a lot of stinky turkeys, cormorants (these ones are usual, unlike the ones in Galapagos who can't fly), toucans, doves and various groups of monkeys. After breakfast we got a lift upstream and then paddled around the lagoon. It was good to do it at a slower rate and search for Anacondas and Caymans, and even though we didn't see anything (the water is quite high at the moment which means they apparently aren't so easy to find) just being on the water in the lagoon and swimming again really was fab
The night walk was really cool. Lots of spiders, notably the scorpion spider (mean looking character) and a spider with the strongest web (very impressive), a few toads, different ant types, termites, foaming insects and lots of random insects and cool spider webs. The chance of seeing Jaguars was really slim but I hold out.
The third day really was special, it was Xmas eve and involved a 20km paddle downstream to a local community. Lots of stops for piranha fishing, which didn't seem to help too much as we just fed them really. After lunch in the boat and a visit to an enormous tree, we visited the local village. It was quite well off as a village, power lines, solar panels, EU funding for water storage tanks and everyone looked healthy. There we did all sorts of things: practised blow darts, played with the coolest local hen bird that climbed on and did everything with us, making some bread (we cut the tree like plant for it's root, grated it, dried it out, sieved it, and then cooked it on a hot plate for a large flat bread) that we ate with a local chilly jam (yummy, a kind of spicy Vegemite), played with the cuuuuutest monkey ever, had some local chicha (local alcohol made from some roots) and a soccer game with the kids (odd moment in life to be tackled by the aforementioned monkey)
The next part was very special. We went to find the other Shaman via a 20 min high speed boat downstream. The sun was out and there were a few Avatar'esque trees poking out from the standard 30m high foliage either side making it really very spectacular. We met the friendly fully dressed up Shaman and his family, and proceeded to have the local Shaman techniques and ideas told to us with our guide translating. I really liked how friendly everyone was. For $20 we got a 500m coke bottle of the local hallucinogen that the Shamans use for being at one with nature, and told not to eat beforehand (it makes some people vomit and go the toilet). The Shamans here use it a lot and live to quite an age. The trip back impressive in just how the driver navigated all the various turns and river splits plus random obstacles in the water all whilst driving high speed with no glasses managing the huge number of midgies at near darkness.
The night walk feature was crossing a creek on a small log and then taking the local herbal hallucinogen (a sour chicha tasting drink) with our guide explaining carefully what it did. On the walk back seeing a large tarantula do a bungee maneuver just in front of us at a moth (see pics). The festivities for Xmas kicked off and I chilled out by the river bank waiting for it to kick in. After one and a half hours I joined the others as I didn't think it was working but in about 2 hours it kicked in so I grabbed the ipad and listened to music in a hammock. The best description was with eyes closed it did put lots of colours around, kind of like windows media player visually reflecting he music.
Xmas day I changed plans to go back and had another day in the jungle. No communication to anyone for Xmas, so the family Xmas Skype link up was missed. Went for a walk through a drier part of the jungle for 3 hours
The last day we had great weather all the way on the boat ride back to the road. Rather than bus back, I decided to fly which led to yet another great view of Quito on the landing and impressive to see how quickly the Andes rise out of the Amazon.