I'm a gringo get me out of here
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
177Trip End Ongoing
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Cuyabeno River Lodge & Unknown Jungle locations!
Having decided we didn┤t want the standard 3 day trip to a jungle lodge we decided to go for something different and after having so much fun in the dug out tree canoe in Panama we also decided that we were now canoeing experts. What were we thinking....? We came out of the tour office with a 5 days/nights canoeing and camping trip down the Cuyabeno River all described in a glossy brochure! Questions like .... Will there any rapids? and .....will there be a solar shower ?.. remained unanswered!
After a bone shaking, disco dancing 11 hour night bus from Quito we arrived at the Cuyabeno National Park Office exhausted
A great lodge just steps up from the waterfront, cute cabins on stilts connected by raised walkways to a comunal lounge/dining room with a roof top watch tower and hammocks everywhere. At once the inhabitants welcome you - spiders the size of fists, beetles and UFIs ( unidentified flying insects), all around is croaking , clicking, tweeting and grunting.
On our first boat trip we spot a "baby" anaconda (only about 6┤ long) sunbathing, a red stripey vine snake, some cheeky monkeys, and lots of spiders. There are a few on the boat who are spider challenged... the guides advice is classic ... " you have paid good dollars to see that spider , enjoy !". When the screaming continued he revised his advice to ... " dont look at it then " tee hee!
On the way back the river is calm and 3 of us jump overboard and float back to the lodge in our life vests, the water is delightfully cool and the current sweeps you gently down to the lodge steps
We are reassured that most pira˝as don┤t eat humans, ditto the caimans that also live here.
Allthough we are all exhausted from the bus trip a great 3 course dinner and beers gets the lodge in party mood as we play games with forfeits like ....kiss the tarantula ( its a real tarantula who lives in the lodge and likes to cling to the wall map of South America). Thankfully the rest of our group liven up after a few drinks - we┤ve met so many "tick box tourists" - dull, rich kids, they┤ve been everywhere in the world but appreciate nothing - boring. Two top English women remind us that we do miss the crack from home sometimes. Plans for the morning are made with the rest of the group but our instructions remain a little vague and confusing ... no worries.
After waking up with a jungle hangover we have breakfast and Freddy our guide arrives complete with kayak and kit. We have a chat about "trip expectations". Turns out he has been asked to run our tour at one days notice, and he hasn┤t actually done this trip before ..
We were all in one large canoe. Us two, Ricardo the cook , Freddy and Naima, (Freddy┤s girlfriend from NY), plus all the kit and grub. We set off. Its fantastic without an outboard motor, you get up close to the wildlife, and the jungle is beautiful and at times haunting.
Eight hours later we┤re absolutely knackered, seizing up in fact, and still paddling! Ricardo┤s supposed to know where we┤re heading for tonight but when asked he just mutters to himself and shakes his head. We'll get to know that look. Yes, we┤re lost, which means another hour's paddling. All of us are that knackered we almost miss the pink river dolphins that almost seem to welcome us to the lagoon with their frolicking and jumping.
We bunk with a family who live way way from anywhere and seem very surprised to see us
A dawn birdspotting paddle is magical as we see the sun come up over the lagoon. And what birds - huge macaws in yellows, blues and reds, toucans, 100s of parrots and parokeets for starters, big birds of prey, together with all the colours of the rainbow. Monkeys are also very well represented, along with the odd snake and lizard. Magnificent.
Today's paddling is really relaxed, its fab. We've now got something of a rhythym and technique so we do a much better job of gliding through the water. Ricardo manages to produce 3 good meals a day, often in the boat, which takes some doing. We know we're doing something a bit different when we see other tourists pointing and taking photos of us!
The site for night 2 is an abandoned jungle lodge that's just perfect - miles from anywhere but the raised platform feels luxurious. We swim and then fish for piranas - Helen hooks 2 but the crafty buggers wriggle off. We eat another amazing meal with a huge thunderstorm raging, and later drank long and hard into the night.
Our guide Freddy is a fascinating guy
We talked excitedly about the next night's plans - a night of magic and visions, staying with a shaman further down the river. The next morning is memorable for being able to hold a hummingbird in my hand - it flew into a wall, stunned itself and fell into a bowl of water. We had to hold it until it dried off, its little heart pumping away like mad.
On day 3 we visited a Siona community, once very isolated but now rapidly connecting with the outside world. Our host Lucia showed us how cassava bread is made from scratch in 20 minutes, Helen giving her a helping hand with the final cook up. Their village is very basic but does have a solar panel or two which is promising, as well as the inevitable football pitch. A dominating structure is a huge satelite dish, donated by the neighbouring oil company but never used!
After that we're off to the shaman's house for the night
The first and lasting image is of Ricardo hacking away in virgin jungle with his machete to clear us a space, which he did in 15 minutes. Its his fault we're here but what a trooper. Will also never forget the mosquitos, which were unbelieveable - they bit through clothing, on the palms of our hands and just ignored repellant. Truth be told we were shitting ourselves for a while. All those tales of jaguars, snakes and other killers, to say nothing of malaria - yikes, we're going to die!!
Freddy asks "Can you make a fire?". Answer "Not in the rainforest when its been raining for weeks". Another unforgettable image is ripping page after page out of Sean's reading book to help make a fire, which just wouldn't start. Smoke yes, which helped with the mosquitos and ants, flame no. Where's Ray Mears when you need him? Don't be fooled - it isn't always possible to make a fire in the jungle
Amazingly we(!) make a camp and Ricardo produces a meal which we eat standing up, before collapsing into our tents and sleeping the good sleep. Toilet trips are a high risk strategy and Helen returns to civilisation with many many bites on her bum from one such visit - I stopped counting at 50...
Next morning we're happy to quickly pack up and leave - we've got a long paddle back against the current to the shaman's house if we can find it, where we're due to be picked up. After 2 hours we stop for a break and a little old fisherman from ome of the local tribes pulls up along side us. His boat was hand carved, his harpoon and spears hand made even the bag to collect fish was hand woven and he wore traditiona dress.He might have paddled out of the 12th century as he joined us for snacks and a drink. He tells us we've another 4 hours to the shaman's house... Bad news. Ricardo prepares the last meal in the canoe, in every sense of the word as we've no more food.
Suddenly, we hear an engine
The trip was nothing at all like what we booked or wanted but is one of the very best things we've ever done. A proper adventure, we were sad to leave and could have stayed for weeks once we'd got over the initial shock.