Caiman, Piranhas and HUGE bugs!
Trip Start Nov 24, 2007
49Trip End May 15, 2008
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East of the Ecuadorian Andes, the mountains fall away to the expansive green 'Oriente', where vast expanses of wilderness conquer the landscape and growing tributary rivers from the eastern mountains eventually feed into the great Amazon drainage. Although large oil companies have unflappably staked their claim on certain areas rich in petroleum and the demand for wood has led to tracts of land standing will little less than the shade of a planted banana tree, the land remains largely unspoiled and just sparsely populated, save for a few colonized oil towns
After visiting Otovalo, a famous market town North of Quito and stopping over in Papallacta (famous for its hotsprings) further to the East in route to Cuyabeno, we decided to stay the night outside of Lago Agrio which is the jumping off point for our trip, in the small town of Cascales. It's only reason of existence is probably because some people, myself included, would die before living in Lago Agrio. There in Cascales we witnessed one of the loudest thunderstorms and hardest rainfalls we have ever layed eyes on! I've witnessed an electrical storm that will never be forgotten with some close friends in Argentina as we drove through the deserted province of San Juan but never before a thunderstorm with so much force. Welcome to the Jungle! Shun, n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,n,,n,n,n-Lighting Shun,n,n,n,n,n,n-Rain Shun,n,n,n,n,n,n,n-Thunder! It was the perfect way to set the stage for what we were about to experience - a boatride to the eastern reaches of the Amazon and five days exploring its inhospitable depths
Going back a little, I am a little heated up thinking back on that storm. After ending up in Cascales (pre-storm) we met the owners of where we were staying and talked with them about life and Ecuador and all sorts of things in spanish for some time and then believe it or not, we went fishing in their ponds out back and caught Tilapia for our dinner. Hungry fish = Satisfied Craig.
After the EPIC storm and a meal which consisted of rice, our tilapia, Ecuador's version of a salad, and patacones (the most filling snack ever) we bid farewell and slept the night away. The next morning we said our goodbyes and hopped on a local Chiva (more authentic to Colombia but LA is near the Colombian border and has a definite influencia colombiana) and were off. L.A. is the poorest city in Ecuador and is aptly named after Sour Lake, Texas, the headquarters of Texaco and yes, you guessed it, the first company to draw oil from this particular area in the Oriente
Believe it or not, deep down I actually want to go back there...
Not soon after though, we were on our way outta there and far away from Lago Agrio did we go. After long hot four hour bus ride down dirt roads that led us past banana plantations, an ongoing cockfight, multiple stilt houses and even a school that wouldn't pass for a abandoned cement building back home, we eventually arrived at destination Cuyabeno. Our small group loaded our things and soon after set off five hours downriver in a motarized canoe to our thatch roofed lodging deep into the primary forest
Over the course of the trip, we: saw beautiful pink and grey river dolphins surface from the murky waters almost in a greeting, walked through overgrown primary forests where Ceiba trees rose like skyscrapers in a city of organic madness, caught and ate piranhas which I did not know tasted so good and unfishy, canoed through lagoons and up and down overgrown jungle rivers where small river turtles looked at us in angst before diving off of their log into the water... and the list goes on. An experience unlike anything else. What I´ve always wanted to do since I was a kid finally came to fruition. From swinging on jungle vines and eating ants off sticks to swimming in the great brown waters of the Cuyabeno and Aguarico rivers or sticking my hands into huge ant piles (not the harmful type of course) I definitely couldn´t have asked for a better experience. That is, aside from not battling an anaconda or seeing a jaguar!
In the mornings we would wake up early and go by dugout canoe down arms of the cuyabeno river, looking for awesome wildlife such as turtles, monkeys, birds, dolphins and anything else
In addition to all the fun things we did, we learned some pretty spectacular things about different flora and fauna. -Plants that create toxic residue to protect themselves from bugs and to keep other plants from growing near them by creating a highly acidic soil where their leaves fall. Trees that find nutrition from a specific fungus which in turn makes them fluorescent at night. Others that ward off overbearing species of vegetation battling for sunlight by shedding their bark or dropping their lower limbs which are overtaken by huge vines as they both try and grow upwards to the light
To top it off, the group was cool and our Ecuadorian guides Domingo and Enrique, had some pretty incredible knowledge of the jungle; including how to catch cayman. To do so, you must jump out of the canoe in the middle of the night after spotting its two red eyes by flashlight and grab it with your bare hands before it effortlessly swims away....hmmm....sounds easy enough. Domingo happened to be quite the expert though as his methods held true! Up close, it is definitely one highly evolved, extremely efficient animal. No wonder they have been around for so damn long!
We stayed in an awesome little thatch roof cabaņa with no electricity and shared it with huge spiders, crazy looking frogs, ants, cockroaches and other unknown bugs! At night all the noises, in addition to the humidity put you right to sleep
Oh and get this, one last cool thing that I learned. So the water in the Amazon is dark, muddy and murky right? Well, that's what I thought but get this. There are two different types of rivers in the drainage. Those which come from the mountains and run into the Amazon and those which originate in the Amazon. The Amazon itself if you want to call it that. The difference being that tributary rivers are called white water rivers and contrary to what you would think at first, are murky, muddy and full of....yes...sediment. The Amazon river on the other hand, the black water rivers, are in fact clear in the sense that they are virtually void of sediment and grains like hot cocoa would be compared to coffee or wine or like a river carrying with it a bunch of sediment from the mountains above. So at the confluence of two large rivers like these, their densities are so much different that it takes miles before they fully become one. Interesting? I thought you'd agree! It almost symbolizes this continent as a whole
white rivers=muddy and murkey meanwhile black rivers=clear (but wish a lot of tannins that cause the color that the faster moving white waters don't have the time to build up)
And where does the coffee-wine-tannin-black water come from? Well, over generations and generations of constant and gradual leaching of the organic material that coats the forest floor, over time as it slowly decays it is brought into the water during rains and such and proceeds to leach into the slow moving, topographically (very) flat rivers of the Amazon which flow through such swamps and ever-decaying wetlands! I love it. What a cool cycle...