Amazonian thunder

Trip Start Oct 07, 2010
Trip End Mar 13, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sanoma lodge

Flag of Ecuador  , Sucumbios,
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some videos
Pictures here:

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.  Off straight to the Brazilian embassy to find that afternoon working didn't seem to be an option, so chilled out in the Secret Garden backpacker and headed back there in the morning. Happily they bought a story about a family emergency and accelerated the visa to the 27th which was all I needed (note that until I pick it up, who knows if it has worked) - hopefully ending my saga with the visa.
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 first afternoon was a boat ride out to check out birds and look for Caymans (fresh water crocs). I absolutely loved the light and trees, as you can see from the pictures, the reflections of these huge trees "knee" deep in the water was very cool. We picked up 6 local people who were fishing, who joined up their paddle canoe and spent the next hour swimming and looking for caymans with us.  They speak a local language called Cuambu? here, one of the 13 languages of Ecuador (with Spanish and Quichua dominating). The swim at sunset was gorgeous, great to be in the lagoon at sunset. On the trip back it fabulous going fast down the river, bats flying all around and just a great atmosphere.  To make the world super small, 2 of the guys I had dinner with were Perth boys who were a few years younger and knew lots of the Perth crew. The search for Caymans and anacondas wasn't successful but was made up for with another lagoon swim. One of the guides son was coming with us and made some great pictures.     
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. Also cool to see the pink river dolphins though it only shows  a small part of it rather an jumping out. The afternoon was fishing for piranhas and a night walk, I have never been a successful fisherman and continued my success as a fish feeder. A few others did get some smaller piranhas and trout.  Apparently only one type of the 22 Piranhas is the violent one, and that's when it's really hungry (it's red piranha). This was what we trying to catch but kept on getting other smaller ones. 
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. It was cool to paddle to the walk and back, very back to the roots. The walk crossed the Equator and had plenty of signs of Tapirs. Didn't see a lot but great atmosphere walking during the build up to the daily rain. Cool small animals like an ant that stitches you up, strange cicada nests, tasty wild ginger, a super hard palm tree, massive trees that could be used as a bush telegraph due to the resonation when hit, crickets that looked like leaves, lots of frogs and eating a tiny ant that tasted lemony. On the way back Anaconda hunting but no luck. In the evening went out to the lagoon searching for caymans, a warm, clear starry night meant doing the trip in darkness and was very spectacular. We did see the eyes of the caymans but they left by the time we turned up.
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.
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