5 days in the Ecuadorian Amazon Jungle

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Orellana,
Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's a bit of an epic journey to get to our jungle lodge and so we hope it’s worth it! 10 hours by bus down through the mountains where we discover the bus and lorry drivers in Ecuador are absolutely mental and severely impatient – they will overtake anything at any point on the road and seem to think everything will be ok as long as they beep their horn. We then arrive in Coca to Hotel Auca which has been booked by our agent for us.  After 20 minutes of arguing with reception about the agreed price of our room, we wanted a cheaper room they offered us a suite, a room with a Jacuzzi but no cheaper rooms, we give in as it has been a long journey.  When we get to the room we discover mice droppings all through the room which is the final straw.  We’re off to another hostel (Hostel San Fermin – not particularly recommended) for a hot but decent night’s sleep without mice.

Monday morning and we meet our guide Max outside the hotel along with a German couple that will be group for the next five days.  Max takes us down to the waterfront to see the monkeys (that turned out to be the closest we would be to monkeys for the next five days) and then to the hotel gardens where we got some great photos of spider monkeys and macaws – only cheating slightly!  We then have to wait for a couple hours for our transport to turn up – something to do with a blockade which sounds very South America.  We’re eventually off on a 3 hour ride by road and then four hours downstream on the River Tiguino by motorised canoe.  The trip wasn’t quite as pleasant as expected as the water level was low and so the manoeuvring around and over fallen trees was a bit unsettling – who knows what’s in the water! However the green of the jungle and the wildlife make up for it – kingsfishers follow the boat downstream, birds and butterflies pass us and we see a giant otter splash into the river.  We do get soaked halfway through our journey as we encounter our first rainforest downpour but that, I suppose, is to be expected!

We arrive at Bataburo lodge at dinner time to be served a three course meal and to be told about the area we are in.  We are visiting the Huaorani tribe who live in this region – our native guide is Huaorani and will be taking us on tours of the jungle.  The Huaoroni tribe traditionally lived in this part of the jungle but have been moving deeper into the jungle as the oil exploration delves deeper.  The tribe split into three smaller groups after attempts to introduce Christianity (and clothes) to their way of life.  Now there is the separate tribes, the Huaorani which have adopted modern life (they wear clothes and use modern technology to a degree), these are the people we see and two other tribes which are far more traditional and rumoured to be dangerous (we won’t be meeting them).  The other tribes have been blamed for numerous murders of missionaries, oil workers and loggers – but it is hard to know if this is at all true.  However it does mean the oil companies haven’t pushed any deeper into the jungle.  During this discussion we see our first tarantula – sitting on one of the beams in the restaurant, it’s pretty slow moving and we learn to ignore it for the next few days.  Although I do try not to walk under it!  The other thing we have to get used to is the constant flapping of bats overhead as they go for the insects that flock to the lights – very surreal.

The lodge is basic but more than we were expecting for a jungle lodge, all traditionally built with thatched roofs and on raised platforms it looks traditional but we are not too bothered by insects. 

The next morning is an early start to see the birdlife as the sun rises – it had been raining early which meant they weren’t as early risers as normal but we do manage to see toucans, macaws, kingfishers and various other birds from afar. We then head back to the lodge for breakfast – fresh fruit, juice, pancakes and eggs – breakfast was of a similar standard each day, very tasty!

After breakfast we go for our first jungle trek, we go to the start by canoe and our guide Jonathan goes first to cut a path through the jungle.  When we come to a clearing by the river we see river dogs in the water (apparently very rare), a tiger heron and hear monkeys in the trees.  As we run to catch a glimpse of the monkeys, our guide Jonathan stops abruptly.  There’s a poisonous and dangerous snake on the trail – excellent.  The first thing that we notice is that it is very difficult to see on the path as it is well camouflaged, so well camouflaged in fact that I never saw the snake as I refused to get too close, especially after the guide announced 'Be careful, it jumps’.  Jonny got closer to see it and said it was definitely hard to see.  Max announces that they have to kill it as its dangerous, but the two guides then seem to re-think killing a snake in front of tourists and resort to annoying it with a stick until it bounces off the path.  We then went back to the clearing where there are vines hanging from the trees, this makes an excellent rope swing for us all to try.  Each person manages into the same tree but fun all the same.  The rest of the trek was a bit quieter but our native guide was very good, managing to find tiny toads and lots of insects for us to look at it.  He also pointed out different plants and what they are used for – I kept the leaves that were used to make a medicine for snake bites, and we tried lemon ants.  Not so sure they tasted of lemon but they didn’t taste bad (they were very small!)

Back to the lodge for our three course lunch and then siesta time in the hammocks for a couple hours.  Afternoon activity is piranha fishing.  We head downstream, and try a couple different places along the river.  The fish are definitely there as they cleverly eat the red meat around the hook and resist our attempts to catch them.  Finally Judith catches a piranha and we see how vicious these fish are – they will try to bite through anything including the machete the guide puts in it’s mouth.  Then with a scream, I manage to catch a fish, not knowing what to do, I manage to get it into the boat but leave it flailing at Max’s bare feet, thankfully he finishes the job with a metal baton.  The boys didn’t manage to catch anything, so that’s girls 1, boys 0.  That night we have our normal three course dinner including three milk cake for dessert (very good) and an extra course of fried piranha with plantain.  The piranha was tasty but quite bony and so don’t think we’ll go out of our way to fish more piranhas. 

After dinner, we have our night time canoe trip around the lagoon which is at the back of the lodge.  The lagoon and surrounding jungle is pitch dark and we shine our torches around the lagoon to look for the red eyes of caiman.  We spot at least three but by the time we get towards the red eyes they disappear (I think the caiman work out that if they close their eyes we can’t see them).  What scared us the most during this trip, are the fish that jump out of the water, they are only little but in the dark you only here a splash and then once, a thump as the fish lands in the boat.

The next day is another jungle trek towards some large old sable trees.  On our way we see many river turtles sunbathing on logs.  We walk through the jungle where Jonathan points out caterpillars, toads, a hummingbirds nest and we get a glimpse of a deer before it darts off into the jungle  He also makes us a bag out of palm leaves which can carry up to 5kg. 

Then it’s back to the lodge for lunch, siesta and then our handicrafts afternoon.  This involves trying out a blowgun which the is a long wooden tube, through which the Huaorani tribe blow poisonous darts to catch monkeys etc. (we have a go at aiming for a plastic aim which neither me or Jonny manage to hit).  Then we make some bracelets where the string comes from a jungle plant and the beads are seeds.

It starts to rain after dinner and so I’m pretty glad that the night walk will be called off.  But then it stops raining and the night walk is back on.  So we walk through the jungle in the pitch dark to find insects – we find plenty stick insects, toads, spiders, poisonous ants and grasshoppers but luckily nothing more disturbing.

Our last day in the jungle and we head downstream again to go fishing in a lagoon. On our way we see more macaws, plenty of other birds and a few caiman slip into the water as we pass by.  Our guide pulls up on to a beach as he can see river turtle tracks – he finds three different nests and digs up all the eggs from the nests.  We’ re not so sure about this so don’t take part, but he assures us that there is no problem as they’re not endangered.... but something feels wrong about taking so many eggs as we find about 60.  They are worth about 25 cents each and good for fishing.

We get to the lagoon where we find a freshwater stingray in the shallow waters – again our guide claims he has to kill it as it’s dangerous but misses and it escapes unharmed.  We spend the next hour trying to fish again but it’s proving more difficult, I catch a couple of tree branches, our guide catches a piranha and Judith catches a tiny mouse fish – not quite as successful as last time.

After that Jonathan shows us how a traditional house is built out of branches and leaves and then we have lunch on a beach where Jonny is brave enough to go swimming in the river (I wasn’t!) – granted, he did still have all his clothes on!

After afternoon siesta we take a tour of the lagoon at sunset, where we see another caiman slipping into the water and are told stories of the anacondas, but don’t see any.

Our final day is spent travelling back to Coca, just over 4 hours by canoe back to our pick up point.  Along the way we take in our last sights of the jungle, with bats flying up stream along with the birds and butterflies.  We stop several times as Lucio (our chef but 2nd person on our journey) cuts logs in the water with a chainsaw to clear some of the river – a bit of a scary experience watching him balance on logs with barefeet which using a chainsaw but seemed to know what he was doing.  About 10 minutes from our meeting point, the boat floods with water and we pull up on a small beach, we have sprung a leak.  Lucio immediately jumps out of the boat with a machete and runs into the jungle.  We move all the luggage out of the water and the boys helps bail out while Jonathan fixed the hole.  Everything is under control when Lucio returns with....bananas – he thought it was a good opportunity to go and chop down supplies while we were stopped, what’s a little bit of water!?  But we finally make it to our pick up point and make the drive back to Coca.

In Coca we find a much better hotel called Hotel Rio Napo with a TV and air conditioning, this seems like a good treat after five days in the hot and sticky jungle.  The next day we head back to Quito by bus (after turning up at the bus station to be told there is no bus as it didn’t make it last night – this resulted in us running around town trying to find a different bus company to Quito, this sounds typical of South America and so we’re actually quite surprised it hasn’t happened before!)
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