Swimming with pink dolphins

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Where I stayed
Senoma Lodge

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, November 14, 2008

RH: Together with two other girls from the hostel, Heidi and Christy, we were kindly dropped off at the bus station in Quito by Paul from the in-house travel agency, Carpedm, where we waited for the 11pm bus to Lago Agrio to arrive. Surprisingly the buses were quite modern and comfortable with toilets and TV's, not the old school bus type with wooden seats I had imagined.
The good thing about taking the night bus, despite saving a night's accommodation, was that you could see very little of the windows so we could pull closed the curtains and try get some sleep and not worry too much about the driving and terrible road conditions. I did wake occasionally, as you do when trying to sleep upright in a chair, and peered out a window only to see steep drop-offs and extremely narrow roads, scary stuff so better to keep the eyes closed till we arrived. Needless to say I'm not a good backseat passenger.
We arrived in the little town of Lago Agrio at 6:30am and made our way to a nearby hotel where we would be collected at 9:30am by a driver from the jungle lodge. After an interesting attempt to decipher the Spanish menu I had a breakfast of egg, rice & meat and a small plate of scrambled eggs for Inge-Marie. Our pickup arrived a little after 9:30 and just as we were about to leave 30 armed policemen simultaneously pulled up right across the road in trucks and on motorbikes. They were all armed and even had a few video cameras and within a minute they stormed into the hotel across the road. It looked something like a drug bust, but we happy to move on before any gunfights broke out.
IMH: It was a bumpy 2.5 hour bus ride to the Cuyabeno Reserve entrance. The Cuyabeno Reserve is in the Amazon Basin and probably one of the best spots to experience the Amazon in all its splendour.  At the Reserve entrance we were met by the friendly interpreter Rob (from the USA) and local lodge administrator. We boarded a wooden motorised canoe for a 2 hour ride down the Cuyabeno River to the Senoma Lodge.
Expecting just a cruise on the river, enjoying the Amazon 'vibe', imagine our surprise when we spotted several types of monkeys, such as the Monk Saki Monkey, many colourful birds and interesting (huge) insects on-route to the lodge. Wow!
I expected the lodge to be something similar to what we've experienced in Borneo (roughing it), but we spent 3 nights in an impressive eco friendly lodge with private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, even though the water was cold. I was delighted with the lovely set-up.
Even though we were exhausted on our arrival at the lodge (we didn't sleep too much on the bus) and were quire content with what we'd seen of the Amazon so far, we had a jam packed evening planned. We went piranha fishing and Ryan actually caught one! It was loads of fun and not that easy at all. The piranhas were a lot smaller than I imagined, but with many sharp teeth and we debated how many would be required to actually shred a human to death. We then lingered on the lagoon for an amazing sunset followed by 'red eye' spotting (aka Cayman - like a small crocodile). The water level was quite high and not conducive to Cayman spotting, but we did manage to see a few heads with their piercing red eyes above the water.
On our second day we went on a 2.5 hour jungle trek in the morning. It was very hot and humid, but you could not afford to roll-up your sleeves as the mosquitoes will devour you. (RH: There were so many mosquitoes that if you closed your eyes and simply clapped your hands in any direction you'd kill at least two buzzing buggers, good thing we had 98% deet!). It was fun tramping through thick mud manoeuvring over/under branches and insects .We also learned a lot about the local application of different plants, from birth control, antiseptics, anaesthetics, hair colour, poison used for hunting, paper leaves used as maps to find your way in the jungle to the vine with hallucinogenic properties, used by the Sharman (tribe chief) to heal illnesses and remove curses.
We visited a local community the afternoon, where 80 people live together lead by one Sharman who was 90 years old. Each community has their own language spoken locally with Spanish as a second language. One of the women showed us how they make flat bread from the roots of the juca plant, while the children were playing outside and the men were engaged in a very serious soccer game. We had the opportunity to meet the Sharman and he performed a cleansing ritual on Christy.
Back at the lodge we were able to fit an hour long jungle night walk in before dinner. I was a little anxious about all sorts of 'goggas' falling on my head or shoulders while fighting my way through the jungle, but I had nothing to be worried about. We found many frogs, spiders, insects and other night life. We were all relieved once back at the lodge, but knew that at least one huge Tarantula lives in each room. (RH: On a short walk around the lodge after dark I was able to spot more than 10 tarantulas, they usually come out at night to hunt, a little creepy when you know there right outside your door).
The third day was greeted with a sunset cruise and bird spotting, followed by another 2.5 hour jungle trek in another area of the jungle with very different eco system - more swampy. Ryan decided to enjoy some quite time at the lodge, relaxing and reading his book in a comfy hammock. The walk was a little bit boring, but it was fun walking thorough the swamp. The highlight of the morning however was a gigantic anaconda rolled-up in a tree and the 6 pink fresh water dolphins which we encountered on the way back to the lodge. We couldn't see the anaconda's head, which would have been great, but we were able to swim with the playful dolphins. Like many other animals in the Amazon they have adapted to live in fresh water, even if it was a 160 million year process. I was so sorry I couldn't share this amazing experience with Ryan, nor did I have the camera to capture it, but he did seem to have had a lovely morning of relaxation. A sunset cruise was a great way to end a very memorable day.
The fourth and last day started with a sunrise cruise after which we had breakfast and returned by canoe to the reserve entrance. Our return cruise was just as amazing as the trip in and we were lucky to see a baby anaconda, two toed sloth up close. It made for a perfect ending to a magical four days.
Some of the of the other animals we were lucky enough to see were: pink dolphins, woodpeckers, king fishers, parrots, macaws, cacique (common black and yellow bird), great ani (big blue bird, looks like a crow), tucan's (many species), vultures, many species of monkeys including; monk saki monkey's, milk drinking monkeys, pigmy marmosets, tamarind, night monkeys, yellow handed titi monkey, spiders of all kinds like the wolf spider, tarantula as well as the poison dart frog, various tree frogs and lastly the mighty anaconda and a few boa constrictors.
After the bumpy 2.5 hour bus ride back to Lago Agrio, we were very lucky to catch an earlier bus and arrived in Quito just after 11pm, not 1am the following morning as originally anticipated.
I will forever remember this jungle trip as one of our RWT highlights and look forward to the rest of our time in amazing South America! Hopefully we can improve our Spanish over the following days in Cotopaxi.
**We received such good service from Paul at Carpedm we though we'd include his contact details if anyone is travelling to Ecuador and the Galapagos: paul@carpedm.ca
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