Monday, 13 July 2015

Amazon Adventures

The EcuadorIan Amazon is located in the eastern side of the country, in an area called El Oriente. We travelled by bus from Quito for eight hours to the frontier town of Lago Agrio, (which is 40 miles from the Columbian boarder). This area, like much of the Ecuadorian Amazon provides the majority of Ecuador's export revenue in the form of oil. We sat around waiting for the next bus for three hours, watching the rain.

From Lago Agrio we took another bus for a further three hours. The further away we got from town, the more trees and less agriculture we saw. Occasionally we would see a 'Se Vende' (for sale) sign on a patch of cleared land, surrounded by recently dug ditches to reduce water logging. 

At the riverside village of Parador Oriental a couple of houses lined the concrete slipway. A fat pig was teathered under a bush, lying in the shady side. I sat down on a makeshift bench next to a local guy, he got out his phone and played the song that goes 'take my breath away' from Top Gun. I'm not sure if he played it for me, being an English spoken song, or he just like the tune. A woman was doing her families clothes wash in a couple of large buckets on the waters edge, she used powder from two packets then threw the empty plastic wrappers in the river. A man with a huge belly, and his tshirt rolled up into a crop top was talking to her. He might have had a herdener. Another woman was in a canopy area next to the slipway, grilling plantain and chicken legs on her BBQ. It smelt really good. I figured the oil workers were here target customers, as the ramp was industrial sized compared to this sleepy hamlet. 

Then travelling by boat down the Rio Aguarico (a tributary of the Amazon) for a further three hours we saw families living by subsistence farming, reaping coffee beans, cassava, cocoa and breeding cows and pigs. They had cleared the forest around their stilted houses. In some areas secondary tree growth had come through. One thing was evident though, colonisation is increasing. We passed large container-like boats carrying oil tankers and machinery on the river. Apparently the oil companies are now undertaking directional drilling, so the drill is orientated to an oil reserve, and open cast mining (which is more destructive) is minimised. I didn't easily accept the no-environmental impact line which was fed to us, I guess old age has made me cynical. 

We turned up the Rio Cuyabeno into the Cuyabeno Reserve. Our fibreglass boat was about 8m in lenght and wide enough to sit two across, powered by an outboard engine. We were told later that these long fibreglass boats are now more popular than canoes made of tree trunks. Here the forest was much thicker, with some green giants still standing. We were now at an elevation of approximately 210m. Half of an hour later we were please to finally see our camp, just off the river situated in a lagoon. Our 17 hour transit was over. We were in a group of 13, which were divided into two groups each with a guide. There were 8 English speaking in our group and 5 in the Spanish speaking group. We soon got chatting with the other guests and had a very good time together. 

That night, and each night in the jungle, the sound of the crickets, grasshoppers and creatures of the night chirping away was overpowering and yet, comforting. We were miles away from another habitation and I found the blackness very peaceful.  

The water was everywhere. When I previously thought of the Amazon it would be off one large meandering river cutting through swathes of forest. Here it was more swamp, that is numerous braids of rivers threading through the jungle. It was wet under foot. The earthen floor was less than half a metre thick which meant that a badly placed foot soon sank into the underlying clay strata. At times we hopped from root to tufted hassock to prevent being stuck in the quagmire. Did it rain in the rainforest? Why yes, everyday. The rain was warm and by the end of our trip we just embraced it and let it coat our bodies, knowing the sun would steam clean us in the next hour.

Home sweet home

Over the five days at the lodge our schedule generally consisted of a 6am boat ride along the Rio Cuyabeno or own of its tributaries, followed by three to four hour walk, a second boat trip or walk and then a night walk. It was a heavy schedule, which we were pleased about. We took a siesta or sometimes I just sat on the edge of the lagoon watching the turtles sunbath and the Hoatzin birds (or Stinky Turkeys) poorly balance on branches across the water. 

We did spot a range of animals, and they were expert (as you might expect) at using the jungle as camouflage. Being in a reserve we saw wall to wall green. Tall trees lined the riverbanks, dressed in vines. The creepers and leaniers tie the trees together, forming a highway for the mammals, reptiles and insects. 

Our guide was good identifying birds, which were often the size of a chaffinch and up a huge tree; "See the branch next to the branch with the lighter colour leaves, third tree to the right from the hanging vine". But neithertheless, we did tally up an good list of fauna, which I've listed below (omitting many of the jungle birds). Each evening we consulted the (laminated due to the humidity) identification books with our travelling companions. I made some notes to improve my memory and soon learnt how to distinguish between a squirrel, saki, howler and woolly monkey. 

Two howler monkeys - for those of you who need assistance

As I mentioned in an earlier post our camera is bust, and we missed its' zoom function greatly, so I'm afraid we don't have many animal snaps. We did put out our camera trap at night in three different locations, and one night, much to our delight, we caught a shot of an nocturnal animal. 

Short video of a Capybara captured by our camera trap - apologies the shot is a little overexposed

One day we visited a local house, harvested some cassava (a tubular) and made pancakes. The whole process was labour intensive but the end dish, cooked on a clay plate on an open fire in a wooden house, was plaitible. What stuck in my mind the most was the immaceated pigs and dogs. 

I would have like to have stayed for much longer because the Amazon is my favourite place in South America (so far that is!). I really enjoyed the lush scenery, nature, sunshine and humidity. I often get asked if I would live in any of the places we have visited, and I sure would think about living here. 

List of fauna spotted (but unfortunately not photographed):

Plumbeous Kite, Great Black Hawk, White Throated Toucan, Masked Crimson Tanager, Black Headed Vulture, Chestnut Fronted Macaw, Channel Billed Toucan, Yellow Crowned and Orange Cheeked Parrots, Crimson Crested Woodpecker, Black and Yellow Macaw, Swallows, Kingfishers, Parquets, Jay, Stinky Turkey (Hoatzin), Social Fly Catcher, Large Billed Tern, Common Squirrel Monkey, Monk Saki, Red Howler Monkey, Three Toed Sloth, Common Woolly Monkey, Black Mantled Tamarin, Kinkajou, Yellow Handed Titi Monkey, Yellow Spotted Turtled, Fishing Bat, Toads, Frogs, Stick Insects, Tarantulas, Pink River Dolphins, White Faced Capuchin, Tayra, Capybara, Bush Master Snake, Scorpion Spider, Anaconda, Armadillo and probably a few more!

A few downloaded images of some of the more unusual animals from the list above:

Stinky Turkey

White Throated Toucan


Monk Saki

Yellow Handed Titi Monkey

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