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John and Mandi

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A-holes and Anacondas, Ecuadorian Amazon

Mar 9, 2018
by John
in: Ecuador

Actually, we only saw one anaconda, but first, let us backtrack a little. The Amazon has been one of those places that lived deep within the darkest confines of our psyche. A place that was shrouded in mystery and one that guaranteed imminent death to any who were brave enough to venture into its recesses. Nature shows, documentaries, crappy movies...all depicting an inhospitable landscape full of cannibals and undocumented excruciating diseases. The jungle of all jungles, home to the uncivilized and undiscovered. One of the last true frontiers remaining on earth, or maybe we once watched way too much television.

Arriving during the peak of dry season was supposed to be the worst of times, that proved not to be so. It did take longer to navigate the waterways and we had a good 200 meter slog from the river's edge to our lodge, but the diversity in wildlife was phenomenal. We have experienced the jungles of Central America, while different in several ways, the Amazon has many similarities to its cousins to the north. It was hot, rainy, buggy, swampy, lush, and full of wondrous creatures...pretty much what we expected.

What we didn't expect was the vast differences between travelers. Be it backpacker, multi-week vacationer, or overlander, we naively assumed everyone taking the time to visit the Amazon would have conservation ingrained within their hearts. Unfortunately, that is not so. When our boat captain, a native Amazonian, located an anaconda for us our group of eight diverged drastically. Within minutes we were all marveling at the size of the snake, half submerged in a creek, with a swollen belly from a recent meal. Suddenly a group member blurted out "poke it with a stick" as if the wild animal's sole purpose was for our entertainment. Our guides initial response was that we should not disturb the anaconda as it may become distressed which could cause it to regurgitate its meal.

Another group member kept inching closer and closer to the animal, eventually asking if they could touch it. The conflicted atmosphere was definitely apparent. Ultimately, the insistent group member did touch the snake, repeatedly, causing it to release its grip and move further downstream. That didn't dissuade the persistent member, they repositioned themselves to further molest the wild anaconda. While the oldest and youngest members of our group were the instigators, the four of us closely aged in the middle were the ones appalled and equally at fault. Our failure was remaining silent, dumbfounded from the lack of respect and regard. We were all assholes, for that, we are sorry.

What We Did

San Miguel: Colombia to Ecuador Border Crossing

We had heard about the long delays at the Ipiales border, busloads of Venezuelans migrating to Ecuador, so we looked at our itinerary and decided we would be better served by crossing closer to the Amazon. There wasn't much information regarding the San Miguel border but a recent post by a fellow Pan-Amer made it sound super easy. It was, less than 50 minutes in total. Every office we needed was in one building and there were no lines. The longest part was getting the van's temporary import permit, we had to help the nice agent complete it properly. Hopefully all the borders in South America will be like San Miguel.

Bamboo Ecolodge, Cuyabeno Reserve

After emailing several lodges in the Cuyabeno Reserve, we chose the Bamboo Ecolodge since our friends Joe & Josee had a great experience with them and they gave us a small discount for booking last minute, $260 per person for a 4 day/3 night tour with a private room. The tour started and ended in the town of Lago Agrio so we spent a night before and one after in a hotel, Lago Imperial. It was nothing fancy but the A/C was cold and they let us store our van in their secure lot during our trip into the Amazon.

Getting to and from the lodge is a half-day event, at least during the dry season. We started with a two hour shuttle to the bridge, had lunch, then took an almost three hour boat ride to the lodge. While we weren't super deep into the Amazon jungle, we were fairly far from civilization, 5 days by canoe from the bridge...how the tribal people previously traversed before motorized boats became available. Our accommodations were primitive, bug netting over the beds was essential, it was very reminiscent of how the Amazon has been cinematically portrayed.

The dry season is the off season and it was apparently so. While we thoroughly enjoyed each individual and experience, as a whole our tour was very disjointed and disorganized. We did come away overwhelmingly positive, jungles tend to always make us happy. Many things were put off or neglected, probably due to the absence of management. We don't expect the Cuyabeno Reserve to be our only foray into the wonders of the Amazon and we believe during busier times it is much more organized, as experienced by friends of ours. While the tour was a great experience, it is the Amazon itself that touched us so. Wild, rich, and home to fantastic people that know the true meaning of harmony.

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Reminds us of the fuzzy 80s posters

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Just wait until we put on our matching backpacks

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

It is a bamboo lodge

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Jungle romance

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Didn't we pay extra for our own room

One of our scheduled excursions was to the village of Siona where we witnessed and participated in the making of yuca bread (casave) for $10 per person. The bread is closer to a cracker, not to be confused with the Caribbean cassava bread we love dearly, and is made from a single ingredient. The end result is reasonably tasty, especially with pico de gallo, and the process is pretty straight forward:

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

We'd live here

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Machete matron

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Always happy when food is involved

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

He works hard for no money

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Always mesmerizing

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Pack it up, pack it in

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

All one needs is proper leverage

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Thin for the win

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

That's cracker Jack

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Oh, it's got bite

Our other excursion was to meet a real shaman, Shaman Olmedo. We were told about the importance of the traditional healing performed by the tribal shaman and about their role in the community. Luckily our group was joined by another, their guide was obviously more versed with the beliefs of the tribe and he conveyed a much deeper appreciation for their ways. We were offered the opportunity to receive a blessing and a cleansing, which I accepted. Both were very powerful, the second involved a prickly plant which left my back full of welts but is supposed to be as beneficial as ayahuasca. Later that evening, at dinner, I was asked why I volunteered. My answer was simple, maybe Shaman Olmedo could see and heal something I could not. Interestingly, those of the group that were not open minded were the same that later instigated the incident with the anaconda.

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Even we won't say anything witty about a real shaman

It would be hard to venture into any jungle and not experience a diversity in wildlife. We spent a great deal of time cruising the waterways, visiting Laguna Grande, took a hike through a swampy forest, and a short night hike in the woods surrounding the lodge. While we failed to capture images of everything, many things we wondered at without the distraction of the camera, here is a list containing some of the species we can remember: macaws, parrots, night hawk, toucans, boa constrictor, anaconda, saki monkey, squirrel monkey, woolly monkey, tamarind (milk face-black mantled), opossum, red back tarantula, wolf spider, fishing spider, egrets, cormorants, herons, anhinga, waxing bird (stinky turkey), kingfisher, cacique, oropendula, three toed sloth, bats, pink dolphin, turtles, bird eating tarantula, caiman (spectacled and black), tree frog, pileated woodpecker, assorted insects and butterflies, lizards, and too many other birds to remember. We also came across some fresh tapir tracks and ate termites and lemon ants, both were quite tasty.

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

OK man

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

When you crane your neck it gets confusing

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

At least we can see it when the water level is low

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Heron in distress

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

If vegetarians can eat fish, what about turtle?

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

One mighty small king

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Macho, macho, man

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Scene of the crime

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

The sun will come out, tomorrow

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

More like hairy

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

How much of this will be underwater

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Don't touch me with those raptor looking toes

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Damn impressive retro style

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Like a tea pot, short and stout

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Hang on little buddy

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

If Voldemort is raising an army we are going to run away

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Yuckity yuck yuck yuck

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

We slept like shit that night

Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon, Ecuador

Like we'd end the post with a creepy spider


Say what? (3)
Mar 10, 2018 at 05:59 PM
Wonderful as always. Too bad you were assholes :) But at least you weren't poking at a wild animal.. what wankers! Thanks for sharing the pics... such an amazing place.
Robin
Mar 15, 2018 at 04:12 PM
Fabulous pictures! What a wonderful trip! You got to see such cool stuff! It's always hard to know what to do when you're in the situation --now you know to say something next time. enjoy!!
Apr 3, 2018 at 01:32 PM
Sorry for the late reply Rhonda and Robin! Thanks and we will speak up next time, or just yell at the inconsiderate pricks. We are thinking of visiting the Amazon again further south so hopefully we'll get to see more of what it holds.
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