First starting with the list of animals we saw: Lizards, blue & yellow macaws, toucans, butterflies, spectacled owl, bats, caimans, frogs, red headed Cardinal, white winged swallow, stinking turkey (looks nothing like a turkey but like Fawkes the Phoenix from Harry Potter haha), tarantula, turtles (they would be basking in the sun and as soon as we came near they would jump into the water so we started calling them plops), two toed sloth, Amazon kingfisher, great annie (bird), white fronted squirrel, blue morpho butterfly, Amazonian duck, Aninga (snake bird), saki monkey, pocket monkey, scorpion spider, vegetarian snake, payche (fish), squirrel monkey, herons, madre de Luna (bird), common pootu (bird), bullet ants, leaf cutter ants, other species of ants, some species of eagle (no one could tell me what specie), a few other species of small birds and a small water snake.
Our experience in the Ecuadorian Amazon in Cuyabeno was simultaneously magical and frustrating. We booked our tour in Quito through Luis Tipan Tour Agency, a small agency run by a charismatic man named Luis. We booked a 5D/4N excursion to Samona Lodge for $260.
Getting to the north bus station in Quito was quite a challenge, bottom line, don't take a taxi if you're on a budget. Taxis to either station in Quito cost $8+ and if you take the local bus system it'll cost .25 cents. To get to the Carcelen bus station (north station) take local transport to the last stop & then there is another bus to hop on to take you to the station, this bus was free. Our bus was at 11:00pm so traveling this way was a little sketchy and took us an hour so good thing we left our hostel early. The bus from Quito to Lago Agrio is said to be about six hours, but really expect about eight. We got into Lago Agrio (meeting point for Cuyabeno tours) and we had the s***tiest "map" to direct us to our meeting point at D'Angelo Hotel at 9:30am.
We got in around seven and saw another lost looking white couple so we joined up with them in search of the hotel. After about 30 minutes of walking we finally found the hotel, had our basic complimentary breakfast and chatted with our new friends. Their names were Aleah and Erik, also from the states, and they were awesome (but more about the group members later). At 9:30 our contact from Samona Lodge greeted us and we hopped on a bus for about two hours to El Puente (where we got on a motor canoe to take us to our lodge). The four of us and our guide piled in and we got to ride in the motor canoe for about an hour and half just cruising down the river and trying to look for wildlife. But after about 30 minutes it started dumping rain on us, so good thing they supplied us with thick ponchos. So no animals were spotted but the experience was enough.
We arrived to Samona Lodge and it stopped raining, of course. We were in time for lunch and met the other people staying at the lodge. The members of this group were all nice but we didn't spend much time with them since they left the next morning. After lunch we had time to settle into our rooms and had relax time by the river or in the hammock area. Every day at 4:30pm we got ready to leave the lodge to do some activity. So on a daily basis we were kind of on a set schedule. Wake up for 8:00 breakfast, leave lodge at 9:30 for days activity, return for 1:00 lunch (this time did change kind of every day though), have relax time until 4:30, get ready for next activity such as motor canoe ride to head to swimming, come back for 8:00 dinner, hang out time and then bedtime since lights (run by solar panels) turn off at 10:00. For three days in a row we drove to Laguna Grande to go swimming (yes swimming in caiman & other animal infested waters) and stay for the sunset, which was beautiful every time. But no animals were ever spotted there except Mosquitos and bats. We also would go swimming off the deck outside our lodge. The water is brown and visibility is nonexistent so it can be a gamble swimming in the river but nothing happened to any of us and the water was refreshing on the hot days.
The lodge itself was great though. There are roughly a dozen different "ecolodges" and Samona is the cheapest I came across but the facilities were fine. Every meal we had was good and catered to vegetarians. Nine of us were staying in the largest hut but every couple or pair had their own private room and bathroom. I thought the lodges were well maintained and obviously the hammocks were terrific. Part of the adventure was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. You would get out from under your mosquito net and bring a light to make sure there were no creepy crawlies at your feet or on the toilet haha, oh the jungle.
As much as I enjoyed my trip to the Amazon there were still some frustrations such as being caught in between groups thus meaning repeated activities. On our second day we went on a hike through the jungle for about two hours which was fun but hot as hell and no animals to really show for it. Half of the reason I wanted this trip was because of the animals but we found out that October is the worst month to visit since the river level is so low. Also strangely enough this is the start of peak tourist season, which really makes no sense. So no dolphins or anacondas for us but apparently some other groups at different lodges saw them, so it really is luck and the guide you have.
On our first hike our guide, Clyde, didn't really explain much but spent a lot of time telling us about an accident he had that ended up with a stick going through his balls and stomach (so clearly a story we wanted to hear). When we returned from this hike we were drenched in sweat and ready for lunch. A new group of four people arrived and this is what made the trip all the better, the people we were with for days. Two Belgians arrived, a father and son named Bernie and Collin as well as a couple Juan and Katie (Juan from Spain and Katie from the UK) and these were some of the funniest and sweetest people I have met.
Michelle, myself, Erik and especially Aleah were pretty upset with the program of the lodge so we decided to add an additional day. So in total we were there for six days which really still wasn't enough. Normally to add another night it is $50 USD but we were able to negotiate to $40 for the extra night.
Besides the first day hike, we also went on a night hike and a longer hike in a different area. On the night hike we saw some more spiders, including a scorpion spider, in which Clyde put on our faces (if you wanted) but they are harmless but weird feeling when their tiny hooks are on your face. We also saw an adorable little snake, which was a vegetarian, I never thought a vegetarian snake existed but this one only feeds on flower nectar. That was really the only animals we saw at night though, so again kind of disappointed but still fun walking through the jungle at night.
On our last full day we all went on a day hike. I forgot to mention that before this day another group of five people arrived, an older French couple who spoke no English or Spanish (so sadly we never really communicated with them), a young German couple (19 & 20) who couldn't keep their hands or mouths off each other and another young girl from Denmark. So in total our group was 13 people. Collin & Bernie were told from their agency that the max group size was 6-8 and we were told 10-12, so 13 was really just too much. But alas we continued on with all of these people. We hiked again in the jungle and saw virtually no animals (except always ants- including bullet ants which are massive and apparently give the most painful bite of any animal) but the fun and ridiculous part was trekking through thick swampy mud that came up to our rubber boots. So three hours after hiking we arrived to where our canoes were waiting and we had to paddle back to the lodge. Ten people were in the larger canoe, so Michelle and I and Henne (Danish girl) were in the three person canoe. It was exhausting with just the three of us but we paddled for about an hour until our motor canoe passed us, which was returning from El Puente picking up another group of four. So that saved us about another hour or two of paddling.
Prior to this day we had set out on a separate paddling excursion (but only me, Michelle, Alaeh, Erik, Katie, Juan, Collin and Bernie) but it ended short. We were dropped off by a new area we hadn't explored yet which was not accessible by motor canoe and also this was supposed to be a good place to see caimans. So we started paddling and after about 15 minutes we had to stop because the river was completely blocked off by some fallen trees. So yet again just another disappointment.
As I mentioned we went swimming in Laguna Grande, which was really quite pleasant and we did this four times haha. Most everyone would jump out of the motor canoe and tread water, you could stand but you never knew what was in the mud, so most people were just swimming around. We would get back into the motor canoe and watch the sunset and await the attack of the Mosquitos. But this is when the bats would come out also and eat the Mosquitos, so seeing all of them fly above the water was pretty cool. After our dips in the lake we would head back to the lodge but be on the lookout for caimans. Clyde would be up front shining his light and waiting to see reflecting eyes. In our entire six days there I only saw three I think. Two of them were quite small, about a foot or two, but we did see the head of a larger one, about nine or ten feet according to Clyde, until it disappeared under the water. One of the nights we were in search of caimans the motor driver, Miguel, sped insanely fast through the river and Clyde was not shining his light. So not only were we not searching for caimans but we are all freaked out that Miguel would crash, but he knows his way and we made it back safe.
Another one of the days that was actually different was our visit to a local "indigenous" community, the Siona community. We drove by motor canoe in a different direction and made it to a part of the reserve where people live. I was hoping and expecting the people to not be so modernized but they were. People dressed in jeans and girls in kind of skimpy outfits, babies wearing diapers and people were eating snacks like potato chips and drinking bottles of coke. But we got to help make yucca bread, which wasn't bad just pretty bland. We saw how they pull the yucca from the ground, peel the skin, grate it finely, put the yucca pieces in a woven piece to squeeze liquid out, and then finally the frying of the thin bread. Also with the yucca water and excessive chunks, Clyde told us that the yucca is a good natural face mask for acne. So naturally half of us had him wipe it all over our faces. Basically another thing that made the locals stare at us all haha. I'm still glad we got to visit them but we were also supposed to visit the local shaman. But of course bad luck was on our side yet life also got in the way. At the particular time we arrived, a woman was giving birth and was having complications so the shaman needed to be with her and help which is totally understandable.
So instead we played a soccer match against some of the locals. There was a deal made that the losers would buy beer for the winners and it was team tourist against team local. Surprisingly the game went far longer than anyone was anticipating but in the end we lost by one goal. During play though the locals were shocked that Michelle and I could actually play and we played aggressively especially since a couple of the local women played but they were more afraid of the ball than actually playing. I played aggressive since there was this one guy (who we nicknamed diapers because he was wearing basically white boxer briefs that turned brown from the mud on the field) was playing like an a****** and I was the one covering him. He pushed me a lot so I got pissed and would push back, all the locals watching and playing would laugh every time I got the ball from him or past him. After the game we were all drenched in sweat so I decided to head to the river and wash off. There was a family of three washing in the river and minding their own business so I secluded myself and stripped down naked to rinse off quick. I think a minute later I looked up and saw Diapers staring at me so I glared at him and when he left I ran back to my clothes to put them on immediately. When I was dressed again, he had made his way down to the river so he could tell me how beautiful I was and ask if I had a boyfriend, it was so uncomfortable. I made an excuse to run away and when I returned to the field everyone was getting ready for group pictures. At first I was in the back away from Diapers (real name Rodrigo) but then he called me down to sit next to him. All the locals and people from my tour group were laughing and joking about me staying there to be his girlfriend. Overall the game was fun but in the end just uncomfortable. But we finally left and drove back to the lodge on the motor canoe.
As mentioned this trip wasn't what I was hoping for but still glad I did it and I truly did love most of the people who were on the tour. For those ever interested in going to Cuyabeno, I do recommend it but apparently the months of July & August are best for animals and less tourists (which to be honest makes no sense to me) and October is the worst time to go. Shop around for prices and just expect that tour agencies make promises that are bull s***. Also book from Quito and not Baños, since Baños will be more expensive.
But we loved some of our group members so much so that after much contemplation and talking things out with Michelle we decided to save traveling to Colombia for another trip and to travel with Erik & Aleah for a little bit longer. This trip was filled with countless laughs and lots of fun times with the group members.
We even had our "pet" tarantula that lived in the hut where we ate meals and we named him Vladimir, Vlad for short. Needless to say that although I didn't see as much animal life as I would have liked, it was still very difficult and sad to leave. I probably could have written even more about the small things and inside jokes with the group members but then this blog would have been never ending.
But we have more time in Ecuador and Peru now. I'll blog next about Quito, Otavalo and Cotopaxi all in one.