I know that I keep on banging on that I have found the most perfect place on earth, but I honestly do think that I am getting close. Or at least close to the most perfect natural environment on earth. The Jordanian desert at Wadi Rum and the mountains around Amagá in Colombia have now been pipped to the post by Cuyabena which is in the Amazonian jungle in the north of Ecuador.
Andres, jungle guide and owner of the Mallki Hostel in Cuenca kindly arranged for me to visit La Hormiga Lodge (The Ant Lodge) and to stay for four days with some of his friends.
Whilst excited, I approached this with some trepidation because I knew that the stay would mean travel by canoe – and I have, or rather had, quite an aversion to water and boats.
My trip didnt get off to a good start when my seven hour bus journey to Lago Agrio turned into ten and a half hours of hell. It turned out that earlier that day a bullion van had been hijacked on the mountain road and blown up and it had reduced part of the road to rubble. As well as trying to repair the road the army and police had a heavy presence and basically stopped everything from moving so our bus just sat by the side of the road in the dark with everybody else for ages.
Anyway, I eventually rocked up in the jungle town of Lago Agrio with just half an hour to spare and I found the travel agency of Marco Polo Tours who were organising my adventure and who have the lodge where I was to stay.
I was checked in and all of the necessary paperwork was completed and then I was loaded into the backseat of a truck and we went sourcing fuel, oil, food and water for the trip. This was followed by a two hour drive into the jungle – as we bowled along the roads I tried not to dwell too much on the amount of fuel that was strapped in the back of the pick-up in huge plastic drums and which had converted us into a giant moving petrol bomb.
We safely arrived at the ‘bridge’ – the launching point into the jungle. From here transport was solely by water, but first I was given lunch while everybody sorted themselves and the cargo out. EVERYTHING had to be transported into the jungle by the canoes – the food, bedding, building materials and fuel as well as the staff and the guests, and this bridge area was the main jumping off point for all the lodges in this region so it was quite a hive of activity.
I was introduced to an Argentinian couple who were to stay at the same hostel for just one night, and then we settled ourselves into our canoe and we were off down the muddy brown tributory on another two hour leg of the journey. Our powerful motor propelled us along, with the guide Javier pausing every so often and pointing out the birds, trees, flowers and eventually whoop whoop – a monkey in the trees above us. I had seen wild monkeys in India but out there among the temples and buildings they are just a pest – here was a real wild monkey in its proper habitat and we were all so excited as we drifted around below it.
Eventually the river emptied out into a large lagoon. This was the bit that I had been dreading, but with submerged forests and trees right down to the water’s edge it was so breathtaking I was not scared. I didn’t want the journey to end. It was magical. The surface of the lake was a mirror reflecting the clouds and the trees and whilst it was certainly not quiet with insects, birds and canoe motors there was no hum of traffic, no drone of distant aeroplanes and no other man-made noise.
The sheer magic of the place brought tears to my eyes and I felt really emotional. We reached our little jetty and we made our way up to the lodge and our accomodation. Here again I was pleasantly surprised. Ivan had built the lodge himself and had opened it just four years previously. It could accomodate up to thirty two guests in a variety of rooms where pretty mosquito nets draped over comfortable beds and showers were fed by lake water and heated by the sun.
After a short rest following our journey our little group of three split up, and after being told that I should wear swimwear, Javier and I set back out in the canoe to see the most stunning sunset. There were some of the canoes from the other lodges scattered about the centre of the lagoon and some people swimming in the water. I had assumed that we would find a nice beach area to swim from, but I tentatively lowered myself into the luke warm water to discover that, even in the centre of the large lagoon I could touch the sludgy muddy bottom in places. The water level was receding because we were in the dry season but I nervously swam around – after all the laguna was filled with pirhana fish and cayman.
It was then, after I had struggled very inelegantly back into the canoe that Javier told me that the pirhanas and other fish fed at the perimeter of the lake from berries and insects that fell in and the caymen in turn, fed on these fish so we were quite safe out in the middle of the lake. I couldn’t help wondering how long it would take creatures that were crawling about on the planet at the same time as the dinasours were roaming around to work out that most evenings a large banquet gathered in the centre of the laguna at sunset and they should maybe make their way there to feast upon the tourists.
As the sun set over the forest, the lagoon turned even more magical and beautiful if that were even possible. The reds and oranges were reflected in the perfect mirror surface of the lake, the trees which were growing up from the water became silouhettes and the insects got louder. The large birds and parrots swooped noisily across the lake to roost in the trees on the islands and then suddenly, dark fell and the frog chorus began. When we paddled silently alongside the edge of the lake we could hear the cayman grunting and rustling eerily in the weeds.
After dinner back at La Hormiga we found quite a large snake curled up under the stilts of the building and three giant toads hopped around our feet in the dining room catching some of the insects which were attracted by the lights. A generator powered the electric and I charged my camera (a phone was useless here with no wifi) but it was however ‘lights out’ very early to conserve the generator fuel and then it was just us, the dark and the noises of the jungle.
As I got into my bed and I very carefully made sure that the mosquito nets were pulled completely down around me, I reflected on all of the horror films that I had ever seen, where snakes slither in through open windows and then up and inside something as flimsy as a net. Despite worrying for all of ten minutes I was soon fast asleep.
Find out how I got on in the jungle next week. Make sure that you don’t miss out by following this link and ‘liking’ my Facebook page or submitting your email address in the box at the side of this page.
Note:- Whilst I received discounted accommodation at the La Hormiga Lodge this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay