On my second day in the jungle I woke early as the sun streamed in through my mosquito net.  The windows were just open wooden frames and from my bed I could hear strange noises.  Getting up to investigate I was enthralled to see a troop of capuchin monkeys playing in the trees outside my window, grooming each other and daring each other to go near the dining area, when there were yells from the kitchen as one of the braver monkeys dashed over the low wall and stole a banana off the table.

early morning visitors at our camp

After a massive cooked breakfast I set off with Javier into the jungle on foot.  I had been given welly boots as it was muddy in places and we wandered for miles and for hours.  It was everything that I hoped and expected with the sunlight filtering down through the canopy high above and Javier stopping very frequently to explain the medicinal plants and trees.  He pointed out insects and birds and then we found some more monkeys just getting on with their lives high above us.  We heard howler monkeys and exotic birds and Javier showed me some MASSIVE spiders and creepy crawlies, I licked milk of magnesium from a tree where he had made a small nick in the bark and watched as he found and burnt natural incense and a twig which smelt just like tobacco.

monster spider webs

I shut my eyes and stuck my tongue out as instructed,expecting Javier to sprinkle some sap or water onto it as he had been fiddling about with a leaf and a tree trunk.  Umm – lemon flavour water.  Umm fizzy lemon flavour water.  Quite tasty.  Ummmmmm – something crawling up my nose!  Fizzy lemon flavoured ants!!!!!!!!!!!!!  While I spat and blew my noise Javier was bend over with laughter, but I do have to confess – until I realised that they were ants they were actually quite tasty.

and monster spiders

At times our walk resembled something out of a Disney film or Avatar with massive orchids bending under their own weight suspended from tree trunks, and clouds – and I do mean clouds of butterflies swooping and hovering around everywhere, some of them as big as my two hands held with fingers outstretched.  There were bees, ants and wasps, and a warm humidity muffled the sounds.  It felt like we were walking inside a grand hall of tree trunks and leaves.

a clearing in the jungle canopy

Eventually we came out to a little beach on the edge of the lagoon and we sat in complete peace until the canoe with the others came and collected us and took us back to the lodge.  After an excellent and huge lunch I dozed off in a hammock for the afternoon, lulled gently to sleep by buzzing insects.  After our siesta we went out in the smaller canoe and paddled gently around the lake.  We stopped and listened to the cayman gulping and grunting somewhere in the the thick undergrowth and then as the sun launched itself over the horizon of trees we again swam in the warm lagoon.

no need to steal – bananas are left out for the monkeys

After dinner Javier led me deep into the dark of the jungle and with torches flashing on the trees and the ground we discovered a whole different world of insects, frogs and birds.  When we had walked for ages we put the torches off and sat in total darkness.  The starlight couldn’t penetrate the canopy and we sat like this for about twenty minutes in silence.  It was comforting and the dark wrapped around us like a security blanket yet a little disconcerting as I wondered what was out there in the dark watching us.  I believed I could see orange and red eyes staring out at us from between the tree trunks.

La Hormiga Lodge

Time was flashing by and on the third day after breakfast with the sun shining and turning the surface of the lake to mercury Javier and I set off on another big adventure.  We paddled and we paddled and we paddled.  Across the Laguna Cuyabena up the creeks and past the  sunken forests, around Cayman Cocha (lake) and then we struggled against a faster current in a a muddy brown river, finally bringing the canoe to rest in a shady spot among some reeds.  Looking nervously around for those pesky caymans we got down to fishing with a cane, some twine and a hunk of meat.

patiently fishing in the shade

We didn’t have to wait for long before the cane bent and up came – and an empty hook.  Several times we reloaded until eventually Javier hooked a snapping , growling piranha.  Yes, it really did snap and clatter its teeth and despite being hauled out of the water it was totally focused on trying to devour the meat and yes it did growl too.  It was the rojo (red) variety and it was really quite stunning although we were careful not to get our fingers too close as we posed for photos and then gently released it back into the water.

a red piranha

After a rest and a recovery from our frantic paddling we continued up the river until it opened out into the Laguna Grande.  What struck me on this trip was the total peace.  Yes there was noise but it was natural.  There was total unadulterated by man type of silence.  Like at Wadi Rum in Jordan and at the top of Machu Picchu I felt linked to this planet of ours, a spiritual, primeval connection.  Connected and a part of the larger global picture; feeling compelled to make my time here in this world count in any small way possible.

simply magical

We ‘parked’ our canoe under another shady tree and after another spot of piranha fishing (we caught a white piranha this time) we just sprawled in the bottom of the boat and rested for a while, Javier listening to his music through his earphones and  I counting my blessings for fate/opportunity/my guardian angel which had led me to this little bit of paradise.

breathtaking

We evenually paddled back in silence, back through the eerie trees growing out of the lagoon, parrots in the trees and the endless fluttering butterflies.  As we drifted down the muddy brown waters escorted by smudges of insects and with the plops of fish jumping around us I felt my energy levels recharge and my love for life given a new surge.

possibly my most favourite place on the planet

For my last evening at La Hormiga I had a special treat.  After dinner, three of us went out in the motor canoe and armed with torches went looking for cayman.  I had heard these creatures as we had paddled along the rivers but now was my chance to see them.  the lagoon took on a whole new personality in the dark, with shadows and intrigue.  I very quickly lost my bearings as we went up and down the channels but Javier skillfully navigated his way.  Every so often he would cut the engine and I would hold my breath as the beam of the torches picked out the bright orangey/ yellowy eyes of the stealthy cayman.

paradise

I saw the prehistoric snouts floating around us and once spotted one creature ‘take a ploof’ and with very little noise, push itself off the muddy bank and disappear into a swirl of water in the lagoon.  I felt priviledged and humbled to see these ancient creatures and quite a little bit scared to be so close to them.

My final morning I was supposed to get out of bed at 5am and go into the jungle and listen to the birdsong of the dawn chorus and watch the sunrise, but I lay awake most of the night listening to the rain hammering on the tin roof above me.  It was still tap dancing down at dawn so whilst Javier was more than prepared to lead me, I decided that it would be a soggy damp excursion that I could do without.

muddy waters hiding cayman and piranhas

After breakfast, we all piled back into the canoe which was loaded with trash bound for the town and the empty petrol cans and we began our journey back to civililisation.  We broke down at one point but a fortuitous passing canoe transfered some fuel to us and sadly we had to continue our journey.  Back at the little bridge I was I then offered a lift back into Lago Agrio by another guest where I jumped on a bus and headed back to Quito

The Amazonian jungle covers a massive swathe of the planet in South America and differs from country to country with different flora and fauna, indigenous people and cultures and customs.

it may be muddy but it is clean

If you want a to immerse yourself in a place where tourism is respectful and gentle, then get yourself to Lago Agrio and jump off into Cuyebena.  I stayed at La Hormiga Lodge which is bookable through Marco Polo Tours and who have various offices around Ecuador and I can thoroughly recommend them.

They were recommended to my by Andres the owner of the Mallki Hostel in Cuenca who is a jungle guide in his own right.  I had the option to visit an indigenous community within the jungle as part of my journey but I chose not to do this.  My trip was tailored to my requirements and those of the other guests and nothing was too much trouble.  Lilia worked hard in the kitchen and gave us filling, tasty meals and the guides – especially Javier were the best.  Accomodation was comfortable but built sympathetically with the surroundings.  Windows were generally open spaces, the water for the bathrooms and showers came from the lagoon and the hammocks in the communal area were perfect for resting up after a hard days paddle.

just hangin’ around

If you speak English and you are in Quito and you want to volunteer for a few months with Marco Polo Tours, do contact Ivan as he would like somebody to help out in the office there, selling the tours to English speaking tourists, and if you fancy exploring the jungle in Cuyabena in Ecuador do give them a ring or pop in to one of the offices.

Note:- Whilst I received discounted accommodation at La Hormiga Lodge with Marco Polo Tours this did not influence my opinion or review in any way.  I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay.

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