We’re back from 5 days spent on the Cuyabeno Reserve. Cuyabeno, part of the larger Amazon river / jungle area of South America, is located in north-east Ecuador.
Just getting up to Cuyabeno was an adventure in itself. We took an overnight bus from Quito that arrived in Lago Agrio, a dusty town on the Colombian border, at 5.30am. We made our way to our appointed pick-up spot and tried to make our small breakfast and cups of coffee last until 9am. Then we took a two hour van ride to the river, where we boarded a small canoe and motored down the river for 28km (about 3 hours) to reach our lodge.
Siona Lodge was lovely. We couldn’t have been happier with our accommodation, the food, the staff and our fellow travelers. It was bliss. Our time was divided amongst trips on the river and lagoons and hikes and treks into the jungle. I’ll tell you a bit about the river activities in another post. I want to focus on the jungle treks here.
The night that we arrived, we were taken for a night-time jungle hike. Scheduled to take only about an hour, we ended up out in the jungle for more than two hours. There was just so much to see! During the day, the jungle is ruled by birds and monkeys. At night, the insects take over. We saw spiders and ants and crickets in abundance.
Being out the in jungle at night was exhilarating and a little frightening. At one point our guide, the energetic, intelligent and incredibly enthusiastic Jose Miguel, asked us all to turn off our flash lights. The darkness was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Even with my eyes wide open I couldn’t see a scrap of light. No stars pierced the thick canopy of trees. No city lights reflected in the sky. Nothing. It was disorienting and exciting and very scary. And the noise! The sounds of thousands of frogs and crickets was incredible and much louder than I was prepared for.
On our next jungle hike, a 4 hour trek on the other side of the lagoon, we saw the jungle alive during the day. Andy ate a termite and we both ate lemon ants (sour just like lemons because they live on trees that are very high in acid… so cool!) We learned about the different medicinal uses for some of the fascinating trees around us. We crossed streams balanced on fallen logs and trudged through mud. It was bright and fun and exhausting.
Our final jungle trek was the most memorable for me. We set off at 4.30pm so we could be in the jungle for sunset. We walked all around the lagoon spotting birds and ants and looking for frogs. As dusk set in, we reached what was, for me, the most difficult part of all of the treks. We were on one side of a huge mud bog and we needed to be on the other side. We were all wearing waterproof boots that came up to our knees, so we waded in.
First, we balanced on overturned logs and large branches, but as we reached the middle of the bog, there was no choice but to get into the mud. I stepped in and immediately sank. It was deep and with every step the mud tried to hold on to your boots. Just taking a step required a lot of effort and there was nothing to hold on to. Nothing to brace against as you tried to free your boots from the sucking muck. I had been doing so well up this point. I could climb the highest hills, jump over fallen trees and duck under trailing vines, but this squelching, sticking mud unnerved me. Andy was right behind me and I had to reach back and hold his hand, as much for emotional support as for physical support, as I waded further in and the mud reached the tops of my boots. Dusk was coming on fast and with every step I was convinced that I was going to sink up to my waist. It was a hard slog, and I could feel myself start to panic a little.
When I finally reached the other side, I was exhausted and over it. I wanted to be back at the lodge with a shower and a beer to calm my nerves. But, we still had more than an hour of walking in front of us. I was sure that the rest of the walk would be endured, rather than enjoyed.
But, within moments I was enthralled by the jungle again. We spotted a beautiful striped whippet snake gliding amongst the branches, I spotted scary red eyes off in the distance (Only mammals in the jungle have red eyes. It was on the ground, so it wasn’t a monkey. We don’t know what it was… jaguar, puma? Who knows) and we found a huge tarantula sitting outside her den. The last hour flew by.
When we got back to the lodge, we all hugged and high-fived. It felt like we’d achieved something. I was so tired, but also a little proud of myself. I’m not usually the kind of girl who is happy to get super dirty / sweaty / close to spiders / up to my knees in muck. But I did it! And, for me, that’s what this trip is all about.