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Irene's Adventures

Amazon - Guacamayo Eco-Lodge

ECUADOR | Monday, 30 December 2013 | Views [1430]

This blog is dedicated to Jill, Mitch, Sylvain (Sidney), Guillaume, Mayra and Julie  <<<HUGS>>>

Our group 

Since we were pressed for time, we opted to caught the 9:00AM, 25 minute flight to Lago Agrio versus the 8 hour bus ride which had to wind its way through countless switchbacks. We were told to put our tour sticker someplace obvious for our guide to easily spot us and take us on the next leg of the journey. When we got to Lago Agrio we were spotted by a guide from a different tour who ended up taking us on the 2 hour ride to Cuyabeno Bridge in his bus to catch a boat up river.

 the boat ride

There were 3 of us on the flight going to Guacamayo Ecolodge. When we got to the Bridge we were told that the rest of the group had already caught a boat and left so they were making arrangements for us to take a different boat. The bus that had dropped us off was parked right there. The other group had their packs on the side of the bus, closer to the river, as it appeared that their boat was ready to go and we had our packs at the front of the bus, so as not to mix them up with the other group. We three were all digging in our packs for sunscreen and bug spray when suddenly Ed shouted “Watch Out!” Irene looked up to see the bus coming right at us!! Irene stepped back and away from the fast approaching bus and basically started to scream “STOP”. Julie was caught right in the middle. By the time the bus stopped she was half under the bus with her pack under her. Had the bus gone 6 inches more it would have crushed her hips. The bus had to back up to release her. By this time everyone is yelling and screaming – mostly at the bus driver – who was obviously shaken and feeling very stupid.

 Cuyabeno Bridge

We were loaded into a long, motorized canoe with a local man and his family and off we went up the river. Although we were told that we would have a guide transporting us up the river and spotting wildlife as we went, we soon discovered that this was just a local man they had cajoled into taking us along while he was on his way home. He did not speak a word of English and it was quite obvious that he just wanted to get us to the lodge and out of his boat. We could see and hear things in the jungle that pressed in on either side of the river, and even though we would be pointing and shouting, he motored on. We were passing the boats that had left before us as they were stopped and obviously getting information from the guide in their boat. Finally, another boat shouted something at him and we went back to see a baby anaconda in a tree. Then we zoomed off again. Further up another boat operator shouted at him and this time we saw a 4 meter anaconda swimming in the water. In the end we beat everyone to the lodge.

 Anaconda

(This and the fact that no one was there to meet us at the airport were reported to Paul at CarpeDM. He looked into the matter and was told that the bus sharing had been going on for several weeks but he was not informed. It was not a big deal but at least now he can inform future guests. He was very upset about our boat ride and I am sure he is remedying that as I type this.)

 

We got off the boat onto a set of stairs that led up the river bank to the Lodge. There was a raised wooden walkway that took us directly to the dining room, which was like a thatch covered patio. We were given a small orientation about the lodge. There was electricity supplied by solar panels – please shut lights off when not in use. The wash water was filtered from the river – safe to shower in but do not drink it or brush your teeth with. There was large bottles of purified water to fill personal drinking containers. Do not step down onto the ground from the walkways – if you drop something, call one of the personnel to fetch it – you don't know what might be down there in the grass. Rain ponchos and rubber boots were supplied. We were then assigned our sleeping quarters. They were basic wooden huts with thatched roofs. There were 3 units to a hut. The interior walls went up about 3 meters while the ceiling/roof was about 5 meters – one could throw something over the interior wall and into the next unit if one felt naughty. We had a double bed with a mosquito net, an open cupboard to store our bags, some pegs on the wall and a large bathroom with toilet and shower. All the huts had a railed veranda, which eventually served as a place to dry our clothing.

 Guacamayo Eco-Lodge

There was an observation tower on the lodge grounds. It was about 3 stories high. We were encouraged to go up the tower early in the mornings to watch the birds. At the first sign of a person going up, one of the guides would go up the tower with a telescope and a bird guide. He would spot the birds, line up the telescope for us to have a good look and point it out in the bird book. They were happy to answer any questions we had about the birds as well as other jungle related questions. The best bird watching was from 6:00 – 7:30 AM. After that they tended to be mostly gone.

White throated toucan 

white throated toucan

blue and yellow macaw 

blue and yellow macaw

oropendola

  oropendola

parrot 

parrot,

and black vultures seemed to be the most popular birds that showed up.

The oropendola were the most fun to watch. This is the bird that has the meter long nest that hangs down from trees. Their mating dance is hilarious. It is quite a big bird, about the size of a large crow. It has a gurgle chirp sound; but the funny thing is the way it moves when it makes the noise. It throws itself forward, almost upside down on the branch, while throwing its wings back and out – like an over dramatic actor's bow. My thanks to Alexander Grimwade for the video on YouTube, as I was not able to catch it with my camera. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HjNZ1a0PTY

 oropendola nest

Everyday we would get into the canoes and go down the river looking for wildlife. Our guide, Elvis, had eagle eyes. We were amazed at some of the things he spotted in the trees.

Elvis on the lookout

We saw a sloth

  sloth

turtles 

turtles

snakebird 

snakebird drying its wings

blue heron

  blue Heron 

tiger heron 

tiger heron

stinky turkey 

stinky turkey (Hoatzin)

woolly monkey

  Woolly Monkey

squirrel monkey 

squirrel monkey 

marmoset monkey

marmoset monkey

saki monkey

saki monkey

owl monkey, egrets, as well as more of the birds spotted from the observation tower.

 

We only heard the howler monkeys, but they sounded ferocious with their growling sounds carrying for miles.

We saw river dolphin, which was a surprise to even the guides as this was the dry season with not much water in the river.

river dolphin

We saw large colorful moths and butterflies,

moth

large (poisonous) banana spider,

banana spider

small (poisonous) three stripe rocket frog,

 three stripe rocket frog

a leaf frog 

leaf frog

lemon ants (that taste like lime), leaf cutter ants, funny looking insects with long antennae, little green bugs that pee'd,

a grasshopper disguised as a leaf

grasshopper,

bugs that looked like sticks, yellow flying bugs, lightening bugs (at night) and marching wasps – that actually sound like marching soldiers when we shouted in unison to rile them up. There were also the millions upon millions of tiny flying bugs that were ever so attracted to our head lamps.

We took a walk in the virgin forest

 virgin forest

and saw huge Saba trees at least 30 meters tall

  saba tree,

hanging vines that hung down to the ground from some far above place 

hanging vines

often into the river to access water during the dry season.

hanging vines into the river

We wrote our names with a long thorn from the spiny palm onto a leaf that turned black wherever the spine touched,

writing leaf

We saw vines twisting around trees – sometimes strangling the host tree, we saw large leaves with intricate patterns, twisty liana, large palms, small ferns, spiny palms,and Dr. Seuss looking palms

palms.

We saw large trees with large flat pods, large twisty pods, roots above ground and trees with all the roots covered together with bark like a skin. We saw air ferns stuck on tree branches with beautiful red flowers, plants with yellow flowers, white flowers and purple flowers.

flowers at shaman hut 

We picked some plum sized nuts from the ground around a tree. The inside of the nut had a juicy pulp like citrus fruit. Elvis said the locals use that pulp to dye their hair black and to use for temporary tattoos. Later, back at the lodge, we were using a stick to make tattoos on ourselves. However, wherever we drew, it only seemed like the skin got wet – no color. Elvis laughed and said “Wait until morning”. Sure enough, wherever we had drawn the night before came out black as ink in the morning. We were happy we did not put it on the end of our nose, as we had suggested!! Mitch said he was going to take one home and when his friends were drunk and passed out, he was going to paint the tips of their ears. The effects of the tattoos wore off in about 10 days.

 tattoo the ink nut & Elvis

We were there in the dry season, but we saw evidence of how high the water gets during the wet season. As a result of all this water drying up, a lot of the lower land that we had to trek through was very muddy (rubber boots supplied by the lodge). Even though we would try to pick the higher spots, sometimes the water seemed to sneak in over the top of the boot, leaving the wearer with one soggy foot and pant leg. Other times a rubber boot got stuck in so hard it required both hands to pull it back up.

  high water mark

We would go out in the evening to watch the sunset from the lagoon. Some people would go out on a mud bar (I hesitate to call it a sand bar because it was really packed mud) and swim in the brown water.

sunset at the lagoon

Then, when it got dark, we would go in search of cayman. We spotted very few small cayman, but we did spot 2 huge black cayman. The first one was about 2 meters long. The second one was 5 meters long. At first we did not see it, as we thought the head was a rock sticking out of the water – until its eyes glistened from our flashlights. Holy crap!! It was huge!! We yelled for another passing boat to come see what we found. When he pulled up closer, the wave from his boat caused the back part of the cayman to rise above the water. It was longer than our entire boat! We backed off. Holy crap!! It was even more huge than we thought!!

cayman - the smaller one   gleaming eye of the 5 meter black cayman

cayman

It was on one of these night excursions that one of the best travel stories happened. Imagine it: It is dark. We are scanning the shores of the river with our torches for cayman. Suddenly, Irene feels a splash of water at the same moment as Mitch, behind her yells out in surprise/shock. Immediately, Irene turned around to see Mitch with a huge wet spot on his chest and Sidney, who was behind Mitch, shining his torch into the back of the boat and onto a flopping fish. A flying fish had jumped up, glanced off Mitch's chest and landed in the back of the boat. The laughing boatman reached down and threw it back into the water.

 

We would always arrive back at the lodge for dinner at around 19:00. The first night we noticed a tarantula sitting on the beam over the stairs leading into the dining area. While some were trying to take pictures of it while others were trying to figure out how to get by it without it falling on them, the cook shone his torch onto two others up in the rafters. He said the three usually hang out in the same spots every night. The next night there was a frog on the beam, happily watching us. The tarantula was back the next morning, however.

taranchula in dining hall frog in dining hall

One day we went to a local village. We were told that until recent years this village, as well as others along the river, were quite primitive; wearing only loin cloths or going naked. As it was, the children playing further along were naked. The lady who gave us a lesson on making cassava bread and the little girl with her were dressed in very starched and very new looking dresses. We suspect they were donned only when visiting tourists were arriving.

village girl   village girl 

Another interesting thing, there was a solar panel in the middle of the village.

solar panel

 

She began by lighting a fire within a sand box with a piece of burning plastic. We were all a bit taken aback by that, but it was pointed out to us that it is a wonderful way to start a fire and what else were they to do with plastic?? Within a few moments, she had a nice little fire going inside the thatched hut and placed a large clay plate over it to heat.

 clay plate in sand box

We then went out to the 'garden' and she hacked off a small tree then had one of our group pull up the large tubular roots – the cassava.

cassava root

She the had us peel the skin off, similar to a very thick skinned banana. Then we had to grate it into a large wooden trough with a large piece of aluminum with nail holes punctured through it to create the grating surface.

grating cassava

Then she placed the pulp into a wide strip (about 30 cm) of woven palm leaves. She then twisted the strip around the pulp, enclosing it within the wrap. She hung one end of the wrap onto a sturdy wooden peg and began twisting it like one would a wash rag. All the moisture from the pulp ran into a large pot. (We were not sure what it was used for, but definitely kept for some purpose.)

preparing to wring out the moisture from the cassava  wringing out the moisture from the cassava

The pulp was then dumped back into the wooden trough, quite dry. We then ran it over a sieve to give it a very fine consistency.

sifting the cassava

 

By this time the clay plate was very hot and she took a wooden soup-size bowl full of the pulp and spread it evenly over the plate. She then took the wooden bowl and rolled it back and forth over the pulp to flatten it down evenly.

flattening the cassava

After a few minutes she lifted one side of the tortilla looking bread and determining it was ready, took a wooden flipping tool and flipped the tortilla like a pancake to cook the other side. Voila! A little jam and some canned tuna and we had a magnificent snack. A few of us had a go at cooking the tortillas, as well, while she stood back and smiled at our clumsiness.

cassava bread 

There was a soda bottle of some brown slimy looking liquid on a shelf in the corner of the hut. Elvis said it was iowaska. He asked if anyone wanted to try some, just to taste. Ed and Irene were the only ones to try a capful each. It tasted and smelled as bad as it looked. It was not enough to have any affect on us, but it is a good segue for going to see the shaman next.

 local children

We carried on up the river and onto a different tributary. We had to climb up a steep bank to get to the Shaman's hut. We reverently sat on benches around the edge of the hut while he sat, all decked out like a proper looking witch doctor with his colored feathered headdress, strings of large seeds, beads and animal teeth and painted face on a stump at the front of the hut. Through a translator he told us how many generations of his family has been shaman. How this is still the only form of medicine and healing that much of the Amazon has. How the plants in his yard are all medicinal. How he is teaching his children the secrets of shamanism. How it takes years to become a shaman and how the elder shaman puts the apprentices through various paces. Then he said he would give a demonstration of a purification and had not quite finished asking for a volunteer when Irene's hand shot up.

 shaman

She sat on a stump in front of him with her back to him. He proceeded to wave and shake a cluster of leaves in a circular patterns around her head, shoulders and back, all the while chanting something that sounded very mystic, guttural and primitive. She told myself to go with it and accept whatever positive energy he was directing at her. The entire demonstration lasted several minutes. The shaman said a proper ceremony lasts several hours, or even days. Ed jokes that the purification did not work – he is still here....

 purification by Shaman

He then gave us a demonstration on using a blow gun. The blow gun is about 2 meters long with a hole running the length of it. The darts were about 30 cm long with a bit of cotton fluff on one end. He put the stick part of the dart into the gun with the cotton fluff closer to the mouth. He had set a banana flower on the floor about 5 meters away. Then taking a deep breath, he blew the dart out striking the banana flower with enough force you can imagine it striking an animal. We all had a try with the blow gun. It was not as hard as we had imagined. We used about as much force a good cough to propel the dart forward. Irene hit the target!! The 'Jungle Jane' side of her, I guess....

 blow dart demonstration

After 3 days and 4 nights we took a boat back to Cuyabeno Bridge – making stops to view wildlife – and caught the bus back to Lago Agrio. Julie, Ed and Irene got off at the airport, while Mitch, Mayra, Guillaume and Sylvain (Sidney) took the 8 hour bus back to Quito. Jill had an extra day at the Lodge. There were hugs and kisses all round as we said our goodbyes, with promises of keeping in touch – which we have. We have never traveled with a group where everyone got along so well. It was amazing and lovely.

 anoles lizard

Back in Quito, Paul at CarpeDm had made arrangements for us to stay at Hosteria San Carlos, 10 minutes from the airport, as we had to be at the airport again for 7:00 the next morning for our flight to Galapagos. A fellow picked us up at the airport and took us to the gated and walled complex. Initially, we thought “What the hell kind of place did we book into that needs a wall?” However, it was absolutely lovely and in a perfectly area – they just happened to have a wall and gate. They had a gorgeous shaggy dog that reminded us of the sheep dog from Bugs Bunny.

 shaggy dog

We asked about a place to eat. As it turned out, a young lady and her mother were also going out to eat, so the hostel offered to take us to the restaurant in the van. This kind of had a ring of “not a safe neighborhood” again, but the two ladies said the only thing that was troublesome outside the walls were some dogs. The ladies had gone to this particular restaurant the day before and assured us it was authentic local food – very tasty and very cheap. We were not disappointed. We were glad to have the ride to and from the restaurant, as it would have been quite a walk after our already long day.  They had just returned from the Galapagos and filled us with stories that had us pumped up for our fortcoming adventure.

Thankfully, we slept well as we were up at 3:30 to get to the airport for the long and special process of flying to Galapagos......

 

 

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