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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

In Search of Anacondas in Cuyabeno Reserve

ECUADOR | Thursday, 1 November 2012 | Views [653]

The bus dropped us at the terminal in Lago Agrio at 6.30am where we checked out our onward bus options to the border and jumped in a taxi to the jungle trip’s meeting point.  Namely; Hotel D’Mario where our free breakfast was promptly served leaving us about 2hrs to wait until our guide would appear.  For once the start of a trip felt more like hanging around than faff’n’bother and we were soon all aboard the bus to take us to Cuyabeno National Park.  Less than 2hrs later we were registered to enter the park and were once again delighted to find we didn’t have to fork out an additional entrance fee.  Even though it was low season there were still 11 of us in the group but since most of the trip was supposed to be by boat we didn’t think this was going to be too much of a problem.

Following lunch we all climbed aboard the boat ready for the real start of the trip and a 3hr boat ride down a tributary of the Amazon to Samona Lodge.  Our guide Juan (though he liked to call himself John) told us that on this stretch he could guarantee we’d see birds and monkeys but anything else would be pure luck.  This proved to be quite an ambitious statement as granted we did see both but the monkeys only granted us a fleeting glimpse.  To be fair there were plenty of birds around but the highlight was spotting not just one but two anacondas.  Both of them were small at only a couple of meters long and the first was very kind and sat quietly curled up in some twigs at the edge of the river.  The second was spotted by Steve as it was swimming along but it went to hide in the branches poking down into the water.  Fortunately they don’t hold their breath for long so it soon had to pop back up but it was difficult to discern amongst the undergrowth.

Samona Lodge


The weather was very changeable and at one point the rain got very heavy leaving us all feeling cold and wet.  As much as we’d enjoyed our first river safari it was good to get to the lodge so we could sort ourselves out and get properly prepared for further activities.  The lodge is set back from the river bank and consists of a circular group of huts fashioned from local materials joined together by a raised walkway.  Each room has a slightly different layout catering for a range of group dynamics with each one having a private bathroom.  Hot water was alleged and we were even told the secret code of how to get something other than cold water out of the taps but to no avail.  The huts were basic but clean with clean sheets, mossie nets and shelving upon which to store your things.  We weren’t issued with a key for the door so presumed we’d be able to trust the staff and fellow trippers.

The dining room was very spacious for our group of 11 and it looked like it wouldn’t be over cramped when the lodge is running at its fully capacity of 40 guests.  There was cold and hot water with tea/coffee/chocolate making stuff available constantly plus pop and beer could be bought at reasonable prices.  The meal times were set as was the menu but the food proved to be tasty, varied, plentiful and they catered for different dietary requests without a fuss.  When I say varied that’s not to say you got a choice each time but every day something different would be dished up with plenty of fresh produce being used.

The Staff

We found the lodge staff to be efficient and polite but lacking a bit of oomph and character; rather like they were operating a jungle tour conveyor belt.  On saying that it was a good set-up, everything happened when it was supposed to and at the end of the day we’d only paid $220 a head for the 4-day trip.

As is often the case we found the boatman to be one of the best members of the crew and not just for his obvious abilities.  The river levels were very low with many fallen trees, rocks and other obstacles for him to contend with which he did so with infinite skill every time.  There were times when we were afloat after dark but he navigated the waters as if he had night vision.  Plus, he was always on time, helped people on and off, pointed out birds and animals and manoeuvred the boat so we could all see the wildlife. 

That just leaves our guide who turned out to quite an odd young chap but my instinct is to put that down to him being a shy person who certainly didn’t enjoy public speaking.  It was a shame that whenever he told us something it was delivered in such a dry, boring fashion even though he had heaps of knowledge to share with us.  The lad obviously deeply understands this Amazonian environment, the flora, fauna and indigenous peoples who live in it and has a great love and respect for his homeland.  If only he had the charisma to present it all in a more interesting way to inspire us all to want to know and understand more. 

He was very good at spotting wildlife despite their best efforts at camouflage but he tended to dominate the best viewing positions.  Yes it’s lovely to take home great photos of exotic animals and beautiful birds but not if it means half the group don’t even get to see these wonderful creatures.  He was too eager to take everyone’s photos for them as opposed to letting us enjoy the moment.  That said it wasn’t his fault that certain members of our group thought they should get a ring side seat every time.  As modern technology changes (and we get older!) we find that an increasing number of people are losing their awareness of others around them.  Or am I being generous – are they just down-right rude?  Juan simply wasn’t out-spoken enough to ensure the group gave everyone a fair chance at observing the creatures.  During the night walks we were at the back and resorted to asking what we were missing.  Again in Juan’s defence he did try to pass along the line holding upon a leaf any frogs, insects and so on that he found.



The Trips

Day 1 pm        As you know simply getting to the lodge was an activity in itself and that evening we went for a brief night walk around the garden.  That may not sound very exciting but we were right in the jungle and saw many different and cute frogs along with an enormous tarantula.  Following dinner we all climbed back aboard the boat to look for caiman and luckily we saw 2 different species.  Usually you only see the red glow from their eyes but we saw their heads and even one tail poking above the surface too.  There were loads of fish leaping about and a couple landed in the boat.  One was flapping around right by my feet so I carefully picked it by its tail and popped it back in the water.  It may not have been a piranha but it had some sharp looking teeth.

Day 2 am        Morning boat ride down the river towards what in the wet season is a huge lagoon but is very dry at this time of year.  Whenever we were travelling along the guide and boatman were looking for birds and animals and a list of all we saw over the 4 days is to follow.  Once at the lagoon we had to get out of the boat where we promptly sank into the thick, oozy mud – lucky the lodge provide wellies.  We then spent an hour crossing the ‘driest’ section of the lagoon squelching through knee-deep goop.  Why?  To look for poison dart frogs and yes we did find one of the little fellas.  Three hours in those conditions for one tiny specimen had Steve muttering; “All of that for one frog?”  To add to his amusement we had to paddle back to the lodge.  Not sure why the boat with an engine deserted us but we assume it had something to do with adding to the jungle experience. 

Day 2 pm        Boat back to the lagoon area of the river for a spot of piranha fishing – still not sure why we had to do this but at least all the fish we chucked back in to be caught tomorrow.  Reasonable sunset but the weather had been a bit gloomy that afternoon.  A couple of meanders before the lodge we clambered out of the boat to go for a night walk.  Well a shuffle through the undergrowth and with us being at the back we missed a few nocturnal mini-beasts.  Still we did get to see some pretty cool frogs and a gecko – oh how I miss my toaster dwelling lizards.

Day 3 am        Up early for a spot of bird watching but unfortunately there weren’t that many around.  However, we did get a good view of toucans, parrots and macaws so we were glad we joined the pre-breakfast activity.  Next was the bit we’d been dreading a visit to the local tribal village.  The boat ride (this time up stream) was great and we stopped to look at some adorable noisy night monkeys kipping in their tree hollow den.  Another highlight was seeing parrots peeping out of their doorways in a palm trunk – it looked like an avian condo.  The village was very quiet so Steve & I opted out of the yukka bread making and had a wander round then sat on the river bank watching birds fluttering around. 

Day 3 pm        Then it was a short putter up the river to the Shamen’s village where we met the man himself and he explained how he became a Shamen and his role within the community.  I love to learn about indigenous peoples’ beliefs and enjoy learning about the healing and medicinal properties of rainforest plants but not in this forum.  It’s all so contrived for a tourist audience that we just feel utterly embarrassed to be part of it.  The boat ride back down the river gave us our first conclusive views of squirrel and capuchin monkeys, who, I believe, live symbiotically in groups of up to 50.  I didn’t get chance to ask Juan about this primate relationship so can only assume it has something to do with safety in numbers.  Back at the lagoon it was time for another mud bath as we went in search of the giant anaconda that lives in the area.  He was out to tea!  However this time the sunset was beautiful and we had actually been lucky enough to see another small anaconda earlier in the day.  More caiman spotting on the way back to the lodge where we saw a 4 / 5 / 6 metre specimen depending on who you listen to and how long you spend looking at it.  Only the black caiman grow so big so we can now categorically state we’ve seen 3 species of caiman in the Amazon.

Day 4 am        We, along with only 2 others, opted for the 6am boat ride to look mainly for birds and monkeys but of course we would stop and watch anything else that put in an appearance.  It was only birds and monkeys that we saw but we saw the furry friends much closer than previously and spotted quite a few different birds, most notably; parrots, kites and hawks.  Following breakfast we had time to pack and bid our farewells – we’d met some lovely people on the trip and actually shared contact details.  We’ve not done that in a while so class yourselves as privileged ladies - assuming you’re reading this!!  Obviously simply getting back to the road involved another boat ride and the weather was glorious so it was lovely to sit back and simply enjoy the flora.  The jungle never ceases to amaze me with the range of shades of green, shapes and sizes of leaves to be found there.  Plus, I love the way one dominant tree is actually home to a whole host of plants, insects, birds and animals; forming its own unique micro-habitat.  We did see some animals with the turtles leaping off logs and into the river before anyone got a chance to snap a photo being a highlight.

To Conclude

As you can see each day was packed to the brim and even I didn’t get chance to get bored.  We loved the way most of the safaris were river based as this tends to be the best chance of spotting wildlife.  It was good to have a very keen and knowledgeable guide who was constantly looking for even the smallest of critters and could inform you about each one.  Overall we thought it was excellent value for money and this time we came out of the jungle feeling we’d like to do it all again.  We booked through Gullivers  based in Quito and we found the trip well organised and would hesitate in recommending them. http://gulliver.com.ec/

What we saw

Animals:          spectacled caiman, black caiman, anaconda(x3), swamp snake, 2 species of forest gecko, yellow spotted Amazon river turtle, red and white piranhas, jumping fish, fish eating bat, tarantula and other big spider, blue morph and owl eye butterfly among others but these are the 2 biggest in the Amazon, mouse in our room, poison dart frog and lots of different types of tree frog including one in our shower, toads, squirrel monkey, capuchin monkey, monk saki monkey, noisy night monkey, red howler monkey

Birds:   white throated toucan and another type, blue and yellow macaws, blue headed parrots, black headed parrots, orange wind parrots, green parrots, tiger heron, capped heron, striated heron, grey heron and others we can’t name, Amazon kingfisher, green kingfisher and a couple of their friends, hoatzin (a pre-historic bird), great ani, grey headed kite and a couple of other sorts of kites, crimson crested woodpecker, oropendoloes and their cousins who make fantastic sounds and live in intricately weaved hanging nests, black vulture, yellow headed vulture, vermillion flycatcher, anhinga, cormorant, bat hawk, falcon, woodcreeper, caracara and a whole heap of others fluttering around but we’ve no idea what they were!


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