The time had come to say our goodbyes to Kate and Matt. It had been great meeting them! Although we have to apologise for the future arguments that we may have caused introducing them to 'Annie's game' and Monopoly cards (I think it's for the best if you can't track down a pack guys!). We caught a 2 minute taxi ride to the bus station. We have actually always felt safe here, even at night, but for 90p it's always better to be safe than sorry when your carrying rucksacks.
As this was going to be our first South American bus we were a little bit dubious, especially after Kate's experience. But we were pleasantly surprised, it was nicer than any stagecoach buses! The bus would take us over night to Lago Agrio, leaving Quito at 11pm and arriving at 7am. Kris watched the film they put on; Taken or Tomado as it was actually called as it was all in Spanish with Spanish subtitles! We both slept a bit, with our bags firmly on our laps, and arrived safe and sound in Lago Agrio.
The problem was that we then had a 2.5 hour wait until we left for the jungle. Conveniently (for them) the pick up point was a restaurant. It was the only place open in town and full of other travellers doing the same or similar trips. We muddled through in Spanish to order breakfast and a juice, and waited.
The tour guide picking us up only spoke Spanish, but from our ticket knew we were on their trip and pointed us towards the minibus. The driver explained, in Spanish, how long our journey would be. We got the gist of it, but wondered if we'd learn anything from our trip to the jungle...what's monkey in Spanish?!
After a 2 hour uncomfortable ride in the minibus along dirt roads - we were definitely heading off the beaten track, we stopped for lunch by the river. Our group of 11 were all still quite quiet, but there was one Spanish couple (the guy was huge, swetty and a chain smoker), Spanish brothers, 2 German female friends, 2 Austrian male friends and a talkative Canadian guy - although as I said everyone else was too sleepy to talk, so he sort of chatted on to himself!
After lunch we were met by our English speaking guide (phew) and all got on a long boat for an even more uncomfortable 3 hours boat ride to our huts. The good thing was that this was the only way to reach our new home, which made it feel quite remote. On the way our guide, Enrique, pointed out various birds but we were really travelling too fast and the river was too wide to see anything clearly, but he explained we'd see a lot more deeper in the rainforest. None of the rivers we travelled along were the Amazon river, the river itself only runs through Brazil, Columbia and Peru, but the rivers around us form part of the Amazon basin and therefore the surrounding rainforest ispart of the Amazon rainforest.
Arriving at our bamboo huts located in a small clearing by the river it was time for Enrique to give us the health and safety rules:
"Check under your pillow before going to bed as snakes and scorpions love to hide there!
Don't check under your bed at night, you won't want to go to bed!
Check your boots as snakes and scorpions also love to hide there!
Never pee in the river due to the penis fish. They don't mean to swim up into your penis, but they swim up stream so sometimes get confused. It's only happened here once!
Mind your head. Only a few weeks ago they found a 2metre boa in the rafters of one of the huts!
But don't worry most things won't kill you, just cause a lot of pain! Right now go and relax for a few hours, then we'll go on a night walk through the jungle"
We were shown to our hut. On approach it looked basic but fine, with a bamboo and mosquito mesh front. However, inside in the place of windows there was...nothing, not even mosquito mesh. We would be sleeping with a roof over our head, but that's about it, someone forgot to finish the walls. And even the roof was made of layered palm leaves, waterproof but a haven for bugs and reptiles of the jungle! We did manage to have a quick shower bug and spider free though (unfortunately the Spanish guy decided this wasn't necessary, or maybe he was too scared! We hoped he'd pluck up the courage to have one soon though). Enrique also showed us the part of the river that we could swim in if we wanted to, with a simple comment of "although you might not want to if you knew what was in there, but I'll tell you about that later". We decided against it, but the Austrian guys got in!
It was then time for dinner! The food was actually really good; soup, beef and yucca (like sweet potato), with stewed fruit (that tasted like apples) for afters.
Dinner devoured it was time for our night walk. We donned our head torches and headed into the thick, dark jungle! It didn't take long to find our first Tarantula, but scarier looking than them were the Scorpion Spider with their two pincer-like front legs! We also saw a very colourful, very poisonous snake!
We were then expected to go to sleep ready for an early start! There was no electricity in the huts, so armed with a single candle and our head torches we vigorously searched our bed. We couldn't help but break rule two and look under the bed - it was ok, all clear! We tightly tucked in our mosquito net, the only thing protecting us from the numerous crawling and flying bugs! We lay in bed listening to the noise of the jungle, and surprisingly fell asleep quite quickly! Emma did however wake up in the night shining her torch at the end of the bed shouting "what's that" but quickly realised she had been dreaming!
It was an early start the next morning as we got up at 6am for a boat ride along the river. It was really peaceful and pretty along the narrow river. It was so nice listening to the sounds of the jungle and breathing in the fresh rainforest air. That was until the chain smoking Spanish group lit up their fags and let it waft over everyone and anyone!! They literally couldn't go 5 minutes without a nicotine fix. We learnt to sit in front rather than behind them on the boat!
Enrique pointed our tropical birds, river turtles and squirrel monkeys. The Spanish word for monkey is mono by the way - Enrique had to repeat everything in Spanish as the Espanol didn't speak any English, and the rest of us didn't speak Spanish. As if that wasn't hard enough the Canadian guy would constantly talk over him thinking he knew best. He also loved to ask ridiculous questions that had no relevance to what we were seeing or doing. You could tell he was getting on Enrique's.nerves!
We headed back for breakfast and then off on our 3.5 hour hike through the rainforest! Enrique pointed out all the interesting fauna telling us what was edible and what was deadly! But the most interesting things were the dangerous bugs, like the bullet ants, whose bite would make you feel like you'd been shot. Or the fire ants that (obviously by their name) made your skin feel like it was on fire! Whilst in mid speach about how a very prickly looking tree protects it's fruit from being eaten by attacking monkeys, Enrique knocked a bug off one of the German girls saying 'sorry, but that was one that lays eggs under your skin', he then carried on talking about the tree as if it was nothing! He later told me that it's unlikely that it would ever get round to laying eggs in you as it's bite hurts so much you'd swot it off before it got a chance. But it's very clever and actually catches mosquitos to do the job for it!! It lays eggs on the mosquitos skin and then when the mosquito bites a human the eggs transfers and the larvae borrows under your skin! You can easily kill it with some vasaline and a plaster, as the larvae needs to breath out of the hole the mosquito made. But it has to be cut out to be removed!
Our hike was really interesting, but maybe a bit long in the heat. And when Enrique started to look a bit unsure of which path to take, and our pathways became more and more over grown the Canadian guy started to whinge! Enrique was clearly getting annoyed with him. He wasn't really having a very good day, as he had already cut his finger open with his mashette whilst trying to open a fruit for us that should have contained grubs for us to eat (thankfully it was empty, and he didn't fancy tackling another one!) He'd also grabbed hold of a thorned branch and got a handful of thorns. Just as everyone, including ourselves, had had enough of wading through mud, climbing over fallen trees, batting off mosquitoes and other more random looking bugs, all in the rainforest heat we came across some inquisitive Tete monkeys. They were really colourful and just sat above us looking down, as if to say 'what are YOU doing here'! We then rounded one last corner and were back at camp. Phew!
As we waited for lunch to be served the same inquisitive monkeys appeared in the trees next to the huts, watching us laze about in out hamocks!
After lunch and an afternoon snooze we went Piranha fishing! We used raw beef as bait and enticed the Piranhas by splashing the end of our rods in the water to mimic a struggling animal that had fallen in the water. Enrique caught one immediately and showed us it's razor sharp teeth! The group caught about 6 in all, two different types of Piranha, and a cat fish. We didn't catch a thing! We didn't catch anything! They kept eating our bait without ever getting caught!
The whole river contains Piranhas, including the area where they said we could swim. Enrique said it's very rare for a Piranha to attack a human...it's only happened once by the huts!!!!! They only bit his toe, but still I'm glad we decided to not go swimming!
We headed back for dinner where we were served, along with our spaghetti bolognese, Piranhaand catfish! Wetried thePiranha and it actually tasted ok, not too fishy, but it was pretty boney!
That evening we headed back out on the boat to do some Caimen spotting - small (around 2 metres) crocodiles. We spotted one quite quickly hiding under a bush. We got really close, and although they may be 'small' they're still pretty scary looking! Enrique was wearing a lifejacket, as apparently if we saw one in the right position we was going to jump on it and wrestle it to show us one up close and personal. All the ones we saw were either under bushes or went underwater as soon as we got close. I'm not sure if I was pleased or disappointed that Enrique didn't get to wrestle one!
The next morning we got up before dawn to hear the jungle dawn chorus. Well when I say we, the Espanol didn't bother to get up as they'd been drinking rum until gone 1am the night before. The German girls also stayed in bed. We travelled a different way along the river this time spotting lots of Squirrel Monkeys, tropical birds such as the Amazonas Kingfisher, Toucans, Macaws and Parrots. We also spotted Pink Dolphins, which is quite rare as they're so shy, and a two toed Sloth.
After returning for breakfast the whole group headed back out on the boat to try and spot the dolphins again. We did, and the sloth! So those that stayed in bed didn't really miss out on a thing! Damn it!
We then headed towards one of the local communities. Although on our way we found that a tree had fallen across the river blocking our path. There was a gap in the branches that we could have paddled through, so we got closer to have a look. Suddenly Enrique starts to frantically paddle away from the tree! When we were far enough away he explained that there was a bee's nest in the branches, and although not deadly their sting is very painful and leaves a scare. He showed us a scare he still had from one sting. So we had to reroute and eventually made it to the tribal community. Now when we were told about this part of the trip I did imagine men in loin cloths with spikes through thier noses. This 'tribe' had proper stone houses, a concrete football pitch, a shop selling everything from cigarettes to chocolate, and even theinternet! Not a loin cloth in sight! Apparently 4 years ago oil was found near by and these tribesmen now work for the oil company for up to $700 a month! The oil company are even building a school for them!! The only thing that singled them out from any other Ecuadorian was that they had their own language.
We went a little bit down the river to one of the tribes people's bamboo hut on stilts- no concrete here! We ate lunch and she then showed us how to make yucca bread. We headed out to the garden as Enrique explained all the local fruits and vegetables, we tried some but the only one we can remember the name off was cocoa. We sucked the white fleshy until we got to the cocoa seed, which they export for chocolate. The yucca root then needed to be finely grated to make the bread. We all had ago at this, apart from the big Spanish guy who wouldn't walk on the raised bamboo floor for fear of falling through. When the Canadian guy had a go he managed to grate his knuckle, but this didn't stop him as he continued and laughed about getting blood in the grated yucca!! We had to force him to stop and pick out the bloody bits!! We did try the yucca bread though, but it was more like a dry pancake. But it tasted good with lime and honey.
On the way back we saw Red howler monkeys, lots more Squirrel Monkeys and another sloth. We had a much better view of this one. She was looking right at us and clearly pregnant. We also stopped off at the viewing tower so we could see the rainforest canopy. The tower was about 15-20 years old and very rickety and twisted. Enrique suggested we only went up four at a time, even he thought it was pretty unstable! The greenery of the canopy was impressive, but there weren't really any animals to see which was a shame!
That night the cook put together another great meal and had even baked a farewell cake! Jungle food is pretty damn good!
Enrique did offer to take us on another hike to see a huge tree at 6am the next morning. No one else in the group was interested,and considering he was meant to take us there on our last hike but couldn't find the right path even we opted out.
The next morning our group and the other group of 6 (who had arrived the day before us) and the cook, and the two guides all got into the same longboat we had arrived in and made our way back to the pick up point. We were all really uncomfortable. As we passed the other side of our little camp we saw one of the helpers waving a rucksack in the air. One of the Spanish brothers had forgotten his only piece of luggage. This wasn't the first stupid thing he had done (he was the only person to fall in the river to name just one other) so that with his dumb and dumber haircut had earnt him a bit of a cave man reputation.
After lunch on the river bank again we jumped aboard the minibus which then took us back to Lago Agrio. Our trip to the Amazon rainforest was officially over! We had survived the bugs, snakes and spiders, and were hopefully leaving without a single bug living under our skin!
Photos - you have to search hard for some animals...let us know what you find!