Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
We’ve hit 300 days of travel. A landmark we didn’t plan on hitting at the start of the trip. 11 Countries visited so far including USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador. 16,000 photos and videos. A countless array of unforgettable experiences in that time.
What tour to go with?
The most common format tour is a 2/3/4 night trip organised out of Quito travel agencies. It can be very frustrating trying to find which lodge to go to as there are many to choose from and there isn’t much to differentiate good from bad. The tip we received from other travellers was its not about the place but the guide. They highly recommended Washington at the Caiman Lodge. At first we were going to go through an agency, but when we arrived in Quito it was a public holiday for three days, so we had to try calling the lodges directly, which turns out is cheaper. We called Caiman Lodge directly and they had availability to go the next day. Unfortunately Washington wasn’t available but they highly recommended their other guide Vinicio.
Quito to Lago Agrio
The cheapest way to get to Lago Agrio (where the Amazon tours start) is by catching an 11pm night bus costing $8 per person. We went with Trans Esmeraldas who offer a more deluxe bus with comfy seats and a terminal located very near the Mariscal Sucre area. We were lucky because our bus only had 8 people in total on it so each person had a whole row to themselves with ample extra space if needed.
Unfortunately though the bus trip was quicker than expected and we were woken up at 5am by the bus driver telling us we had arrived. We regretted taking sleeping pills and had trouble waking up. As our tour didn’t start until 9am we waited around the bus station until 7am (daylight). Just as we were about to leave the station, a man turned up on a motorbike who ended up being our trip organizer telling us to go to the meeting point of Hotel Del Mario. It’s only a 2km walk from the station to the hotel which we were about to walk but took a taxi instead. Our guide told us later that Lago Agrio is the most dangerous town in Ecuador.
The other 4 members in our tour group also had arrived via night bus and were waiting at the hotel.
Let the tour begin
At 9am our minivan arrived to take the group to the river. This would be a 2 hour ride but we didn’t notice as we were so exhausted from the bus ride we slept through most of it.
We then met our guide, Vincio, at the river who had come from the lodge with our water taxi and started loading gear. We were relieved he spoke perfect English (as he had lived in Australia and the US). We knew we wouldn’t be able to handle translating our poor Spanish for 4 whole days. We then boarded the canoe and the minute our canoe left the dock we were in the jungle, with beautiful thick vines and vibrant rainforest.
The driver then suddenly slowed down and pointed toward a tree on the rivers edge. On it was a beautiful black and green Anaconda. According to our guide an Anaconda is most relaxed when it has just eaten, so relaxed that you can touch it and it won’t move.
We then headed deeper into the jungle towards the lodge. After a bit over an hour we arrived at our home for the next 4 days, the Caiman Lodge.
The lodge consists of bamboo huts made the traditional way and a bird watching tower. Our room was semi open to the outside world, so there was a mosquito net covering the bed. Apparently during wet season there aren’t any mosquitos so there is no threat of malaria.
Thankfully the first activity was lunch as the time was already just past 1pm and we had a very light breakfast. We then got to have a much needed nap. We don’t remember the last time we fell into such a deep sleep so fast as we had only slept about 5 hours on the bus which was not enough. It’s surprising how tiring it can be to travel all day.
Sunset canoe trip
We were then woken up by a horn at about 4pm, as it was time for our sunset canoe ride. Vinicio let Rodora try blowing the horn, but she just ended up out of breath after numerous attempts with no sound coming out. We then boarded the canoe all excited to go exploring the Amazon. It was only a matter of minutes until we spotted a family of Squirrel Monkeys climbing through the trees.
The plan was to try and find the river dolphins that hang around the area, but are often problematic to find. We would soon discover a small group of Hoatzin birds (Stinkbirds). These are angry pre-historic looking birds that tend to make a lot of noise if you get too close.
Next on the animal list was a group of Long Nosed Bats. We had spotted them flying to the tree because there was no other real way of seeing them as they were so well camouflaged. It actually took us the best part of a minute to locate them on the tree even with the guide pointing at them.
No luck finding the dolphins today, it was time to swim in the lagoon as the sun set on day 1. The water was comfortable enough to swim and float without being too cold. All the boats from the other lodges come to this same spot to say goodbye to another day.
We were meant to go on a nature hike after dinner, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and started to rain during dinner which meant the activity was cancelled.
A new day in the Amazon
After breakfast there was a little quiet time to check out the bird watching tower. A local family of monkeys that regularly comes to the back of the lodge made a short appearance.
We were then off into the canoe again and then onto a hiking trail to learn about the rainforest. In the first few minutes we were crossing the Equator again marked by a rather crude monument that apparently the local indigenous don’t like very much.
On our walk through the forest we would stop to look at different plants and animals, often with medicinal benefits.
Our guide, Vinicio, then found a Golden Silk Spider and decided to put it on his arm. Great photo, but we’re not too sure we would have volunteered to do the same.
After an hour or two of hiking we returned to the lodge for lunch and another afternoon rest.
Sunset canoe trip #2
This trip started off with an added bonus of the potential to see a Caiman up close. A lodge a few minutes away has a resident Caiman that they regularly feed. Thankfully it’s only a vegetarian diet. This allowed us to get up close and get some great photos and video.
We were then on the search again for river dolphins and any other interesting pieces of nature, which didn’t take long. We came across a Bat Falcon, some more monkeys and Rodora was awesome in spotting a Piculet (dwarf woodpecker).
Again, we had no luck with the dolphins, so we returned once again to the lagoon for sunset.
Night time walk
Tonight the weather behaved and it was dry, so after dinner we got together and went for a walk on a trail behind the lodge. This really is a great time to get out and walk, though you’d want to be watching where you go as the interesting creepy crawlies do come out. For those that don’t like spiders, we recommend you avert your eyes on this next piece.
The range of critters included tiger spiders, scorpion spiders, catterpillars, lobster grasshoppers, tree frogs, wolf spiders, golden silk spiders, thorny spiders and a few other random critters.
A new day on the Amazon
Today we would go down river to the Puerto Bolivar Siona Community which is a group of indigenous people. The trip would take about 2 hours on the motor boat, but we would also get some time to spot animals along the way.
When we arrived at the community we were taken to a yuca plantation to harvest some yucas.
We were then shown how to use the Yuca to make Cassava; a traditional flat bread, similar to a tortilla. This involved peeling the skin, washing, grating, and cooking.
The finished product we topped with a tuna/mayonnaise type mix that was quite tasty.
Visiting the Shaman
Next on the itinerary was a trip to the Shaman to be part of an energy cleansing ceremony. The Shaman had dressed up in some traditional clothing and explained some of the various things that they do including the use of Ayahuasca. He then asked for a couple of volunteers to perform the ceremony on and Toby jumped at the chance.
It was at around this time that a torrential rain storm had begun. This storm would continue into the night and would again cancel our night time hike.
Final hours in the Amazon
The final morning we took the regular paddling canoe out at sunrise to see what we could find. This time we would get quite lucky by finding the dolphins. Initially it was just one or two of them but after maybe 30 minutes or more it was the whole family together. We had a little bit of video footage and no real photos of them. They are incredibly unpredictable in where they will surface and when they do it is for maybe 1 or 2 seconds at most. It was really an awesome experience to be almost alone and so close to these animals, even if we couldn’t properly see them.
We then ventured back to the lodge, but somehow someone spotted a Southern Tamandua, also known as a Collared Anteater. This amazing creature was climbing through the trees on its way to a termites nest for something to eat. We got a couple of great opportunities for photos and video.
This would be the end of our tour as we ventured back to Lago Agrio and onto our next overnight stop of Baeza.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates.http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/