Ecuadorian Amazon

Our 3 day tour of the Cuyabueno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon (booked with Jamu Lodge) started from Lago Agrio. From there, it was a 2-hour drive to the entry point on the Cuyabueno River. From the entry point, in normal conditions, it would be a 2 hour canoe ride to the jungle lodge. However, the water levels were very low, so they told us it would take about 4 hours. They asked everyone to only bring what is essential, to limit the amount of weight our canoe would carry. Our bags were small enough that they said we could bring them. Others with larger bags had to rearrange their things and leave large bags behind for storing until our return.

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a map of the area…the cuyabeno river leads to jamu lodge

We boarded the canoe and started down the river. It was indeed very low, but I was under the impression that it would get better downstream.

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the water level is super low

 

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the pushing begins just minutes after we start down the river

 

Less than an hour on the river, the motor on our canoe broke (from hitting rocks).

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the motor is broke

 

We waited on the river for the guide to search for a new motor or another canoe. After over an hour waiting on the river, we ended up getting into a different canoe. It was now 3:30 in the afternoon. They told us it would take until 8 or 8:30pm to reach to lodge because of the low water levels.

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unloading our canoe with the broken motor

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moving on in a different canoe…this is going to be a long journey

To say it was SLOW GOING is an understatement. We could have walked faster than we were going in the canoe, but there was no trail or road to walk on. There were sections of the river where it was possible to walk, which we did. But typically, it went like this: the canoe moves for a few minutes, then it gets stuck, then everyone gets out of the canoe and starts pushing until the canoe is moving again, then get back into the canoe and bail water as necessary. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This went on for hours.

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just easier to sit on the edge of the boat when you’re getting in and out so frequently

 

There were 7 tourists and 3 locals on our canoe. We tried to stay coordinated, with shouts of “1, 2, 3…push!” And, “adelante (forward)…detras (backward)!”

In the back of the canoe, Vanessa and Cecilia (from Buenos Aires) kept things fun

In the back of the canoe, Vanessa and Cecilia (from Buenos Aires) kept things fun

At 6:30, the sun set. Now, it was no longer beautiful birds flying overhead, but instead, lots of small bats. Around this time, our guide told us we were at the halfway mark. It was hard to believe we were only half way there.
In the dark, we moved even slower, because it was harder to navigate around all the fallen trees in the water. At this point, I had thoughts that we might not make it to the lodge…we might be sleeping in the jungle. Thankfully, everyone was pretty calm about the situation…even laughing and singing songs.

the sun is setting

the sun is setting

Once it was dark, we began to see caiman (alligators) in the water and along the banks of the river. Their eyes glow in the dark, so you start to see these glowing eyes around you. I’ll never forget the image of one standing on the river bank, its whole body visible and mouth wide open. I didn’t get any pictures…I’d put the camera away…but got a great picture of one the next night (later in this post).

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we couldn’t see much in the dark except for the night sky, the glow of headlamps, and glowing caiman eyes

Initially, I was really afraid of getting out of the canoe to push the boat and stepping into the water knowing there were caiman around. But then, I got too tired to care. After SEVEN hours of canoeing, we finally reached the lodge. It was 10:00pm. When we approached the Jamu Lodge dock, the staff were waiting there for us with flashlights. They handed each of us a cold beer and then we sat down for dinner. We said a toast…”the water was low, but the spirits were high”.

 

After dinner, we headed to our rooms. The place was nicer than I thought it would be. One thing I really liked about the lodge is it’s focus on having minimal environmental impact. All organic material is composted, and all wastewater is treated using natural enzymes and bacteria.

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our room

 

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seriously…a tiled bathroom in the middle of the jungle?

the tower our room was located in

the tower our room was located in

recycling station

recycling station

 

thanks to solar panels, we had a battery charging station

thanks to solar panels, we had a battery charging station

 

common area with dining room

common area with dining room

dining room...the food was surprisingly good!

dining room…the food was surprisingly good!

 

resident parrot adopted by the lodge

resident parrot adopted by the lodge

 

The next morning, we took a short canoe ride to the place where we would go for a nature walk. Our guide led us through the forest, and showed us many things along the way.

they gave all of us rainboots to wear for walking in the jungle

they gave all of us rainboots to wear for walking in the jungle

 

leaving the lodge for our morning excursion...this gives you some perspective into how low the water is compared to normal

leaving the lodge for our morning excursion…this gives you some perspective into how low the water is compared to normal

rowing down the river to the hiking spot

rowing down the river to the hiking spot

 

getting out at the hiking spot

getting out at the hiking spot

 

the first thing our guide shows us is this termite nest

the first thing our guide shows us is this termite nest

 

selfie in the jungle

selfie in the jungle

 

this tree protects itself with sharp as needle spikes

this tree protects itself with sharp as needle spikes

 

swinging on a vine

swinging on a vine

this was fun

this was fun

 

water crossing

water crossing

 

we saw A LOT of spiders...you really had to watch where you were going so you did not running into anything

we saw A LOT of spiders…you really had to watch where you were going so you did not running into anything

 

this large moth got caught in a spider web...the moth was still alive and struggling when we walked by

this large moth got caught in a spider web…the moth was still alive and struggling when we walked by

 

touching a particular spider web that is thin yet strong, it is used for medical purposes, such as stitches

touching a particular spider web that is thin yet strong, it is used for medical purposes, such as stitches

 

an extremely tall tree...taller than redwoods

an extremely tall tree…taller than redwoods

 

kapok tree

kapok tree

 

beatiful red flowers we saw along the hike

beautiful red flowers we saw along the hike

 

jay holding a locust shell...these things are NOISY at night

jay holding a locust shell…these things are NOISY at night

 

 

the forest is filled with vines

the forest is filled with vines

 

more vine swinging

more vine swinging

making our way back to the lodge

making our way back to the lodge

That afternoon, we got back in the canoe to do some bird watching and look for pink dolphins. The reserve has over 500 different species of birds. We saw many different kinds…hoatzins – aka stinky birds, kingfishers, parrots, vultures, heron…and many others whose names I cannot recall. Although I tried to get good pictures, I was unsucessful. So you`ll just have to take my word for it that they were quite stunning to see…except for the vultures, they were a little creepy. Also, on our afternoon tour, we did briefly spot a pink dolphin that was swimming ahead of our canoe but no picture. 😦
That evening, we went for a night ride in the canoe to look for caiman. We saw so many of them, but every time we would get close, they would take off under the water. Finally, we approached one that stayed put, and we were able to get a great picture. This particular one was about 3 feet long. The largest one we saw was about 7 feet. We also saw baby ones that were smaller than a foot.

caiman

caiman

The next morning, we got up early to start our journey out of the reserve. As we were gathering to eat breakfast, monkeys were swinging by through the trees surrounding the lodge. It was our first time seeing them at the lodge and a nice surprise to end our stay.

 

Since the water levels were dropping each day, we knew the journey out of the Amazon would likely be more difficult and require more pushing than the journey in. Thankfully, we had a great group…

jay in the back

jay in the back

a father and son from Canada...who we liked even though they were seahawks fans :)

a father and son from Canada in the front…who we liked even though they were seahawks fans 🙂

 

and the ladies in the middle

and the ladies in the middle

The journey back was upstream, yet thanks to the guys, we managed to make it in 5.5 hours and get back in time to catch our flight back to Quito.

one of countless times pushing the canoe when it got stuck

one of countless times pushing the canoe when it got stuck

 

jumping back in was always harder than jumping out

jumping back in was always harder than jumping out

 

dodging fallen trees

dodging fallen trees

beautiful blue morph butterflies flew along side us at different points. i caught this one on camera, but you can barely see it...just a blue spot near the middle of the photo

beautiful blue morph butterflies flew along side us at different points on our canoe ride back. I caught this one on camera, but you can barely see it…see the blue spot near the middle of the photo?

 

I wish I would have captured more wildlife on camera. And, I wished we would have seen more wildlife in general.

 

In hindsight, if we had known that the reserve would be suffering from dry conditions, we wouldn’t have gone. In addition to the river being so low, many of the activities were not possible because of the situation (such as swimming or fishing in the lagoon because it was completely dried up). Many of the jungle lodges had already closed by the time we were there. Our lodge closed the day after we left. They will reopen once it finally rains again and the area gets the moisture it desperately needs to restore water levels. At the time we were there, it hadn’t rained for six weeks…the rain forest just isn’t the same without rain. Lesson learned: DO NOT go here during the dry season. The dry season can run from December until March.

 

All in all…our time in the Ecuadorian Amazon wasn’t the experience we had hoped for, but it definitely was an experience we’ll never forget.

9 responses to “Ecuadorian Amazon

  1. What a drag that you didn’t know about the ‘dry’ season…but way to keep a good attitude about it! Glad it is only a small part of your trip!! Hoping your next location goes above and beyond!! I think getting in the water with Caiman is enough WILDlife! Haha!!

  2. Joann & Jay- This looks like an amazing adventure! Bill’s niece (from Superior, CO) is currently studying in Ecuador for a year. She is also having great adventures. Enjoy!

  3. Disappointing you didn’t get to see the rain forest in all its glory, but you certainly can’t say you didn’t EXPERIENCE it!!! So fortunate you were with good traveling group. On the other hand, JamuLodge looks so much better than I would have imagined could be there.

  4. What an experience – I would probably have freaked out having to get out and push so much and moving so slow. But, what a great trip you have had. So glad you and Jay are able to stay healthy through all of your travels. Nice accommodations at the lodge was a nice “reward”.
    Love, Grandma

  5. That was definitely an adventure. You describe it so well. Love yiur photos. The lodge did look surprisingly nice. Glad they had the solar powered charging station so you coukd take photos. Glad you got the crocs photo.

  6. Looks a bit scary to me with the spiders, alligators & probably snakes…glad you didn’t photograph any of those!! 🙂 Lodge was amazing~love the battery charging station & yes…I’m with you, pretty fancy tiled bathroom for the jungle!!

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