Our adventure in the Amazon, EC

November 20, 2017, Trip: Ecuador
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November 20, 2017

We arrived in Lago Agrio, in Ecuador’s northeastern corner, not far from the Colombian border, and after checking and inquiring at the Hotel Lago Imperial, Doug got a rate to spend one night in the hotel and park for a total of three. We got Tigger parked in the corner of the big secure parking lot and went up to our room to get cool. We are now only 300m/1000’ above sea level and it’s hot – above 30C/95F.

This area of Ecuador is the petroleum region; there are plenty of underground reserves and there are issues, of course, with drilling in and around the preserved lands. The big company out here is PetroAmazonas and we understand Texaco and Chevron are “behind” it. We have seen graffiti protesting the latter companies.

The city has wide streets, lots of shops, hotels and restaurants and is a stopover for many heading into the Cuyabeno reserve. There are actually two reserves/national parks in the Amazon here in this country and they offer different things. The Yasuni is apparently drier with different animals and has sections are that totally forbidden to enter at all.

We met Rossi from Caiman Lodge around nine outside our hotel, paid our excursion fee and he took us down the block to the Hotel d’Mario where the shuttle buses pick you up. We paid $270 each for a three day, two night trip inclusive of travel, accommodation and meals.

The first part of the journey is the two and a half hour shuttle bus ride to the bridge on the Cuyabeno River. We stopped enroute in the small town of Tarapoa for gas and to get some beer (as we saw they only stocked Pilsener not Club for the lodge). There is only one other couple on our tour: Andrew & Lauren, a young couple from San Francisco.

We ended the drive at a small restaurant where the large motorized canoes dock, had a bathroom break and found out that lunch is not provided until we arrive at the lodge! It’s now after one and we’re hungry!

Luis, our river guide, got us on board with our luggage and the supplies and off we went. The ride was downstream about one and half hours on the café coloured river. There are many, many different kinds of trees, vines and palms and it was an enjoyable, relaxing ride.

Enroute we saw four morpho butterflies, three white throated toucans, two flying monkeys and one sloth high up in a tree. It rained a bit towards the end of the ride but each passenger is supplied with a large black rubber poncho to stay dry.

a furry saki monkey

a white throated toucan facing the wrong way!

a shy sloth

When the river met the Laguna Grande there was a mixing of water and now we’re on “black” water on the lake. It began raining as we arrived but we had a hot lunch complete with soup and desert and got settled in our cabin. We were introduced to the staff, Imelda and Silvia, the cooks, as well as Jackson and Tomas, the bus boys.

Our cabin has one double bed and two twins all complete with mosquito netting and we have a private bathroom with a hot shower. The water is all pumped in from the lake for non-drinking purposes. There is only power by generator and offered from 5:30 to 10:30 pm and a couple of hours in the morning.

After lunch we saw a few black mantled tamarins that like to hang around the main area (hoping for food!).

Later in the afternoon it was back on the boat to try and spot pink dolphins in the rivers but they don’t jump out like ocean dolphins so it’s nearly impossible to get a photo of them and they were never that close to the boat. These dolphins are blind and not really pink.

Pink River Dolphin fun facts:

  • Distantly related to sea dolphins
  • Amazon pink dolphins have a brain capacity 40% larger than humans
  • While mostly a pale shade of pink, they can be light grey or brown too – there is no conclusive theory as to why they are pink (unlike pink flamingoes)
  • Pink dolphins eat crabs, catfish, small river fish and sometimes small turtles
  • They can grow to between 6 and 8 feet long and weigh 185-355 pounds
  • They have longer snouts than their distant sea cousins with pointier teeth as well
  • They are blind and navigate by echolocation
  • Unlike sea dolphins they have what resembles fingers on the ends of their flippers and have humpbacks instead of dorsal fins

These photos are not ours but we could never get one:

We did see lots of parrot flying overhead, some very small bats on a dead tree trunk in the water,

a HUGE spider web in the riverside brush and one hummingbird on a bromelia. We sat on the lake at what should have been sunset time but it was too cloudy. You could jump in the lake and swim if you wanted but it was not hot enough for us so we didn’t join Andrew & Lauren.

After dinner we met a young woman from Spain named Rosa and chatted with her for a bit before dinner when her friend, Kristina, from Germany joined her.

Around 9pm Luis took us on a night jungle walk for about an hour for which we wore lodge supplied rubber boots. On this outing we saw: a couple of tarantulas, large black grasshoppers, scorpion spiders, two poison banana spiders, a tiny water frog, giant golden silk spiders, a transparent silk spider, a champion spider and a spiny lobster spider; no snakes or larger animals unfortunately.

a spiny lobster spider

a water frog

a poison banana spider

Tuesday we awoke to rain ending; it had been pretty hard during the night but the weather cleared and stayed good after that. We took a walk up to the bird watching tower, about six stories high, but only saw vultures among the tree tops.

We were given a new guide, Jorge, (George of the Jungle) and he took us on a jungle walk during the daylight for which we first took a boat to the starting point of but we did end up walking all the way back to the lodge. The hike was nearly three hours. The trail was somewhat wet but not too bad through lots of different kinds of trees – there are over 15,000 kinds in the Amazon!

Now we came on this tour with somewhat high expectations which were not fully met as we were thinking it would be like an African safari. We understand now how hard it is to see animals in this densely forested area. There are capybaras, otters, jaguars and armadillos, but they are incredibly hard to spot.

We did see “evidence” of armadillos, paca and wild pigs but never caught up to them.

agouti paca we did not see….

armadillo we did not see….

ornate hawk we heard making hunting calls but never saw…..

We did see: leaf frogs, crab spiders (which have horns!), a dung beetle, saki monkeys, another golden silk spider, copal trees which produce a type of sap that is like wax and burns well, rubber trees for latex and a type of tree the indigenous use for poison darts.

a dung beetle

a golden silk spider

not sure what kind of spider…..

latex dribbling out of a rubber tree

Going in the amazon means seeing bugs, birds and bush…… and humidity (which surprisingly lowers at night).  But as it’s jungle, it can also mean Tarzan!

During lunch we were entertained by a small group of tamarins who made their way into the lodge and began eating bananas.

Today we had another boat ride in search of anacondas and dolphins. We saw the latter in the distance and did see an anaconda nest but the resident was out and had only left behind a piece of its skin it had shed.

Jorge looking for the anaconda in a nest

We stopped once for about fifteen minutes and Jorge fished for Piranha! He caught two different kinds and we were able to observe their sharp teeth. We learned they will not attack humans unless you are bleeding.

Piranha fun facts:

  • have intense teeth that are replaceable
  • attack humans if bleeding, or you threaten their nest and are attracted to noise and splashing
  • they run in packs called shoals
  • some are actually vegetarians
  • are tasty eating
  • red bellied are most fierce
  • females lay thousands of eggs in a nest built by the male in the sand

We saw waxing birds, parrots, boiling water birds (greater ani) and had to return to the lodge to switch out boats. A rather large group had arrived today and they needed both the motorized canoes for their first sunset trip and so our small group of five, took a regular canoe and got towed out to the lake to see the sunset.

waxing bird

Tonight’s sunset was amazingly beautiful and we paddled around for a while enjoying it.

We paddled back to the lodge and got back in a motorized canoe to head out caiman watching. We did see more pink dolphins swimming around but again, never enough to get photos. We did finally after much searching, see black caiman and then an amazon tree boa in a tree.

amazon tree boa we saw

black caiman at night

a black caiman out of water – not our photo

frontal view of a caiman – not our pic

close up of amazon tree boa – not our photo

Black caiman fun facts:

  • black are the largest of five species of caiman, growing up to 5m long
  • they are better swimmers than walkers  
  • black caiman generally pose no threat to humans but have been known to attack when threatened  
  • female caiman lay between 10 and 50 eggs which hatch in six weeks
  • they are nocturnal

We went to bed early tonight as we have a 5:30 wake up in the morning to go bird watching by boat.

Our boat ride left at six and there was another American couple from New York, Carlos & Vanessa, that joined us. We got much better views of dolphins this morning but still not for photos. We also heard red howler monkeys in the distance but never saw; here’s what one looks like:

On this tour we saw, flying macaws, lots of flying parrots, cormorants, some white necked heron, martin swallows, greater ani, orange winged amazon parrot, lots of waxing birds, great hermit hummingbirds, rum caciques, a blue grey tananger and a pair of moscovy ducks (in a tree!).

Scarlett macaws – not our photo

Orange winged amazon parrott

white necked heron

waxing birds posing for us

Waxing bird (Hoatzin) fun facts:  (photo right above of a pair of them)

  • Nick name: Stinky turkey as they emit a manure like odor
  • Totally vegetarian
  • hoatzin makes hoarse calls
  • babies are born with claws on thumb and first finger
  • they have two stomachs like a cow
  • it’s the national bird of Guyana

After breakfast, we packed up and began the two hour boat ride back to the bridge. During the ride we saw many, many morpho butterflies and other kinds.

Doug had a blue moth of some type land on his hand and then a tiny, tiny inchworm.

We saw a large cormorant sunning itself and then a bird that camouflages itself well on the top of a dead palm trunk – the common potoo.

We also spotted saki monkeys in the trees. Upon arriving at the bridge, we were given a boxed lunch to take on the shuttle bus and we were back at Tigger by two pm and found it safe and sound.

CHECK OUT THE PHOTO GALLERY FOR LOTS MORE PHOTOS!

We drove 80km/50m to the small city of Coca, another gateway to the Amazon but to the other park, Yasuni. The town is not much and we only spent one night parked securely at a small riverfront hotel where we got a room for $15. We took a walk along the riverfront malecon before dinner and stopped from some chicken.

Rio Napo at sundown

Next morning after gassing up Tigger, we drove about 150km/90m to the larger Amazon gateway town of Tena. It was much nicer and we found a nice hostel that allows camping run by Pablo & Marcia Rodriguez; a super nice couple whose joy in life is helping others. We had all the amenities here and enjoyed two days at $5pp a night. Pablo helped us get a few things fixed: Doug wanted the side rails on the truck more securely affixed as they rattle a lot, so Pablo got a mobile welder to come over and that got done; then our fantastic fan lid had come loose again and Pablo got some parts and fixed that right up. We enjoyed chatting with them and they kept asking us if there was anything else we could do. They made us feel like part of the family. Pablo wants to open up some land he has to become an overlanding place and Doug gave him some advice on what he needs to provide to draw people there as it’s somewhat out of town. We wish him good luck in this endeavour.

We did take a walk into town to find the river malecon and see the main square.  The former was quite lovely, the latter not great.

Saturday morning we packed up and drove to the thermal baths/hot springs in the southern part of Cayambe-Coca national park called Papallacta which we’d heard nice things about. We often skip this hot springs as they are not well maintained or cleaned; besides, there are lots of them in the Andes. Anyway, we were pleasantly surprised and the place was organized, clean and well maintained. We spent about 90 minutes enjoying the pools of varying temperatures and decided not to take up the chance to camp overnight there in the parking lot as they wanted $6 pp with no services except toilets.

We knew Mark and Christine were back near the Quito airport as their friend Brad was returning to Montreal tonight so we decided to go spend a couple more nights at the Colibri hostel by the airport – it was only about an hour away. On our way back down to the highway, we picked up some gringo hitchhikers, Chris is from Chicago and his friend, Christina is from Germany. We basically saved them on the steep walk down to the main town at the highway intersection so we didn’t chat long.

We arrived in Tababela at Colibri and their camper was there but not the truck. But shortly after we set up a camper with Ontario plates drove in. Sam and Don are from Toronto and Fran had chatted with them a bit on the PanAm FB page so it was nice to meet them. They said they “follow” our comments on iOverlander and know if we stayed there and posted about it, it was accurate.

So the common room at the hostel was invaded by seven Canadians at happy hour. Sam and Don are flying to the Galapagos on Monday and we will head into Quito itself for a couple of days. Mark and Christine and are headed to the Amazon.

Sunday we did chores, relaxed, Fran went to the grocery store with Mark and Christine in the afternoon and we played a nice prank on Joe & Josee (as we mentioned in the last post, their rig is parked here while they are at home) after happy hour.

We pulled out some Christmas decorations (Christine had lights and tinsel and we had a sign, stockings and ribbons) and decorated Silver for them. There was a young South African man from Vancouver, staying at the hostel, and we had him take our photo (and some video that didn’t really turn out). While decorating, Mark stepped on the truck side step and grabbed the door handle for balance and to ALL our surprise, the door opened! Somehow, they’d forgotten to lock their truck!

Christine, Doug, Sam, Don, Mark & Fran up to no good!

We had a good laugh, sent them the photo and ensured they had their keys before we locked it back up. We were happy to help and I’m sure they were happy to learn that we were the ones that discovered this, not some strangers! 🙂

Coincidently, the next morning, Sam & Don moved their rig to leave it parked while they are away and Christine saw Don, run back out of the cab that was taking them to the airport and open their truck to grab his keys from the ignition!

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