May 8, 2014 – May 12, 2014
Location: Nicky Amazon Lodge (0°12’18.85″S, 75°55’31.17″W)
Of the many places that we have on our list to visit the Amazon Rainforest is definitely near the top. We had the chance to visit the Ecuadorian portion of the Amazon and we jumped on it. Our trip proved to be quite interesting with monkeys, birds, poisonous snakes, guns, caimans, piranhas, medical emergencies and more than enough insects to go around.
There are many eco-lodges in the Ecuadorian Rainforest and it seems that they all have offices in Quito. While we were there we made our reservations and scheduled to the leave the very next day to the rainforest. We got information on a few lodges and chose to go with Nicky Lodge, they are all pretty similar, offering the same types of day trips, scenery, living quarters etc. Nicky Lodge however was one of the more remote lodges set deeper into the Amazon away from the other lodges so we decided to go with them, in hopes that would see a little more.
Departing Quito via bus at 11pm we arrived in Lago Agrio, east of the Andes, 7 hours later at 6am. A quick note on buses in Ecuador, unlike the buses in Colombia they have a separate cockpit in the front separating the driver from the rest of the bus by a solid wall. We had seats up front and spent the entire night staring at a wall. Perhaps in Ecuador they do not want the passengers to see what perilous disasters are in store for them ahead. Anyway, after I stared at a wall for 7 hours, we then had to kill several hours in town before being picked up by Nicky Lodge’s van with two other guests for a two and half hour ride down a winding narrow road which eventually turned into a winding narrow gravel road, and finally a mud slick to the Aguarico River, a tributary of the Amazon River, from there we boarded a long motor canoe for a 3 hour ride downstream to the small Cuyabeno River and Nicky Lodge, located just 14 miles south of the equator.
It began raining about an hour after we boarded the canoe and continued to rain without abating for the rest of our 2 hours onboard, a fine and fitting introduction to the rainforest indeed. Having wet clothes was something we would become begrudgingly accustomed to on the trip, it is so humid and rains so often there is rarely an opportunity for clothes to dry completely.
Two policemen hitched a ride, something that our guide said was rare, they were going part of the distance to the local Cuyabeno village. The guide assured us that piracy and attacks on boats in the Amazon was fairly rare, though we did notice the difference between fairly rare and non-existent. Apparently piracy was common in the past, but an increased police and military presence in the last few years has made the area much safer. Having two men armed with automatic rifles was an interesting way to start our adventure, though it made us wonder about these rare river pirates, the policemen were friendly and even posed for several photos. Dropping them off at the Cuyabeno village we headed the remaining 20-30 minutes up the Cuyabeno river to Nicky Lodge, where we would spend our 5 day, 4 night stay.
The Nicky Lodge
The lodge is very remote and felt as such, we never saw any other people besides the guides and others at the lodge for the entire stay. A small collection of traditional bamboo and palm frond roofed buildings right along the water, the first impression is pretty amazing. There were several guides and about 14-16 guests in total, along with a cook who prepared very impressive dishes, for being at so remote a location, for every single meal.
The huts are separated into two halves with separate accommodation in each half. There was running water, though it was the murky brown river water and was not drinkable, and power during the day provided by a generator nearby which is turned off during sleeping hours. All the huts are beautifully laid out and constructed by the local villagers in the traditional style. All include high quality mosquito nets as well, something which was very pleasant considering the amount and size of insects in the rainforest, occasionally huge spiders could be seen walking along the ceiling of the huts.
Our four days at the lodge were planned pretty thoroughly, with various excursions either on foot or by canoe planned from 7am to 7pm, there are many different options throughout the day and all are optional – and all included in the price. If you want to see everything there is to offer they will keep you very busy indeed, and it if you just want to relax in the hut you are free to do that as well.
We opted to go on as many excursions as we could, in order see as much of rainforest and the animals as we could, starting with a night time insect walk in the rain just after our first dinner at the camp. About ten feet into the jungle from the grass lined grounds of the camp we encountered the biggest spiders that I’ve ever seen, huge crickets as big as your hand, and a massive toad as large as a football sitting right in the muddy path, and at least a trillion mosquitoes. Malaria pills and yellow fever vaccines are a must for this area, our guide pointed out several plants that local villagers use to relieve symptoms whenever they get malaria or yellow fever. More on medical emergencies in the jungle later…
Excursions to see wildlife
Daily excursions all followed a similar pattern, traveling either by foot or by boat to different locations at different times to find wildlife. Said wildlife was often very forthcoming with birds, such as parrots, parakeets, toucans, macaws and stinky turkeys, monkeys, insects, dolphins and more, everywhere though they were not always nearby. Often our guides would point at a speck high up in a tree and hand us their binoculars, you see that? It’s a sloth. Fuzzy dot sloth, check. Although at times the wildlife was surprisingly close such as when we boarded the canoe to go in search of monkeys to look up and see that a group of nearly 200 squirrel monkeys were moving around in the trees right above the boat launch. A large tree frog even lived with us in our room for the entire stay, despite our many valiant attempts to encourage it to go elsewhere, we finally gave up and posed for pictures around the frog that refused to leave. And as mentioned before spiders as large as your hand were casually hanging out on the ceiling of our hut peeking down at the strange visitors that had come to their home.
We watched our guides feed chicken to a caiman in the lagoon in front of the camp, and even went piranha fishing with raw beef. We learned how to make ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogenic drink, by boiling a certain vine in water. The name ayahuasca translates roughly to devil vine. Our guide pointed out several poisonous insects, see that spider next to your arm, its poisonous. At one point our guide found a snake and encouraged everyone to lean in close to take pictures, I had to hold the camera just a couple feet away to get the right angle, yeah it was poisonous. After seeing so many poisonous and toxic insects and learning about the troublesome or even deadly parasites that covered many of them we were both very grateful for the mosquito nets in our hut.
Our guide, Andres, proved to be an expert regarding everything in the jungle; not only every plant and animal, but also the local communities and their traditions (or recent lack thereof), the oil companies, and the politics involved in it all. Andres is the main reason we had such a great time in the Amazon, with a poor guide the experience would have been much different.
Insects proved to be the easiest subjects to photograph, therefore we have a lot of pictures.
Medical emergencies in the Amazon
Being in such a remote area with so many dangerous creatures around and a noticeable shortage of doctors, having a medical emergency is not recommended. However, medical issues did arise while we were at the camp. It was not a poisonous snake or insect – at least we don’t think it was – but probably the water. As mentioned before the water in the camp is straight out of the river, and while drinkable bottled water is provided, ingesting the river water can be unavoidable, either via the shower, splashing from the canoe, etc. In either case four people became ill with stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. One evening one of the guests became ill, from what we don’t know, and lost feeling in her hands and had a mild seizure, this was after feeling sick to her stomach and vomiting much like the others. She was rushed in late evening by the staff in the boat down the river to the nearby village, about 30 minutes away. Here they found out the doctor was gone on a house call somewhere and had to rush her another 30 minutes via boat to a nearby oil company to see their doctor. They were suspicious of the strange people that had shown up late at night however and didn’t seem to want to help until the girl had another mild seizure in front of them. They also learned that one of the guides was a local Cuyabeno village resident who the oil companies are under pressure to appease and so she was finally able to see the doctor. She was given some medication and returned to our camp around midnight, but was told by this doctor who is familiar with tropical illnesses, that she should go to a hospital for testing to find out what was causing her symptoms. She left with us two days later, feeling like herself again, and the last we saw of her she was heading to the doctor for tests.
In light of all the medical drama, we felt that the staff handled themselves very professionally and acted very quickly to seek medical attention.
Local Quichua community visit
On our last full day at the lodge we were taken on a local community visit to a Quichua family who has chosen to maintain a traditional lifestyle. We were taken on a tour of their farm, which included cocoa trees, coffee, plantains and yucca. We dug up fresh yucca and ground it into a white pulp and were shown how to make traditional yucca bread.
Despite being harassed by mosquitoes, reeking from sour damp clothes and worrying about jungle illnesses we both thoroughly enjoyed our Amazon visit and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see what a real rainforest is like.