The Jungle: When you think you have reached its depths; you have barely scratched the surface. The Amazon Jungle is a truly remarkable ecosystem. There are 8 countries that make up this jungle, and we decided to make our visit from Ecuador. We took an overnight bus from Quito that drove 7 hours east before dropping us off to wait on our next bus. Fortunately for us, our waiting place was a restaurant that let us use their hammocks and wifi. With monkeys waking up in the trees around us, we already felt like we were in the jungle. After breakfast, a hot, steamy school bus picked us up to drive us the rest of the way. We drove 2 more long hours on an extremely broken up road until we came to a river. There were tons of palm trees, cacao trees, and mosquitos; this must be it, right? We then hopped on an extremely long fiberglass canoe with a speedboat engine, and were off. This turned out to be quite the smooth treat compared to the bumpy journey we just had. We navigated our way down the river as our guide pointed out all the wildlife along the way (I’ll get more into this later). Another 2 hours deep into the jungle and we had finally made it to our home, being welcomed by a 10-foot Caiman at our dock.
We booked our trip to the jungle with Ecuador Green Travel agency and they set us up with the Siona Lodge. The lodge sat right on the lake and consisted of multiple huts for our living quarters. The living conditions were actually quite nice. We had a door, a roof, a bed with a mosquito net, and although no electricity, we had cold water for a shower – which became a necessity before bed in an attempt to cool us down for the night. Yep, this was jungle paradise.
It was nearly dusk when we arrived, so we just got ourselves situated and went back on the boat to watch the sun go down. We even took a dip in the Amazon River to get some much needed relief from the heat (our evening ritual). Later that night, we took a hike into the jungle for our activity. We followed our guide deeper into the dark, mysterious jungle as he would spotlight the various creatures we came across. We got to know many different insects and spiders and even shook all eight hands of a terrifying tarantula that our guide introduced us to. At one point, we were instructed to turn off our flashlights and just listen to the sounds of the jungle. As we stood there and listened to the deafening orchestra lead by the cicadas and giant grasshoppers, it dawned on me just how far from civilization we really were. The melodies were quite peaceful; if you were able to ward of the pesky mosquitos and quiet the thoughts in the back of your mind that kept wondering what creepy crawler could be inches away from you. After a few more poisonous frogs, snakes, and caterpillars, we made it back to our lodge where supper was waiting on us. After an exhausting day of travelling and on no sleep, we shovelled down the food and quickly fell into a deep slumber in the lumber.
In a brief summary, we explored the jungle, took a night cruise looking for the nocturnal creatures (snakes, caimans, owls, spiders, etc.), did some early morning bird watching from the boat, chased the Pink River Dolphins, and visited an indigenous community 2 more hours into the jungle, all while taking in the various wildlife around us. We saw so many fascinating creatures of the Amazon, however, without the precision sighting of our guide, we would have missed so much. Every day I was more amazed at how good he was at spotting different wildlife. Whether it was the tiniest monkey of the Amazon (6 inches long) high up in a tree, or a camouflage poisonous frog lying on a log, nothing got passed him. Often times we would spend a lot of time trying to locate the animal he had spotted. And even with his precise direction and use of binoculars, sometimes we still had trouble finding it. After 10 minutes of searching, his eagerness would turn into frustration, and then into joy when we would finally see the hidden creature he spotted a mile away. Rain or shine, daylight or darkness, this guy was a master for finding wildlife. I would not want to play a game of “Eye Spy” against him. With the help of Neiser, we were able to see 8 different species of monkeys, almost every bird imaginable (with the beautiful Macaws always being the crowd-pleaser), the 2-toed Sloth, so many interesting insects, anacondas, frogs and lizards, multiple Pink River Dolphins, turtles, lots of fish, and of course, the famous Piranha.
One of our favorite experiences was the trip to the indigenous village, the Siona tribe. It was quite incredible witnessing a group of people that have lived in the jungle for hundreds of years. However, it wasn’t exactly how we pictured it. While they still are deeply enriched in their culture, it was much more modernized than we had imagined. Instead of teepees and headdresses, there were houses, construction, and mostly normal clothes. We learned a few introduction phrases in their language such as, “Ji ma me, Lucas”, and visited one of the local women that taught us hands-on how to make yucca bread. It is a relatively easy process that simply includes peeling the yucca, grinding it, draining it, and placing it on a clay pan on top of burning logs. A few minutes on each side, and you have some natural, very tasty, flatbread. After checking out the local school where children are taught their language, Spanish, and a little English, we sampled some interesting local fruit that come in pods. When you open it up, there’s this white, cotton candy looking substance that tastes really good – the cotton candy of the jungle. After that, we walked through the jungle and saw the biggest tree I had ever seen, and then rode a bit further down the river to wear the Shaman is. The Shaman is the village doctor and usually begins training at a very young age, around 12 or so. The “graduation ceremony” consists of the Shaman in training ingesting a potion from a plant that causes the person to go on a “trip” that reveals one’s true self. However, some see scary images resulting in a really bad trip, and therefore do not go on to become Shamans. Our Shaman was 60 years old and has treated himself all his life. In doing so, he has never had to go to the hospital. As a demonstration of how they treat patients, the Shaman performed a ceremony on me that involved some chanting and a plant being waved over me. While I desperately tried to feel the energy, all I felt was the heat and nagging mosquitoes. Nevertheless, it was a neat experience to be apart of. We then we watched him show off his hunting skills as he used his large blow gun with a poisonous dart.
Our trip to the jungle was an absolutely incredible experience that we are so glad we went on, however, it was quite nice to get back to civilization with electricity, AC, and a warm shower.