If Peru was our fix of historic ruins, great bygone empires and endless mountain roads, then Ecuador was going to be our chance to catch up with Mother Nature at her best!
Entering Ecuador from the south we were already immersed in the western Amazon, having quickly dropped from the high plateaus of Peru to the deep Amazon basin.
Since we turned north from Patagonia, Chloe had been demanding deep jungle and took it upon herself to make a reservation for us in the deepest, remotest lodge accessible in Ecuador. The bikes were parked up in the airport hanger of our hosts and we, along with our seven other guests, were bundled into a tiny plane for the one hour flight west, deep into the Amazon to the Kapawi Lodge.
The vastness of the Amazon jungle is boundless. A blanket like covering, reaching as far as the eye can see, broken only by rivers and remote out posts. A scattering of Indigenous villages with their thatched roofs and unique shape suddenly interrupt the views, most accessible only by boat or on foot. We could have trekked to our lodge if we were willing to commit eight or nine days of back breaking trekking to our jungle lodge, but the flight seemed much more appealing(?!), and gave us enough of an impression of what the Amazon is all about.
Splashing down at our destination, the remote runway was thick with mud and deep puddles, the pilot thought nothing of this as he skidded us to a stop where our hosts, guides, lunch and river boat awaited.
As expected, Chloe’s research and reservation had been made in a unique and unspoilt part of the Amazon. Located in the territorial lands of the indigenous Amazonians, (7,000 people in 64 communities), still living as they have for generations and in intimate harmony with nature, the Ecolodge provides guests a range and depth of cultural experiences unmatched by any other rainforest lodge.
The lodge has been built over looking a lagoon situated deep in the nearly two million acres of the Achuar people’s traditional territory near the confluence of the Pastaza and Capahuari Rivers – the former a major, the latter a minor tributary of the Amazon – near the border between Ecuador and Peru.
On arrival we were immediately aware of and intrigued by the traditional techniques which had been used to construct the lodge and its 20 individual buildings. Apparently no nail had been used in its entire construction, but Chris was quick to point out the Philips head screw used to fix the toilet roll holder!
Built and now wholly managed by the local Achuar community, the lodge provides a valuable income to the local community and helps fund the ongoing programme of protection and preservation of the fragile jungle in the face of mounting national, international and commercial pressures from mineral, chemical and oil exploration companies.
For five days we made ourselves at home, enjoying the lagoon, its Caymans, Red Howler Monkeys, Parrots, Macaws’ and countless other species of weird and wonderful birds from the comfort of our bed-side hammock.
Torrential rain showers rendered parts of the days impassable so the Monopoly was broken out and endless games enjoyed, spiced up with new rules straight from our fellow eleven year olds ‘rule book’!
Once the rain cleared, we were ferried by boat from landing to landing, taking in the riches of the jungle,
Our guide, Sỉmon, was our eyes and ears in the Jungle. A native of the local Achuar Community, he could spot a monkey at 500 metres, or a frog buried amongst leaves from 100 yards. Informative and skilled in surviving in the jungle, we were Guinea Pigs to his experiments – from stinging nettles used to punish petulant children, and the mysterious flavours of the jungle, to the trees which the Achuar people use to cure malaria – we were always keen to experiment , within reason!
Only he had the guts to eat the Queen Ant! But he could make a mean trumpet from a palm leaf!
In search of the infamous Pink River Dolphins, we took to the kayaks for a day. Teaming up with our new German friends Luca and Nino, the spirit of competition was brought to a head. Sadly the 4 hour kayak was too much for both of them and their mum piped us to the post with a frantic Chloe, (with Luca), paddling in a close second!
As part of the trip, a night would be spent in a local Achuar community where we hoped we would get closer to the community and their way of living.
Sadly we weren’t allowed to photograph within the houses, nonetheless the visit was an intriguing insight into the profoundly simple yet immensely rich lifestyle of the Achuar people.
The Achuar house is typically divided into a male and female halves. On arrival you would be invited to sit with the ‘master’ of the house while his wife serves a traditional welcome drink of Chicha to one and all. Made from a vegetable called Manoic, the women of the house would partly chew the Manioc and spit it into a clay pot where it would ferment over night with the spit, and be drunk the following day. It’s considered rude to decline but not offensive not to drink. Chris drank all of his, Chloe needed a doggy bag!
Tents were then pitched in the local community building where dinner was served, and given there is no electricity, when darkness fell, we all scrambled to bed by eight o’clock – all in readiness for the early morning ritual of warm nettle & leaf tea, a quick vomit and breakfast!
We were invited to wake up with the the Achuar community at around 3.30am and join them for the first few hours of the day while they have their community / family discussion. While talking, they drink an endless amount of strong leaf tea which induces projectile vomiting, believing this purifies them of evil spirits from the night before and cleanses their system. After they have vomited, they exchange myths and read each other’s dreams, teaching important lessons to their children, discuss any problems they have and work out how best to solve them. This is also a good time for a man to propose marriage to a woman.
Who would have thought a 4am vomit would bring a family so close together… perhaps it was the Chicha from the day earlier, but Chris managed to vomit, cleanse and purify while Chloe lives on with her bad dreams and unhealthy body!
Back at the lodge, we were well fed, no need to be sick, then we were out on a night time walk to see what we could see!
As the moon rose behind the trees on our last day in the jungle we reflected on what we had tasted, drunk, regurgitated, seen, marvelled and wondered . . how will we trump this . . . . next stop Galapagos!
Once back on land, our quick flight from the jungle being just as impressive as the first, we arrived in the hanger to find Chloe’s bike with a flat battery. Having been on its side a couple times over the past few weeks, closer inspection revealed that the battery was dry! Fortunately, with a mechanic on hand in the airport, a bottle of distilled water was produced and a charger plugged in and connected!
Quito was only four hours away but sadly we were land locked in Shell until the morning when (thankfully) Chloe’s bike started and we could make for Quito and our (last minute, still to be booked) trip to Galapagos.
The extra night we had in the town of Shell gave us a chance to catch up with a few friends and family. We were also in touch with Pete and Caf, an English couple we met in Peru who had a minor dilemma and we were their outlet. Caf wanted to go to Galapagos but Pete – not a fan of flying – had set his heart on staying firmly on Terra Firma! We were due to arrive in Quito a day before them so we made for the agents and yacht owners to see what was available and if a last minute bargain could be had.
Pete and Caf arrived at 3pm on the Monday. We had until six pm to confirm and pay for the bargain of the century around the Galapagos, and we would be leaving at 6am the next morning!
Still in her riding gear we laid out the options, by five o’clock we were back in the agency with a handful of dollars.
Pete was left with a shopping list of parts for our bikes – new battery and new brake pads – and tyres for his own bikes, and at 6am we were in a Taxi. Caf and Pete said their goodbyes and our 6 day cruise on the Encantada around the Galapagos Islands was almost underway.
Sitting here looking back, the trip was a blur of the weird, the wonderful and the downright bloody marvellous!
Making the most of your dollars, the tour fills every minute of the day visiting the famed Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat, we snorkelled among bright tropical fish, turtles, sea lions, marine iguanas, and sharks that (fortunately) pose no threat to humans, mountain biking and hiking among spectacular volcanic landscapes that look as though they belong to another universe.
The jewel in the crown had to be our boat and crew. The Encantada was a delightful (superior) “tourist class yacht, loved for her charming candy-apple red style and her small, cozy atmosphere”. The boat had 6 cabins with twin bunk beds to accommodate a total of 12 passengers giving us a mixture of Canadians, Swiss-Spanish, French, Irish, English and us.
Drugged up to the eyeballs with Sea Sickness pills, we set sail high with excitement. Although on the first night Chris disappeared into the cabin without any dinner due to sea sickness, he assures (in a very manly manner) he wasn’t sick!
From the first afternoon to the day we left the islands, we were overwhelmed with what we came across. Scared to turn your back or even blink for fear of missing something, nothing prepares you for the proximity of the animals and the fearlessness they exude.
The marine iguanas were the star of the show in the beginning. Utterly fearless and almost ignorant of us as we step over them going from pile to pile of iguanas, stretched over rocks soaking up the warm sun, heating their cold blooded body after their chilly morning swim.
Living side by side with thousands of Sally Light Foot Crabs – named after a famous Columbian Dancer – the crabs could barely stand still long enough to take a photo while the iguanas lazily rested the day away. Raising their heads only to sneeze salt water over unsuspecting tourists.
Then there were the Sea Lions, always vocal, almost intrigued at times to see us, almost tempted to approach us. Luckily we were treated to a private show where two mothers and a pup took to the water before returning ashore, barging between us, splitting our group in half in the search of a quiet corner to feed the young two week old pup.
Wide eyed and giggling, we returned to our boat only to be advised of a minor change of plans. Due to an Earthquake off the coast of Costa Rica, all water bound activities had been cancelled by the Ecuadorian Navy and all tourists were instructed to return to shore and make for high ground – the tsunami risk in the area was set at high.
This delayed our first snorkelling adventure but replaced it with a mini adventure of its own. The tourist yachts and their sailings are heavy managed by the Ecuadorian Navy and what they say goes. As we packed up our knickers and toothbrush for a possible night on land, we were subject to two passes by the navy who were keen to see us ashore sooner rather than later.
An afternoon of mountain biking and highland walks were then prepared to keep us occupied in the face of the possible tsunami.
Although measuring a 7.6 on the earthquake scale, nothing other than a few ripples made it to the islands and we were allowed back offshore for tea and coffee and some late night whale watching while under steam to our next island.
Our first introduction to the Galapagos turtle in their natural habitat was a small boat trip through the mangroves. The sea was rich with animals but the images of the turtle in their surreal, almost silent, magical environment are a wonderful memory of the trip.
So imagine our surprise when we actually got into the water and swam with them!
Although completely harmless, their immense size caused a slight flutter of the heart when they came so close, just as interested in us as we are of them – it was an over whelming experience. The seabed was rich with life and this proved to be a rich feeding ground for turtles, and at times we could barely count their numbers there were so many!
Sitting back and simply enjoying their company was the only option,
Sea lions played around us and would come close for a sniff and then shoot off at lightning speed, making capturing a picture almost impossible.
The snorkelling was by far the no. 1 highlight of the trip.
Returning to the boat was like being told to go to bed on a warm summer night with no school tomorrow!
Back on land the landscape was fresh from recent volcanic activity and new life was appearing in the strangest of places.
The Blue Footed Boobie was the highlight of the birds, if not from a bird watching perspective it certainly made for a lot of jokes!
Another sunset and the end to another wonderful day . . . in paradise?
The search continues…..
Touched a turtle when shouldn’t have! Chloe 0 v 2 Chris
Turtle Proximity Panic Chloe 6 v 25 Chris
Scared of deep dark water Chloe 0 v 2 Chris
Almost thrown from top bunk Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Nights in top bunk Chloe 1 v 1 Chris
Nights squashed into lower bunk Chloe 3 v 3 Chris