I am finally coming around to put down everything we experienced in the ecuadorian Amazon. Let’s try to forget that we are already long gone and in the middle of our colombian adventure in Cali (hups..)
As you might have read in our previous post about Baños, we had already reached the start of the Amazon basin on our crazy bike tour. But once back in Baños we took a bus for 4 hours to reach Tena. Like many towns in Ecuador, even though they are mentioned in the Lonely Planet, there’s not many tourists here. We got out at the terminal in the heat of the Amazon (of course clothing wise not prepared) and walked to our Hostel (A Welcome Break). Tena is not particularly beautiful. Very busy, lot’s of shops and bakeries everywhere. Once we got settled and the sun went down a bit, we made our way to search for food and a tour agency. Tena is usually visited to go Kayaking, rafting or to start a jungle tour. During lunch we met a guy who offered to take us rafting for a very fair price and so we organized a tour for the next day. Early in the morning we walked to the meeting place, bought some fresh fruit on the way. He had ordered a big taxi where the boat was already loaded up. We drove out of the city through small villages and forrest and bought on the way fresh tilapias for our lunch. Unfortunately it started raining, and what I hoped would just be a short shower turned out to become a real storm. At our starting point we waited a bit hoping the rain would stop but it seemed like we had to go in the rain. It was our first time and the guide had told us all the security guidelines on how to behave when we fell off the boat.. Not exactly a comforting thought but ok. Then we finally started rafting and it was a lot of fun! We passed the first waves without falling off, had the adrenaline and enjoyed the speed. We started to feel more confident and got used to the rowing. Then it happened: What felt super slow actually happened in a few seconds, when suddenly a wave had pushed Sergio and me out of the boat. My only thought in the water were my slippers though, I did not want to lose them! Anyways, we got back in the boat easily (including slippers). The whole story about what to do when in the water had been a bit exagerated by the guide. But we laughed for a while and both guides with us. For lunch we stopped at a small beach, it was by the way still raining heavily. A lady had prepared the tilapias for us in a meal called Maito (my favourite dish in Ecuador!!!), which is fish cooked in a leaf (banana?) served with yuca and salad. After lunch on we went, the rain had stopped now and we got to enjoy the changing river landscape until we arrived at our end destination. Unfortunately we have not one single picture of the whole experience, so your immagination is asked here.
The next morning early at 6am we left Tena direction Lago Agrio, the last city before the deep secondary jungle. Lago Agrio is officially called Nueva Loja but no one calls it like that. Nueva Loja was founded by Texaco who started their oil mines close to the city and at the beginning many people from the southern city of Loja came here, therefore the name. However the more common name Lago Agrio became more popular, which comes from the the headquarter city of Texaco, Sour Lake Texas. We had planned to stay in Lago Agrio one or two days, expecting to find a second Baños: a town with many tour agencies and tourists waiting to go into the jungle. We expected wrong: Lago Agrio is actually a very industrial city close to the colombian border and as we found out a dangerous place where tourists are adviced to stay and eat in the hotel and not to step outside. Well, we did not know and also did not get the hint when our taxi driver said ‘don’t worry, you are save with me’, as to calm us down. Our hostel was very very basic and at a busy street. We went for lunch and quickly realized there’s no tour agencies here and even less tourists (normally people organize their trip in Quito and arrive here in the mornings to go straight into the jungle). So after a delicious ceviche and arroz con camaron we went back to our hostel and asked the friendly lady at the reception. Luckily she had the perfect connection to a jungle lodge (Bamboo Eco Lodge). She made a few calls and after a while the owners came by personally to our hostel to discuss with us the details. At 9 am the next day we could join the rest of the new group for breakfast. I just want to mention that even if all sources say Lago Agrio is awful and dangerous, people there are very friendly. People from the hostel made sure we had a taxi, a jungle tour anything that we needed. Also, since we were close to Colombia we saw the first venzuelan refugees asking for money so they could continue their journey. We had met venezuelans in Peru, but they were already settled and had jobs.
After our breakfast with 7 other people, a dutch couple and five spanish ladies, a minivan took us to where we would change to a boat. The road was long and curvy (and he drove crazy fast), with oil pipelines on both sides of the road. We arrived at the entry to the national park of Cuyabeno and met there our guide. Who would have thought then that we would grow so much on him. He seemed a very energetic guy, talking a lot and immediately taking us around to show spidernets, insects, birds and trees. Then we went on the boat along the small river for a few hours. The first thing we saw was the beautiful big blue Morpho butterfly. In the shadows of the tree her wings seem to shine in bright blue and all of us tried to capture it, but no photo would ever show the beauty of it. We also saw monkeys, 3 different kinds of them and many birds, like the King Fisher, which is a small bird in case you were wondering.
We arrived at the Laguna Grande, the biggest lake in the area and from there it was just a few minutes to the lodge. The days were filled with walks through the jungle, spotting pink dolphins in the river as well as parrots, tucanes and all other kinds of birds. In the nights we went searching for caymans and night walks in the jungle. The highlight of the day was however the sunset dip in the Laguna Grande! In the nights we usually slept with a tarantula and at least two frogs in our room, which made the experience only more authentic. It was truly a magical place! Miguel, our guide was a true adventurer and it was fun to go along with his ideas, like going through the water to see a cayman from really close or following the smell of wild pigs into the forrest. He had a ton of information ready, always in a good mood and never tired to show us something new. Those days I ate a larvae, ants and some other doubtful things we found in the jungle. It was definitely a tour with many ‘first times’ for both Sergio and me.