Cuyabeno: 1 canoe, 1 outboard, 6 tourists and the start of one hell of an adventure
5 Oct 2007
|1 canoe, 1 outboard, 6 tourists and the start of one hell of an adventure
It all started with an overnight bus from Quito to Cuyabeno in the eastern regions of Ecuador; payment of national park fees, a short boat ride to Cuyabeno Ecolodge, a pair of Wellington boots, a life jacket and a poncho and I'm off on a 12 day adventure cruising down the jungle rivers from Ecuador to Peru. The mode of transport for this epic adventure was a 12 metre long canoe with a 40bhp outboard as propulsion. Seating arrangements were first class, four double wooden seats with detachable cushions such that everyone had window seating. We had to be self-sufficient so everything we needed was brought with us and occupied the free spaces fore and aft of the canoe. Was quite impressive to see the inventory of what was brought - tables, stools, food, tents, sleeping bags, a large gas cylinder and two large gas burners for cooking and a huge plastic drum of gasoline for the outboard. Literally all that was missing was the proverbial kitchen sink and just to be sure I even looked for that
Our heroic crew was firstly Meloton, the motorista, aka the man at the wheel who sat at the back and navigated us through the jungle rivers with great skill as he had to avoid underwater fallen trees and shallow sand banks - although we did run aground a few times in the middle of a large river where the rest of the crew jumped into the water not fussed about the Caymans and Pirahnas and pushed us out. Then we have Nilo, to me the most important man onboard...the cook
. Final member of our trio was Diego who was our guide for the trip and promised to show us the wonders of the jungle.
My fellow crewmates are Sarah and her twin sister Leah from California, Sarah one of my closest and inseparable travel buddies since Panama and Colombia. Lukas and Anna from Switzerland and Nate from the US
. I absolutely loved having Sarah and Leah on the trip for several reasons:
However Sarah and Leah you do have a lot to answer for!! Wasn't til the second day cruising down the river Napo that I had time to reflect on how I ended up here, doing this trip, 12 days in the middle of nowhere...have I lost my mind?!?!? I realised tat one of the flaws of being a man is simply being a man! (I can hear the collective cheers of all the women now saying "finally...that's one man that actually gets it!"). So I guess I didn't have a chance when cornered by the Californian twins and asked "how would you like to join us on an adventure...". The rest of the question, the details faded into the nothingness of the area of a man's brain (yes contrary to popular belief ladies we do have one) marked 'what was that important thing I was supposed to remember again?' along with your partners' birthday, anniversaries and leaving the toilet seat down. So of course I had no choice but to say yes and it was only in the clear twin-less light of day that it dawned on me that I'd committed myself to twelve days in a motorized canoe through the deepest darkest jungles of Ecuador and Peru. Just like the Jedi mind trick the 'twin thing' got me hook, line and sinker.
Showman or Shaman?
On the second day we drop by a few indigenous villages on the river. The first being seemingly devoid of anyone above the age of twelve - seems the adults had gone of hunting or fishing. The kids were safe though as they were protected by a huge irate turkey that challenged anyone coming close with a large display of feathers and lots of aggression. A little further down the river and we visited a real life Shaman or witch doctor. We were supposed to witness a real life mystical Shaman ceremony but what we got was a discourse on how he became a Shaman and what his years of training involved, all this was very interesting actually. The ceremony itself needed a volunteer Nate, who sat with his back to the Shaman who then proceeded to recite incantations whilst passing leaves around Nate's head and boom, within a minute he was done, cured or something
. The real ceremony involves a very strong powerful psychotropic brew called Ayahuasca which leaves people vomiting, crapping themselves but the have visions that supposedly bring them closer to nature - don't thing that's quite my style but just sounds like the same effects people get drinking beer but without all the voodoo and mysticism.
To Let: Campsite with riverside views
During our twelve days navigating down the jungle rivers we had three different types of accommodation: camping in tents by the river, pitching our tents under the cover of roofed wooden structures and finally staying in hotels. The final option being a rare and welcome luxury and even though the hotels were very basic they seemed like five star luxury after days sleeping in the jungle.
And so our first experience of camping in the jungle came on Day 2 when after our enlightening Shaman experience we cruise down the Rio Napo and finally find a small clearing by the banks of the river and decide that this would be a good place to set up camp. Was very exciting to just rock up to a random spot, clear away some vegetation with the help of the indispensable machete, pitch or tents where ever we pleased, set up the tables and chairs and voila...one jungle campsite
. You just tried not to think about the local jungle residents whose space you had invaded and hoped they wouldn't come and pay you a visit in the night. Bathing in the river in the morning was an exhilarating experience too what with the knowledge that under the murky water below were Caymans, Piranhas and the odd Anaconda swimming around
. Luckily if anyone got scared no one would know as the water was already brown ;-) It did feel really refreshing though especially after the very hot sweaty night in the jungle, you felt like a part of nature being in the river although I didn't want to join the food chain.
In the jungle the mighty jungle the lion, the anaconda, the tarantula, the viper and anything else that can bloody kill you or cause a really nasty bite, sleeps tonight...ooweeee....
Day 3 was when we had our first jungle trek of many and was very interesting for many reasons. My senses were on overload looking at every plant, tree and bush but this wasn't for purposes of admiring the wondrousness of our jungle surroundings. No, I was expecting to see some poisonous animal ready to leap out and give me its deadly welcome to the jungle kiss of death. Unfortunately we saw more flora than fauna but on the way back a group of monkeys swinging through the trees took us off trail as we followed them trying to get a better look at them. Fifteen minutes later and the monkeys were gone and we were lost! Diego our guide started hacking through the dense jungle making his own trail which was pretty impressive as he knew what he was doing and got us all back safe. It did get a bit scary on one occasion when he stopped dead at a fallen tree trunk and said "I just say something I don't like...a snake" and then proceeded to tap the trunk continuously trying to coax the critter out. When it wouldn't come he stepped over the trunk and beckoned to us all to follow "Come on, its this way." Of course we all very gingerly passed over the trunk silently praying that nothing would come out and strike at us.
Prime jungle beach property
Also had our first proper beach camp today (Day 3). There's nothing more adventurous than arriving at a huge untouched riverside beach, and by this I mean sand everywhere with the jungle way in the back. As we jump off the canoe after another long day of travelling I ask our guides "Where do you want us to pitch our tents?" To which they looked at each other, laughed and said "choose a spot, any spot, the whole beach is yours!"
Now this is cool, very cool!! We all pitched up close to the water and straight away everyone was in swimming costumes for some fun times frolicking in the cool river water
. The only downside to this location was the infestation of sand flies, these horrible minuscule buggers that cause mild pains when they sting but tons of irritation as there are hundreds of them and they constantly sting leaving you in bumps that itch for days and make you look like you've had an out break of some disease. After another top notch meal from Nilo our chef and a short card game all by candle light, we all retire to our tents and sleep to the squawking and the splashing around of the Caymans in the water where we'd just been swimming, guess they don't like backpacker meat very much.
I must say that the food for the most part was top class considering where we were and there was always variety and enough to go around, Nilo definitely proved himself as a good cook.
Eastbound and down, loaded up and trucking...
Don't ask me why but a lot of thoughts go through you head when spending hours in canoe cruising through the jungle to your next destination. Thoughts of loved ones, that special someone, friends, special moments and experiences of this trip, etc....But also on more than one occasion I had stupid songs stuck in my head on constant repeat, in particular was the song from Smokey and The Bandit films by Jerry Reed called "Eastbound and down" which was appropriate as from Ecuador we had been heading eastbound and down - the clever ones amongst you will see the connection straight away, others...stick with it it might take a little while ;-)
we're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' "Bandit" run."
I won't mention why I had "I should be so lucky" by Kylie Minogue in my head because that would ruin what little street cred I have illusions of having, but honestly I can't explain that one at all...weird!?!?!