Our Amazon tour began in Lago Agrio, a small northeastern Ecuadorian town, where a bus picked us up at an appointed location. There were about thirty of us in total crammed on the bus, and we began the two-hour trip to the entrance of the Cuyabeno Reserve in the rain. But I guess it’s a rainforest, so it should rain.
At the reserve entrance we were met by our guide at the edge of the Cuyabeno River, Veronica, who made sure all of our luggage got on one motorboat and we got on the other. Our tour had ten people in total, which was a nice size. After a two-hour boat ride downriver we finally arrived at our destination: Samona Lodge. Sarah Ann’s phone showed us where we were:
I had booked the tour through Happy Gringo because of positive online reviews, and this was when I learned Happy Gringo is a third-party agency. I don’t know how I missed that before, but it is. We never met anyone associated with Happy Gringo, and our guide asked us later how we had heard of Samona Lodge. I will give my thoughts on the whole tour experience in the next blog post. Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is one of the largest reserves in Ecuador and home to several indigenous tribes, as well as animals and rare plants.
The lodge was basic, but not bad. Water was too spotty to take real showers. Electricity worked from around 7:30 pm to 10 pm everyday. If there wasn’t enough sunlight to power the panels, we would have been given candles to get to bed. Our guide told us to watch out for snakes and tarantulas crossing our boardwalk to our cabins, but we never saw any. Each of the beds had a mosquito net, which was very nice. We checked our beds every night for bugs or snakes under the blankets, just in case. The worst problem we had was cockroaches, when for two of our nights at the lodge we spent thirty minutes before bed killing every one we could find. The meals were delicious but a little small and far apart in the day, and heavy on the rice, as is usual in South America.
Our first adventure into the Amazon was a boat ride to Laguna Grande, where everyone with bathing suits could swim for about 15 minutes. Jordan and I forgot ours, but Sarah Ann had a grand time.
Our second day in the four-day tour was a hike through the jungle while Veronica showed us the plants her tribe (the Siona people) use for medicine. The fungus below is an oral contraceptive. Women brew it into tea and drink it once a month to prevent pregnancies.
We also walked over the equator, which was kind of fun.
Veronica told us that her grandmother was the first tour guide in the Siona tribe 30 years ago, when Amazon tourism began, and one the first the learn Spanish. The tribe was discovered by the military only 40 years ago. Before that, the rest of the world hadn’t heard of the Siona and the Siona hadn’t heard of the rest of the world. There are still a few uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, but primarily in Brazil now.
During all of our boat trips up and down the river, we kept our eyes open for birds, monkeys, anaconda, pink dolphins, and sloths. We found quite a few! That night we did another hike on an island near Laguna Grande. One group told us later they saw a boa constrictor. We weren’t quite as lucky, but we did see baby caiman and its mother. This was when I felt the presence of the Amazon the strongest, when it was dark and mysterious. After tripping around roots and hoping no anaconda would cross our paths, we returned to the lodge via boat, oohing and awing over the night sky. It was so clear and beautiful that our necks hurt from upturning our faces for so long. Even though we had seen more than half of the animals we would probably see on the trip, it was strange to think that our tour was halfway over.