It was a massive change arriving at the edge of the rainforest after being in Quito. While the city was mild enough during the day and really cold at night, in the Oriente it was absolutely sweltering right from the off. Getting to our lodge was a bit of a mission. After a seven hour overnight bus, we had another two hour trip on a minibus to get us to our canoe, before a three hour river journey to the lodge. The canoe shouldn't take this long normally but the river was really low thanks to a lack of rainfall so we had to go slow avoiding all the massive fallen trees and other debris in the river. Still, it was nice to get a bit of sun and get a sense of how enormous the forest is. We came across various tropical birds, monkeys and turtles on the way.
The lodge itself was really cool. Located just back from the river bank, it had about ten cabins, a dining room and a common area with hammocks. There was no electricity except for a handful of sockets for charging cameras etc, which were powered with solar panels. In the cabins the walls didn't actually reach the ceiling so as soon as night fell there were all sorts of things crawling around the place. We thought our guide, Luis, was messing about poisonous spiders being in the room but on the very first night an English couple in our group were turning in and there was a massive tarantula having a nap in the thatch roof right above their bed! Before all that, though, Luis had a surprise for us: as soon as it got dark we were heading into the forest at the back of the lodge to see what nocturnal action there was to be seen. I think everyone was a bit cagey about it because we were heading out armed only with little torches and wellies to stop things biting us from below and the nerves weren't helped when our guide warned us to avoid contact with basically everything in the forest in case there was something poisonous lurking around that he hadn't spotted. This proved fairly tricky as rainforests have a tendency to grow in quite an unruly fashion and the slightest brush of a rogue twig on the back of the neck was greeted with a effeminate squeal.
The next day we headed off in the boat again for a walk through another part of the forest and around a lagoon which was bone dry because of the lack of rain. In the forest Luis showed us loads of trees and plants that are used for various medicinal purposes and we came across a couple of troops of monkeys swinging through the trees above us. The lagoon was really eerie, like an arid desert surrounded by lush forest. Luis was hoping to find a giant anaconda there and he found some skin that one had shed but he couldn't find the genuine article, only tracks leading into the few pools dotted around the place. Probably for the best: we've all seen what those snakes can do in the film with rapper turned actor Ice Cube.
We visited an indigenous village a couple of hours downstream the next morning and one of the women in the village showed us how to make a kind of jungle pizza bread from manioc root. We also got to try a glass of chicha, the local firewater, a delicious, potent alcoholic brew made out of fermented sugar cane. According to Luis, two glasses of chicha and it's lights out. The pizza bread was good too. We had it with blazing hot chillis from a bush in the village and some pineapple jam. The village monkey had a sweet tooth apparently and kept going for the jam. Little did he know that at some point he'd be in the cooking pot as well. He was a 'woolly' monkey, the only type the locals eat. There was a torrential downpour while we were there and the village elders came in from their work in the fields. Nobody knows how old the oldest man, Don Victorino, is. Luis reckoned over 100 anyway and his wife was probably touching 90. They looked fairly spritely anyway, and his wife even washed his feet for him before they went into their house.
Luis also told us about another tribe the 'yellow feet', who live in the southern part of the forest in Ecuador. He said they are naked and don't have any contact with the outside world, anyone who has tried to contact them, missionaries etc. has been killed. Even when the oil companies wanted to explore their territory, 35 armed soldiers were all killed by blow darts loaded with poison from jungle frogs backs.
There was time for a quick dip in the river beside the village before heading back to the lodge and another night walk through another part of the forest. Didn't come across as much stuff this time but Luis did find a massive, hairy tarantula on the branch of a tree. It was like something out of a horror film but apparently their bite is no worse than a wasp sting. Looked like it could take your head off though.
The next morning we were out of bed at 6am for a quick birdwatching trip before breakfast, followed by an epic journey back to Quito. The river was so low that we had to keep hopping into the water to push the canoe over the sand. It was boiling hot so it was nice to cool off and it broke the journey up nicely too. It took between three and four hours to travel about 35kms and then we had the two bus journeys before arriving in Quito that night. We were a bit wary after the trouble of a few days earlier but there was hardly a sinner on the streets thanks to a government-declared state of emergency so we had no trouble at all before heading further south first thing the next morning.
Some more pictures from Quito...