Welcome to the Jungle – Cuyabeno Reserve

Getting out to deep amazon jungle on your own is a bit difficult. The primary form of travel in the Amazon is via the millions of rivers and water ways that wind through the rainforest. There are very few roads and access via automobile is rare so most people in this region use motorbikes, so motorcycle gloves are quite popular. We always regret not installing deploy-able Pontoons on the 4runner in situations like this…

I looked at our map of Ecuador and found the Cuyabeno National Park which appeared to be the most remote Amazon jungle area that we could actually drive to. Well you could not really drive INTO the park but you could get damn close. At the end of the road we would have to hitch a ride in a motorized canoe to actually make inside the parks boundary.

We hooked up with a cheap jungle lodge company in Quito that would agree to let us drive to the jungle ourselves. We had less than 24 hours to make it all the way across Ecuador to a random bridge in the jungle where there would (hopefully) be a canoe waiting to pick us up.

No big deal.

We hauled ass from Quito that afternoon. We crossed up and over the Andes mountains into a thick fog. We broke through the fog to see the low-lying Amazon jungle below us as far as the eye could see.


We dropped down from the mountains into the hot misty jungle. By this time night was falling, we found a spot to post up the night in front of an old clapboard house on stilts. This construction was typical of the area, reminded us of the homes seen along the Caribbean coasts of Central America.

Up in the morning and back on the road. We were zooming past miles and miles of oil pipelines and drilling rigs.

[RANT]
I usually try keep my personal politics off the blog but feel this needs to be shared. Ecuador is home to one of the largest oil reserves in the Americas. For over 25 years Texaco/Chevron and PetroEcuador have been pumping the hell out of the rainforest to the tune of 1.5+ billion barrels. Great for gas prices but absolutely devastating to the environment. The oil companies have been leaving behind their drilling waste products in large open pits in the rainforest. These pits overflow in the rainy season causing widespread contamination to the water table, soil, and farms of the local communities. There has been ongoing litigation in Ecuador between the 30,000+ locals effected in the rainforest and the oil companies who have exploited it. There is a great documentary called “CRUDE” which goes into much more detail on this situation. The movie is available streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer HERE on youtube. HERE is a short 60-minutes piece on the issue as well. I encourage readers to watch these segments and learn about the exploitation taking place, this kind of crap would absolutely not fly in the U.S.A.
[/RANT]

Eventually we arrive at a lonely bridge in the middle of the jungle. We see no one. Crap! Did we miss the boat? We park and start looking around. We go underneath the bridge where we discover a toothless old man snoozing in a canoe. We gently nudge him awake. He sits up and I see he is wearing a “Cuyabeno River Lodge” t-shirt. Score! This was our guy.

We stash the truck at the old mans shack, load our stuff into the canoe, and hit the river. The small 5 horsepower motor slowly idled our canoe through the thick forest canopy. The morning was full of jungle sounds, frogs, monkeys, birds, insects. The sound of the jungle in the morning is something you must experience at least once in your life.


We travel for around an hour or so via canoe seeing nothing but dense rainforest. We come around a bend and rising up out of the jungle is the “Cuyabeno River Lodge”. The river-front lodge consists of one large primary building and about 10 separate open-air cabanas.


We unloaded our stuff and were directed to our open-air cabin. Complete with hardcore bug net (very necessary out here in the jungle)

Home Sweet Home.

After a quick 30-min rest up the main bell sounded. We headed back up the clubhouse and met, Diego, our jungle guide. We also met a great group of ladies who have been volunteering with a street children education program in Quito for the past few months. They would be part of our group for the next few days.

First order of business. Suit up! We were all given a pair of knee-high rubber boats AKA Wellies to hike through the jungle with. Our guide tells us, “It’s pretty wet out”. (This would prove to be an understatement…)

Geared up we headed out into the jungle.

We strolled along various trails through the jungle as Diego pointed out different birds, insects, plants, etc. Diego grew up in the jungle and his eyes were remarkable, he could spot things we never would have seen without him.

Soon the hard-packed trail eroded into more of a mud/water soup. We learned quickly what the boots are for.

“The trail”

Back at camp Diego had mentioned something about “swimming”. Being the ignorant gringos we were we assumed something got lost in translation. Standing on the edge of the muddy river bank we realized he was not joking at all…

Diego could have sworn there was a bridge here last year.

Follow me!

We put our cameras into ziplock bags and prayed that we would not be eaten by some crazy river anacondas.

1/2 across the river the bank cuts out and you have to really have to swim for it.

Today we learned: Swimming with giant rubber boots full of water is difficult.

Diego had encouraged us to be very quiet and not thrash around while crossing the river. As the last girl came up out of the water, the river erupted with splashing and activity.

Piranhas.

The girls look back at the river we just swam through, now teeming with flesh-eating fish.

Luckily most of the other river crossings had downed logs, saving us from whatever nasties might be waiting in the river to eat us.

We hiked through the rainforest eventually coming back to the lodge, we cleaned up and headed back to the clubhouse where we shared dinner and drinks.

One of the chefs showed us around the clubhouse after dinner. Apparently you don’t need to go very far to encounter wildlife out here in the jungle. He lifted a random painting off the wall, where we found this guy hanging out.

While trying to get a better picture Lauren got a little too close, the treefrog saw it as a good chance to hitch a ride and jumped right into her hair!

After all the screaming and jumping about died down, the frog was still holding strong. The sticky foot pads made for an interesting extraction process.

Success!

Back in our cabana that night, Lauren jumped into the bugnet while I rummaged around. I heard a strange squeaking sound. I looked up at the main pole that supports the cabin and discovered we weren’t the only guests that night.

BATS.

I must say I am pretty proud of Lauren, before we started this trip she was deathly afraid of the flying beasts. Now she is able to sleep right underneath them. We heard them flying around all night eating up random insects that also flew around our bug fortress. The perks of an open-air cabin in the middle of the jungle.

Morning eventually came and we were awoken by the sounds of loud crashing in the trees behind our cabin. I looked out the open-wall of the cabin to investigate and saw a large troop of Cappuccino monkeys making their way through the jungle. I woke Lauren up and we spent the morning hanging out watching them pick fruit and munch happily making their way through the trees.

Eventually the breakfast bell breaks us from our monkey trance and we make our way down to the clubhouse. This morning we meet “Tas”. Tas was an orphaned Peccary (kind of like a wild jungle pig) that was separated from his herd when they crossed the river. The guys at the lodge adopted him and have been raising him as a pet.

He was pretty much the cutest jungle pig ever.


After breakfast we loaded up the canoes and hit the river. We were headed up to a small village located about 4 hours deeper into the jungle.

What started out to be a sunny day quickly turned into a downpour (I guess thats why they call it the “rainforest”) Luckily we had all brought along ponchos and suited up for the 4-hour canoe slog in the rain.

Along the way we spotted some interesting animals including a baby Anaconda and a very strange Mohawked bird called a “Stinky Turkey”. Apparently the birds digestive process is quite odd and emits a very foul odor. Luckily we were upwind.

We eventually arrived at the tiny village, tied up the canoes and trekked up to a small shack we we found an older woman who taught us how to make Yucca bread. A staple of the amazon diet.

Step #1: Acquire Yucca. I followed this bad ass old lady into the jungle, she started macheting up some random vines.

She then told me to dig something up out of the ground, not one to argue with old ladys wielding machetes I said Yes Mam. After some digging and tugging I yanked out this giant Yucca root from underground.

Some quick machete action split up the giant root in manageable sized pieces, Lauren and the girls peeled off the tough and dirty root bark revealing the edible white Yucca beneath.

With our fresh haul of Yucca we headed back to the hut.

Back in the hut we washed down the Yucca and then began to grate it on some old tin plates with holes punched in it. All the girls got in to help in the process.

The shredded Yucca was placed into this woven sleeve and wrapped up.

Then the sleeve was hung and twisted to wring out excess liquid from the Yucca itself.

Once sufficiently dried out, the Yucca was transferred to a woven mat, similar to a Sieve.

We all got in on the process of sifting the dried yucca through the sieve.

What we were left with was a fine Yucca flour.

The flour was scooped up and placed directly onto a hot stone. No oil, sugar, salt. Nothing added at all. Simply yucca flour on a hot stone.

After a few minutes, she flipped it over, few minutes more flip again and we were done. What we created was a thin bread disc, sort of similar to Indian Naan bread. The sugars of the Yucca caramelized to hold the entire thing together. We enjoyed our fresh yucca bread with some jam. Quite delicious actually.

We shared with some of the local kids as well.

After that it was back onto the canoe for a long trip home, luckily the weather had cleared up a bit and we could enjoy the view sin panchos.

When we returned to the Cuyabeno River Lodge we found the river had risen considerably due to the all the rain and actually flooded it banks. Our river front lodge was now a river ON lodge.

One of the local kids enjoyed paddling all over the lodge grounds underneath the raised platforms of the huts. Beats walking!

We lounged around the rest of the afternoon in some hammocks, discussing our travels, the jungle, and bugs.

That evening we loaded back into the canoes again. We were headed out to go Piranha fishing (Very touristy yes but something I always wanted to do!)

Diego said he knew a good-spot. We killed the motor and paddled up a small-side creek deep into the jungle.

The process was simple, some sticks, a bit of fishing line, some old rusty hooks, and good ol’ fashion RAW BEEF for bait.

Once Diego taught us the trick of using our fishing pole to thrash up the water like a dying animal, it was PIRANA ON!

Check it off the bucketlist!

The sun set while we were deep in the forest. It was pretty spooky out there.

We navigated our way back down the canals while looking for Crocs.

We spent another day out in the jungle exploring the place. Eventually we loaded our stuff back into the canoes and took a ride back to the bridge where we found our truck waiting safe and sound.

This was our first taste of the Amazon jungle. We found it to be amazingly beautiful, mysterious, and just a bit dangerous. We are definitely hungry for more and looking forward to returning. The Cuyabeno River Lodge is a great introduction to the jungle and we highly recommend it if you find yourself in Ecuador looking for an amazon adventure.

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  • enzo

    Really cool post. I want a peccary!

    • http://homeonthehighway.com James

      Plenty to be had in the jungles, lets go!

  • Dave Zimmerman

    Great post, James. Quite an experience!

  • pjwheeler

    Gee, sounds like a great trip. I had to chuckle about your rant on the oil companies leaving their mess…that does suck. Sadly, there is a market for their product. No, that doesn’t eliminate their responsibility to provide the product without environmental damage. But it has been proven time and time again that if there is less of a market for something (or better yet, no market), the problems associated with producing that product will be less (or non-existant). Drugs, and the American appetite for them is a great example. As is gasoline.
    Just out of curiosity, how much fuel do you think you yourselves used during this trip?
    Something to think about, and that you never thought about, right?

    • HomeontheHighway

      We use a buttload of gas, and yes I think about the irony of bitching about oil companies while consuming thousands gallons of their products. (Note my truck also burns about 1qt of oil per 1000 miles!)

      Still there are ways to extract oil without complete disregard for the environment. One day I will proudly drive around a robo-sun powered 4×4 once they are designed and I can afford one, until then, Ill bitch and moan about big companies destorying our world like every other privleged white guy on the internet