Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

I have returned from the depths of the Amazon Jungle, where i was exploring from a base on a black water lagoon on a tributary of Rio Napo.  There is so much to say, so i will not say it all now.  I will start at the beginning and stop at the end of the first day.

I caught an early flight from Quito to Coca on Monday morning, where i took a bus to the River. On the River i caught a motorized canoe to a smaller part of the river where i switched to a dugout canoe, then hiked a bit to reach the the La Selva Lodge. The canoe ride was amazing! it was just like being on the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland, except a million times better.

La Selva Lodge
It is a wonderful place, right on the lagoon and in the jungle. It has a main building with a dining room and  social area and then it has a number of huts. All of the buildings are built entirely out of bamboo and roofed in palm fronds. No other materials, so they are pretty rustic accommodations, but they are so charming! All of the huts are on stilts and have little balconies with hammocks. They have a beds with mosquito nets and do have electricity and running water in the bathrooms, but only from 6am to about 10pm.  Because of the way the huts are made, they have huge gaps in them and all sorts of creatures can come inside.  I didn´t have any awful bugs that i am aware of, but i did have a large lizard living in my bathroom and a family of fruit bats that slept hanging from the ceiling at night.
my hut
inside my hut
Once at the lodge I was put into a group of 5 other people with whom i would be doing my jungle exploring.  There was a mother-daughter duo from London, a Couple from Helsinki, a couple from Victoria, and a girl traveling solo from London. We all got on quite well, which was great.
We had some lunch and then we went on our first hike in the jungle.  A few comments about the jungle:
  • it is very hot and very humid. Think of a particularly humid day in Miami in August. Yeah, like that. I was sopping wet in minutes and stayed that way for the entire trip. It was pretty great though, once you accept it.
  • it is very loud and alive. Everything is moving and strange sounds come from all sides, including underfoot and overhead. Frogs, insects, birds, monkeys and sound of trees moving and dropping leaves and is quite overwhelming.
  • everything is enormous.
So we walked and saw an incredible variety of plants and birds. We walked with an amazingly knowledgeable guide, Marco, and an indigenous guide, Bolivar. Bolivar did not speak English, but he was incredible. He could spot a monkey sitting still and camouflaged from 20 yards. We saw, amongst other things, a fascinating parade of leaf cutter ants, a group of black mantled tamarin monkeys, and two dusky titi monkeys. It was incredible. 

We had some down time after our walk and i retired to my hammock with a cigar. A word about hammocks--it is impossible to feel bad while lying in one. Try it. I defy you to try to remain angry or upset whilst in an hammock. What is better than lying in a hammock is doing so in the amazon jungle with a cigar. I was so relaxed and so in awe of my surroundings. It was perfect.

me in my hammock, in the Amazon, with a cigar (bliss)
After dinner (the food was marvellous, by the way; something different at every meal and special vegetarian treats for me) we went on a night walk.  For those of you who don´t know, i am afraid of only 2 things, bugs and the dark. The walk required me to summon all of my courage. You see, it gets dark in the jungle. Put out your flashlight and you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. Also, the jungle is FAR louder at night.

We saw a myriad of creatures--vine snakes, a pink-footed tarantula, many red rumped tarantulas, scorpion spiders, armored millipedes, giant cockroaches and many types of frog.  I liked the reptiles, but the bugs were creepy.

After that, i went to bed.  The lights go out at 10pm, so you want to be in bed before that. I got into bed, securely tucked my mosquito net in around my mattress and tried to sleep. What ensured was a sleepless night of terror. I couldn´t see anything and i´m not sure i would have wanted to. A bat was flapping either in my room or just outside the window, the jungle sounds seemed to grow louder and closer, i could hear creatures walking under my hut and the humidity was oppressive. (There is a ceiling fan, but with no electricity, no fan).  I probably slept for about 3 hours. It was terrible.  On a positive note, however, my second two nights were fine. Once i knew what to expect, I wasn´t bothered by the sounds a bit and slept just fine.

So that, in a (coco)nut shell, is my first day in the jungle.  
 I will write more before i retire for the night.

The Lagoon

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