09.06.2016 - 12.07.2016 28 °C
Initially Sam and I were thinking about going next to the Zona Cafetera, the coffee area but then we changed our minds and decided to do a jungle tour in the Cuyabano reserve. So we spent a day in Quito to organise our 3-day tour into the jungle. Once that was done we had a bit of time to walk around the old town and do some shopping: we couldn't resist all the beautiful souvenirs and both got some ponchos haha! We also tried the traditional Ecuadorian drink called Candelazo, a delicious warm drink with rhum...
We took an overnight bus to Lago Agrio in the Eastern part of Ecuador and got on a bus with the rest of our group. After about 2h we all got into a boat and made the journey all the way to our lodge in the Cuyabeno Reserve. It was the wet season which is why we had to do everything by boat, otherwise you would be able to walk everywhere! We saw a lot of animals along the way, including Squirrel Monkeys, Red Howler and Black Saki monkeys, but also an anaconda resting on a branch and even a sloth! There are 5 different ecosystems in the reserve so you can see a great variety of plants and wildlife. After a late lunch and some resting time, we went for a ride on the boat to have a swim in the lake and then enjoyed a beautiful sunset. On our way back we spotted a black spectacled caiman who came really close to our boat...
The next day was great as we got to do a lot of activities. We started with a walk to find the biggest tree in the Amazon forest and we were lucky to spot some Noisy Night Monkeys emerging from their hole in a tree, so cute haha... Then next came what I really wanted to do: spend a day with an indigenous community. We visited the Sion community, one of 14 indigenous tribes present in the Rainforest - they are 55 in total, with 2 families, they speak their own language, pacoca. We started by doing some traditional face-painting using a natural colourant from a local fruit. The lady who received us was lovely and taught us how to make the traditional cassava bread, made with yuca usually for special occasions. First she showed us how to harvest the yuca: you have to wait 9 months for it to be ready, you don't eat the branches or the leaves, only the roots! She then showed us how to peel it, grate it, extract the juice (which is dangerous as it contains cyanide), and then use the flour-like texture as the only ingredient to make a kind of flat bread that is delicious! We also tried chicha, a fermented sugar cane juice that tasted a bit like cider.
We then went to another little village to meet with a shaman. He explained to us that to become a shaman you have to regularly drink ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction of plants from the forest which gives you power and energy. It is a very ancient art that is only taught by shamans to their students, of which there are less and less every year. They then acquire a healing power which allows them to diagnose and relieve little diseases and pains - he did a demonstration on me. However when it is something more serious that requires surgery for example he will advise them to seek medical help. It was really interesting to hear him talk about his beliefs and traditions. We also tried to throw an arrow with a very long sarbacane that is traditionally used to kill animals or for enemies. I was pretty good and got it straight into the target!
We went to see another nice sunset over the lake and then went for our night walk. We had our boots, our ponchos and flashlight on and saw a lot of pretty scary insects. Many spiders, but especially a giant hairy tarentula and also an amazing Black Scorpion that glowed in the dark! We hurried back to the lodge in our boat as it started pouring down with rain... it is the Rainforest after all!
We got up early the next morning to go look for birds on top of the bird-watching tower and we weren't disappointed: we saw a few toucans and an amazing colony of blue and yellow macaws, always in pairs, playing together! Our guide had a telescope so I managed to get some really good pics, it was beautiful to watch... After breakfast we had to set off and during the 2.5h that lasted the boat ride back, we got absolutely drenched in the worst downpour I have ever experienced in my life... We still got there in the end and hopped onto the bus back to Lago Agrio where we met a guide who kindly offered us to stay at his wife's restaurant outside of town since we had several hours to wait until our night bus. So we got to relax in hammocks and enjoyed a nice home-made dinner while his whole family was there, it was quite a funny experience!
We then got into our night bus to Tulcan, the most northern city in Ecuador, with the aim to cross the border to Colombia by foot in the morning (it is not recommended to do it at night). All went well and we got a taxi to Ipiales, where we then took a 12h bus to Cali... We were a little nervous as we had been told that there were some 'paros' on the road to Cali, meaning that no cars or buses could go through. However we got lucky once more and arrived safely after a long but uneventful journey, the only event being an amazing meal we had for a very cheap price haha... In Cali we found a fun hostel that made us feel we were still in the jungle! We went for drinks and food but didn't see much of the city so I already knew I would be back to experience its legendary salsa nightlife...
That is all for now, in the next post I will tell everything about the last leg of my trip with Sam, exploring the Caribbean coast between San Andres island, Cartagena and Palomino.
Hasta luego amigos!