We missed out on visiting the Amazon while we were in Brazil; a combination of time constraints and unwillingness to take expensive and side-effect inducing antimalarial drugs meant we headed no further north than Salvador.
Although the majority of the rainforest is in Brazil, many countries in South America lay claim to a slice of the Amazon, including Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Since Ecuador would be one of the last places we would visit in South America, we decided to take the plunge and head into the mighty jungle.
First stop towards the rainforest was Baños, a pretty town surrounded by waterfalls and mountains.
I managed to get Mark to relax in the thermal spas that give the place its name for about an hour before he insisted on a five hour hike up to the highest summit.
We met a very affectionate blue eyed llama on the way…
The next day was the first of the two day tour we had chosen. With just a couple of days it is only possible to see the secondary jungle on the outskirts of the Amazon; going deep into the primary jungle requires nearly a week.
We still saw plenty in those two days though.
One of the first stops was a sanctuary which had many different species of monkeys and primates, like the chorongo and capuchin blanco.
After that we visited a local indigenous community, where we learnt a bit about their culture and customs. A bowl of chicha was passed around – after we tasted the lumpy, sour, fermented drink we were told that the ladies of the community prepare it by chewing and spitting out mouthfuls of yucca. Apparently enzymes in saliva aid the fermentation process. An acquired taste indeed!
We were invited to have a go at shooting darts through a traditional blow gun. Here’s a scary looking picture of me lining up a shot, with scary face paint to match.
That afternoon we had a short boat trip in a traditional canoe that would have tipped without the practised local man steering and keeping it steady.
Once back on dry land, we hiked up to a viewpoint over the jungle, where there was possibly the world’s best placed swing.
Both Mark and I had a go – click here for a video of me whooping like a loon on my first swing.
This video is Mark’s second swing; he bellowed some very rude words the first time and only just managed not to soil his pants on this go.
We also found some natural swings in the jungle later, on the way to a waterfall.
At the waterfall, I did a spot of skinny dipping…
As it got darker, we were dropped off at the primitive jungle cabins where we were spending the night.
The next morning a couple of cheeky lion monkeys joined us for breakfast.
We visited the massive boa constrictor which the local people inexplicably thought made a cuddly pet. Mark enjoyed grappling with it…
Me, not so much…
Then we made our way through the jungle to a lake, carrying a bundle of fish heads wrapped in banana leaves to help coax the caimans up to the surface.
After the caimans swam away, we did some more thrashing around in the jungle and learnt about some of the plants and their medicinal uses.
This tree is known as “dragon’s blood” – when a small incision is made in the bark, the sap drips out dark red as if the trunk is bleeding. When the sap is rubbed into skin, it becomes creamy and white. This is used as a remedy for stings and bites.
Our guide Delfin picked some leaves, crushed them in his hands and made us inhale. The strong menthol like smell sent us both into a frenzy of coughing. Amusingly, he insisted this was good for you, especially if you were trying to get rid of a cough or cold.
Another time Delfin plucked a large leaf and told us to suck at the part which had connected it to the stem. We obediently did so, and tasted a pleasant sherbet flavour. Delfin stopped giggling long enough to tell us that we had just eaten a mouthful of “lemon ants”; the insects and their eggs have a sour fruity flavour. Honestly it was tasty – I’m sure it won’t be long before restaurants in London charge a fortune for specially imported Ecuadorian creepy crawlies.
Some of the plants were pointed out more for their ornamental value, such as my furry beak below. Maybe to make up for all the tricks he was playing on us gullible gringos, Delfin sweetly made us necklaces and headbands, as modelled by Mark.
His speed and skill at stripping fibres from leaves and twisting them into strong cords, or quickly weaving lengths of palm into pretty patterns was impressive.
Back to the main hut for lunch and the lion monkeys decided to get more friendly. This little one hardly left my lap. The moment I would stop scratching his tiny head he would squeak and nudge me to start again.
Soon the other, less sociable monkey got jealous and started a play fight.
Meanwhile a couple of the dogs rolled around in mock fight – all the animals seemed to be going crazy at once. Jungle fever indeed!
(Note from Mark: how ugly are these dogs! One of them is missing most of his hair and the other has these wonky ears!)
After our post lunch siesta, we went back out, this time to a different lake to look for turtles.
Mark went into Bear Grylls mode and got hold of an enormous water turtle.
Lifting the 50kg beast was a challenge – click here for a video of Mark’s efforts.
This one was a more manageable size…
Delfin found more than one type and stacked a water turtle on top of a ground turtle (a bit mean – Mark)
With squelching boots we left the turtles behind (after making Delfin unstack them) to see what else was nearby.
Mark befriended a boar…
Just as the end of the day was approaching, we heard an unusual high pitched cry. Delfin recognised this to be a tapir, so off we went in search of him.
Such a beautiful and placid animal – tapirs are endangered so this guy is the only one around for miles. It’s quite sad as he was obviously lonely and followed us back down our path for ages, until the boar scared him away.
Next time I’m in this part of the world I will definitely leave more time to explore the Amazon – the two day exploration of the secondary rainforest gave us a taste of what the dense jungle of the primary rainforest has to offer.