After a satisfying sleep and probably my first lie in since coming to Ecuador seven months earlier, today's main activity was a jungle walk, where I was hoping we would get to see a huge variety of jungle wildlife close at hand.
Things got off to a good start as we ventured to the back of our lodge and straight into the depths of the forest. Within minutes there was a troupe of squirrel monkeys swinging above our heads. With such a start everyone was highly positive that even through the lush dark jungle more wildlife was just a fingertip away. The only thing so close to us was disappointment as for the next four hours of trekking, wildlife seen was virtually zero.
Apart from ants, two frogs and a couple of killer wasp nests viewed high above us in the jungle canopy there was absolutely nothing to be seen. To rub salt into my wounds even more I managed to get stuck fast in one of the many swamp areas to be found inside the jungle, having a nice variety of water and mud slide into my Wellington boots in the process. To make matters worse I then had to face the indignity of having my girlfriend come and pull me out, much the amusement of the German millionaires and their nephew who made up the rest of the tour group.
Although there might have been a tiny bit of disappointment lingering around us all, for me it wasn't a wasted trip at all, in fact I learnt an awful lot I hadn't previously known. The biggest thing that impressed me was the denseness of the jungle canopy and how little light reached the ground level. The torrential rain that greeted us as we left the lodge seemed to miraculously disappear as we ventured into the jungle. So much so that we didn't need to wear our rain ponchos any longer and could walk around in just T-shirts without getting wet. All of the rain was caught by the trees and leaves before it had time to reach the ground.
Even in such primary rainforest, evidence of human activity and deforestation was still very close at hand. After an hours walking through the jungle we came across something that resembled an ancient highway, a pathway that had been cleared through the forest running for as long as the eye can see. The chopped down trees had been laid down horizontal across the pathway that seemed to act as some sort of giant conveyor belt.
This was confirmed when asking our guide, who explained that within the forest there are a number of prized trees that could earn indigenous folk a small fortune. Such trees, like the Ivory Tree can fetch as much as $3,000 for just one trunk. Therefore it seems that people are willing to go to all the effort of chopping down tree after tree to form a clear pathway to get these trees out of the forest and sell them to the relevant buyers. Sadly with such efforts going on, and with the potential oil sources in Reserve Faunistica Cuyabeno I’m not surprised some experts predict that in as little as 30 years Ecuador’s share of the Amazon forest will have been completely destroyed. While on the walk back to the lodge, a number of canoes were spotted moored to the shore line, which the guide also sadly stated were those of hunters who had come here to hunt illegally for wildlife, which could then either be eaten or sold at local markets.
The day was finished off with some traditional paddling of the canoe for a mile or two, where we would relax with a spot of piranha fishing. I was highly embarrassed with my performance, as after only two minutes of paddling with a traditional oar, my arms felt they were on fire and would fall off at any moment due to the lack of energy pumping through my body. Of course when I turned around to see how my girlfriend was fairing she was happily paddling away without a care in the world. I think I will be needing to concentrate some effort of mine on improving my upper body strength.
Catching absolutely nothing made the day complete, watching fish the size of a small child's finger come and steal my bait every time it entered the water. Other members of the tour group were much more successful, catching huge scary looking piranhas I could only dream of catching. This was the first time I had ever tried fishing let alone piranha fishing and I have to say that the sport seems strangely addictive, even though I was bored out of my skin for the majority of the time. I suppose it's the chance of catching something huge that keeps people interested.
One of the best things about staying on the edge of Cuyabeno River in Reserve Faunistica Cuyabeno is the absolutely beautiful sunsets, if the tropical downpours hold off for long enough. You can't beat dipping your legs into the soothing river and watching the sun send the brown dirty water into a magnitude of colourful warm shades, with the view only completed by common vampire bats flying so close to the river that you often heard the odd splash as though they had accidentally fallen in. Luckily such vampire bats very rarely feed on the blood of humans as it is thought they can only bite between the webbed skin of the fingers and toes. With such knowledge I was reassured enough to sit back and watch them manoeuvre through the air with such grace and speed.