This was the last full day I was going to experience in the jungle, departing at 5am the next morning in order for fellow tour members to reach Lago Agrio in time to catch their scheduled flight back to Quito. As we were yet to see any manatees, giant otters, anacondas or pink dolphins our guide decided to try another lagoon, Laguna Grande to see if we would have better luck.
The journey here from the lodge should have been slightly longer than the trips that were made to Laguna Cuyabeno, but little did we know what sort of adventure we were all in for. The main tributary to this lagoon was so shallow that it took us an extra hour to reach here after attempting to overcome the falling tree trunks and branches that blocked our progress every few metres. After all having our boots filled with muddy water, having our faces smacked in the face with tree branches and one German grandmother somehow getting impaled between a tree trunk and her canoe seat we eventually made it to the lagoon.
Laguna Grande was certainly worth all the effort to get ourselves and the canoe there. It's bigger than Laguna Cuyabeno and with the water levels currently much lower, it is also much more picturesque with long green grass surrounding the dry, cracked and exposed river bed. The low levels of water, covered with pink and green algae still seemed to be abundant with life, fishes jumping and splashing out of the water every few seconds. At one point the guide starting jumping and shouting about the spotting of a pink dolphin splashing in the distance. From what I saw of it though it just looked like a fish splashing like the rest of the splashes, and it wouldn't have surprised me if this was a little white lie from the guide to try and appease me, as I had made it known to him of my hopes for spotting this aquatic creature. After relaxing on the riverbank for a while, watching the birds fly by, and a few Caymans resting in the distance, it was time to face the same natural obstacles on the return back to Cuyabeno River and Tapir Lodge, which were made more difficult by attempting to get around them in one of the heaviest tropical downpours I have ever experienced.
I spent my final afternoon sitting in a canoe outside of my lodge attempting for the last time to catch a piranha, and while I reflected on my time spent here I realised that not seeing pink dolphins, the one animal I wanted to see more than anything else, wasn't really a failure when considering the other wildlife that we had seen during the previous four days. It was as though God was very happy with my unselfish views of my time here as shortly after on the third attempt of trying I finally bagged myself my very own piranha. Okay, so it wasn't quite in the same league as the piranhas that other group members had caught, some would even call mine a baby. But to me it made my trip here complete and as I tucked into the tiny fish, it's bones crunching in my mouth due to the lack of meat, I firmly believed this was the best fish I had ever tasted.
After dinner and relaxing in one of the many hammocks found around the lodge I came across an interesting piece of information that our guide had spoken about earlier in the day and something that I had not really taken into account when it had been said. Some of the lodges in the Ecuadorian chunk of the Amazon rainforest actively promote the fact that although they have built their lodges on the land of indigenous tribes there are contracts in place to hand back the land and therefore the running of the lodges to the indigenous tribes in several years time, giving the local people a slice of the profit and also showing their ability to perform responsible ecotourism in the process.
What the lodges and tour operators do not mention is the fact that most of the lodges, due to the constant decomposition and humidity that the jungle produces have a life span of no more than 20-30 years depending on the forest materials that have been used. Thatched roofs have an even shorter lifespan. Therefore around the specified dates that the lodges are handed back to the people whose land it occupies, the lodges are very closing to either needing to be rebuilt or at the very least, a big overhaul and renewal, which I am sure will have to be pocketed by the tribes themselves. I have no evidence of this and these are clearly my own thoughts, but it would be a strange coincidence if true.