Thursday, August 16, 2018

Cuyabeno, Ecuador

For me, one of the big attractions of Ecuador was a chance to see the Amazonia in all its remoteness. Our lodge was on the river Cuyabeno, a tributary of the Amazon three levels removed; Cuyabeno empties into the Aguarico, which then joins the Napo which finally meets the Amazon. Our journey to the lodge needed us to take a bus to a grimy town called Nueva Loja, and then from there another short bus ride to a jetty on an unmarked stream. A motorized canoe then took us through the bends and curves of the stream to the Cuyabeno. Three hours later as we navigated through some of the densest forests I’ve seen we reached our lodge. For a few hours we forgot that we were tourists buying a package tour and felt like true pioneers entering one of the last wildernesses. At the entrance of the clearing in which the lodge was nestled we had our reminder that there are no truly remote spots left on earth - we were greeted by a Bangladeshi tour guide.

AB, or Bangla as he was called by the rest of the staff, was to give us VIP treatment during our entire stay. He completely excused my broken hindi and insisted on speaking in only that tongue. You could tell that this was his way of communing with his motherland.

I benefited immensely from AB’s attention and knowledge of the ecosystem, not to mention from the excellent explanations of the local flora and fauna from our other guide, Diego, whose Spanish accent made every story more fascinating. There was something new to discover in every inch of this dense jungle. There were the ten species of monkeys which included the aptly named Pocket monkey, which happens to be the smallest primate species on earth. There was the shy Pink River Dolphin that would show up next to our canoe every now and then. There was the iconic Anaconda looking a few degrees less hyperactive than its Hollywood caricature. There was the two-toed sloth that was engaged in a lethargy competition with the Anaconda. Even the trees had their own idiosyncrasies. There was a tree that actually walks (well, over months) looking for clearings in the foliage. There’s another that has evolved highly acidic leaves to eliminate competition around it. The bugs were not to be left behind. There was a species of termite that does not bite, but sprays an insect repellant, as an adaptation to defend its home. You just had to put your hand in this termite’s mound to get a natural bugspray that keeps you safe from the other insects in the forest at least for the next couple of hours. Of course there were the birds, and they deserve a separate post!

Contrary to all the cautions we had received on the way here, we got three days of glorious sunshine. On the fourth day, on our canoe trip back to the base, we learned why this is called the rainforest. As the incessant rain poured down rivulets formed in the jungle floor and emptied into the Cuyabeno everywhere you looked, and the river had tangibly swelled in a matter of hours. You could tell this scene was getting repeated all across the Cuyabeno and the hundred other rivers that form the Amazon system. You could tell that the three dry days we had experienced were the anomaly and the raindrops dropping out of the sky in an endless outpour was business as usual. In a small way you could appreciate why this river system is so important to the health of this planet.