The bus whizzed away from Lago Agrio at scary speeds past the DESPACIO sign, past the ESCUELA sign, and onwards into the jungle along a road bordered by thick, rusty oil pipes and vast vegetation.
Two hours later my group of ten arrived at El Puente where we loaded up our bags onto a motorised canoe and clambered on board. The sun beat down and the breeze was minimal and the little wooden benches were hard, but as we travelled down the Cuyabeno river I was transported to a happy headspace. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a movie – with all the varied landscape it could have been a horror, an action-adventure, an exotic romance– and then I pinched myself and thought – this is freakin’ real! – this is actually my life!
The journey took us past old, hairy trees with gangly, gnarly roots exposed by the low water levels of the dry season. Social yellow butterflies hung out in groups of twenty, thirty, more, and giant Blue Morpho butterflies gently fluttered by along the river banks, visible from far away as the sun caught their colourful backs.
All sorts of things stuck out of the brown, murky water and appeared to be snakes or birds or the tops of caymans’ snouts until you got closer and realised they were just, well, sticks and stones and leaves. Without our guide, Jairo, we would have missed the majority of wildlife. His keen eye, fine tuned to the jungle backdrop, sought out anacondas and yellow-headed vultures and stinky turkeys and yellow-spotted river turtles. We stopped the engine on a couple of occasions to watch squirrel monkeys, yellow-handed titi monkeys and black-mantled tamarins scramble through the trees. All this and we had yet to arrive at our destination, Samona Lodge.
After two hours I was ready to get off the boat, my clothes sweaty and my bum pretty numb. The humidity was high and the bugs and insects were starting to come out as dusk approached (although the cockroach in my bed was by far the worst I had to deal with, even more so than the baby tarantula on the hand railing). I got shown to my shared room inside a naturally vented wooden hut, and to my lower bunk bed which was surrounded by a mosquito net.
Slapping on the insect repellent and grabbing my torch, I headed to supper around a candlelit table and prepared for some days without electricity. Over a delicious quinoa soup, Jairo told us of the plans for the next few days, which included hiking, walking, fishing, swimming, and siestas. After more great food (I’m now of the opinion that yucca is so much better than potato) I swung in a hammock in the central social area, my batteries already massively recharged, and I realised that I’d fallen in love with butterflies. Who would have guessed?!