Tag Archives: wildlife

So, flying fish and suicidal squid actually exist?


Not a happy fishy as the boat gets in the way of his flight path

Before I left Puerto Ayora in Galapagos, I’d had a goodbye chat with my parents. At least three weeks without contact was going to be a real challenge for them but they knew that once I set my mind on something, there was little point in trying to persuade otherwise.

I’d been gone nearly a year during which time I’d backpacked solo through parts of New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia, coming in contact with some challenging situations but always having some sensibility and a lot of luck on my side. As a result, my family were somewhat assured that I wouldn’t do something totally stupid, even if they struggled to understand why I had to sail across a vast ocean with a some strangers instead of choosing a more regular, safe option and route.

My mother, however, refused to let her worries burden me.

‘Wow. It’s so exciting!’, she said, ‘Such an adventure! You’ll see flying fish, won’t you?’

‘Erm… I guess so.’

I hadn’t really considered what sea life might make an appearance during the 3,ooo mile voyage, although I hoped we’d sail with some dolphins and maybe some sharks. And flying fish? Did they really exist? I racked my brains trying to recall any of the ocean nature programmes I might have watched over the years. Nah. Nothing.

As it turns out, flying fish do exist. On my second day at sea I stood out on deck and watched a shoal fly through the air, a flash of unified silver splintering off as each little fishy particle dived into oncoming waves. Another school jumped out of the water and soared across the sea surface before pelting back into the depths. I ran inside.

‘I’ve just seen a load of flying fish!’ I told Alan, my skipper, ‘Loads of them’.

He looked up from his book. ‘Yeah? There have been a lot about’.  My novice excitement contrasted with his nonchalant response. This world was his world – his  familiarity – where flying fish were part of a more routine picture.

For me, though,  this new world of ocean and rocking, of starry nights and short sleeps, of flying fish and squelchy squid visitors, it was enough to flick a childhood switch inside my brain and set alight some intrigue.

Over the next few days I didn’t just marvel at the sychronised schools of flying fish, but I got up close and personal with all sorts of slippery, salty and strange creatures. I was fascinated by their alien forms, their determination to get on board our catamaran and their night-time pranks (not all so wonderful, I must add).

So during some downtime I got creative and wrote a few articles, one of which is soon to be published and another that I will share here. Enjoy.


You can also access the article Sea life suicide and the squid who would be captain through the Articles tab on the main menu.


Filed under activity & sport, nature, pacific, sailing, sea, wildlife

Journey into the strangest landscapes


Approaching Los Tuneles

Despite first impressions of an inhospitable, aggressive and alien landscape, these dry, spiky islands were also strangely fragile and elegant, composed of narrow passageways, slim archways and slender pillars dipping into lightly rippled lagoons of clear, turquoise waters.

I was on a trip out to Los Tuneles and typically I had failed to do any research other than listening in on a couple of travellers debrief the outing. I knew, then, that it involved tunnels and snorkelling in waters with a selection of our sea life friends And I heard sharks were involved. I was both strangely drawn in and totally terrified.

So I set off with expectations of big, fat tunnels where we’d sail into the depth of darkness and take to the water, and splash and snorkel around in a flash-lit womb. I guess I was thinking about caves, or maybe I still had the tunnel experience at El Chato at the forefront of my mind.

Instead, we motored along south from Puerto Vilamil on the island of Isabela, Galapagos for forty minutes until we reached a splattering of mini lava islands. Nazca and blue footed-boobies sat king-of-the-castle on top of black, chunky rocks as we wound our way further into a thickening maze.


Getting closer

The skipper manoeuvred through narrow passes and shallow spots, finally dropping anchor in a more sheltered lagoon. Here was a network of lava archways and strips that joined islands into a bigger formation. Cacti and a few piles of rockiness gave some height to this floating land.


In amongst it


Moored up in an alien landscape

‘Give me your camera’, said a French tourist. On our way out to Los Tuneles we’d picked him and his family up from a yacht moored a little off Isabela. ‘Come, I take a photo of you here’. I posed awkwardly and then went off on a little solo wander. It was crunchy underfoot and I nearly lost my grip. But no! If you’re going to fall, don’t grab out! There is nothing to hold on to apart from cacti.

I sat on the edge of an archway and looked into one of the lagoons. Here, the water was less rippled and the sun pierced right through to the bottom. A sea-lion swam along, hitting the surface and then diving down again. A turtle glided past, a little beneath the surface. Another woman joined me and shouted over to the others, but the show continued only for a little while longer.


Sea lion taking a dip

Within fifteen minutes we clambered back on board our little boat. As we headed away from the main bulk of lava mass we passed by some penguins and pulled over for a closer look. It wasn’t long before they leapt into the sea. You humans are all the same! Such voyeurs! Can’t a penguin socialise without you guys hanging around like a bad smell?


Pose? Nah, let’s get out of here

And what about the snorkelling? Ah, yeah. It turns out that the snorkelling was to come later and was totally separate to the tunnels or archways or whatever you want to call them. Someone mentioned something about swimming and snorkelling not being allowed in Los Tuneles anymore. What was I thinking? Silly me.


I paid $60 for the tour through Tropical Adventures in Puerto Vilamil.  The tour included a trip out to Los Tuneles, a basic pack lunch and snorkeling in another spot in the afternoon.


Filed under activity & sport, diving, ecuador, natural wonders, nature, snorkelling, south america, wildlife, wow!

Tunnels, tortoises and being a teeny bit terrible

I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but it had the desired effect: even the coolest amongst them couldn’t resist a hint of a smile. And the restaurateur and taxi driver laughed along, despite undoubtedly having seen many stupid tourists smile and giggle at the same silly – and possibly inappropriate – antics.

I had managed to persuade three fellow travellers to join me on a little trip out to El Chato, a reserve a half hour taxi ride away from Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz, one of the main Galapagos island stop-offs.

Not being the right season for this sort of mission, our driver had suggested we would be better off visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, but determined to track tortoises in the wild we set off undeterred, and with the enthusiasm of explorers arriving to a new land, we clambered over tufty grasses and splintered off in search of our discovery.


The adventurers set off


Tramping through the undergrowth


A little more familiar

One of the guys shouted over. ‘Here, here is one!’ Her four foot body hid in amongst tall grasses and she chomped away on stems, ripping off little clumps of organic feed. We gathered around and she got shy. For a moment she studied us through a crust of wrinkly skin and then retracted her head back into the safety of her hard-backed home. Enough.


Oh rare creature! We found you!

To find evidence of this ancient creature in the wild? Incredible. It gave me a sense of how Charles Darwin may have felt, beneath his scientific façade, when he had a somewhat similar experience back in 1835:

As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly walked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head. (from The Voyage of the Beagle p543)

After an hour of wandering in the wilderness we had found only two of our tortoise friends, their rarity and the need for their preservation firmly evident. The second tortoise was a whole lot less social and, much like in Darwin’s experience, a whole lot more vocal.

So we left them to do whatever it is that tortoises do whilst they saunter on for years and decades on end.

Somehow, in amongst the grasses and scrubland, we stumbled across the entrance to a cave. Dust covered steps and a wooden handrail lead us down into the darkness where two of the group assumed the role of torch bearers and flickered their lights around. Our eyes adjusted to take in a curious cave over a kilometre in length full of pillars and archways and curvy, spiky edged formations.


The tree that marked the cave entrance


Into the darkness


It starts

Strung-up bulbs hinted at the potential to brighten up narrow pathways and tight spaces that opened up into high-ceiling hallways, but we couldn’t find a switch. Anywhere. So on we went with considered, ill-lit steps, until we saw a chasm of light and a way back up and out.

The exit, we realised, was directly behind the empty restaurant that we’d started out from. When we told of our dark, daring tunnel adventure, the woman started to laugh. ‘I forgot to put on the lights!’ she said. Ah well. It added to the atmosphere, I guess.

So, back to the start and my clowning antics. As the only customers that the restaurateur would probably see all day, it was only courteous to stay for a drink. The driver chatted and laughed with her whilst we refreshed with a cold drink and lounged in the hammocks for a few moments of island laziness, during which time I spotted a ginormous tortoise shell.

In all fairness, it was hard to ignore, sitting there in the middle of a tiled floor. Without its inhabitant, it lost some of its loveliness. On closer inspection I found the shell to be exceedingly tough. Unlike Darwin who gave the actual creature a bit of a rough rapping and tapping, I hadn’t bothered to disturb the living tortoises that I’d come across earlier in the day. But this deserted shell?  Oh, what the hell! Get inside the skin of the locals, live as they do? Oh, yeah. It was a tight fit.


At least they’re smiling in the background


This post is dedicated to Lonesome George, ‘a giant tortoise believed to be the last of its subspecies’, a rare creature from the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador who died aged 100 in June 2012. R.I.P. Good effort, mate.


Filed under activity & sport, ecuador, hikes, natural wonders, nature, south america, wildlife

Spending the day at Tortuga Bay

Ah, Galapagos! That place of mystery through which Charles Darwin journeyed back in the autumn of 1835; those islands chock full of natural wonders, of  unusual birdlife and iguana-like creatures, of volcanic formations and varied landscapes. The Galapagos archipelago, Darwin said, is quite simply ‘a little world within itself’. Time to get in amongst it and find out for myself.

So here I am, in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz having spent my first night crashed out in a simple yet immaculate room. I’m wondering where to go, how to start on my independent Galapagos adventure. Most visitors to the Galapagos jump on board a week-long cruise around the islands. It sounds nice, I guess, providing you get on with everyone and get lucky with a good guide. But avoiding luxury and high costs is my thing, my necessary thing, so it’s a matter of keeping it local. And keeping it real. Surely this way I can get a better idea of the place? I’m going to chat to people in the town, talk to the woman who runs the residence where I’m staying. She’ll point me in the right direction.

And she does. In fact many people do. Today, I decide, will be the day to check out Tortuga Bay. It’s close, it looks beautiful, and it’s an ideal way to taste what the Galapagos islands are about.


The pathway to Tortuga Bay

Clutching a map of the island I walk out west and it’s not long before I’m  ambling along a fine, white sand beach a few of kilometres from the town.


Arriving at Tortuga Bay


Tortuga Bay minus the tortugas (turtles)

I had anticipated crossing paths with a few more folk, but maybe I’ve hit the low season? It certainly doesn’t feel like I’m going to experience anything close to the three hundred visitors per day that this reserve typically expects. A lone surfer tries to carve up rippy waves to the left of Tortuga Bay and I see two people to the right in the far distance, the only other signs of human life.

As I get closer to the couple I see the girl crouch down, posing whilst her partner takes photos of her next to some… hang on… something moves. I squint and see that she is edging in as close as she dare to some chunky, four foot lizards oozing island laziness but whose spiky mohawks and slow, flickering tongues hint at a potential to turn nasty. In Th e Voyage of the Beagle (1836) Darwin describes this type of lizard (A. cristatus) as a ‘hideous looking creature of a dirty black colour, stupid, and sluggish in its movements’. A little harsh, maybe, but I hear him.


Lazy lizard

Around the corner I find the crowds. All fifty of them, if that. A young couple play in the sea, mouths teasing and eventually giving in to the kiss. The first kiss? A holiday romance? Families shade beneath mangrove trees and kids paddle in the calm shallows.  Here in this little lagoon it is sheltered and perfect for a relaxing afternoon dip, a significant contrast to the rougher waters around the corner.


Shallow water play in the bay

I sit down on a slither of sand and watch birds swooping and boobing, sorry, bobbing about in the water. (The boobing comes later. No blue-footed boobies for me today. Let the anticipation build.) My picnic lunch creates some curiosity and a Straited Heron moves in on my personal space. Feeding the animals and birds on the islands is, however, banned so sorry, matey, today I’m going to be selfish and enjoy my avocado, tomato and bread feast alone.


My picnic companion

As I start to make my way back through a scattering of trees and shrubs and a speckling of deserted beach towels, a guy shouts over from a small boat in amongst the mangroves. ’Puerto Ayora?’ he asks. Nah, I think I’ll walk.


Lagoon calm at home time


Perching pelicans


Looking back up Tortuga Bay towards Puerto Ayora

And I retrace my steps, back along Bahía Tortuga and past perching pelicans, back along the pristine, cacti edged pathway, back to the wardens’ hut. I sign out and sit down to pause and look down over a dusky Puerto Ayora and the visiting yachts rising and falling in the gentle swell of Academy Bay. Soon, I hope, I will make my home on one of those yachts and embark on the most daring adventure of my travels thus far: a South Pacific crossing, back towards Australia via the tropical magic of French Polynesia. Am I really going to do this?

One of the wardens comes out and perches on the wall a few metres away. I’m crucially aware of his presence, a quiet, strong guardian of this beauty spot, and I wonder whether to continue sitting in silence or to strike up a conversation.

Of course I go for the latter, studying his face as I nosy in on island life. He has kind eyes. ‘Do you ever think about working somewhere else? Going somewhere a bit busier?’ I ask him, trying to not show that I’ve noticed his visibly beating heart. A stress condition? Surely not, not in this lovely, serene environment. He fixes his gaze on the village below. No, he tells me, he can’t imagine leaving this place, not for more than a few days.

And why would he want to? Fair enough.

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Filed under activity & sport, beaches, ecuador, hikes, nature, sailing, south america, surf, tours, wildlife

Uyuni is kinda okay, really

Salar de Uyuni map (image from www.2wonders.com)

I’VE HEARD DEPRESSING ACCOUNTS OF Uyuni from a fair few travellers, things that could easily put you off ever visiting the place. ‘Get there and book a tour straight away’, one girl told me, ‘don’t stop. There’s nothing to do, it’s dusty and cold and boring’. Harsh.

I did, however, want to visit the town for the same reason most backpackers head there: to access the unusual landscape of the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, something so intriguing and alien to a small town British girl like me.

Nine hours after leaving Sucre I arrived into Uyuni having passed through Potosi, the highest city in the world. Altitude was being kind to me on this day. After wandering through the town for a few minutes, I bumped into a friend from Sucre at a juice stall. He was trying to rejuvenate after the rave on the salt flats. ‘Our hostel is great, but full’, he said.

Plan B. I hunted down another friend and checked into a big, empty hostel on the outskirts of the town before heading out to book a tour of the salar and the surrounding lagunas, mountains and rock trees, an overall experience that Lonely Planet states as ‘must-do’ (LP haters, don’t let their endorsement put you off).

With so many tour operators in town, who to book with? Red Alert had been suggested to me, but they were expensive, nearly double that of others. ‘Worth it, though’, a backpacker had told me in Sucre, ‘great food, attention to detail and they really look after you.’ I couldn’t justify the cost.

It turned out that, having left things until late in the day, we didn’t have as broad a choice in any case. Out of those remaining open, Andes Salt Expeditions came highly recommended.

We checked the list of people already booked on to the tour. Similar ages, a predominantly English speaking mix. We got a run-down of the itinerary and costs. We would have a guide (one that spoke English), a well-maintained vehicle and a sober driver. I paid up my 700Bs. (£62.99/$101.30) for the three day, two night tour that would set off the following morning. A quick, easy arrangement.

Following the example of the person who’d written Rock Star as their profession on the details sheet, I went for Explorer, my friend chose Social Club Co-ordinator. I hope that the Rock Star wasn’t really a rock star. It could otherwise all get a bit embarrassing.

We were just about set. Time to repack bags, stock up on snacks and get a good night’s sleep.


Included with Andes Salt Expeditions packages is daily jeep transport, an English speaking tour guide, three meals per day (not breakfast on first day or supper on last), basic accommodation and optional drop-off to cross the border over to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Although you do make a stop at a small village near the salar where you can stock up with warm woollens at pretty standard prices, for the rest of the trip it’s difficult to buy what you want, crave or need. I’d suggest bringing: warm clothes (including hat and gloves, and if like me you’re cold hearted or blooded, fat woolly socks); 150Bs. (£/US$) for National Park entry; snacks (and smokes, if you need); water; coca leaves and coca catalyst. The other guys also brought beer and wine for evenings sat around chatting in isolated hostels (I was on antibiotics, none of that for me). Hot showers cost an additional 10Bs. (£0.90/US$1.45).

I also hired a sleeping bag from the tour operator for 40Bs. (£3.60/US$5.80), which was the best decision I made. The hostels are BASIC and COLD, particularly on the second night at over 4,000m in elevation.

And the problem of drunk drivers needs to be taken seriously, something that has been highlighted by many doing the tour out of Uyuni. The best advice is to talk to other travellers before you book, and get their recommendations for a tour operator.


Filed under bolivia, natural wonders, nature, south america

The day a monkey shat on me


Zoologico, El Refugio near Samaipata in Bolivia

One fine day in March in Samaipata, I joined an American and a Dane for a trip to a local animal refuge. And for some unknown reason I brought along a spare top. Smart move.

It’s nice to support the refuge’, Olaf at Roadrunners had told me earlier in the week, ‘ten bolivianos goes to maintaining the place’.

The boys were a bit tight for time but when a taxi driver wanted 15Bs. for a 2km journey we decided to set off on foot. A dusty, muddy road with a barely a person in sight or a vehicle passing by, this was an easy little hike out into the countryside.

Before too long we spotted a cage but it was a small set-up and I wasn’t convinced that it was the right place. ‘There’s no sign’, I said, ‘surely they’d have a sign’. But then this is Bolivia so who knows. Anything is possible.

When an angry dog nearly bit my face off through the wire fence, I thought about leaving. Thankfully a woman came out to tell us it was the wrong place in any case. Phew.


Zoologico El Refugio in Samaipata


Meeting the cheeky monkeys at El Refugio in Samaipata

And literally fifty yards further along was a big sign and a well-marked entrance through a garden of aviaries and coops, and a wild boar running loose, and dogs (much friendlier this time), and all sorts of rescued monkeys; monkeys that clambered all over you and clung on tightly.

And shat down my back. Oh happy day.

I think I’m going off monkeys. Butterflies are so much nicer. Do butterflies poo?


Just call me Dr. Doolittle


Why so sad? You’re in a good place now. Relax.


The animal refuge in Samaipata comes across all Disney’s Lion King. I feel a song coming on…


Birds at El Refugio near Samaipata


Entrance to Zoologico el Refugio in Samaipata costs 10Bs. (US$1.46/£0.90) for adults and 5Bs. (US$0.73/£0.45) for children. It is open from 0800-1800 every day. If you want to volunteer at the refuge, you need to contact them at least two months in advance as they only tend to take on two or three volunteers at a time. When I visited, volunteers were Spanish speaking. Volunteering here is free (this might sound like a strange point to raise but much volunteering in South America carries with it a fee).


Filed under bolivia, nature, south america, volunteering, wildlife

10 things I did in Australia that I’ve never done before


Sunday kangeroo roast anyone?

Pre-school graduations, eating kangeroo meat, and serious sunburn were all part of my fun in Australia. Whilst it may be a very Westernised country with a mass British population, there were still plenty of things that I experienced for the first time during my month and a half stay in Australia. I:

  1. Got sunburnt. Okay, maybe I’m stretching the truth here a little bit, but I have never got as badly sunburnt as I did when I spent too long on Broken Head beach in the midday sun. Mad dogs and Englishwomen. Clearly the people I was hanging out with were mad. My thighs hurt so badly and I got through a bottle of aloe vera after-sun within a couple of days. Ouch.
  2. Ate kangaroo. I worked at an event where they served up kangaroo burgers and I watched the guests chomp away, complimenting the chef as they did so. I wanted to try some. The next week my friends cooked up a roast dinner; kangaroo styley. It tasted gamey. Kangeroo meat is a good option because it’s so sustainable and, apparently, because kangeroos aren’t hooved beasts, their impact on the environment is also diminished.
  3. Slept with a giant spider somewhere in my room. I got too tired of hunting it that even the prospect of it being truly dangerous and life-threatening wasn’t enough to keep me awake. Not only did I get to experience this Huntsmen spider, but I also had the privilege of seeing some more of Australia’s recognisable creatures: cane toads, wallabies, and a kangaroo in the distance. But no koalas. Dammit.
  4. Swam in a tea-tree lake. Okay, I didn’t really swim. The spot that I chose for a drip wasn’t really deep enough. Maybe I should have gone to the proper tea tree lake at Lennox Head. Regardless, it was a gentle, beautiful outing designed to heal my body and soul. Or at least sort my skin out.
  5. Did RSA training. To work in any establishment in Australia that serves alcohol you need to get your Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) qualification. I can’t say that the course was the most interesting afternoon of my life, but I got work out of it and I made a new friend. Bonus.
  6. Swam and surfed in warm seas. To not start a shivering frenzy within a few minutes of getting in the water was amazing. It was still refreshing, but I never got bored of the warmth. At night it was a little chillier but still pretty pleasant, and a scattering of phosphorescents made a midnight dip even more special.
  7. Kept an eye out for sharks. Back in England, sharks were never something that I would have thought about whilst out for a swim or a surf. But in Australia, the bliss of the warmer waters means that our sharky friends make the odd appearance. My eyes were open but I saw nothing other than schools of dolphins. Twice over. Happy times.
  8. Broke a surfboard. This was horrible. I hadn’t been in Byron long and I managed to crumple the nose of my friends minimal. Badly. It put me off getting in the water (if it’s mine, fine, if it’s someone else’s, more hesitant). And then not too long later, the bike helmet that I had borrowed from another friend got nicked. Bad times.
  9. Went to a pre-school graduation. Oh yes. Really. Those heading off to public school sported capes and mortar boards just like in a proper university graduation ceremony. If it hadn’t been for the join-in song of ‘we’re going to big school… we’re going to big school… and that is really cool’ I could have been fooled: the kids posed professionally for photos, picked up their scrolls and took it very seriously whilst parents wiped their eyes. I don’t know really how common practise this is in Oz, but I did wonder: if this is the norm for each school transition, by the time they do actually graduate from uni will they be so blasé and bored by the whole thing?
  10. Confirmed some Aussie traits. I learnt that Australians are generally very positive people, which I loved, but the juxtaposition between boozy and healthy (very anti-smoking, pro sport) was a strange one; Aussies haven’t gotten to the ridiculous levels of being PC like we have in Britain, but some things can just come across racist to a foreigner (such as using the word ‘wog’ to refer to southern European immigrants); and words are nearly always shortened to the most simplistic syntax.

So many other experiences, wonderful times, good people. Thanks Australia.


Filed under activity & sport, australia, beaches, culture, food & drink, health, random, surf, wildlife

Monkeying around


Me and Martina had a connection. She kept playing with my hair.  She couldn’t stop hugging me (well, my head, more specifically). I thought it was love until, after less than an hour together, she switched her attentions to Gareth, an American forever-traveller in his late twenties. Sure, he’s a good looking guy, but come on! Fickle affection.

Martina is a chorongo monkey, one of many at the Centro de Rescate Monos or Paseo Los Monos – a sanctuary near Puyo for rescued monkeys, monkeys that have previously been pets (illegal in Ecuador) or who are orphaned following the hunting and killing of their parents, usually for meat. The idea is to reintroduce them to the jungle, but in some cases the damage and trauma to the animals is too great and they will remain in the care of the centre for the rest of their lives.

Asides from chorongo monkeys, the place is home to squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and white and black capuchin monkeys. Although housed in cages, many are given the freedom to roam around the grounds. There are also some coatis (Coati Amazonzo) – crazy, persistent and somewhat vicious creatures. The centre workers had to step in when one scrambled all over me, hanging onto my bag, undoing the zip and then biting when I tried to get him off. And then there are some turtles that currently live in an enclosure – something to do with the coatis attacking and ripping them apart and eating them.

I had wanted to volunteer at the centre ($100 per week and the work involves cleaning out the enclosures, developing the site and just spending time with the monkeys, amongst other things) but the place was full. A half day at the Paseo Los Monos as a visitor was my next option, so I paid my $2 entry fee. There isn’t a load to do as a tourist other than wander around and hang out with the animals and relax and watch the feeding sessions.

Pretty soon after I had arrived, Martina attached herself to me, wrapping her tail around my neck and massaging my head with her little hands. She stayed there as I strolled around the pretty woodland nature walk and down to the river. She fell asleep. It felt like having a ridiculously hot hat and scarf set, which, considering the high temperatures and humidity, was really quite unnecessary.

I have no idea of what suffering Martina had gone through, but she was clingy and affectionate and wanted to be close to people. I did wonder whether she could ever be rehabilitated back into the jungle, or whether she was too damaged and had got too comfy with human beings. After my Cuyabeno jungle trip where butterflies had captured my heart (there were some beauties at this place too), I thought I had moved on from my childhood monkey fascination. But it turns out no, I haven’t.

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Filed under ecuador, south america, volunteering, wildlife

Sounds of the jungle

Crickets and other insects provide the constant orchestral baseline for the jungle soundtrack. The accompaniment is, however, surprisingly sparse during the day, with the odd bird, monkey or frog adding to the score (and don’t forget the ducks, yes ducks, that almost feel too familiar and domestic for a jungle setting). There is some percussion in the form of the odd splash of cayman taking to water and turtles diving in off of their basking spot and fish jumping into the air and smacking the water surface as they fall again.

The rain arrives on day three, and the constant drip drip sounds heavier on the plastic roof of the kitchen. Long after the showers have finished, water channels down through dense foliage and tricks you intothinking it  is still raining as big fat drops fall from the leaves and land in your path. Paddling the canoe in the rain is a multi-sensory experience with light sploshes to your face (the rest of your head and body protected by an oversized poncho), and the ones that miss you hit the water and ripple out and out. Walking in the rain feels great, – the jungle a grown up playground where you can jump in puddles and stomp through mud and free your wellies with a satisfying squelch.

On trips out in the canoe the engine hums at different frequencies as the driver full throttles ahead on deeper, familiar stretches of the river, or dips the engine completely to navigate the shallows. Occasionally, grinding over the riverbed in the extreme low water you can hear the crunch of breaking branches as the engine is first fully engaged, then killed. The boat holds together, gliding quietly for a moment  before the engine kicks back in. The main sound when paddling the smaller canoe is the gentle splashes of the oars dipping in and out of the water. In rare moments, – when we are all in sync, in harmony, – it is hypnotic.

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Filed under ecuador, south america, wildlife