No matter what I tried, I could not get dry. I showered and toweled off, put on one of two pair of pants and T-shirts I had carried into the jungle, and within minutes of stepping into the unforgiving Equatorial sun, my sweat-soaked clothes were stuck to me like a second skin. To put it bluntly, after two days at Cuyabeno Lodge I stank. It was a relief to climb into bed each night, pull the mosquito net around me, and lie spread-eagle and motionless as the exotic sounds of the jungle lulled me to sleep.
My journey around Ecuador had previously taken me to the Galapagos Islands; the dry coastal plains around Puerto Lopez, with their immense stretches of beach and surf; and the central mountains, home to one of the world’s highest capital cities, Quito, but these three zones combined make up only half of the area of the country. The remainder is covered by tropical rainforests and my trip to Ecuador would not have been complete without visiting what is known as Amazonas.
Cuyabeno Lodge on the Grand Lagoon, Cuyabeno National Park. Photo Courtesy of Neotropicturis.
With such a vast area of jungle, options for visiting the Amazon are myriad, however I had an advantage when it came to choosing a specific destination. My friend Heather Cowper, who writes the popular travel blog Heather on her Travels, highly recommended Cuyabeno National Park in the far northeast corner of Ecuador, one of very few inundated tropical rainforests in the world. My first hint that this would be an out-of-the-ordinary adventure came when the owners of Cuyabeno Lodge briefed me about the trip. From Quito I would need to take a seven-hour bus ride to the town of Lago Agrio, where I would be met by their guide for another two-hour van ride to the entrance of the National Park. There I would transfer to a boat for an additional 2.5-hour ride on the Cuyabeno River to the Grand Lagoon. Since the last leg would be accomplished in small motorized canoes, space for luggage was limited to a small backpack; their parting advice was to pack only lightweight, quick-drying pants and shirts, a comment I glossed over and promptly dismissed, to my later dismay.
The following evening I boarded the Esmeraldas bus bound for Lago Agrio and sank gratefully into my front row seat, hoping to fall fast asleep, but the moment we headed down the mountain it became clear this would not be a comfortable trip. For three hours the road plummeted at a grade so steep that I had to brace my feet against the front wall to keep from sliding out of my seat. At the foot of the mountain we entered steamy lowlands bordering the jungle, forcing me to peel off layers of clothing that had kept me warm through Quito’s chilly nights. Finally, I dozed, only to be rudely awakened when the pavement ended and our bus jounced over rough graveled roads and across a series of rickety metal bridges with narrow wooden planks barely wide enough for the tires. By the light of the full moon I could just make out the glistening rivers far below and my mind conjured images of tumbling to the bottom of the gorges.
Motoring down the Cuyabeno River
As the eastern horizon was blinking pink we pulled into Lago Agrio, a prosperous town on the edge of the jungle where giant refineries process the abundant petroleum being extracted from the Amazon basin. Now in a private van, we traveled a newly paved road that cut a serpentine path through dense vegetation, bordered the entire way by a huge pipeline through which flowed black gold. Two hours later we arrived at the park entrance and transferred to a dugout canoe painted in faded bright colors for our transfer to the lodge. I tottered down the narrow floorboard of the boat and commandeered a rough wooden plank behind our heaped luggage, exhilarated from a combination of sleep deprivation and the foreign landscape that lay before me. Continue reading