Jungle exploration in the Ecuadorian Amazon / by Robert Moltmaker

– Part 4: Exploring the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
BY ROBERT MOLTMAKER IN ECUADOR

 A sunset in the Amazon

A sunset in the Amazon

We were preparing for a night walk in the rainforest with Luis. It was pitch-dark. That meant headlight on and being even more alert as to where you’re going than during the day. Even more so because we were about to learn that it’s the very small that can have the biggest of consequences.

** Note: This is Part 4 of a series. Read: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5 **

Night walk

A night walk in the forest: it is a very different experience compared to a hike in the daytime. Obviously, you can’t see much, but you can hear an explosion of life around you. We all had to put on a shirt with long sleeves to protect ourselves from poisonous or sharp plants and bites from animals or insects. As a group, we had to stay close together and close to Luis, as dangerous creatures are around.

 I did not take notice as to what kind of insect this is. I do know I’m happy it’s only a small creature.

I did not take notice as to what kind of insect this is. I do know I’m happy it’s only a small creature.

Earlier that night, Luis – loving it to tell his scary stories – explained to us that if the Brazilian wandering spider were to bite you in the neck, you would die within five minutes. During the night walk, something only a meter away from the group’s walking direction caught my attention. When I walked overly enthusiastic towards it, I marched straight into a spider web, covering my head with spider web.

There were times I’ve felt more comfortable. Especially after Luis’ fresh in the mind spider-story. You can probably imagine I didn’t think twice to get back to the group.

I was warned and – thankfully – still alive five minutes later.

 some kind of grasshopper.

some kind of grasshopper.

 I don’t know for sure whether this is a tarantula, but it looks different from our ‘watch-dog’ tarantula spider in the lodge and is huge too.

I don’t know for sure whether this is a tarantula, but it looks different from our ‘watch-dog’ tarantula spider in the lodge and is huge too.

During the night, we got in the boat too for a complete different experience. We couldn’t see much, but what we did see were many eyes lurking in the water. Those were the eyes of crocodiles and snakes.

 A baby crocodile, only as small as a human hand.

A baby crocodile, only as small as a human hand.

The local people

The Indian people living in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve are the Sionas, Cofans, Secoyas and Shuar. These people live next to the rivers that eventually lead to the Amazon river. Traditional practices are still an important aspect of live for the local communities. However, the influences of ‘modern society’ cannot be escaped and are transforming the traditional way of living.

Us Westerners visiting these people does contribute to this transformation too. When I thought about this, I encountered some mixed feelings. One the one hand, I contributed to exposing these people to modern society, through which their way of living is changing. On the other hand, I contributed to their ability to protect themselves from interests that harm their habitat.

 Two of the three tribes of Indian people living in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: the Sionas and Cofans.

Two of the three tribes of Indian people living in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: the Sionas and Cofans.

Luis was raised in the region. As a naturalist guide he has found a way to make a living by using indigenous knowledge in a place where life has changed considerably since the 1980s. Since then, oil exploitation in the area and ecotourism has started to transform the lives of the indigenous communities, which before lived only of fishing, farming and hunting.

Local tribes still mostly live the traditional way, through ancient knowledge that has been passed on for millennia. Some of these communities receive travellers once in a while, which enable its people to gather a little extra income. We have visited the Siona tribe in the community Puerto Bolivar, and were welcomed kindly by the family of the community’s first shaman.

Every time the village receives guests, a different family will take care of them. This way, there aren’t constantly travellers around one family. And through this system of circulation, every family is given the opportunity to benefit equally from tourism. The family – a father, mother and their children – that welcomed us for the day showed us their ways: how they live, farm, harvest, cook, hunt.

As we arrived, the mother of the family explained she was going to make food for us and show us the complete process. An Amazon style flatbread was on the menu. We were asked to help and of course we were willing to! I think it’s an interesting and valuable thing to learn the ways of people living such a different life than yours. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

 Harvesting a yucca root.

Harvesting a yucca root.

 Andreas and I grated the yucca on a metal plate with sharp holes in it. Watch out for the fingers!

Andreas and I grated the yucca on a metal plate with sharp holes in it. Watch out for the fingers!

After the yucca was grated, the moisture was squeezed out with a hand-made mat. An interesting fact is that these mats play a very important role in the local community. Not just because these are crucial for preparing food. There is another reason. Before a woman can marry a man in this community, she has to braid a ‘squeeze mat’ herself and offer it to her husband to be. Therefore, she will spend a lot of time creating a perfect piece.

 Squeezing the moisture out of the grated yucca.

Squeezing the moisture out of the grated yucca.

 The dry ‘powder-like’ yucca is sieved in order to make pancakes of it.

The dry ‘powder-like’ yucca is sieved in order to make pancakes of it.

While we were preparing the bread, two of the family’s daughters came in and lied down in the hammock, observing what was going on.

 Two of the family’s daughters.

Two of the family’s daughters.

 Baking the bread.

Baking the bread.

The freshly baked bread was served with a local topping, tasty!

Now think about this for a moment. We ate a small piece of flatbread with a rather simple topping. It took about 1 hour to prepare this. Back home you just buy your bread around the corner. Most of their day, these people carry out tasks that play only a minor role in our lives.

After the lunch, the father of the family replaced his wife as the primary guide. First, he took us for a walk just outside town. He showed trees and plants and explained us their use for the community.

 Joanne next to a huge tree.

Joanne next to a huge tree.

 A tree with strange looking roots.

A tree with strange looking roots.

The shaman showed us a tree with strange looking roots. The man laughed while he told about the tree and everyone recognised the shape. As these trees grow, more and more of these roots grow into the ground.

Being a shaman, the man told us extensively about shamanism, the importance of the spirit world to their people, and the drink ayahuasca that gives access to that spirit world through an altered state of consciousness.

Travellers can experience these ayahuasca ceremonies in this community. For this, you need to stay in the community for a while in order to settle down to the local way of life.

The shaman’s stories weren’t only about the medicines and the spiritual world. As our stay in the community came to an end, he finished the excursion by telling us about the way his people hunt.

 The shaman told us about the way his people hunt.

The shaman told us about the way his people hunt.

 The shaman’s hunting gear.

The shaman’s hunting gear.

 The shaman let me blow an arrow with a blowgun. I aimed at an Amazonian piece of fruit, and missed!

The shaman let me blow an arrow with a blowgun. I aimed at an Amazonian piece of fruit, and missed!

The family would receive some money from the lodge because of our visit. Before we left, additionally, one of the family’s daughters came by to sell homemade ornaments. The money supports the family.

One last trip through the jungle

Our stay had come to an end. It wasn’t as if we wanted to leave. With such magnificent nature and inspiring people around you, you’d want to stay a whole lot longer. But it wasn’t possible and we said goodbye. Just as we travelled into the Amazon by boat, we also had to get away by boat: one last moment to enjoy.

 Final surprise. An animal we did not see earlier: the squirrel monkey.

Final surprise. An animal we did not see earlier: the squirrel monkey.

 Final surprise. An animal we did not see earlier: the tamarin monkey.

Final surprise. An animal we did not see earlier: the tamarin monkey.

As always, all of us in the boat were looking around us to find wildlife. And then it occurred to me: my ability to detect wildlife had developed. Obviously, my skills were nothing compared to Luis’, but I found it a bit easier to discover wildlife independently.

Maybe somewhere, we Westerners still have it in us.

In the next and final part of this story I give an overview and tips for those interested in visiting the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, or the Amazon in general. Also, I explain what we can all do to help preserve the Amazon rainforest.

** Note: This is Part 4 of a series. Read: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5 **


What wildlife adventures have you experienced?

Have you been in the Amazon? Have you ever seen ‘out-of-this-world’ creatures during any of your adventures? Do you have any questions about my story? Please leave a comment below and let me know!

Tags: Ecuador | South America | Amazon | Wildlife |


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