Jungle exploration in the Ecuadorian Amazon

PHOTO Amazon in the morning photo with symmetry (P1010173)

Text: The Amazon during sunrise.


“Jump in the water!”, Luis said. Under normal circumstances, jumping in a lake would be no problem. But circumstances were not normal. The water was brown, unclear. It means you can’t see what’s in it. The problem was that I knew what’s in it…

** Note: This is Part 1 of a series. Read: Part 2 (LINK TO PART 2) | Part 3 (LINK TO PART 3) | Part 4 (LINK TO PART 4) | Part 5 (LINK TO PART 5) **

– Part 1: Why the Ecuadorian Amazon? | How to prepare and get there?

The Amazon rainforest represents more than half of our planet’s remaining rainforest, with a supreme biodiversity. It covers roughly 30% of the South American continent across nine countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. It’s the source of a huge percentage of our food and medicines and plays a crucial role in the global ecosystem.

Who wouldn’t want to see such an extraordinary place with one’s own eyes? Unfortunately, it isn’t perceived priceless by everyone. Humans have destroyed more than 20% of the original Amazon so far. Since you’ve started reading this blog, at least an area as big as ten football fields of Amazon rainforest has been destroyed.

But this is not going to be a sad story. Quite the opposite – this is a celebration. The Amazon still covers a huge area, and large amounts of people are putting infinite amounts of energy into saving this magnificent forest. They have every reason. I want to show you what these people are fighting for and why it is such an amazing place to visit. You and I, we can all help preserve the Amazon, in our own way. How? You will find out at the end of my story.

What’s in the story?
It is my intention to offer an exciting, in depth story, supported by images of beautiful moments and amazing creatures. I will share the experience that my girlfriend Joanne and I had in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I provide background insights into this part of the world and hope to inspire you to travel there or to help preserve this place, or maybe both.

The story contains five parts:
– Part 1: Why the Ecuadorian Amazon? | How to prepare and get there?
– Part 2: Trip into the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve | Arrival in Siona lodge and meeting the crew | Exploring the reserve
– Part 3: Exploring the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
– Part 4: Exploring the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
– Part 5: Overview & Tips | Preserving and visiting the Amazon

– Part 1: Why the Ecuadorian Amazon? | How to prepare and get there?

It had always been my dream to visit the Amazon. And now it was about to happen.

Where to visit the Amazon?
Who hasn’t wished to travel to the Amazon while watching one of those wildlife documentaries? Being a child, I sure did the first time I saw this inspiring world.

Ever since I’ve started surfing, I have though about surfing the Amazon River one day. Yes, you read that correctly: it is possible to surf the Amazon River, but only once a year. This phenomenon is called the pororoca, which is a tidal bore. It means that the incoming tide from the Atlantic Ocean forms a wave that travels upstream the Amazon River.

It is the longest wave on earth rolling 800 kilometres inland, on the Earth’s longest river.

Even though I was going to see the Amazon, I was not going to surf it. First and most important of all, I am too inexperienced to surf the Amazon River. One might have to face entire trees floating in the waves, or creatures looking like trees but with long sets of teeth. Second, the Amazon River-mouth is in Brazil, and visiting this area did not fit our wider travel plans.

Maybe one day I’ll visit again and surf the Amazon.

Narrowing down the countries
As Joanne and I were planning our half-year trip through South America, we wanted to figure out where would be a good place to visit the Amazon. We would arrive in Bogota, the capital of Colombia and fly back home from Rio the Janeiro in Brazil. The overall plan was to travel all the way South to Patagonia along the Andes Mountain Range and then North to Rio the Janeiro. It seemed logic for us to pick a spot in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia.

PHOTO: Amazon in South America (Amazon_rainforest)

Text: Map of the Amazon rainforest ecoregions as delineated by the WWF. Yellow line approximately encloses the Amazon drainage basin. National boundaries shown in black. Satellite image from NASA. (Wikipedia)

We narrowed down the number of countries, but these are still big countries with lots of options. There were a couple of criteria that we used to pick one area.

Wildlife experience: This won’t come as a surprise. We wanted to visit a bio-diverse area.
Authenticity of the experience: We really wanted to avoid tourist traps and also be able to truly interact with local people.
Level of eco friendliness: We wanted to treat the place we were planning to visit with respect and not negatively contribute to a place we enjoy so much.
Price range: As we were backpacking on a relatively small budget and had a long trip ahead, we didn’t want to spend more than necessary, while still giving priority to the first three criteria.

We did online research to figure out which places would match our criteria. We’ve visited different travel forums and read many different stories. As the Amazon is such an enormous place and there are so many places where you can have your Amazon experience, it would be an overstatement to say that our final choice was the best one possible. There are many people that have had great experiences in other places and with other lodges. However, we had a truly great experience and I believe our preparation made the difference.

We were surprised to find an eco-friendly lodge with decent services, an extensive program for a very reasonable price and significantly less expensive than in other areas of the Amazon. We found it in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, an area with – supposedly – a very high level of biodiversity.

By doing more research we also found that over the years there had been instability in the wider province called Sucumbios, but also the nature-reserve itself.

The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is close to the Colombia-Ecuador border: known to be an area with drug related problems and kidnappings. A year before we were planning our trip, two women had been kidnapped. The Ecuadorian authorities rescued the women only one day later due to a thorough response.

Possibly these problems explain why prices here are lower than in other areas.

Generally, when travelling to a far-away and unknown place, it is a good idea to gather travel advice from your government agency. But because of our own research findings, we decided to pay a little extra attention. We consulted the advice given by our own (Dutch) government.

There wasn’t a negative travel advice in place. However, the Sucumbios province was labelled as an unsafe area. Travelling alone was advised against, and travelling in a group with a guide recommended.

We were curious and also checked what the British and United States’ governments were advising. These governments had a negative travel advice in place. However, we also read that the Ecuadorian government had intensified safety measures after the kidnappings. On travel forums many people said that it seemed all very safe in the reserve.

Final decision
All considered, we were not deterred by the negative stories. There were actually far more positive ones. So we made our choice and were going for it: Siona Lodge in the Ecuadorian Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (LINK http://www.sionalodge.com). Being an eco-lodge, it practises a policy of minimum environmental impact through various measures. Our first mission had been accomplished: we found an eco friendly lodge in a bio-diverse area with an authentic looking program for a very reasonable price.

Preparing the trip was a lot of fun already. However, the real adventure was yet to begin. The amazon is the quintessence of biodiversity. With so much wildlife, clearly I will only cover a tiny fraction of what can be spotted, and only wildlife that I have seen and photographed myself. It is still enough to blow you mind, though!

** Note: This is Part 1 of a series. Read: Part 2 (LINK TO PART 2) | Part 3 (LINK TO PART 3) | Part 4 (LINK TO PART 4) | Part 5 (LINK TO PART 5) **

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