An Adventure in the Jungle of Amazonian Ecuador

In 1999, while six months pregnant, Curtis and I spent four days in the jungle near the Colombian border. In all my years in Ecuador, I had never been to the jungle. Curtis and I were returning to the US in a few weeks, and we wanted to squeeze as much sight seeing as we could into our remaining days.

My biggest concern about the trip was catching malaria, which can be potentially fatal for a baby in the womb. On the other hand, I didn’t want to ingest any anti-malaria medicine either, as I had heard that it was almost as bad as getting malaria.

Curtis and Josh carrying back a big hand of plantains from the plantations in Puerto Bolivar.

Despite my worries, it was an adventure that I will never forget. Bugs! Caymans! Piranhas! Oh my! Just getting to the jungle was an adventure. An eight-hour bus ride from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, then a three hour ride in a pickup truck (“taxi”), then we waited by the side of a river for two hours, to be picked up by a huge canoe with a 50 hp Yamaha outboard. Finally, it took three and a half hours traveling up river by canoe to finally get to our campsite.

Four days later, when we returned to civilization (if you could call Lago Agrio civilization), we learned that while we were traipsing through the jungle, the Central Bank of Ecuador had closed all the banks in the country. We were stuck in Lago Agrio (a seedy oil town whose name translates to Sour Lake) because we could not even exchange dollars. All the banks in the country ended up being closed for 2 weeks. Thankfully, we made it out of Lago Agrio and caught a bus to Quito after only a few days, but not without a bunch of stories, no siree …

March 4, 1999

The adventurous crew of jungle trekkers.

I lost my other travel log, so I have to begin a new one. This morning Curtis and I and three other tourists, plus our guide Sonia, arrived at 6:30 am to Lago Agrio – 20 km south of the Colombian border. The bus trip, which lasted 8 hours and left Quito at 11:00 pm last night, was uneventful, but rather long. I was unable to do any sleeping because of the worries in my head and the feeling of scrambled baby in my midsection. It was a VERY bumpy ride. I know Carolina did not enjoy the trip at all – she kept moving all night.

What little Curtis & I could see of the scenery was: a downhill road which seemed to be one lane, winding around the northern Ecuadorian Andes, which we left to the west. There was a lot of fog on the way, and around 4 am we were spectators to a light show which illuminated the valley and the landscape around us. Along the road, like a thick metal snake, the Transecuadorian pipeline appeared every now and then.

Eight hours on a bumpy road and now we are here, in Lago Agrio, about to embark on a four day adventure into the jungle. I’m very nervous and excited at the same time. I don’t want to get bitten by any mosquitoes and I don’t want to catch malaria!

7:35 pm, same day, now night.

My perfume: Cutter’s bug spray. My date: Curtis and a few million bugs. I never realized how precious a rain poncho could be. We finally made it to our campsite, miles and miles (by river canoe) away from any sort of civilization. After a very bumpy 2 1/2 hour drive from Lago Agrio (Curtis drove most of the way, thank God, but we still don’t know why he was chosen to be the driver) we arrived in Cuyabeno at 1:30 pm and paid our entrance fee and had lunch. Finally, at 3:30 ish we got in a canoe and made a spectacular journey down the Cuyabeno river. We saw ALL SORTS of birds – the Stinky Turkey, Cacique, Ari-whatever, butterflies, 3 kinds of monkeys and just green, green, green.

Here I am standing next to the roots of a tree that keeled over after heavy rains.

The trip was very relaxing until we stopped in the middle of a lake an hour before we reached camp. We saw a very nice sunset, but were kind of antsy (no pun intended) to make it to camp before dark. Once the sun set, we headed off down the river and it got progressively darker as the river got windier and windier. We saw a lot of bats fly around, scooping up insects off the water, and got a lot of insects in our mouths, noses & eyes. Finally, FINALLY we made it to camp, and found out our cabaña has no walls! It’s very exciting to be in the jungle, but I just have to pray and talk to God constantly and ask Him to help me overcome my fears. This is such an adventure – I just can’t help but think of Carolina, and I don’t want anything to happen that will hurt her.

Jungle journal – day 2

I am writing during breakfast of our third day. Yesterday we woke up, and after going to see the Macaw (guacamayo) tree, we set off in the canoe to be deposited off on a trail that eventually led us into the village of Puerto Bolivar. The trek consisted of an uphill/downhill climb and we saw lots of trees, bugs, armadillo tracks, and stuff like that.

It was very hot and sweaty, but although the sun as blazing all day, the jungle was shady. We saw HUGE ceibos trees, with giant triangular trunks (my favorites), chonta trees with the down growing roots. We ate ants! Lemon ants, which actually taste pretty good. “Like lemon candy,” said Josh, one of our fellow tour takers. Apparently, being in the jungle for two days makes one easily forget what lemon candy really tastes like.

Curtis swimming in a lake, adjacent to the river.

We trekked all day until 1:30, when we finally made it to Puerto Bolivar, basically a modest scattering of shacks. There, we sat in the shade and had cool drinks, and then we went across the river, and everyone except for me, took a bath in the river. Reason being, I’m pregnant, and I really don’t know what is in that lake, so better safe than sorry. Curtis, on the other hand, jumped right in. Sonia told him not to pee in the water, because apparently there is some tiny fish that will follow the flow of the pee and try to go up his … well, he made sure not to pee in the lake.

When we arrived back at the camp we ate lunch, and then Curtis and I took a nap. I was bitten by fire ants TWICE before during our nap (on the rear, SO painful).

At 5:00 pm we all went piranha fishing. I caught no fish, but fed a lot of them with my bait! We returned to camp with one piranha and at 7:00 pm, once it got dark, we went on a night hike through the jungle. In the jungle we saw a lot of bugs. HUGE ones like giant crickets with slimy bodies (we have pictures), HUGE hairy spiders, armadillo holes, small crickets, cicadas, and heard lots of cool noises (read: scary).

Huge cricket-like creatures with shiny brown armor, the size of Curtis' hand, like leaping land lobsters, like to lurk in the jungle at night.

After the walk, Curtis and I walked down to the river to wash off our boots, and then we sat down on the dock to look at the stars & pray. The sky was beautiful and there were tons of stars, and we could see lightning  light up the sky in the distance. It’s fun being here with Curtis – I really hope he is enjoying being out here in nature and away from all the craziness of the city.

Curtis and the one piranha we caught - check out those teeth!

After dinner we hit the hay, and slept soundly without mosquitoes in our net or anything . I went to the outhouse 3 times in the whole night, and thank God I was not bitten once yet by any mosquitoes.

There is something about having to walk down a jungle path in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom in an outhouse, with only a flashlight to light your way. It’s an exercise in mental negotiation. Lying on our mosquito-net-covered mattress, in a cabana with no walls, in the middle of a jungle, just listening to the sounds of wildlife around me was enough to encourage me to hold it. Yet, when you are six months pregnant, you can only hold it for so long, and if you wait too long, there is a point that you can get to where you can’t even walk anymore. For the first time in my life I really appreciate (ok, envy) the simple freedom of being a guy. I mean, they can just pee anywhere.

Today we have a full day and Curtis and I have to prepare our bed for the night since we won’t be back before dark tonight. The Lord is my shepherd …

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Jersey girl by birth, sailor by marriage, wife & mother by grace.

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