A week in the Amazon
If you told me 5 years ago that I would spend a week in the Amazon jungle where giant spiders and other creepy things live, I would have laughed in your face. But when I planned a trip to Ecuador, I knew I couldn’t go without visiting one of the most fascinating places on earth.
Ok I admit, we didn’t exactly rough it, but I’d heard so many horror stories of people waking up to massive tarantulas outside their tent, and battling millions of mosquitos that I knew if that happened to me I would be an anxious mess the whole time. One compromise I made to myself, was that if I was brave enough to spend a week in the jungle I would have to have a bit of luxury…or at least a sealed room that no spider could get into!
We flew into Coca, a town at the mouth of the Amazon, and travelled 2 hours up the Napo River where we reached the Kichwa Añangu community. From here, we were paddled in canoes another 2 hours to reach our home for the week; the Napo Wildlife Centre.
When booking our Amazon adventure it was really important to me to get the authentic experience. There are quite a few luxury lodges in the Amazon that are owned and run by overseas companies. The Napo Wildlife Centre however is owned and run by the local community, meaning the profits go back into the lodge, to the community and to conservation of the area. The community is very big on doing what they can to conserve their corner of the mammoth Amazon jungle - the Yasuni National Park.
As soon as Napo was in sight, it was really one of those pinch me moments! I was really in the Amazon, and omg we are staying here!!
We got greeted with a welcome drink and a cold towel on arrival…in the jungle! The stewardess inside me was pretty stoked! Our rooms were all private little bungalows that sat right on the lake equipped with hot water and a comfy king sized bed that was very well covered by a mosquito net - all the necessities! The communal building had our dining area, a bar (oh yes!) and a viewing platform on the 3rd floor with the most magical views over the jungle. You could see monkeys playing in the trees and hear all sorts of crazy birds from up here. It was the most surreal place to come and watch the sunset..with a glass of Ecuadorian wine in hand of course!
Each morning we would get up around 5am for breakfast and to start our first adventure of the day. This consisted of a paddle along the rivers looking for wildlife, or a trek through the jungle. We would see tonnes of monkeys, amazing birds such as Toucans and Eagles, and the occasional Anaconda!
We did manage to see a sloth one of the days which I was extremely excited about!
Our guide David, being from the local community, had grown up and lived in the jungle all his life. The wealth of knowledge he had for natural remedies the jungle had to offer, and the creatures that inhibited it was incredible. He could actually make bird calls and they’d talk back to him! He could spot any animal a mile away and knew a creature was near just by a footprint or some fresh poo left on the ground. Hearing his stories of growing up and raising a family in the jungle made me realize just how worlds apart peoples lives can be. I was pretty envious about how simple these guys live, and how happy they are. It was definitely a “why are we always chasing the next thing” moment.
The highlight of my week was visiting the Kichwa Añangu community. I was so fascinated by seeing where and how these people lived, and that their day to day looked like. From where the canoe dropped us off, it was about a 30 minute walk to the hub of the community. It was basically some large flat fields that housed a few buildings. One was a school, one was a medical center and there was an open bure type building which we were welcomed into where the local ladies performed some singing and dancing for us, and where we got to try their traditional Chicha drink. These people very much live as a tribe, with the woman all cooking together on traditional open stoves and looking after one another’s children. Seeing how these people lived, made it so hard for me to get my head around that there are still un-contacted tribes that live in the Amazon. To these tribes, these communities live in abundance, and to us these communities live so simply. It really put so many things into perspective.
Another amazing part about the jungle was the bird life. We visited a Parrot Clay Lick and a bird watching tower and sat in silence just watching so many different species of birds in their natural habitat. David would make his bird calls and they would come land in trees near us. I’m not much of a bird watcher, but mixing this while sitting in silence in the middle of the Amazon jungle was pretty surreal!
One part of the week that I wasn’t sure I was brave enough for was the night walk. The thought of walking through the jungle in the pitch black, knowing I was surrounded by all sorts of spiders and other creepy things was freaking me out a bit. But I knew, that this was a once in a lifetime thing, and if I didn’t do it now I would be leaving this adventure with a bit of regret. I went to the bar and had 2 stiff cocktails and made sure I was covered in clothing from head to toe, including a massive hood! We began our walk from the Napo centre through these tracks in the jungle. I wasn’t really looking up much for fear of walking into a spider web or having something fly into my face. That hood stayed firmly around my head, leaving just a little slot for my eyes to follow the path of my torch. One of the first things I had to face was a scorpion spider on the ground…it was bloody massive! It was sat right on our pathway. The group had to coax me into walking around it….that was terrifying! We then had to climb over a couple of fallen down trees which I was not ready for. The arachnophobia in me knew right well that this was a great home for any spiders or other creepy crawleys to live. I did not feel comfortable putting my hands down and then straddling this thing to get over it, but it was either that or face the path back on my own crossing that scorpion spider again…that wasn’t happening!
There was an incidence where I felt something on my back and Dylan quickly brushed it off me…to this day he still won’t tell me what it was. I’m very thankful for his quick reflexes! It was after that trek that I was extremely relieved we’d gone for the luxury jungle experience. I don’t think I could have handled sleeping in a tent out there. Give me my king bed and bug proof room any day!
On our way back to Coca in our motorized canoe, seeing the huge number of barges that were carrying oil trucks up the river really struck a chord. We had just spent the most surreal week in this stunning corner of the world where nature was abundant and untouched, yet you knew that there are some catastrophic things going on behind the scenes. Even just seeing the amount of people at Coca airport what were flying in and out who were working for these oil companies was heartbreaking. We all know the destruction of the Amazon jungle is happening, however when you are faced with the evidence it all seems just too real.
The Yasuni national park will always hold a special place in my heart, and I just hope it will stay the way I saw it so I can take my kids on the same adventure someday.