Friday was an early start with a 5.45am taxi to the airport, it was also a bit of a scary start to my trip as the taxi driver skipped 5 red lights! The plane journey was very quick and easy lasting only 26 minutes. When we arrived the 6 of us from the trip that had been on the plane grouped together and waited for our transport. It was easy to tell who was jungle bound by the huge backpacks, insect repellent and “sensible shoes”. When our lift arrived we took a short trip to a hotel in Coca where we had some breakfast and relaxed while the bus drivers stocked up with gas, food and water for the weekend. The hotel had some resident macaws which seemingly didn’t like to be photographed as they would run at and try and bite the feet of the nearest photographer!
When the bus was ready we set off on our 2/3 hour bus journey down to the river having been given a big bag full of fruit each to keep us quiet. (PHOTO 1.5) On the way in to the jungle reserve we were stopped at a control bridge to show our yellow fever cards, fortunately for me (for I hadn’t had an injection) the doctor hadn’t turned up that day so we went on ahead with no trouble.
The boat ride to the lodge took about 4 hours which was quite long but very pleasant as the sun was shining and there was a lot of wildlife to see. Also on the way we stopped on a shady beach to have a lunch of chicken, rice and vegetables.
When we arrived at the Bataburo lodge we were welcomed by our translator/guide Marco and native guide Lucio.
Were then shown to our rooms, I was very lucky and managed to get a room to myself with a double bed!
Once settled in we went over to the dining room for our first 3 course meal which was both delicious and beautifully presented. Throughout the dinner we got to know one another a bit better, amongst us there was a german couple, an Austrian couple, a brazilian lady, two girls that had previously met whilst volunteering in South Africa; one was german and the other Ecuadorian and myself. Shortly after dinner we all went to bed, exhausted from the day of travelling.
At 8am a full breakfast of fruit, bread and jam or cheese and meat and scrambled eggs was served along with tea or coffee and fresh fruit juice. After breakfast we all went for a 3/4 hour walk in the jungle with our guides Marco and Lucio. Along the way Lucio showed us many trees and plants and their uses as well as pointing out interesting birds and insects
Telephone tree, the large trunk makes a very loud noise when hit with a stick and is used by the Hourani people to communicate if they get lost. When we arrived back at the lodge most of us went for a swim in the river to cool down.
The day was very hot and humid so it was really refreshing to be in the water, if not a little unnerving when a stick or leaf brushed past us!
After the swim we had another 3 course lunch of soup, meat and crème caramel. As lunchtime is the hottest part of the day we stayed at the lodge and relaxed in the hammocks or had a siesta in our rooms until 4.30 when the sun had gone down a bit and the heat was more bearable .At 4.30 we got back into our boat to go fishing for piranhas. We all had a rod each with raw meat as our bait. Unfortunately nobody managed to catch a piranha as they were too quick to snap the bait and swim away. I personally did however catch a fish although it was a complete disaster; Having never caught a fish before when I felt it tugging on the end of my line I over excitedly flung my rod so far backwards I managed to fall off my bench onto the floor of the boat with my fish still flapping frantically and swinging around everybody’s heads.
I am not the luckiest person in the worls nd so naturally, the first fish I had ever caught was in fact a cat fish with poisonous fins and not surprisingly, given my luck, I managed to swing my fish down onto the leg of my poor friend Lisa where it stayed stuck with its fin sticking into her leg whilst I was still struggling to get off the floor of the rocking boat. By this point Lisa’s leg was spurting a horrific amount of blood and Marco had leapt over to pull the fish out where it had stuck about ½ an inch into her leg. Eventually he got the fish out and squeezed all the poison/blood out and she was fine again, if not still in a bit of shock.
After this traumatising incident we moved to another location and the other convinced me to have another go. We still had no piranhas but I managed to catch yet another cat fish, luckily this time I stayed very calm and no one was injured!
When darkness fell we began to make our way back to the lodge with our torches poised to spot the reflection of caiman eyes. It wasn’t long before we spotted a small caiman on the beach where Lucio hopped out of the boat and grabbed it for us all to have a closer look, stroke it and take pictures. We saw a couple of other small caimans, about 50cm and then we saw a larger one sitting very still on the river bank with his mouth open. Lucio slowly took us closer and closer and we all took pictures until he leapt into the water and gave us all a shock of a lifetime! When we got back we had dinner and went off to bed.
Breakfast was served once again at 8 and then we left for our morning walk. Again Lucio showed us more plants including the tree of which the Hourani people use the bark to make poison for killing small animals with the cerbatana (blow pipe) The bark is filtered through a leaf, boiled in water and then becomes like a wax in which they roll the tips of the darts.
Lucio scraped off some bark shavings and we all had a taste of it, it was disgustingly bitter as you can imagine but it had to be done!
Amongst other things Lucio also showed us how the Hourani people make their roofs and bags from palm leaves. When we got back we had another swim in the river and then had lunch before our usual siesta time until 4.30. At 4.30 we got the chance to practice with the blow pipe and try to shoot our darts at a target.
We were all shocked at how heavy and difficult it was to use and as a group we decided we wouldn’t last long as Hourani people seeing as we couldn’t fish or hunt! After the cerbatana we moved on to making bracelets with the fibre of a tree, the technique of rolling the fibres together was very difficult but we got there eventually and all made our matching bracelets!
By the time we had finished the sun was setting so we got ready and headed off into the jungle for the last time to look for insects and nocturnal creatures. We spotted a fair few spiders, a giant grasshopper, an equally enormous butterfly (which landed on my head) and two small snakes.
When we got back to the lodge we had our last supper together and watched the caimans and lightning over the lake behind the lodge before going to bed.
As expected from the lightning the night before we woke up to torrential rain. We had breakfast at the earlier time of 7 and then delayed leaving at 7.30 hoping for the rain to subside. Naturally, the rain was relentless so we set off in the boat all in our ponchos with the rain dripping from our faces and soaking our feet.
Due to the previous night’s storm the boat ride that should have taken us 2-3 hours took almost 6 as we weaved in and out of all the freshly fallen trees and occasionally got very stuck!
We eventually made it to the bus and left for the airport at 2.30 for our 5 o’clock flight. As we were due at the airport at 4 the bus ride was more like a rollercoaster as the bus driver accelerated around blind corners on the wrong side of the road and did a large number of very dodgy overtakes, particularly one of a police car.
I have no idea how but miraculously we made it to the airport all in one piece at ten to 5. We all jumped off the bus whilst it was still moving and ran into check-in. Fortunately the airport was on Ecuadorian time (late for everything) and the plane hadn’t actually arrived so we waited in the departure lounge, recovering from the bus ride and eventually left for Quito at 5.15.