May 01, 2014 GMT
Sullana (Peru) to Lasso (Ecuador)

It is a border crossing day. Border crossings are always a mix of heady excitement because you are off to a new country but also anxiety, because you never know what border officials are going to throw at you.

We leave the gross Peruvian town of Sullana behind us in a lather of sweat, it is a very hot day and the ride to Macara is fraught with the usual maniacs, driving with no care or respect for anyone else on the road, let alone a bike. By the time we arrive at the small border town of La Tina we are sweltering. Fortunately this was a very simple crossing, the Peruvian side was done and dusted in under 5 minutes while the Ecuadorian side took about 45 minutes but only because the young guy was a bit slow on the typing/ processing side. However they were kindness itself, even photocopying all the documents they needed from us, for free. We had been warned by one traveler that we needed third party insurance as a requirement on entry to Ecuador but this was not mentioned and there was nowhere to buy it at this tiny border town anyway.

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As the sign says - Welcome to Ecuador


Unfortunately while we were getting the paper work done the bike was spewing coolant out onto the road yet again. Oh bugger, not much we can do about it here except top it up and keep riding, so we high tail it out of town and up into the hills, a beautiful twisty ride to Loja which took us over 3 ½ hours. On entering Ecuador you immediately notice the difference, this country is so much cleaner, greener, modern, organised and the drivers, while not perfect, are at least not trying to kill us at every turn. We have to stop at two military checkpoints for paperwork checks and also once for fuel and of course whenever we stop we leak out some more coolant, but we keep heading for Loja. At least we will be able to do something about it there.

As we hit the Loja traffic at about 4.00 pm, the bike hits “Danger! Danger! Will Robinson” hot hot hot, then boils and spews the last of its fluid on the road, but as luck would have it we were right outside a hotel with parking. Skill stopped the bike on the footpath/driveway on a busy pedestrian street where he is growled at for blocking the narrow sidewalk, meanwhile I bolted inside and got them to lift the roller door to the garage. Without starting the bike Skill rolled into the underground carpark spewing the last of the coolant everywhere. Unfortunately the hotel was very expensive (well for Ecuador - $70.00 per night) but the young guy on reception spoke English and helped Skill find a good motorbike shop. After we had unloaded the bike and it had cooled down Skill pulled it to bits and found that an O ring on a joiner from a radiator hose to the rear cylinder had completely disintegrated, so he had no O ring to take with him to the motorbike shop for sizing.

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing Skill returned with a few new O rings to try (no suzuki original parts in this town) but as it was now 7.30 pm and we had had nothing to eat since breakfast we found a hamburger, well a hamburger and a hot dog actually, and beer for dinner then retired early.

As we didn't have to check out till 2.00 pm we were hopeful that we would be able to fix the bike the following day then travel to Vilcabamba, our next destination, was only 50 km away. However it was not to be, the O rings did not fit/seal so for Skill it was back to the motorbike shop while I sat in the bowels of the underground car park guarding our now half dismantled bike for 2 ½ hours. Well to cut a long story short, Skill managed to get an O ring that while not the perfect size did the job, put in new coolant and eventually got the bike back together. By this time we had decided to book in for another night so in the afternoon we went for a bit of a walk and checked out the town and had a huge feed of deep fried empanadas and tomato salsa from a very, very dodgy establishment. They were fantastic, but we were expecting to get sick from the look of our surroundings but fortunately luck seemed to be on on our side this time.

That night I showed my age and managed to complain about the doov doov music coming form the next room (there were two teams of football players staying in the hotel). We put up with it for about an hour, but it was so loud it was actually rattling the glass panels in our room and we couldn't hear our own TV. I always feel like the complaining gringo, but the guy on reception was very good and even did something about it, I was completely shocked.

Next day we couldn't wait to get out of the city and our windowless, souless hotel room and it was off into the mountains again to the absolutely gorgeous hamlet of Vilcabamba, all the while checking for coolant leaks with fingers crossed. We made it to Vilcabamba without any sign of leaks, yeah. This little hamlet is apparently renowned for the longevity of it's inhabitants, attributed to the local drinking water. To be honest we didn't see any older inhabitants but the town was heaving with American ex pats.

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Parked, looking for a hostel in Vilcabamba

We decide to stay at the German Ecuadorian run hostal of Izhcayluma. We had a little cabin with our own verandah and hammock that overlooked the valley of youth.

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Our little cabin

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Lan enjoying the hamock

They also had a fantastic restaurant where we overindulged for the four days we were there.

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View from the restaurant

We wandered into town on a few days and found a SOAT (Insurance) office and after an hour managed to get one month of third party insurance for the bike (you can only buy a month or a years worth) for $3.00 US per month.

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Success we have third party insurance

After 4 days we manage to leave Villcabamba and put in a long day to Quenca (Ecuador's third largest city). It was a beautiful ride up over high passes and into foggy mountains. At one point we rode into really heavy rain and unfortunately did not get our wet weather gear on quickly enough, we were soaked through. On reflection I think this is the wettest we have ever been.

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On the road to Cuenca

Despite the conditions we enjoy the countless little villages, where the local inhabitants dress all in black with bowler hats, including the school children.

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Sorry about the grainy photo, taken on the move


Anyway it rained on and off all the way to Cuenca and then we had to ride right into the middle of town, where there were detours and roadworks everywhere, it took us well over an hour to get from the outskirts of town into the traffic gridlocked Centro. We eventually found a little guest house where we could get the bike through the double doors into the courtyard. Skill had to ride along the busy footpath through all the pedestrians. After unloading our dripping, soggy luggage, we stripped off everything and hung it all over our miniscule room. After a 5 minute lesson on how to work the shower from our octogenarian owner, we manage a hot shower and it was off to find food then a bit of a wander around the historic centre, then it is early to bed. We are a tad knackered.

Next day we got away by nine and have a six hour ride (with only one stop for fuel) to Banos. We decided we would push through to Banos even though we only had accommodation booked for the Easter weekend. We tried the hotel where we had pre-booked our Easter accommodation but they were full so after a quick check with the tourist office who can't help us with accommodation or a map (what are they there for???) we have an hour hunt to find a place we were happy with. We ended up in a beautiful place on the hill with views over the town all for the princely sum of $20.00 US.

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We quickly checked in for two nights then it was down the hill to Casa Hood ( a restaurant we had read about) where we had a great meal, a sort of Pad Thai and Asian Chicken not to mention a few beers. This turned into our eating place of choice.

We spend our Easter here in Banos which turns out to be quite interesting. On Good Friday we awoke to huge volumes of noise with 1000s of people everywhere camped out on the streets and in the undercover fruit market area. Apparently it was a pilgrims walk to the Manto de la Virgin waterfall where the Virgin Mary appears from time to time. Hmmmmmmmmm it looked more like a huge street party come “P**s up” to us.

Changing hotel proved to be a bit of a challenge as our prebooked hotel was right near the waterfall and we had to negotiate the hundreds of people in the streets. After checking in I did my usual room furniture rearrangement and got ourselves settled in before we joined the crowds on the street. We even got up to the waterfall but surprisingly Mary hadn't appeared, she was probably put off by the inebriated pilgrims.

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The Manto de la Virgen Waterfall and Baths

In the evening while we were out on our own personal pizza hunt we got swept along in a sort of funeral procession where they took the Nuestra Senora del Agua Santa from the Cathedral and paraded her around the streets for a few hours.

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Banos Cathedral

Easter Saturday and Sunday proved to be marginally quieter but there are still 1000s of people everywhere. It is quite amazing to see what the locals are doing for fun, of course bathing in the hot springs, then riding around in rhinoceros trains or driving around on hired four wheeler bikes (in the congested streets of the town) or having their photos taken with fake horses. It is a hoot.

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The Ecuadorian tourists are taking scenic rides in this mythical train creature

It is also on Sunday we find out that the GPS is completely and utterly dead. It will not turn on, there is absolutely nothing we can do to get it to work, but the unit itself is hot to touch. Very weird. OH BUGGER!!!!

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Carmen the Garmin is dead


By Sunday evening down town Banos is deserted, everyone has gone home, we are the only tourists on the street. Unbelievable. On Monday, Skill spends the morning loading software and maps onto the android phone and syncing it to his helmet. We are hoping that we will be able to use this as a GPS at least till we get to Quito

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Skill trying to get the phone to talk to his helmet

In the afternoon we go for a walk up to the statue of the virgin, the mirador above town, only to be thwarted 20 metres from the top by a huge swarm of bees, (I, Lan am severely allergic to bees) so it was a no go zone. Feeling a tad miffed we wandered down to the bridge over the river and check out the scenery before buying some of Banos famous sweets. Everywhere in town you see them making it

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Canyon below Banos


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The sweet makers of Banos

We decide we have spent as much time in Banos as is needed and we will head out to a campground/hostel run by friends of friends in the form of Marc and Sue ex professional overlanders themselves. We leave Banos in driving rain (using the phone as a GPS, it seems to work well) and arrive at Rio Verde 30 km up the road in even worse conditions, the rain is torrential. Marc rescues us and gets us settled into a room. The rain finally abates and we wander the 2kms back into Rio Verde where we encounter some local kids walking home from school.

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Careful Kids! The drop off from the wall goes down into the Canyon

In the village we have some local lunch and then walk to the Devil's Cauldron Waterfall. You can approach the waterfall from 2 directions through 2 privately owned paths, so this is what we do. We walk to the bottom of the Canyon and view the falls from the depths of the canyon

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Devil's Cauldron Waterfall


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Lan at the Devil's Cauldron Waterfall

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Skill on the Suspension Bridge at Devil's Cauldron Waterfall

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Happy Chappies

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On the path back up to the top

Then we walk back up and view them from the top.

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Devil's Cauldron from the top

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Underneath the falls

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Suspension Bridge at the top of the falls


That afternoon we return to the hostel and introduce ourselves to our fabulous hostess Sue. We share a pleasant afternoon with this couple before Marc exclaims that Volcan Tungurahua is erupting and indeed it is, there are a few good belches of ash before it again settles down. We still didn't actually see the Volcano as it was completely shrouded in mist and cloud. The evening starts off bright and clear with a starry night but by eight o'clock it is bucketing down, well I suppose we are in the Cloud forest and it is the wet season.

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Volcan Tungurahua belches ash into the clouds


The following day, after a slow start, the weather is looking quite promising and we head into Rio Verde on the bike for some of local identity, Mercede's, famous empanadas, they are fantastic, so good that we get another two to take away for our dinner. Just as we are getting ready to leave for a 50 km ride to Puyo and the Monkey Sanctuary, the heavens open up and thunder and lightning roll in. Off we go anyway (once again, using the phone as our GPS, all goes well) and ride all the way to Puyo in the rain. Fortunately by the time we get to the sanctuary the rain stops and we can enjoy our time here without a rain coat

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Skill and his little mate at the Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Other glorious creatures at the Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo

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Lan at the Monkey Sanctuary - Puyo


We manage a rain free ride home to the hostel and share a few beers with our hosts.

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The tranquil grounds of Pequeno Paraiso

Next day we awake to absolutely torrential rain yet again, but decide we really do need to move on, so after a delayed start we don the wet weather gear, say goodbye to our fabulous hosts and ride off towards Ambato and Lacatunga in the driving rain. I find out that my wet weather pants are not that waterproof any more as I can slowly feel my draggin jeans soaking up more and more water around my bottom, hmmm not good, I feel like I am wearing a giant nappy. It is also at this point that the phone decides it will not work as a GPS any more and continually loses satellite reception.

We arrive in Latacunga around lunch time and after a few wrong turns, a refuel and air for the tyres we continue on to Pujillo and Zumbhuro where we miss the turnoff for Lake Quilotoa as there are no signs on the main road (in the usual South American style you only get a sign telling you you are on the right road after you have turned off on the right road and no longer need a sign) and we are completely GPS-less. We eventually figure it out and backtrack to Zumbahua and get on the road to Lake Quilotoa.

We are not very good at planning ahead but today we have a plan, we will not visit the Lake but will push on, 19 km up the road, even though it is dirt, to Chugchillan where we know there is good accommodation then tomorrow we will leave our gear in the room and come back to see the Lake before returning to pick up our luggage and completing the Quilotoa loop. Sounds simple and easy in theory.

Because we left Rio Verde late and had to ride fairly slowly because of the rain we are running a bit later than usual and unfortunately the 20 km from Quilotoa to Chugchillan is a nightmare. They are doing road works Ecuadorian style, that means that you rip up nearly the whole 20km of road using earthmoving equipment and people just have to try to get through the best they can.

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Road works Ecuadorian style


Click on this youtube video link to see our ride through Ecuadorian roadworks (Excuse my swearing but I am sure you will understand why). Or cut and paste this address http://youtu.be/jrCLTyJJC1s


We ride for nearly the whole 20 km in first gear through awful conditions, even negotiating a couple of water crossings before stopping at 5.30 pm, just short of Chugchillan thinking we have to be on the wrong road, however some kind villagers reassure us Chugchillan is just around the next corner, which it is and we gratefully find the Cloudforest Hostel where we spend a quiet evening with a few other guests.

Next morning we have a decision to make, do we return over the muddied, messy, bulldozed track masquerading as a road or do we continue around the loop and miss out on the Lake. Over breakfast we decide we will have to go back to Lake Quilotoa as that is our whole reason for riding this road. I am extremely nervous about doing this but off we go and we emerge onto the sealed road over an hour and a half later. I cannot believe we didn't come off, it was an awful, awful ride and to think we did it twice. Loco, loco!!!!

We ride into the National Park, pay our $2.00 fee and are told by a dodgy parking attendant that we must park in the car park. For some reason parking attendants feel it is their solemn duty to misinform you and boss you around, we completely ignore him and ride up to the Lake lookout. This is the sight that greeted us. Wow, so pleased we came back.

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Panorama - Lake Quilotoa

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Lake Quilotoa

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Lake Quilotoa

Although it is only 11.00 am we check into a little local hostel across the road, it has secure parking and the rooms have a little wood heater in them. This is our kind of place.

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Our little room at Lake Quilotoa

We manage to get a bit of washing done before a quick lunch and it is off for a walk down to the Lake. Well let me rephrase that, Skill takes a walk down to the Lake. We are at about 4000 metres and I know my limitations, the walk down would be tough enough but it is the up bit that I am worried about. I spend an hour at the lookout watching Skill's progress, it is slow going.

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By the Lakes shore

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By the Lakes shore

Skill returns a good few hours later and confirms it was very difficult to get enough oxygen on the walk back up. We manage to find wood and some lighting fluid to get our wood stove going, we then boil up water for a cat wash (no hot water in the shower) and have a few beers, before we join the hostal's family for dinner. All in all, not a bad way to spend ANZAC day. However at this altitude the weather is completely changeable and it is very cold at night. We are toasty warm in our room, the bed has no less than seven blankets on it. We can barely move.

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The bike and Skill hanging out our washing at hostel

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Half an hour later this is the same view

The following day we say Goodbye to Lake Quilotoa and retrace our route to Latacunga. Skill was quite keen to ride the roadworks for a 3rd time and complete the Loop road, I was not. I sometimes question his sanity and remind him “Happy wife, Happy life” We are not riding that road again. Twice is enough!

From Latacunga we have a quick ride to Lasso where we eventually find the delightful Cabanas Los Volcanes to stay in. We manage to get everything off the bike and find some lunch and a little shop in this dodgy town, before the heavens open up for the rest of the day. Oh well a quiet afternoon in with a good book. Tomorrow we tackle another capital city, Quito, and this time without a GPS but Skill is still determined to get the phone GPS to work for us.

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Parked at the delightful Cabanes Los Volcanes

Posted by John Skillington at 10:24 PM GMT
May 31, 2014 GMT
Lasso (Ecuador) to Quito and Cuyabeno

It is a quiet Sunday morning in Lasso, we awake to very overcast conditions, have a hearty breakfast, pack up, don the wet weather gear and are on the road to Quito by 9.00 am.

We get only 10 km up the road before the phone tells us we have no satellite reception and decides it doesn't want to navigate us into Quito. We pull over while Skill makes a few adjustments and after a few tense minutes, the problem seems to resolve itself and we are under way, albeit in the rain.

The ride into Quito is totally amazing, absolutely NO traffic, it is like a ghost town. After only one wrong turn we arrive at Casa Helbling (which is to become our home for more than two weeks) where we easily park in the small garage area. The staff are so accommodating. They give us a tour of the hostel, a map of Quito and explain the ins and outs of the hostel and the city. Our room is small but very comfortable. As luck would have it there is a good Chinese restaurant (Chifa) next door so we venture out for an early lunch.


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Casa Helbling Dining Area


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One of our rooms at Casa Helbling


In the afternoon Skill goes for a walk to Freedom Motorcycles (a motorcycle rental and tour business) which is just around the corner. He gets chatting with the guys there and tells them our GPS woes. They instantly tell him that they can order one for us (at wholesale cost), they also tell him that the best mechanic in town is Diego who has his workshop just across the road. Skill returns to the hostel buoyed by his visit to Freedom Motorcycles, he has ordered a new GPS and he is also sporting 2 new T Shirts.

The next five days are a whirlwind of trying to track down a Galapagos boat tour, so many decisions to make, firstly which travel agent do you use, then what class of boat, which sort of boat, which itinerary, how many days???? After visiting 10 or so different agencies we have information overload, our brains are about to explode but in the end we decide we will have to take a dodgy boat as our budget is not going to stretch any further, we want an 8 day cruise with an itinerary in the Southern Islands including Isla Lobos where we can see the Red footed booby. Having made our decision we go back to the travel agent and get her to book our cruise. The following day she replies via email to say the boat is full and we will have to wait two weeks for the same itinerary. Hmmm what to do??? While we ponder over this problem Skill has booked the bike in with Diego at Mariscal Motos, the poor old bike is overdue for a good service, we need to get the proper seals installed on the radiator plus find where the exhaust leak is plus a few other bits and pieces. Diego is very helpful and the guys from Freedom Motorcycles help with translation.

It is also during this time that we meet Gail, a fellow motorcycle traveller and HU Memeber. One evening at the hostel we share a late night, many bottles of beer, a famous Casa Helbling meze platter and a great many laughs. Gail has been on the road for a year, after retiring from the US Navy. He plans to travel until he gets tired of it. He was great company and we thank him for his “going North” information.


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A few beers with Gail at Casa Helbling


After a few nights of contemplation we decide we will book onto our chosen boat in two weeks time and pay our deposit. No turning back now!!!!! The next problem is how do we get enough money out to pay for the cruise; to pay by credit card you get charged a whopping 12% and you can only get out a maximum of $600 US per day. So every day for the next several days it is off to the automatic teller.

On Friday we head out to Freedom Motorcycles and while we are there our new GPS arrives. After a long chat with the guys we head across the road to see Diego who is having a few problems sourcing some of the service parts and there is the May Day holiday as well so the bike probably won't be ready until later next week. It is at this point we ask him to also install the wiring for the new GPS.

We return to the hostal late in the day and get chatting to Klaus (the hostel owner) about our dilemma. What should we do for the next week while we wait for the bike? After a quick chat and on his recommendation we make a snap decision to book a tour to Cuyabeno Reserve. Within 10 minutes we are booked into the Siona Lodge for a 5 day jungle tour. While we are just finishing off our booking and organising a return flight with Klaus another couple Michel and Iona (pronounced Joanna) from Montreal also get a rush of blood and decide they will book the same tour. They are a lovely couple and we are looking forward to having some travelling companions.

We had never intended to do a jungle tour mainly because of my terrible anxiety. What am I afraid of you may ask? Could it be the FARK rebels who sometimes hold up tourists in this area, or perhaps the wild vigilante town of Lago Agrio, or the dreaded Malaria carrying mosquitoes, or perhaps the flesh eating piranha, or maybe the caymans (alligators). No, none of these things even rate a mention. It is my terrible fear of, and allergic reactions to the dreaded sandflies, beechos, no-see-ums or whatever you care to call them, I loathe them.


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What one little sandfly bite does to Lan


So to counteract this problem the following day I go out and buy a couple of long sleeved cotton shirts, a giant can of fly spray and 3 bottles of bug spray containing enough DEET to cause me serious side effects, a quick side trip to the local farmacia for a huge box of antihistamines and I am set. We also buy yet another small cheap carry bag. It is then back to the hostel to sort through our gear, pack our bags and get stuff into storage. Skill goes to see Diego telling him he can have the bike all next week, we will pick it up next Saturday. That evening we have a quiet beer with Iona and Michel, they are such good company and we chat easily about our respective homelands and our guiding passion, TRAVEL.

Next day it is up and at em early, we have breakfast in the hostal's restaurant, check with our receptionist about which bus station we need to go to (hmmm in hindsight a mistake), then walk down the street to catch a taxi. Iona speaks fluent Spanish so she negotiates and we are off . We are five minutes into our journey when Iona asks Michel if he has the passports to which he replies “NO” so we do a quick detour back to the hostel and then we are off again. We arrive at the bus station only to find that this is not the bus station we need so it is back into another cab and a 45 minute ride to the another bus station. Lucky cabs are cheap in Quito.

Finally we book onto our Lago Agrio bound bus and set off at 10.00 am. We don't get far down the road when my motorcycle addicted travelling companion starts complaining about the bus. It is too hot, there is not enough air, the kid behind me is kicking the seat, he is driving like a madman, the litany of complaints is unending. Skill has never been a good bus traveller!!!! Having said that it was a very long, windy seven hour bus journey, with only one stop for lunch. We indulged in some local barbecued chicken and potato on a skewer, which was great and returned to the bus feeling less ill. The next part of the journey was even faster and twistier than the first, many of the locals turned delicate shades of green and came to the front of the bus to ask the conductor for little black plastic bags. Hmmmm. By the time we get to Lago Agrio all four of us are pleased to get out.

Now everything you read about Lago Agrio tells you how dangerous and ugly it is. To the four of us it just looked like any other dodgy South American town, in fact it was a darn sight better than many we have visited. We opted for the Hotel Araza, a more upmarket hotel than the Hotel d'Mario where we were to join the tour in the morning. Our reason for doing this was because of the reviews we had read, normally we take trip adviser with a grain of salt but we could not find one positive review anywhere on any website. In the end this was a wise decision as the rest of our tour group who either stayed or ate at the aforementioned hotel became quite ill while on our tour.

From the bus station it was a quick 5 minute taxi ride where we easily checked in, showered, cooled down in luxurious air conditioning, I then covered myself in Deet, before joining Iona and Michel for a few beers. A sandwich dinner and an early night after I had used a third of a can of fly spray annihilating any sand flies which may or may not have been in our room.

Next morning we had a big breakfast in our bullet ridden plate glass dining room. Michele said he had chosen this particular table in front of a bullet hole with the theory lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. After breakfast we pack up, I slather myself in yet more Deet and we stroll down the bustling but friendly main street to meet our tour group. From the word go it was obvious we were with a nice group of people and our guide Jacob, was going to be a friendly, knowledgeable and communicative soul.


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Michel And Iona on the bus ride to Puerto Bolivar


It was then a 2 hour bus ride to Puerto Bolivar where we had a quick lunch before getting into our canoe and heading downstream for two hours. It was a fantastic ride with Jacob and Benisio (our canoe driver although he was almost another guide) pointing out all manner of birds, monkeys and even a baby anaconda. These two guys were amazing, their knowledge and passion for Cuyabeno was infectious, they could spot animals that were completely invisible to we mere mortals.


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Skill gets ready for our canoe trip


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On the Cuyabeno River


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Jacob our wonderful guide


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Locals call this the Stinky Bird


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Snake Bird


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Capuchin Monkey


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Baby Anaconda


After two hours of travelling up the Cuyabeno River we arrive at Laguna Grande, it is a stunning expanse of tea coloured freshwater. To add to it's beauty are the trees which seem to rise up like monsters from the murky depths. Siona Lodge is one of only two lodges located on the Lake (other lodges are located on the rivers) and we arrive at our little jetty to the sound of howler monkeys in the distance.


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Laguna Grande


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Howler monkeys are always at the top of the highest trees


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Siona Lodge

After a briefing about the lodge, we are assigned to our lovely little huts complete with a four poster bed and mosquito net and also a veranda and hammock. We settle in and explore our surroundings before heading out for a sunset canoe ride and swim.


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Lan


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Sunset on Laguna Grande

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Sunset on Laguna Grande


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Swimming in Laguna Grande, better not to think about piranahs or cayman or anacondas.


On our return we settle down to a few beers in the dining room before a delicious dinner and then a night walk through the jungle. These are the creatures we discover.


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Tarantula


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Amazonian Bull frog


After a serious bug spraying of our room we retire to bed listening to the amazing sounds of the jungle. Another pinch myself, I don't believe I'm here moment.

We awake to clear skies, a sumptuous breakfast before donning our unbecoming wellies and it is off in the canoe to the other side of the Lake where we go on a three hour walk through the jungle. Even the uncomfortable wellies and the oppressive humidity can't take the edge of the awe and excitement of seeing all manner of animals and birdlife. At one point we come across the remains of a sloth, Jacob is particularly excited about this and later returns with Benisio who apparently determines it was a Jaguar that killed the sloth.


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“A Nice Walk in the Jungle” (For my teacher friends, can you remember what happened in this story, I don't want to be last in the line)


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Blue and Gold Macaus


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Monk Saki Monkey


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Jacob finds the remains of a sloth


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Camouflaged frog


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Leaf Cutter ants are everywhere


We return to the lodge for lunch and a siesta. All morning the humidity has been building and as we lay down to rest we can hear the rumbling of thunder which gets louder and louder until the storm is right above us, it rains really heavily for the next two hours.

As we emerge from our cabins for our next excursion the rain has abated and we head out in the canoe looking for the elusive pink dolphins. Fortunately for us they don't prove to be that elusive and we see quite a few. They are very shy creatures so no close up photos. Being out on the lake and rivers watching the passing parade of dolphins and animals is just wonderful, it is so peaceful and we just drift along occasionally turning the motor on to navigate further up stream. After a blissful couple of hours we return to the lodge for a few beers in the dining room before another amazing dinner.


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Amazon Pink River Dolphin - trust us it really is....


Dinner is a happy and talkative affair and each day we learn a little more about our wonderful young guide. While highly knowledgeable about the wildlife of this region he also speaks fluent Spanish, Quechua, English, French and also a little German. He is also learning two native languages. A highly intelligent young man. I ask the obvious question “How does a boy from a remote Amazonian village become a guide and learn countless languages”. He laughingly tells us it was a mistake.

Apparently his brother came home from school for holidays and when he had to return, Jacob at the age of ten went with him to keep him company on the long trek through the jungle and apparently didn't come home. He stayed on at the school where he went from strength to strength and eventually did the studies to become a guide, however while he is passionate about the Amazon, it is languages that he really loves and studies them every chance he gets. He also explains quite succinctly that he is now caught between two cultures. The Western culture with all its modcons and his traditional village culture. He freely admits that if he was still living in his village he would be married with 4 kids and maybe two wives he tells us with a big grin and a wink. He is a delightful young man.

After dinner we are back into the canoe for a night time ride on the Lake, our eagle eyed guides spot all manner of nocturnal creatures.


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Amazon River Boa


On our return to the lodge we join another group of travellers and are entertained by their guide who plays the guitar and pan pipes. It is a wonderful evening, later on I go to sleep listening to Simon and Garfunkles Sounds of Silence on the pan pipes. I am in heaven. That night we have another big storm and a huge down pour, it rains very heavily for most of the night. Surprisingly our palm thatched hut is quite waterproof, there is only one little puddle on the floor in the morning.


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We are entertained with Guitar and Pan Pipes played at same time.


By now I have realised that there are no sandflies at the Lodge and Skill no longer has to endure my manic room fumigation, besides the rooms are screened and we have a mozzie net. I am sure he breathes a clean-air sigh of relief. Actually Jacob explains that the tannin water of the Lake is too acidic for mosquitoes to breed and for some reason sandflies are also rare.

The following day we take a canoe ride downstream to a Siona Indian community, on the way we spot lots of different wildlife including more pink dolphins, some noisy night monkeys and the sacred and esteemed Harpy Eagles, the boys (our guides) are in seventh heaven.


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Noisy night monkey


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Our guides and all the local indigenous people are in awe of the almost legendary Harpy Eagle


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Two toed sloth


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Green Macaw


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Snake bird drying itself in the sun


Arriving at the village we dispense with footwear leaving them in the boat and don our gumboots. The walk around the village is interesting, we not only get to see the daily life of the locals but also all manner of insect and frog life in the forest.


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Village life


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One of many species of Poison dart frog with tadpoles carried on its back.


We are then met by a local woman who welcomes us to the village and shows us how the traditional casabe (yucca bread) is made.


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Harvesting the Yukka root


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Grating the root and sqeezing the water out of the pulp


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Sifting the dry Yukka flour


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Cooking the flat bread on a clay pan


The bread is delicious and we have a fantastic picnic lunch before the Village shaman arrives to explain his role in village life. Trying to explain this sounds incredibly tacky like we were some wide eyed tourists invasively peering into their lives, but to be honest this wasn't the case, they seemed to enjoy our company and we definitely enjoyed theirs, especially the shaman who was an absolute hoot. Of course there are also financial benefits for the village. Impressively they have a reasonably equipped school, generators and of course the obligatory satellite televisions, however they still cling fiercely to the remainders of their traditional way of life.


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Village Shaman


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Village Shaman demonstrating part of a healing ceremony


On our return to the canoe I discover my footwear is missing, hmmm I knew I shouldn't have left my blingy thongs (Austalian for flip flops) behind, after some consternation with villagers running an all directions, I decide that maybe somebody needs them more than me and tell Jacob “we should forget them and return to the Lodge”. Jacob is visibly disturbed by the turn of events and apologises profusely saying it has never happened before.

We enjoy the 2 hour ride back to the Lodge and are welcomed back by our resident cayman who is lolling in the shallows near the jetty.


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Our resident cayman


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Our resident cayman


That evening we enjoy quite a few beers with Michele and Iona taking in our beautiful surroundings and discussing the days events.


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Blissful surroundings

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Blissful surroundings


Just before dinner Jacob returns from taking another small group out on the Lake, he has my thongs carefully wrapped in a plastic bag. Apparently one of the small kids from the village had picked them up out of the boat and given them to another girl who in turn handed them in to the elders. They then put them in a canoe and travelled 2 hours to return them. AMAZING!!!!!!!

The following day all of our group (except for we four) are leaving to return to Lago Agrio, we take the obligatory family photo before we go off paddling with Jacob for the morning.


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Our group including our wonderful guide and lodge staff


We paddle quietly around the Lake for a couple of hours and get out to trek to the Equator Monument which is really just behind the Lodge.


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Paddling on the Lake


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At the Equator

Later in the afternoon we just chill back and finally it is back out onto the Lake to spot more pink dolphins. What a day.

Day five in the jungle and it is time for us to leave, Bernisio takes us the 2 hours back to Puerto Bolivar but not before pointing out more monkeys, bird life and another beautiful baby anaconda.


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In the Canoe leaving Cuyabeno

Back at Puerto Bolivar it is time for a quick lunch, then a 2 hour bus journey to Lago Agrio airport, a 3 hour wait, a 35 minute plane tip to Quito before a 90 minute taxi ride in Quito Friday night peak hour traffic. We arrive back at Casa Helbling safe and sound. A long hot shower and a delicious home delivered pizza. What a great 5 days, great company, great scenery, great experience. I am now a jungle convert.

Posted by John Skillington at 07:43 PM GMT
 
 

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