Ecuador can roughly be divided into 4 very distinct regions: la Sierra (the Andes), la costa (the coast), el Oriente (the Amazon) and the Galapagos. So far I’d only been in the Sierra, and so I was excited to explore a different region.
We booked the standard 4-day, 3-night tour with Nicky Lodge – at $280 per person, I’d heard it was significantly cheaper than most Amazon jungle tours, which was partly why it was so easy to make that snap decision to join Linda when she mentioned Nicky Lodge.
The journey started in Quito on Christmas night, when we caught a private 11pm bus to Lago Agrio (the gateway to Cuyabeno Nature Reserve, where we were heading). It cost $40 for a two-way trip and initially I considered taking a public bus instead – they run from Quitumbe Terminal every half hour or so and cost under $10 one-way, but then I figured with the cost of cabbing to the bus terminal both ways it probably worked out to be about the same. Plus the bus was just across the road from Linda’s house!
The bus arrived at about 7.30am in Lago Agrio and we had 2 hours to kill before getting picked up by the lodge people in another bus to the Cuyabeno Bridge. We walked around briefly – the main street of Lago Agrio looks like a small Malaysian town – Johor Bahru or Kota Bahru, for example. Even the climate is similar – hot and humid. The most obvious difference was that everything was in Spanish!
I had a Continental breakfast (bread, juice and tea/coffee/milk) for $2 at Hotel D’Mario, which was the pick-up point. It seemed quite expensive – I could get a much bigger breakfast for under $2 in Quito – but everything in Lago Agrio seems rather pricey. Dental floss cost $4!
From Lago Agrio it was another 1h45min bus ride to the Cuyabeno Bridge, which is where all the Cuyabeno tours start.
There were a ton of tourists and canoes there, and for about 20 minutes we just stood around not entirely sure what was going on. Eventually, a guy from the lodge came along and told us where to go. (He also later told us that December is actually summer in the Amazon and it’s typically low season for tourists, but there were a lot of tourists that day because of the holidays.)
We had a boxed lunch, got a short briefing on the reserve and then took a motorized canoe downriver for about 3 hours. Our guide mentioned that in summer, it doesn’t rain much so that river level is really low. Sometimes they even have to get out and push the canoe when the water level gets too low! I was somewhat worried that would happen to us, but thankfully the river was deep enough (just about) for the canoe.
The low water level did mean, however, that the river was a muddy brown colour. They told us that normally the water is black due to tannins in the water!
We saw lots of monkeys – squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, black tamarin monkeys (bebeleche in Spanish because of the white colouring around their mouth that makes it look like they’re drinking milk) to name a few.
And lots of birds (with very memorable names like stinky turkey and snake bird).
Our guide pointed out the nest of a type of bird called oropendola (oro means gold in Spanish) because its tail is yellow and its nest looks like a pendulum. The nests are very distinctive!
We also saw some butterflies which were a beautiful shade of blue. Our guide (who knows a lot) said that they’re called morpho butterflies and interestingly, when they’re about to die they fly around until they just drop out of the air. I think that’s a pretty good way to go, don’t you?
Nicky Amazon Lodge
We reached the lodge at about 5pm. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was definitely surprised to find out that the rooms were shared. Each room sleeps about 4 people, I think. Rooms were assigned but they put Linda and me together and we shared the room with a Polish girl who’s lived in Germany for the last couple of years.
It would’ve been that way even if Linda and I weren’t friends, I think, because everyone else in the tour group (13 of us) were either a family or a couple. Remarkably, more than half of the tour group were German (or German speakers, like the Polish girl)! It reminded me of my horseback riding expeditions in Pululahua where a surprising number of the other guests spoke German. Not sure if Ecuador is a popular destination for Germans, or whether Germans just like to travel everywhere in general. I don’t recall meeting so many Germans while travelling in other parts of the world, though.
Back to the lodge: the rooms had a strong smell which I couldn’t place, but were clean. The beds all had mosquito nets, which was great. I hardly got bitten on that trip, which I attribute to not only the mosquito nets but also the vitamin B pills I was taking. (For some reason, they seem to act as insect repellent and it seems to be a popular local strategy. When we visited a pharmacy in Quito and asked for vitamin B pills, the lady asked if we were going to the Oriente!)
There’s only electricity from 6 to 10pm daily, so you have to do all your charging then. There’s no hot shower, but in that weather it was fine. It would be a different story in Intag, though!
After dinner, we played a strange version of chess with a little girl (who’s the daughter of the chef) – I’m still not really sure what was going on. She was very friendly and seemed glad for the company, though. Then we sat by the river to do some stargazing. There were so many stars! Unlike Intag, where it’s really quiet at night, the jungle is absolutely buzzing with sounds at night.