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Siona Lodge, Cuyabeno Parque Nacional.

May 17, 2016

Siona Lodge, Cuyabeno PN, The Oriente. 13.5.16

The intention was to drive the 277kms from Quito to the starting point of our Amazon adventure, Lago Agrio. But the bakkie was in dire need of a service, the diesel filters had finally succumbed to the inferior diesel especially Bolivian and the 2500 metre climb back up to Quito might have been the last straw. So we took a 40 minute flight and will return on the day tourist bus just to see what was missed. The van was serviced the day before leaving by a young bloke, Rafael and his crew and purrs along very contentedly once more. He had serviced other Overlander vehicles and had a good reputation. He even had his gang clean and polish it to the extent even the tyres were blackened.
It was a two hour drive from the Lago Agrio airport to the starting off point on the Rio Cuyabeno and after a cooked lunch our group of nine climbed into the sleek canoe with a 40HP Yamaha on the back. The group was made up of a US couple, Chris and Paige; two Swiss, Katiya and Oliver; and an Ecuadorian mother and son along with the grandfather, Maria, Lukas and Harry. In the capable hands of Yarrnay at the helm we took off. The river was narrow at this point, about 10-20 metres wide, very winding, with many a fallen tree testing Yarrnay’s skill but he was up to the task. Also a good wildlife spotter and had us stopped to view saki. tamarindo and woolly monkey groups as well as birds like the aninga, of the cormorant family, falcons that had the colouring of a parrot (I think they might have been parrots) and many kingfishers as they headed for shelter. It was over two hours winding along the river, the vegetation thick on both sides before reaching Lago Grande, the biggest lagoon in the national park where we came upon a pod of pink dolphins including babies, nonchalantly swimming around.
The lodge is built on the edge of the lago. Hidden until the last minute arriving. Electricity is on for 5 hours in the evening. There is a caiman that has made itself at home under the landing jetty. The cabins are comfortable though it is a little disconcerting due to the two joined cabins being open at the ceiling ones hears all the sounds of the couple next door. Something we will have to live with.
The lake expands in the wet season flooding the surrounding jungle. The only way to get around is by canoe and last night saw us on a birdwatching jaunt before stopping in the middle of the lake watching the sun set and taking a swim.The lago is quite alkaline and piranha can’t live in it. Not so the rivers in the area.
It is a beautiful place but parts of the park has a shocking history of environmental destruction by oil companies mainly Texaco.
The night before last saw us parked at Hostal Zentrum in Quito. Metres from a busy road that had a speed hump opposite where traffic had to slow down then rev up again, a large rubbish bin on the street was regularly visited by struggling people who would hoist their child into it to see what they could scavenge. Ear plugs were a necessity. Last night the only sounds were that of the natural wild life surrounding us, we both slept well.

Luis the guide assured us having a tarantula in the room is a good thing. It will kill any scorpions that may be lurking around. I’m not so sure. We saw both on our night walk. The black scorpion and two types of tarantula, the bird eating and the tree tarantula. These were young but already 100mm across.
Lago Grande is the only lagoon in the area that motorized vessels are permitted. For all the other lagos its man power. Yesterday morning saw us breaking through the undergrowth to get to one of the smaller lagoons then commenced cruising around looking for more wildlife. So peaceful and so much to see. Lewis is a good guide; speaks good English and knowledgeable on what is around him pointing out many things our untrained eyes would have missed: A cukoi heron, blue & yellow macaws, red howler monkeys, long nosed bats, plenty of whatsin or ”stink’ birds, one in a nest with its furry chicks, hornets nest that he advised to steer clear of, and then the paichee fish, a monster that can grow up to 4 metres in length. They come to the surface and splash the surface with their massive tails. The one Luis pointed out was about 1.5 metres he thought. After three hours of paddling a quite heavy canoe in the burning sun in 99.9% humidity our shirts were drenched and arms aching with the unaccustomed effort. Getting back to the lodge where a vodka and passion fruit awaited us was most welcome. (Found out later the vodka part was a joke)
Today Luis has planned a visit to a Siona village 2.5 hours away by canoe, it has rained all night, I am not sure if there is a Plan B.

We hit the jackpot today! saw a two fingered three toed sloth on our way to the Siona village then on our way back Luis picked out a three fingered three toed sloth not far above us. Seeing the two types in this part of the jungle was quite unique. Also seeing a couple of rare crimson macaws was worth noting.
The village visit went off without a hitch: Lina cooked us an amazon pizza made from manioc, a case of cutting the tree off with machete, pulling out the tubers, peeling, grating then squeezing 80% of the juice by twisting it in palm fronds, sieving then finally spreading it on a pizza tray and cooked over an open fire. Very nice sprinkled with salt or jam.
The shaman visited was the real McCoy. Replete with head piece made from crimson macaw feathers, jaguar teeth around his neck and ear attachments reaching below his neck he proceeded to explain the process it takes to become a shaman. It was really very interesting especially the use of mind bending drugs they learn to use to help with their work. Not something to play with for the uninitiated. Omero was also a good hunter and showed us how to use a blow pipe. We all hit the target except Mark who let the Dutch team down.
The village has no roads, during the dry season it is a four day walk to the nearest village. Not good in cases of emergency. Spread out over a large clearing it has the only school in the area. A canoe travels down the river picking up children from other villages. The class room of the school was replete with computers donated by a German group, surprising to see.
Today a three hour jungle walk inland is planned

The others have left. The afternoon flight was cancelled meaning a 5am start for them to catch the morning flight. We take the usual canoe ride at 9am.
The walk through the jungle yesterday was interesting, not that many birds or animals but Luis’s knowledge of the jungle picking out minute frogs that has enough poison to kill, vines that store water and others, similar, the juice in which they use for poison on the blow pipe darts. Trees that have 50mm needles all round on the trunk to deter monkeys from climbing to get the fruit, a massive spider web containing colonies of spiders that has fallen from the canopy due to the weight of dead leaves falling into it.
It was muddy but gum boots had been provided although some were left in the bog sans a foot in it. Very hot and steamy.
So back to civilzation. We will take it easy tomorrow, enjoy a good coffee, do a bit of provisioning then head off north the following day.

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