Cuyabeno is a small town designed to help travelers entering the Ecuadorian jungle and the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. It is connected to the main road from Lago Agria and has a port of sorts to allow canoes to pull up close.
Since we came in a taxi and not with our official tour group, we had to figure out how to proceed. We spoke with an official-looking lady, avoided the New Year’s drunks, and 15 minutes later had found a driver for our canoe. As we climbed aboard the boat, lots of Ecuadorian children peered at us from above. They waved.
It was just my brother and I and the guy navigating the canoe, which had a motor on the back. So no rowing. With our bags in front and we in the back, we set off down the river and into the jungle.
Almost immediately we saw for ourselves the endless, lush, intensely green primary forest that lined our river. Stunning, especially when contrasted with the bright blue sky. Our canoe ride took about 2.5 hours. We would travel the river several times in the next few days, so this first time is when the majesty of the green rainforest seemed most special.
Our "driver" knew the route inside and out. To foreigners, it looks all the same and impossible to distinguish one strip of forest / river from another. But this guy knew exactly where to turn at every fork. They must use certain kinds of trees or word as their markers.
Occasionally, we would have to duck our head. Fallen trees on the river is typical.
We finally reached our camp site. At a certain section of the forest tour companies have carved out their campsites. More precisely, huts built on large slabs of word sticking out from the water. The Samona camp site is mostly on top of water – held up by wood tree-house like beams – though there is some packed earth in the middle of the site. Unclear whether it’s man-made or natural.
We pulled up to the dock and a guide met us. His first words: "Welcome to the jungle."
He told us we had 20 minutes to put our stuff down and "check in" to our room, and then we were headed out to do piranha fishing and swimming. We made our way over to our hut. We had our own room. Pretty rustic. Old mattresses below mosquito nets. Dead bug blood all over the floor. Bathrooms with no hot water. Oh – most importantly – no electricity anywhere on the compound except in the kitchen during meals. Candlelight and flashlights, baby.
An Italian group of five and my brother and I winded our way through the river and then out into a lagoon. The lagoon — a wide, open swath of water, with trees sticking out here and there — was by far the most beautiful place in the Amazon that we saw.
We fished for piranhas off our stationary canoe. I almost fell asleep, because of the day’s travels.
Then swimming the lagoon as the sun set. The sunset was beautiful. People jumped off the canoe and swam around. It was quite deep. Pretty magical moment to have the huge, open sky above you, the sun setting in the distance, and endless forest all around you.
We returned to camp for dinner. The most surprising part about our trip was how good the food was. I mean really good. Of course the juices and soups were good, but all parts of the meal were tasty and filling. Over dinner, we met the other people staying at Samona. About 20 in all. From all over the world. More on this later.
Getting to sleep that first night proved challenging. Bugs, bugs, bugs. Darkness. Sweating. Uncomfortable mattress. Weird noises outside. Mosquito net above us. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much the first night in the Jungle.