Sunday, November 28, 2010

We Go To The Amazon

You may recall that I last left us at the hostel in Quito drinking wine and sharing stories. Fortunately we didn’t have to fly out to Lago Agrio until 10 a.m. the next morning because that wine drinking and story-sharing lasted until nearly midnight.

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, got checked in, found our gate and waited for our flight to be called. About the time our plane should have been boarding, an announcement was made over the speakers, after which people lined up at the gate next to ours and began walking out to a bus. Trying to understand anything said over a speaker while I'm waiting in an airport is kind of like me trying to understand why Dean thinks he needs to save used staples in a pumpkin shaped cookie jar. It's impossible.

Maybe the whole speaker system is intentionally designed to be unintelligible. I guess I can see the logic behind that.  If passengers actually understood there was a better chance they would receive a free onboard meal than that they would make their connecting flight, it would very likely put airport personnel at risk for being pelted with Cinnabons.  

Anyway, when that announcement at the Quito airport was made in Spanish it was pointless for me to waste my time trying to figure out what had been said. Even if I did say “Como?” I wouldn’t know what the person said in response. There were about four people left in the gate area (besides us) when Dean said, “doesn’t that bus say Lago Agrio? Isn’t that where we’re going?” Apparently in the 50 or so minutes we'd had our boarding passes, the gate number had been changed and that was our bus.  We quickly grabbed our backpacks and got our little butts on the bus, which took us to the plane, which we boarded, and which flew us to Lago Agrio, the beginning of our Amazon Adventure.

We were met at the Lago Agrio airport by a driver who helped us load our backpacks into a van. 

A couple from Switzerland and a woman from Germany had opted to ride the bus from Quito, all night, to meet the van. I think they were hoping to take a nap on the way to the reserve – until they realized they were going to be stuck in a van with nine American motormouths. Poor things.

Along the way to the reserve we saw the pipelines transporting the oil which is produced in the Amazon region of Ecuador.
For a documentary look at the consequences of oil development in Ecuador you can rent this movie. I haven’t seen it yet but Abby and Jorge have and said it’s worth watching. They actually met and talked to one of the lawyers from the movie in a hotel elevator in Quito.

A two hour bus ride later, when we arrived at the entrance to the reserve, we were hot, sweaty and hungry. We were all wishing we had brought snacks with us and hoping dinner would be served soon after we got to the lodge. We didn’t need to worry. They fed us. They fed us well.

After lunch, still hot and sweaty but with full bellies, we began our Amazon adventure by climbing into motorized canoes.

We were divided into two canoes – six visitors plus one guide in each. You will notice that six of the group enjoyed the Cadillac of canoes with individual, padded seats while the rest of us were in an old, less stable canoe (that’s my excuse for blurry photos anyway), with hard, wooden backs and butt cushions that kept slipping. We donned our life jackets (which we never saw again the whole four days we were there), turned our cameras on, settled in, and were “driven” down the river.

All food, supplies, visitors and employees go in and out in these canoes. As it turned out we were especially lucky because just the week before, the water levels had dropped so low that tours had to be cancelled. It had just rained the weekend before our trip, bringing the water level up high enough to get people in again. Even then, the water was still six feet or so below where it normally was for that time of year.

A two-hour canoe ride later we were there!

Still hot, still sweaty but filled with the sights and sounds of the Amazon, we were met by a wonderful man holding a tray of fresh juice.

 It turned out that each afternoon when we returned from an excursion in the canoe, that wonderful man was always there; always smiling and always holding a tray of nice, cold juice.

Thirsts quenched, we unpacked in our cabins

and then had a couple of hours to kick back and relax.  We swung in hammocks, played cards,

walked around the camp, and since it’s important to drink lots of liquids when you are sweating as much as we were, had a cold one ... or two.

Just as it was getting dusk we loaded back into the canoes and were taken out onto Laguna Grande. We sat silently in the canoes, listened to the sounds of the Amazon, and watched the sun set. It was breathtaking.

Two of the three nights we were there we went out on the lake to watch the sun set. Each night it was different and each night it was magnificent.

The great food we’d eaten at lunch continued at dinner. Since everything has to be brought in on canoe I didn’t expect gourmet meals. I expected canned food or sandwiches and little variety but boy, was I wrong. Every meal was delicious. There was home baked bread every day. There was fresh juice every meal. There was fresh fruit. There was the best cheese ever. There was coffee. There were desserts. And there were seconds for anybody who wanted them. We had everything from fried rice to fish (which I ate!) to beef stroganoff. And even though we had to wipe the dripping sweat from our faces in between spoonfuls, each dinner began with a homemade hot soup.

After dinner the first night (and each subsequent night), the guides went over what they would be showing us the next day. The first order of business was water.  Our guide pointed to a huge bottle of water on the counter in the dining area and said, “fill your water bottles from here.  The water in the bathrooms comes from the lake so don't even use it to rinse your toothbrush.”  Oops.

The next day’s adventure included a visit to an indigenous community and a demonstration turning manioc root into an edible “tortilla”. But that will be another post…..another day…..

For more photos of our first day you can click here.



Leslie said...

I love the photos and I love the photo of dads jar of staples. So funny!

Abby said...

Jorge and I will definatley have to make it out there sometime. The pictures look amazing!

Lesley Collins said...

Did you need the mosquitoe nets?

Art Elser said...

Toto, I don't think this is the Bighorns. Did Dean wrestle any crocs or anacondas?

Wonderful tropical sunsets. Thanks for the photo tour. BTW, how did you get the aerial shot of the cabins and the lago? Did the fancy canoe also fly?