Getting to the jungle involved the usual tedium of a dodgy government-run flight, a few hours bouncing around on the back seat of a poorly suspensioned bus, and then several more on a ‘motorised canoe’. We met a lovely German family with 12 year old twins so then passed a very happy evening in Nikki Lodge (which lived up to its billing of being ‘comfortable not luxury’ aka cold showers) with great conversation and a lot of games of jenga, all washed down by warm beer.
Our first early morning walk featured mud and many legged creatures. We snacked on live lemon ants, trudged in the sludge (losing various wellies on the way), spotted squirrel monkeys, capuchins, titi monkeys, toucans and macaws, but without question the star of the show was Squiggley the millipede. He was about 12cm long, by 2cm wide (excl limbs!), with an ‘armoured’ back, and uncountable sets of quadruple legs. He was initially the cause of much squealing (to be fair he was a bit ‘tickly’ and had a penchant for finding his way up sleeves). Suffice to say that he quickly became such a hit that he came back and joined us for breakfast and the 4 kids had to be entreated to release the poor insect back to the wild after he had sat through empanadas and scrambled eggs!
After a pack and a wash, we left the relative security of Nicky lodge for a 4-day private camping trip. Our wonderful entourage included Theodoro the boat driver (skilled and warm hearted), Yasmana the ‘helper’ (short-legged and good humoured purveyor of radioactive bubble gum lollipops), Rita the cook (surefooted and masterful with a yucca root), and Jefferson our non-local guide (newly ‘qualified’, and sufficiently proficient at translating what the others nudged him to say!).
We stopped on the way to our first camping spot to swim in a lagoon. For the second time that say much screeching ensued about the prospective proximity of various piranhas and other life-endangering water-life. My own heebie-jeebies subsided marginally when I established from Jefferson that anacondas are not ‘water-going’ and the 4m black caymans tend to hang out in the forest during the day. Apparently the rule-of-thumb is that if the pink freshwater dolphins are around, then its safe to swim. We saw sufficient fins and bottle-noses to take the plunge, and it was high-adrenalin, but refreshing.
Our first campsite was a lovely island with lush grass and a welcoming shelter. We spent a happy few hours putting up tents, locating night-time essentials, and painting our faces with the red ink from a spiky seedpod that Jefferson (or was it Yasmana….) identified. Theodoro later dropped us at a 93 step viewing tower where we watched pairs of macaws flying to their night-time roost, and a gentle sunset. A fairly hairy night walk was next on the days’ adventure, and Em has ‘baggsied’ that as the topic for her own blog post – coming soon!
The big mission was to reach and pass the Peruvian border, so our days involved a lot of time on the canoe. Mostly that was a chilled affair, taking in the green details of all the trees and foliage around us, spotting wildlife, reading books and making friendship bracelets. James even got some wood and did some whittling with the girls (we nowhave a rather dubious butter knife to add to our lean travel kit!). But, apparently it also rains in the rainforest – duh!!! And when the rain came it was the kind that drenches you before you even get the chance to zip up your back pack, and pull the packaway hood out of your dodgy mac. We hunkered down in pairs using mildewed life vests for insulation (and yes, if you look closely at the picture you I AM wearing a binbag!). It usually only lasted for 30 – 40 minutes, but it was the uncertainty of the duration which was probably the toughest feature of each downpour. The girls were amazing. We never even got a whimper out of them, rather beaming smiles when the sun re-appeared (along with a radioactive bubble gum lollipop from Jasmana).
On night two, just on the Ecuador/Peruvian border our ‘best laid plan’ had to be put aside as the planned campsite was flooded. After a lot chat and chin-tugging, we were eventually offered by the local Ecuadorian border military to camp on one of their plots. On first sight James and I had a bit of a panic. Said site seemed to be a sandfly infested swamp with a half-built building on it. The half built building was jammed with golden silk spiders (amazing creatures but not ones you’d care to share your bed with), and the only way to get up to it was balance your way up a rather unsteady plank to the 10 foot platform. As we adults floundered with the prospect of this habitation option, Bella basically kicked us into play and pulled out her growth mindset. In fact she was absolutely right. The location was spectacular. It was at the intersection of 2 rivers, with Peru one side, and Ecuador the other. The platform we slept on was dry and afforded incredible views of the river and jungle, and we all found different ways to pee off the side of it (so as to avoid tight-rope walking down the slippery plank to pee in the swamp).
Our last night will stick in my memory forever. We fought our way down an increasingly narrow and overgrown tributary to get to Lake Zancudo Cocha. As we burst out of the undergrowth this view of a HUGE lake, surrounded by uninterrupted forrest, and one small camping hut the far side (which is where we got to spend the night) blew our minds. We spent hours swimming in the lake, and canoeing around the border finding wildlife and (after dark), caymans. Rita cooked up a feast (including poached tree tomatoes for pudding!), and we shared a bottle of rum and a bar of chocolate with the crew which made for very jolly times and lots of impassioned toasts to each other in fumbling Spanish.
‘Getting out’ gave us some fun for a final fling. Bella and I hiked the first few hours, following our local guide Bolivar who machetied his way through creepers and branches to create a path. It was a proper sweat fest, but felt really unique and special vs following regular paths. Emily and James took the boat, and had a snake encounter at the side of the lake. It was a colourful chap, swimming proudly at >2M long. Thank goodness they only found it on the last day, and it never found us!
JUNGLE HIGHS AND LOWS
HIGHLIGHTS: mind-blowing daily sunsets, all the incredible wildlife, baby caymans, when Bella entreated us all to ‘be positive’ (about the prospect of camping in the sandfly infested swamp), when Emily did her countdown to diving off the boat (which involved a lot of funky dance moves), going to sleep to the sounds of the jungle, coming round the corner to see the huge lake and our final camping spot.
LOW MOMENTS: when I had to swap tents with Emily, only to discover that the kids tent was about a foot shorter than ours (that was a BAD night), when one of my wellies sprung a leak, sand flies, mosquitoes, and when we found out that anacondas actually DO swim!