Back to the Jungle

About three weeks ago, we started out on what has been a wonderful few weeks of wildlife watching. After two days of shopping around among the many tour companies in Quito (and making definite progress towards securing a boat trip in the Galapagos islands), we boarded a night bus to Lago Agrio near the border with south-east Columbia, and then continued for three hours by bus and two by boat to finally reach Samona Lodge in the Cuyabeno Reserve.

Yellow-knee Tarantula on the Dinner Table

Samona Lodge is the real deal, it´s definitely not a place to go if you´re shy of snakes or spiders or any kind of creepy crawlies. We spent four wonderful days there and both agreed that it beat our previous jungle trip back in Borneo by a mile. By the end of the first day we had already seen much much more than we had anticipated – gangs of squirrel monkeys crossing the river jumping from tree to tree, a huge Anaconda about 6 meters long, sloths sleeping on branches along the river bank, huge vultures and loads of other birds.

Curious Anaconda

Over the next three days it just got better. Naiser, our guide, was an exceptional spotter and although our trip was pretty short (really just three full days), it was completely action-packed, jammed full of wildlife viewing and adventure. It has definitely been one of the best things we´ve done in our six months away.

Huge Tree, Cuyabena Samona Lodge

The jungle is just a wonderland of green. There is so much vegetation – you look at some trees and they appear to have about twenty different plant species growing on them. It must be a botanist´s paradise, as well as a heaven for wildlife geeks (which we have temporarily become in the last few weeks).

Travelling by Motorised Canoe Villager making Flatbread from Yuca

Shaman Paddling in Cuyabeno Reserve

Each day there was a different programme which included: motorised boat trips on the river (day and night); day and night-time jungle walks; a local village visit where we helped make and eat some delicious yuca flatbread; a visit to the local shamen who performed a cleansing ritual on us; boat trips to a nearby lake where we watched the sunset and fished (unsuccessfully!) for piranhas; paddling on the river in a cozy (i.e. tiny) dug-out canoe; and walks around the lodge after dinner at night. Its hard to describe it all in detail as we did so much and really loved it all, but there were a few particular moments that stood out.

Shaman Shaman Shaman


The Anacondas were just amazing. So bloody huge! We saw them three or four times in various positions and they never ceased to impress us. I have a fondness for snakes, I´ve discovered, but even the anacondas were outdone by a tree boa who practically performed for us one night from where he was resting on a tree in the camp. He wasn´t that huge; just about a meter and a half long and quite skinny, but it was like there was a snake charmer at work- he was just a joy to watch as he coiled his body upwards and reached out to us with his tongue first, trying to get a feel for what kind of creatures we were. We saw a similar tree boa coming back from our next night trip on the river, but this one was less interested in us than he was in the bird´s nest he was twisting his body around, no doubt with murder in mind.

Anaconda at Rest Anaconda Arse

Tree Boa Raiding a Birds Nest Tree Boa in Samona Camp

Then there was Eddie´s favorite, the tarantulas. On our first night walk we saw a baby one, which naturally we were all very impressed with until a few minutes later when our guide spotted a huge mama about three times the size of the first one. She was pretty impressive I must say and we all took photos of her next to an average sized camera to give an idea of scale. The next tarantula we saw was on the dinner table; he very obligingly posed for photos and then managed to scramble over almost all the cutlery on the table before one of the staff lifted him off to let us eat our dinner in peace. At another meal we were greeted to the sight of a wolf spider on the ketchup bottle. Huge spiders on the dinner table almost became the norm.

Tarantula resting in bedroom roof-slats. Big Tarantula

One of the best activities was not one listed on our itinerary, but was probably one of the most impressive, because it was right there on our doorstep! On the second night, after dinner and our usual discussion about what we had seen that day, Naiser took us on a walk around the camp. The place was crawling with life! This was the night we found the boa constrictor on a tree (on a branch hanging above the walkway down to the boat), but before that we had already spotted numerous tarantulas, some of whom lived in the thatched roofs of the bedrooms. We also spotted a christmas tree frog on a plant in the middle of the camp, the red eyes of caymen lurking out from under our bedroom (the camp is on stilts above a swamp) and loads more weird and wonderful insects. The entire camp was so full of wildlife, we almost didn´t need to leave it!

Christmas Tree Frog Tree Frog

At times it felt like we were the only people out there; although there are other lodges nearby, we only passed other boats once or twice a day. The first night we returned from our night walk in our motorised boat; it was pitch black (except for the light from Naiser´s torch searching the river bank for movements) and just as we left the Laguna Grande, the skies opened. We felt like national geographic explorers, zipping home in our canoe with torrential rain pelting down, the sounds of the jungle night air all around us and the rain water pouring down the backs of our ponchos. What adventure!!!

Our last night came sooner than we would have liked. We went back down to Laguna Grande to see if the Anacondas were still around (one of them was) and then we watched a really spectacular sunset. It looked like the sky was on fire, the photos look almost fake. After darkness fell, it was the clearest of nights and the stars were just amazing.

Amazonian Sunset

Everything about Samona Lodge was exceptional. The food was excellent and there was plenty of it (they were also very accommodating regarding vegetarians and food allergies). Our guide, Naiser, was brilliant, he was an exceptional spotter and seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the flora and wildlife. He was like a cross between Rambo and George Clooney (well I thought so anyway). The lodge can accommodate loads of people, but it was very quiet when we were there, there were only five of us in our group which was great. The accommodation was fine, quite good I thought considering where it was. Each room has it own bathroom (cold water only) and mosquito nets over the beds. These are very necessary as there are lots of cockroaches and other crawling uninvited guests, so that net was well tucked in each night (by the light of our candles and head torch). We booked through Happy Gringo in Quito and paid $200 each (incl. the $20 entrance fee) plus optional tips.

After dinner each night, Naiser sat down with the group and pointed out everything we had seen that day in a picture book which lists all the local wildlife. Because of this we were able to note almost everything we saw and so for the record here´s what it included: two Anacondas; a few fresh-water pink dolphins; numerous tarantulas and a few other spiders; a few types of crickets and katydids; numerous species of ants (including the fascinating leaf-carrying ants and painful fire ants); piranhas (only Naiser caught one though); a few poisonous types of frogs, other harmless frogs, toads, bats, geckos, two tree boas, a freshwater turtle, the smallest monkey in the world (I don´t know it’s name), a huge earthworm, a freshwater stingray and a couple of caiman (which are like alligators). And just in case there´s any twitchers among you, here´s a list of all the birds I managed to note down: a spectacled owl, lots of stinky turkeys, parakeets, macaws, kites, swallows, terns, kingfishers, coromants, fruitcraws, woodpeckers and a few different types of tucans, parrots and tanagers.

Smallest Monkey in the World! Very Large Cricket

(Big!) Pants Moth Table Spider!

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One Response to “Back to the Jungle”

  1. Benjy Says:

    Riona and Edward
    Glad to see you back.The mainland probally seems boring to you in comparison to what you have seen in recent days.No doubt you are delighted that you decided to travel to theGalapagos.Your reports on the islands are very descriptive,not forgetting the fabulous photos.It is amazing what a Kodak Instamatic is capable off!Everyone here gradually getting into the swing of things for Christmas,with hoardes croosing daily to Newry for a combination of food ,drink and presents.The pork issue is on the mend ,with pork back in the shops.Could have been much more serious if the cattle industry had taken a more serious’hit’.Weather is fine ,with the usual rain on a daily basis.Nanny improving daily.Thats it for now.Looking forward to seeing you on the 23rd December.
    Love to both of you .

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