Posts Tagged ‘Amazonia’

While in San Miguel de Allende, we were joined for breakfast by a woman with a harrowing tale of a spider the size of her fist that took a chunk out of her traveling companion one evening, causing pain and paralysis of the arm. The location of the incident was exactly where I was heading in a few weeks:  two and half hours by motorized canoe down the Napo River into the rainforest, plus a half hour hike over land, followed by another thirty minutes by canoe to a private lagoon.  As she delivered her story,  beads of sweat broke out on my forehead, my stomach churned and my palms began to grow moist. I have a somewhat irrational fear of all insects, but I fear spiders most of all. Rodents and snakes are tolerable in comparison. 

“What are you doing in the jungle”, muttered our naturalist guide as we made our way up the dock to the rustic La Selva Lodge, “if you don’t like bugs?”   Good question. As the trip to the Galapagos had mostly been about birds, this trip up a tributary of the Amazon was mostly about bugs. Primarily because there are so darn many of them, and unlike other creatures of the rainforest, they are relatively easy to find. 

We had motored quickly up the broad flat brown Napo River, slowing only to avoid the wake of the barges laded with equipment for the oil companies. The jungle was visible on both sides, but the forest was virtually impenetrable to our sight. The guide forewarned us that the jungle was not like the Galapagos where animals were at best, welcoming (frolicking sea lions) and at worst, indifferent to your presence (everything else). 

There was a Disney quality to the Galapagos:  as we mingled with the animals we speculated on the existence of some master  mechanic behind the curtain, orchestrating the display for our benefit:  “Ok cue the cute sea lion pups to start crying for their mommy:  Now move the miniature penguins into position, and begin to waddle by”. The animals on the Galapagos benefit from an abundance of food, and a lack of natural predators, which explains their easy co-habitation with all creatures, including camera wielding tourists. 

As I wrote earlier, Galapagos animals of all species were preoccupied with procreation and almost all of their behaviour was driven by that impulse.  In the jungle, everything is driven by survival. Even the plants compete for life in the so called “green desert”.  The layer of productive soil is only a foot or so deep; beneath that it is  dense hard packed clay. Huge trees grow massive buttresses of roots about ground to support their climb to the canopy.  Roots come down from plants high above you to seek nutrients on the ground and in the air. All manner of plants have developed defense mechanisms like poisonous bark or vicious thorns to protect themselves from animals. Native parents threaten misbehaving children with a lashing by branches from the poison ivy tree. Yes, I said tree, and it was big. 

Most wildlife remains safely hidden from view:  even our guide had only seen one of the five major cats that live in the jungle.  During our daily nature walks (which started at 6 am!) we learned about what the animals liked to eat and where they might be found, but we seldom saw any.  Spider monkeys swung through the trees in troops of 30 to 100 every night, seeking a safe place to sleep, but we got within close sight just once. Other than that, you were grateful for binoculars.  Yes, we did see a wonderful flock of parrots at a “parrot lick”, but only after waiting for two hours in a blind for the parrots to assure themselves that the area was safe enough to venture forth. While observing hundreds of small parrots at another mineral pool, we were suddenly startled by an explosion of brilliant blue, red and green wings rushing out at us like bats from a cave when a single black bird of prey swooped into the area. Survival instinct drives all. 

As we stood high above the jungle canopy one misty morning, looking for the early rising birds, I noted that the jungle was as curiously dark and impenetrable from above as it was dark and impenetrable from below. The jungle seems to have infinite number of shades of green and black:  as the guide noted, if something is brightly coloured, the odds are good it’s poisonous.   It is a gloomy, moist, dangerous and unknowable place, at least by us. 

I admit that as interesting as the guide made it, I  always breathed a sigh of relief when the morning hike or canoe  was  over. One night I decided to brave the darkness and join the evening hike with a smaller group looking for the bigger insects that are nocturnal feeders. We saw tarantulas the size of my outstretched hand, whip scorpion spiders that were a good  foot across, and massive webs built by brown spiders with a curious white skull on their back, that wove their traps every night starting at six pm, and then rewound the silk into their abdomen every morning. I walked warily right down the middle of the muddy trail, hands by my side, careful to touch nothing or be touched.  One of my companions noted that to get lost in here at night was likely to be lost forever, and I heartily agreed. 

So why visit the jungle at all? Well, as the lovely lady from Alberta with the fear of heights said, as she climbed to the top of the scaffolding, high above the canopy, “if she (meaning me) can do spiders at night, then I can do this”.  Spiders, like almost all creatures in the jungle are hidden because they are rightfully fearful, and would sooner scuttle away than engage a creature as large as a human. Still, I tucked in the mosquito netting around my bed with extra care every night, especially since my bamboo casita had  large gaps in the floor, walls and ceiling, anywhere from one inch to five inches.  I may have overcome my fear of spiders through exposure, but I was certainly not going to issue an invitation! 

After four nights in the jungle in my drafty accommodation, listening to monkeys, frogs and cicadas all night long, I checked myself into a suite at Le Mirage, Ecuador’s finest spa and a member of the prestigious Relais &Chateaux group. I rationalize that what I save in fine dining and wine expenses while traveling alone, I can spend on spa treatments!  

My biggest danger here is getting bit by one of the gorgeous peacocks that stroll the manicured grounds and they are too proud to acknowledge my presence. Iridescent hummingbirds flit around the famous Ecuadorian roses as I enjoy my café in the breakfast room by the fire. My suite is enormous, with a regal four poster bed, a charming round alcove where I can lounge and enjoy the view of my private gardens beyond, and a wood burning fire that is lit every night at my request. (In fact, it was just lit)  It’s a long way from the bamboo hut, and its multi-legged residents in the rafters, and for that I am extraordinarily grateful. It’s the contrast in things that makes travel interesting, at least for me, and certainly, in Ecuador.

p.s. A helpful jungle hint given to us on our last night during the nocturnal canoe ride:  you can tell that a snake is poisonous in the following ways:   if they have a tail, a triangular shaped head, or if they are aggressive and attack you, they are likely poisonous. Of course, by that time, it’s likely too late!

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