Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Jungle time ... from Macas to Yasuni National Park, the most biologically diverse spot on Earth!

Sangay.
We'd been to or through Macas a couple of times over the years, and this time we would pass through on our way to a  remote part of Ecuador's Amazon basin, to see Alex's Uncle Jorge. It's also known as the "Emerald of the East", due to its location just east of the Andes mountains.  Few tourists actually make it to the town with so few tourist trappings, but it's raw, it's real and it's worth a look-see. We ate some decent food and went on some lovely walks with Jorje, from where we could see the perfect snow-covered cone of Volcan Sangay (5230 metres).  It's Ecuador's seventh' highest mountain and one of the world's most active.  It can be glimpsed on a clear day ... we saw it in all of its glory.  Lady Luck was on our side!

Catching up with Eduardo.
It was lovely to relax, eat, catch up with Jorge, go for casual walks, observe the people and the way they lived.  Sometimes it's not just about seeing and doing but about absorbing and letting things 'just happen' ... it's then that the magic really begins.  Like when we went for a walk along the river and ended up being invited into a Swiss lady's house for coffee and cake!  She heard my accent, assumed that I was a foreigner (on the mark there) and invited us in.


The port in Coca.

After recharging our batteries, and saying our farewells to Jorge (we would see him again in Quito as it's where his family lives), we made our way to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, or simply Coca, as it's known in Ecuador. Located in the Amazon Rainforest at the confluence of the Coca and Napo rivers, Coca really is a rather charmless city. In the 1990s, the town was transformed by the oil industry from a tiny river settlement with dirt roads into a hot, teeming mass of concrete!  Need I say more! Having said that, it really is unavoidable if you want to engage in some of Ecuador's most fascinating jungle tours, namely Yasuni National Park, arguably the most biologically diverse spot on earth!

Napo River, Coca.
First things first, we looked for a place to stay and after inspecting several places ended up at Hostal Santa Maria in the centre; basic, clean and friendly it would do us until we found a way to do Yasuni independently! And so our adventure to try and find the Holy Grail would begin! Seriously, I never thought that it would be so difficult!  The tourist information in town was shocking, in fact it was so bad that we went to the tourism directive to complain! All we wanted to do was a tour that was not upscale and was not going to cost us hundreds of dollars a day.  So we asked around ... Frank recommended we speak to Bob ... Bob to George ... George to Frank, and voila, there we were full circle and none the wiser!

More gorgeous views along the Napo River.

Alex the Birdman.
Persistence pays off they say? Yes it does!  We certainly did not come to Coca to turn around and leave! Finally, someone at Hotel El Auca (Coca's most 'upscale' hotel) gave us some decent information and what seemed like a reasonable contact. In no time at all, we were visiting Patricio Juanka of Amazon Travel, right near the waterfront.  Honest, friendly, down-to-earth, he told us what our options were.  We wanted remote, seriously remote!  We did not come here to throng with the masses, and so it would be ... the next morning we would take off for what would end up being one of the most exhilarating, mind-blowingly beautiful experiences of my life!  Let the long-awaited Yasuni journey begin!



Local life along the Napo River.

I will try my best to describe our next five
days, five of the best days of my life! The first day was mostly spent on a slow boat, which took around ten hours on the Napo River and which would take us to the Ecuadorian/ Peruvian border town of Nuevo Rocafuerte.  The ride was long, but it was amazing to take it all in.Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Ecuadorian government said that Yasuni would never be touched, we saw plenty of evidence to contradict this.  Drilling for petrol is alive and kicking! This is possibly one of the most off-the-beaten-track adventures I have ever been on ... ten hours by boat to reach the depths of the Amazon is no mean feat!  We were met by our guide Roni Cox (I know, a nice, easy Ecuadorian name!) who took us to our accommodation, Hotel Chimborazo, for the night.  He told us where we would be having dinner and breakfast, and added that we should be ready at 8.00am the next morning, when the 'real' Yasuni adventure would begin.

Watching the world go by, Napo River.

Oropendola, Nuevo Rocafuerte.
I rather liked Nuevo Rocafuerte, it had that 'where no man dares go' kinda feel! The freaks were back! We walked around the tiny town, just observing and taking it all in. Dinner was fine, the usual suspects of rice, beans and patacones prevailed.  We met a Brazilian guy whose aim was to travel around South America for free.  You meet all sorts!  Time to go to bed.


And so, the adventure would begin.  We got up nice and early; after a night of alluvial downpour (hey it's a rainforest after all!) we were off.  The next two days were exhilarating, and we camped in tents on both nights.  We saw pink dolphins, giant otters, oropendolas (birds native to the area) and a range of other birds as well, went on mind-blowing hikes, saw mystical lagoons, and took in the breathtaking beauty of an area which is virtually untouched by man. So few make it here, but the hard work was paying off ... we had the jungle to ourselves!
It's a nutria (giant otter).

With Roni, getting ready for one of our many hikes.
Roni was an awesome guide.  I even helped him cook some vegetarian food, which he quite enjoyed.  On our first day we were also accompanied by Eriks, a Latvian guy, who was doing a shorter version of our tour. A lovely guy who invited us to visit in Latvia ... quite possible with us! I could go on to describe this paradise, but for once in my life (and it doesn't happen often!) I will let the cascade of photos do the talking. These days provided us with one magic moment after another.

Monkeying around!
It all happened too quickly, and before we knew it, we were back in Nuevo Rocafuerte. Roni, you were the bomb! You made this one of the best experiences of our lives! Absolutely unforgettable and a world highlight. We would spend another night in 'town' before embarking on the long ride back to Coca the next morning. As we were travelling upriver this time, the ride would take almost 14 hours. Relax and reflection time!

Went out one night in a small boat looking for caymans.

We finally made it back!  The next day, we would also see another smaller, and much more touristy area of the park (only ten minutes away by boat) for a couple of hours, complete with the guide dressed up as a Shuar.  Nice, but only just that, after what we had just seen and experienced.

Amazon plant life.

Amazonian bird life.
Indeed all good things must come to an end. The footprint of this experience will forever be stamped onto my heart and soul. Another mission accomplished!

Ombi












Not a stick insect, but a leaf one!

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where 
there is no path and leave a trail." – Ralph Waldo Emerson









Next:
 
Alausi and the infamous Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) train ride. Would we in finally get to ride that train?  This was going to be my fourth attempt since 1999!

Huayruro seeds, also used in jewellery.





The Ecuadorian Amazon ... full of breathtaking views.

Street art, Macas.
Amazonian beetle.



Cruising the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Centipede.






Cruising one of the many tributaries of the river around Yasuni. 
A furry friend of a different kind.
Chillin'!



On the boat to Nuevo Rocafuerte.



Postcard views abound.

With Juanka on our return. Tired but elated!


On our way back from Yasuni, near Coca.

On the long ride back from Nuevo Rocafuerte to Coca.


Napo River ferry.
Camping ... part of the Yasuni experience.
Roni takes us around to some amazingly pristine places.
The amazing energy of a tree with a million stories.






An interesting looking tree, hey!?
Amazonian fungi (one of many sorts).
The elusive Amazonian Pink Dolphin.
A butterfly gears up for take-off.
Oropendola.
Add caption
Yasuni ... mystical, magical, breathtaking!
Sunset around Yasuni.
Yasuni plant life.
I finally succumbed to botox.






WOW sums this one up!


Napo Valley express.
It's a Bug's Life.
Taking it all in.
Going through the thick of it ... Yasuni.
This trip was simply a series of postcard picture moments.