First, a pit stop, with an excellent market and great craft beer. And then, the rainforest, again, complete with funny looking insects and rain, loads of rain.
Bang in the middle
And so, after visiting friendly animals and walking near a volcano we finally arrived to the capital, Quito. I don’t like big cities, at least as a tourist. They always manage to concentrate the most dodgy taxi drivers. Quito, however, felt different.
Why? Perhaps it was because we could walk anywhere, with that feeling of being in a small village rather than a huge city. Or maybe because on every corner there would be a small bakery with delicious pastries which reminded us of those we used to have as kids back in Spain. And then, the street snacks, greasy, unhealthy and tasty, very tasty.
We even had time to travel to the outskirts and visit the strange “Half of the world museum”, which sits precisely on the equator. Oddly enough, part of the museum was dedicated to some of the indigenous tribes of Ecuador. Nothing wrong with them, but why are they on display on a museum about geography?
A table for two in… Quito
Ok, so this section may not be as colourful or special as those I wrote when we were on the other side of the Pacific. Still, our visit to Quito’s Central Market was a memorable one. Neatly lined up vendors with fruits on one side and vegetables on the other, anticipated something good.
A loud food court on the top floor welcomed us with a variety of local dishes. We quickly set our set our sights on the last stall. Corvina – white fish -, ceviche, popcorns – yes, popcorns – and freshly made juice. Needless to say we came back next day.
Fancy a drink after the afternoon stroll? Quito’s craft beer scene may not be quite up to that of Wellington but it is not bad either. Not bad at all. From hostels offering nothing but their own brews to pubs turned into small breweries with a good selection of beers, from stouts, to honey lagers and IPA – the latter being our favourite of the lot.
We rested in the capital longer than anticipated, as our bodies needed a couple of days off after the Quilotoa Loop. And then: intense heat, heavy rains, no electricity, big insects and even pink dolphins. The jungle was waiting for us.
A very long day
Another night bus – with the usual suspects: three movies, stupidly strong A/C and bumpy roads -, a surprisingly more comfortable four hour bus through the outer jungle and finally a pretty uneventful two hour long boat ride on a familiar setting.
A brownish coloured river, a scorching sun in between threatening clouds, lush vegetation and a plethora of different sounds. We were back in the rainforest.
Our lodge was set in the lower part of the Aguarico River, deep in the Cuyabeno Reserve. Before entering the protected area, we passed by a few palm oil plantations and oil drilling fields. Our driver told us that, as a kid, he used to drink the water from the numerous streams but not anymore. Where there is oil, there is pollution. At least and unlike what we saw in Malaysia, protected areas have been created and respected. For now.
As darkness fell in, we noticed two big eyes staring at us from the waters. “That will be Pancho, the resident cayman” – one of the handymen shouted. Fair enough – we thought – for in the jungle, sunset does not mark the end of the day but rather, the most exciting part of it – the night.
A night walk to dream about
What could be hidden behind that leaf, inside that whole or up in that branch? Like a treasure hunt, night walks in the rainforest reward the patient explorer with the most unlikely congregation of animals. A grasshopper and a stick insect together. Friends or foes?
Spiders seemed to thrive in the Cuyabeno. Some had the usual shape, although with bodies much bigger than your usual domestic spider.
Others would boast funny – perhaps scary – front legs.
And there are some, whose weird shape and bright colours defy all previous ideas you may have about what spiders really look like.
But spiders don’t pose the biggest threat here. One of the most powerful stings of the rainforest suddenly appeared on top of a leave. Luckily, this bullet ant did not consider us worthy enemies and just passed by and went about its business.
On our last night walk, life in the rainforest decided to hide a little bit more. But we were armed with sharp eyes and little torches and unlike the rest of our group, we didn’t mind the rain a tiny bit. The two of us together spotted fireflies, a tiny scorpion, plenty of frogs, weird looking crickets and loads of stick insects. And just as we were about to head back, a beautiful tarantula came by to say farewell.
Days in the jungle
Over the four days we spent in the Cuyabeno Reserve, we saw pink dolphins and toucans and macaws and all sorts of monkeys. Unfortunately, they were too far out or too quick for us to really appreciate them, let alone take a picture, no matter how ready we were.
The good thing is, to the keen eye and the lover of the small things, the jungle is full of surprises. One has but to look around slowly and life will appear in the most unexpected places. Like this little toad.
(Hint #1: it is brown)
(Hint #2: it is near the pic’s centre point)
Something we did not know about cacao
We all love chocolate and we all know that chocolate comes from the beans of the cacao fruit, right? What we did not know is that, inside the cacao fruit those beans are covered in a delicious white pulp similar to that of the mangosteen, making cacao the best fruit ever.
The visit to the local farm came with another surprise, yuca. Used in this part of the world in pretty much every single meal, they showed us how to make yuca bread in the traditional way, without salt, or yeast or anything else.
Afterwards, we came back to camp, pack our stuff, said goodbye to our guides and boarded the little boat, ready to start our long journey back to Quito.
A bittersweet and rather wet farewell
And then it rained. But this time it was like nothing we had seen before. The two hour boat journey turn into three. Our next bus ride got delayed due to landslides. And finally the overnight bus to Quito turned into a detour throughout half of the country – we even had to chip in to cover the cost of extra fuel – as the rain had rendered the main road out of the Cuyabeno Reserve unusable.
We left the jungle with a weird feeling. It had been awesome being once again surrounded by so many creatures. But we failed to see Anacondas or Red Macaws (close enough to tell the colours anyway), one of the main reasons for us to be here. That’s the story with the jungle. There is always more to see, more species to be found. There is always unfinished business. And that is a good problem to have if you ask me.
One last border. One last country. One last currency exchange to learn. And plenty more colours.