Overnight bus ride: 10 hours
Wait in scary border town: 2 hours
Jeep down jungle roads: 3 hours
Dugout canoe through twisting river: 4 hours
Seeing the Amazon jungle: a lifetime
Ahh the jungle. What can be said? Well I'll start with this.
Set back in the northeast corner of Ecuador is the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, a huge section of remote Amazon land jungle surrounding a large flooded lagoon. I learned of this place when an extremely enthusiastic and friendly man named Luis promised me atleast two species of monkies, six of butterflies, and countless flowers if I toured with him. After spending the afternoon touring the countless Quito travel agencies, his excitement is infectious. Thus I drop $160USD into the bucket and boarded an all-night bus ride to the seedy town of Lago Agrio, dangerously close to the Colombian border. There we (the other adventurer's and I) are taken under the wing of Sonia, our beautiful jungle guide. After a long breakfast we mount our jeeps for a long drive, followed by an even longer drive by boat to a remote lodge in the Amazon jungle.
Our camp, which we enter by an unobtrustive half-submerged staircase, is a set of thatched-roof platforms held off the grassy floor. With this jungle oasis as a base, we head out by land and water on day and night adventures in the ceaseless fauna song. Between these excursions we are treated to gourmet meals that are, in a word, excellent. Being a big fan of good food, let me take a moment to expound on this point.
Three times a day we are treated to dining experiences that in taste, presentation, and service are excellent in all respects. The table has clean linen and fine porceline dinnerware and folded cloth napkins, is set with the correct silver (ie, dessert spoon over the plate when necessary), and is well lit by white candles at night. And the food, well, is amazing. Each meal offers a different assortment of meats, vegetables, pastas, soups, juices, and desserts (with special care taken for the vegetarians in the ranks). The dishes are delivered and retrieved with impeccable service. In short, I've had worse service in first-class restaurants all throughout the states. And the master chefs and waiters behind this world-class jungle estate? Two fifteen-year-old indiginous boys that picked up cooking by trial and error. Incredible.
Second to the food, the best part of the journey is undoubtedly the boat rides. Our native driver steers the boat at breakneck speeds or lazy paces depending on what we want to see or do, but never seems phased by changes in weather, lighting, or half-submerged debris. Not an hour into the jungle we encounter our first group of monkeys, a small (only fifty or so) family of squirrel monkeys feeding on berries in the trees above. Later, we encounter a much larger family, in addition to Saqis, Black Mantle Tamarins, White-Fronted Capuchins, and even a howler monkey. In addition to monkeys we find large dragonflies, larger butterflies, and a wide assortment of even larger birds, including a small family of Tucans far away in a tall tree. In the water we find a baby pink river dolphin, one of the rare freshwater dolphins of the world. And it goes without saying that the jungle has limitless varieties of flowers, trees, vines, and plants galore.
Outside of the water we went on hikes through the thick brush, and were introduced close-up to some of the plants the jungle has in store. From pinecomb-like seeds that monkeys use to comb their hair to the stout "ironwood" branches that are used for purposes too risque to recount here, the jungle supplies everything to its inhabitants. At the end of one trek we wandered about a native village and learned how the modern day is affecting these ancient civilizations.
Finally, after three nights and four days in the jungle, we were carried out of the remote land on a single truck piled high with bags and people, front and back. From there we split apart to continue our journies, by bus or by air, though never forgetting the sights and sounds of the jungle canopy left behind.