Saturday 27 January 2024

Paddling our way through the black waters of the jungle

I don't really know how to start this post apart from saying...the Amazon is AMAZING! And I am so glad I survived it! :)

We spent 5 days deep in the midst of the diverse Ecuadorian part of the Amazon rainforest at the amazing Aguas Negras River Lodge which is accessible only by river. No roads in the Amazon! To get to our lodge we had to travel along the Aguarico river, a wide fast flowing river lined with lush and varied trees unlike anything we had seen before. After about 3 hours, we turned into the Cuyabeno river and an unexpected and peculiar surprise met our eyes. As soon as the motor canoe turned its nose up the Cuyabeno river, the chocolate-brown water of the wide and rapid flowing Aguarico river suddenly turned into black-coffee water of the slowly flowing Cuyabeno river. It was so sudden and so obvious that we were almost in shock. For the next 5 days, it would be just us canoeing through the black waters of the river - no other tourists. And it was great!

Canoeing down the river was supposed to be, according to Dan, 'easy paddling' but then again 'easy paddling' in the Amazon wasn't always so easy. We frequently had to cut fallen branches with a machete or duck under them. It was a bit 'extreme' but such good fun.

Of course, though some of us were paddling hard, others were just sitting back and relaxing! Hmmm...

And sometimes we all got wet - well this is the rain forest!

I could never attempt to tell you about every single animal we met (most of them spotted by our wonderful host, guide and companion Fabian) so I'm just going to pick out the highlights of our trip. 

Let's start with the mammals. Before we started the trip, there were two main animals that I really wanted to see: monkeys, and the endemic Amazonian pink river dolphin.

My first wish was granted immediately as soon as we turned up the Cuyabeno river: a dolphin was bobbing around leading us in a dance up the river until it handed our welcome party onto the fishing bats who fluttered around us like guardians protecting us from the evil piranhas of the deep! Later on, further up the river ,we saw three more pink river dolphins, two adults and one baby, swimming together against the current. Did you know the only animal in the Amazon without a predator is the pink river dolphin mainly due to their size and intelligence.  

Across the five days, we also saw four types of monkeys: the squirrel monkey, the white-fronted capuchin, the red-howler monkey and the night monkey! Of these four types, we only saw the red-howler monkey twice, although it really looked more orange. The most memorable time was when we went out in the boat early in the morning and saw two of them curled up in a ball sleeping together on a branch. To be honest, I got a bit annoyed because I had to get up really early while they got to sleep in late 😠 

On our night boat ride, we got to see the monkey I wanted to see the most...the night monkey. We were about to turn the boat back and head for the lodge, when our guide spotted two large round eyes in the light of the torches, and as we drew nearer, we could see the bodies and tails of the two night monkeys swinging in the darkness. I didn't take my eyes of them swinging in the shadowy trees around our boat! It was an amazing experience and one that I'll never forget!

Along with the monkeys and the dolphins, we also spotted the giant otter, the coati, and a new one for our list, the opossum, which we saw on a night walk. Check out the picture Dan took. Smile!

As for the birds, well...they are even more impossible to tell you about. We actually counted 56 different species of birds so I am forced to pick out fewer birds to talk about in this post. Three were my absolute favourites: the osprey which was soaring around over our heads; the white-throated toucan, and a whole collection of parrots and parrakeets that we saw in the early morning. I guess I'll start by telling you about them first.

We set off early in the morning to a clay lick where the birds often gather early to eat the mineral-rich clay. For a long time, the parrots were up the trees and not coming down, and we were about to leave when Dan luckily spotted one parrot nibbling at the clay at the bottom of the tree. Soon all the birds that had been in the trees were hoping down to have their breakfast. We reckon there were over 50 or 60 birds enjoying the clay breakfast. As I trained my binoculars on the gathering of the birds, the greens colours I spotted initially became dotted with whites and oranges and colours were flashing in front of our eyes everywhere! And then funny things would happen. For example, at one point, a large parrot tried to land in the middle of the group resulting in scaring all the other birds which in turn scared him and he then flew off with them! What a silly parrot🤣🤣

As for the osprey, well this large majestic bird was never got caught in the ray of the camera as it was always flying high (like a fishing eagle). Get it Guppy?

And now Ioanna's favourite bird: the white-throated toucan. We mainly spotted the toucan sitting in the trees proudly showing off his chest or flying over the lush forest! It was very beautiful.

And finally, I'll tell you a bit about the insects, reptiles and swimming creatures we saw! You ask why I say swimming creatures?  This is because we also saw a sting ray! We were paddling down the river in canoes when I saw a dark shape underwater whisking around underneath our canoes for a while. It was about 60 cm long but I think with its tail it must have been close to a meter. Awesome!

Of course, I need to mention about the tarantulas we spotted. On the night walk, we saw several pink footed tarantulas in the trees but failed to lure out the huge black tarantula from its hole in the ground.

But we also went fishing which wasn't as easy as it sounds.  The piranhas were witty and clever and always nibbling the edges of the meat off our hooks so it was very hard to catch them. One of our team caught one piranha but it wriggled off the hook before he could get it in the boat. Then he used Ismene's rod and after a few bites he pulled in another piranha which we had for lunch. It was yummy!

Talking about yummy, here is an interesting rainforest delicacy that Dan tried: a coconut grub. May I just add that he tried it while it was still alive? Gross!

We also spotted three reptiles: a snake, a black caiman and a spectacled caiman! The viewing of the common swamp snake was brief as we saw it swimming across the river and watched it climb onto the bank.

We saw the spectacled caiman on our night boat ride, it was young (we think it a baby) so it was probably rather frightened and just gazed at us in a mesmerized sort of way. But the black caiman was a different matter: its head was 60cm and we learnt that with caimans, the head is about a 6th of their body, which means that it was about 3.6 meters long! 😮WOW!

We had such a brilliant time and I feel very glad that we saw so many amazing animals in such as a unique and beautiful environment. I really hope that it will continue to be so in the years to come despite the changing climate and many human threats. 

ps. 'The Jungle is Massive' - this is what Dan and Ioanna kept on saying for the whole duration of our trip which I now realise is a joke that only a few of our friends will get. If you don't get it, don't worry. I don't either :)


  1. Wow! What a fantastic trip with so much wildlife to see. The Keenans are enjoying following your adventures and it is bringing back memories for me from my trip in 2002-2003 over 20 years ago now! I’m sure you will have incredible memories in 20 years too from this trip of a lifetime. Hugs from us! Steph and The Keenans xx

    1. Hey Steph! Great to hear from you. Yep, it's still ruff in the jungle all twenty years later :)

  2. What experiences packed into 5 days, from the pink dolphins through monkeys, parakeets and toucans to the caimans! The colour of the parrots' wings at the clay lick seemed to shimmer and vibrate. I would not be so keen on a mouthful of grub and you can keep the tarantulas, but the river monkey was especially cute. Thank you for the brilliant posts. heaps of love to all, Sal

    1. Orestis Sullivan28 January 2024 at 16:31

      Hi Sallie, I thought the dolphin was cute as well but we didn't see a river monkey. Mabey its the otter? I am glad you enjoy reading the posts, and I love writing them. Love to you, Ioni, Dania, Aisha and Mariam! Many thanks, Orestis.