Home > Ecuador > Exploring Ecuador’s Cuyabeno ecological reserve, part one

Exploring Ecuador’s Cuyabeno ecological reserve, part one

January 21, 2010

It is early in the morning and we have shifted, within just minutes, from the cosmopolitan ambiance of Quito, the historic and nowadays vibrant capital of Ecuador, to the heart of the tropical rainforest, on Ecuador’s northeastern Amazon Region.  Our world is now one of pristine nature where the thick forest made of humongous giant trees and exuberant vegetation, occasionally dotted with some small riverside communities of the indigenous Kichwa, Cofan and Siona peoples who inhabit this jungle since times immemorial, combines with an air of unparalleled adventure, remoteness and exploration.

Our hand-carved dugout canoe, made from one single sturdy tree bark, is outfitted with small cushions over its wooden seats, a canvas roof and two fast, ecological, four-stroke outboard motors.  Expertly driven by Efrain, the canoe swiftly cruises the mighty Aguarico River (the name stands for “rich water”, evidencing the former existence of gold along its shores) as a dozen travelers from United States, Holland, United Kingdom and Ecuador watch in admiration the lush forest along the river’s banks. Wearing marine life-vests, a mandatory regulation for sailing these waters and to preserve the voyagers’ safety, we are supplied with a light snack and refreshments by Wilfrido, our native guide, who also gives us a brief yet superbly interesting introduction to some basic facts and figures to understand the fascinating and mysterious world of the Amazon rainforest, as we continue to sail downstream. 

Before midday, we reach the crossroads where the Cuyabeno River meets the Aguarico and we stop at the small Kichwa village of Cuyabeno, set on a privileged corner, over a small dirt cliff, overlooking the exact location where the deep and narrower “dark-water” Cuyabeno River pours into the bigger and wider “brown-water” Aguarico River.  We have a chance to meet and greet with the friendly and cheerful Indian children, excited by the presence of the visitors on their remote town. There are rustic yet clean bathroom facilities and a small, thatch-roofed, kiosk, overlooking the two rivers, where we are offered some fruits (papaya, pineapple and bananas); fried thin slices of manioc (locally known as “yucca”, a basic element of the human nutrition on these remote areas) and bottled water or fruit refreshments. Wilfrido (“Willy”) uses the lunch break to give us a more thorough briefing about the rainforest area that we will explore in the next days, telling us about the wildlife, natural history, human and ethnic history and the preservation rules to follow on this, one of Ecuador’s many National Park and Ecological Reserves.  In fact, we are at the actual gateway to the Cuyabeno Ecological Reserve, one of the most amazing “hot spots” of biodiversity in Ecuador’s Amazon Region and in the world, with record numbers of plant and animal species per square feet.

The emotions begin unexpectedly when , from the shaded “comfort” of our panoramic riverside balcony-observatory, we get to see a pair of fresh water dolphins, the mythical Amazonian pink dolphins, idly playing hide and seek and letting their small bodies fully exposed as they occasionally leap and splash back into the Cuyabeno’s waters.  Perhaps it is the tour agency’s fancily pre-arranged welcome committee, we speculate in giggles… Of course we all take our best pictures of this unexpected sighting, which will not be the only one during these days of nature exploration.  We board again our dugout canoe for an extra hour of slow motion cruising, upstream now, on the deep and dark colored waters of the Cuyabeno River.  We are amazed at the immensity of the gigantic ficus trees, the giant kapoks and the myriad mosses, epiphytes, bromeliads and lush vegetation.  At moments we shut down the motors and just paddle quietly to better observe some herons, long-necked anhingas or to observe falcons hovering high above in the air.  Closer to the shore, Willy starts training us to detect smaller birds such as multi-colored tanagers, trogons or nun-birds, while flocks of noisy parakeets fly by.  This is just the introduction to the rainforest and the fascinating world of the Amazon basin…. We continue our journey back downstream on the Aguarico River, in order to reach by sunset our jungle lodge from where we will more intensively explore this unique natural world in the next days.  The story will continue on the next issue……

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