Posted by: Jena Davison | August 28, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

There is something inexplicably calming about watching the sun set in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle.

Cuyabeno Sunset

Our canoe parks in the middle of Laguna Grande, one of the many lagoons in Cuyabeno Reserve with its own ecosystem, and we jump into the refreshing jungle water. The splashes ripple out from the boat toward the half-underwater trees lining the body of water, punctuating the otherwise peaceful silence of evening. At first, I have to admit, I was skeptical. The thought of swimming beside an anaconda is not my idea of fun, nor is the possibility of being bitten by a piranha. But our guide assures us this place is safe, and that humans are the most dangerous being in this wild land.

The Piranha I Caught

The sun begins to descend behind the clouds, with salmon pink and golden hues starting to emerge. These electric colors reflect off the mirror-like waters, stamping tree sceneries on the lagoon. After fading into darkness, the entire aura of the jungle changes, as nocturnal animals come out to play. Beady caiman eyes appear on the surface, sneakily surveying the area for prey. Daytime bird chirps are replaced by the buzzing of insects and hissing of snakes.  Hairy tarantulas cling to the ceilings and giant grasshoppers hug the stems of leaves. Snakes tangle themselves in the trees, their iridescent scales shiny in the moonlight.

Curious Nocturnal Monkeys

Giant Green Iguana

Cuyabeno Reserve is a wonderful place to lose yourself in nature–a place to drown out your tortured thoughts with animal sounds and to appreciate the Amazon rainforest’s beauty in its purest state. The 2,330-square mile reserve is one of the most diverse in the world, with over 550 different species of birds. While there, I had the opportunity to see pink river dolphins, nocturnal monkeys, sloths, stinky turkeys, caimans, snakes, tarantulas, and a variety of birds and brilliantly colored butterflies.

Big Brown Bird

Boa Constrictor

I went on a four-day, three night tour of Cuyabeno with some friends. We took an overnight bus to Lago Agrio, which cost $8 and took about eight hours. Once in Lago Agrio, we had breakfast at a hotel in town, where we were met by guides from the lodge we were staying at. The lodge was called Samona Lodge, and is one of the cheapest options in the reserve with basic but comfortable accommodations. All meals were included, as was transportation from Lago Agrio to the lodge, which was a combination of two hours on bus and a further two hours of river navigation in motorized canoe.

Riding Down the River in Our Canoe

Samona Lodge

In addition to wildlife watching, jungle hikes and piranha fishing, we visited an indigenous Secoya community, where we saw the entire process of making cassava, a traditional bread made out of yucca. The woman in the community cut down the yucca bush, peeled the yucca, allowed some of us to grate the yucca, and then began the process of cooking it over the fire. We were then able to enjoy a taste of it with marmalade. One of the highlights was the community’s monkey, which we were able to play with. Its humanistic characteristics were mind-boggling; the baby monkey stole food from us and ate it, and even got a visible boner after jumping on one of the guys in our group.

Making the Cassava

Nacho, the Community's Monkey

The whole experience was amazing, and completely worthwhile. I do want to take a moment to mention that this exact same reserve has been the site of oil exploitation in the past, and people who live deep in the reserve have been adversely affected by the oil industry in big ways. This has come in the form of contaminated water sources, high rates of cancer, and the reduction of indigenous populations. In fact, many indigenous people to this area are currently in a class action suit against Chevron for billions of dollars in damages. Chevron’s response to this Cuyabeno issue is disgusting and inexcusable, and I do hope big oil companies will have to pay for their actions sooner or later.

This is a wonderful documentary, titled “Crude,” about the issue. I invite you all to watch the documentary, or at least this short trailer:



  1. […] published in the New Yorker, or to watch the documentary Crude, which I write a bit about in this post about my trip to the Cuyabeno Reserve, the previous site of Texaco […]

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