8th August – Monday
We breakfasted at the British Council on bacon, eggs, juice and coffee, with toast and marmalade at 7.30. After breakfast we went to catch a bus to the airport, but they were all full so we took a taxi. I sat in the front and became quite scared at the standard of driving. The brakes weren’t very good and the driver didn’t like stopping for lights. At one point, I saw passengers disembarking from a bus ahead of us and tried to get him to slow down. Instead, he altered course onto the opposite side of the dual carriageway so that he was driving against the flow of rush-hour traffic. Eventually, he made it back to the correct side of the road but he didn’t let up on the speed. I shouted at him to stop. When he did so, I reached across and snatched his keys. I told my Dad and brother to get out and take our rucksacks out of the boot. When they were safely on the pavement, I got out of the cab. The driver was furious and yelled at me to give him his keys and some money for the fare. Convinced that I was saving the citizens of Quito from certain death, I threw the keys down the drain.
With the driver still screaming at us, we managed to flag down another cab which was airport bound although already occupied. The German passenger was pleased to have rescued us.
We got to the airport at 9.15 and met two other travellers who were Yuturi bound. The first was a Chilean woman who had taught Spanish in Chicago for the past 10 years. She was called Sonia. The second was her colleague from Chicago who had grown up there, gone to university near San Francisco, and now taught in the 4th grade at a school in Chicago. Her name was Helena.
At 9.30 Anita, the tour organiser turned up, as promised, and gave us our tickets. She also checked us and our rucksacks in and saw us into the departures lounge.
There was a lot of confusion over which of the 3 gates we had to go through, but logically, since the passengers for Lago Alagrio departed through the gate marked ‘Coca’, so we departed through the gate marked ‘Lago Alagrio’.
As soon as the gate opened, the locals sprinted across the tarmac to board the plane. No seats had been allocated, so it was first-come-first-served. We “seasoned travellers” ambled over to the steps. When we got into the passenger cabin we were surprised to see that those who were not already seated were shaking the seats as if to test them. Some of the seats were attached to the floor by a single bolt! When we asked about this, it was explained that the seats were bought second-hand from decommissioned aircraft so some would fit the frame and other would not.
Dad and I managed to get seats which were quite solid but Oli was unlucky enough to get one that spun round on its single bolt.
We took off only 45 minutes late at 11.15.
Even the take off wasn’t without drama. The plane gathered speed and the curtain between the pilot’s cabin and the passengers blew out to the horizontal. “Don’t worry,” said the steward, “there is a window missing. It will be replaced in Quito and we don’t need it on the way down as we won’t decompress the cabins.”
Were we worried?
As we flew away from Quito towards the East, the Andes fell away into the relatively flat forests of the Oriente. As we approached Coca we could see the vast size of the Rio Napo. Coca is a ghastly shanty town and I was glad that after a short trip across town in what might pass for a bus, we only had to wait for about half an hour before we were aboard our ‘canoe’ heading down the Rio Napo towards the Rio Yuturi.
On the trip down the Rio Napo we were impressed by the size of the river and the sheer volume of water which must flow down it. It was full of trees and sandbanks and the cox had to keep switching sides to avoid these hazards. All the way down both sides of the river there were small settlements. There are also occasional oil wells. From time to time we saw turkey vultures and other birds.
After four hours we turned into the Rio Yuturi which is much narrower than the Rio Napo (over 1 mile to about 30m), but has a slower flow. The birds were much more prolific on the Yuturi. The most impressive bird which we saw was the snake bird which we saw dive into the water from it’s perch on a branch about 4 metres above the surface. It is so called because it sits so low in the water that only its snake like head and neck show above the surface.
On arrival at the lodge we were surprised to see about a dozen well kept huts with palm roofs and bathrooms with showers. We were allocated to a 3 bed hut at the end of a row. Once we’d settled in we had about an hour to spare before supper, so we spent that time out on the river, near to the lodge, fishing with hook and line. There were a few bites, but nothing caught. It was just nice to enjoy the tranquillity of the river. To watch the sun birds sharing the sunset with us. On return to the lodge we had a very nice supper served to us – three courses and ½ glass of wine. After supper we met our guides, David Nash and a local indian called Innocentio. Our group consisted of we three plus Sonia and Helena.
Our first excursion was a night walk into the jungle behind the lodge. David explained to us how to hold the torch behind the eyes or just above the head, and look along the beam for the reflections of eyes looking back at us. We’d gone less than 100 yards and had stopped to admire a small tree lizard when I spotted a coral snake moving through the fallen leaves! This was only the third one our guide had ever seen and even Maier, a guide who had been at Yuturi for over two years, had only ever seen four. It turned out to be the best find of our whole trip. We watched it for a few minutes, then moved on. That night we saw lizards, praying mantises, crickets, katydids, spiders (including the “trash spider”) and stick insects. Dave also showed us the large centipedes which are in abundance in the jungle. “The difference between a centipede and a millipede,” he explained, “is not the number of legs, but that there are four legs per segment (two pairs of two) on a millipede, and only two per segment on a centipede.”