Wishing to explore Ecuadorian Amazonia, DonQui is given two options to get there from Quito — a 12 hour coach journey or a 25 minute flight.
“You get some great views on the coach,” says the kindly lady from the excellent Quinana Tours in Quito.
Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that DonQui pays the extra money for the 25 minute flight to Coca (officially Puerto Francisco de Orellana but no one calls it that) followed by a 2 hour car journey to Lago Agrio (officially Nueva Loja but no one calls it that).
Lago Agrio is a gritty, ramshackle frontier town carved out of the Amazon rainforest in the 1960s by Texaco as a base for oil exploration. Close to the Columbian border it is an infamously dangerous, polluted, unattractive place, filled with oil workers, Columbian drug traffickers and impoverished looking locals. It is, however, gateway to the fabulous Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. DonQui needs to spend a night there in a drab hotel in which most of the other occupants are dressed in red Halliburton branded boiler suits. He does not stray very far from the hotel.
Early next morning his driver takes DonQui on the 2 hour journey to the Cuyabeno Bridge — the meeting point for those wishing to head down the Cuyabeno river into the reserve.
Despite the insalubrious layover in Lago Agrio, DonQui is most pleased that he opted for the flight when he sees his bedraggled fellow travellers stagger off the overnight coach. As they gather their belongings for the canoe trip downriver there is universal agreement that the 12 hour coach trip was an absolute nightmare.
it is another two hours down the Cuyabeno by motorised canoe for DonQui, nine other passengers and an ebullient guide named Victor Hugo.
The two hours stretch to three as the canoe stops whenever Victor Hugo spots monkeys, birds, snakes and the occasional sloth. His ability to spot wildlife whilst on the move is impressive. Even when the canoe is stationary DonQui often has a hard time to locate the animal or bird Victor is pointing out.
See if you can spot the bats clinging to the upright log in the water. It takes DonQui several minutes to do so from the canoe.
These colourful butterflies are quite a bit easier to see.
Finally the canoe pulls up at Dolphin lodge which will be DonQui’s base for the next few days of Amazonian exploration.
The lodge is rustic but comfortable with only a dozen or so guests. Deep in the rainforest it is completely off grid with no wifi or phone signal and there is only a limited amount of electricity provided by the lodge’s solar panels. The sense of being away from everything suits DonQui perfectly. The food is pretty good considering the limited cooking facilities and the fact that absolutely everything has to be brought in by canoe.