César, the leader of Selva Vida, the project where I volunteered in Ecuador, had been telling us a lot about the different national parks in the Amazonas of Ecuador. Having been a bit disappointed about not seeing many animals where we lived, I was very eager to go there. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one feeling this way; when I told Maja that it would be nice to go to Yasuní together with César as a guide, maybe at the end of their stay in Selva Vida, she was very excited about it and talked to Jacob and César about it. Before starting his own project, César had been a tour guide in Baños and in the national parks and he was excited about doing this tour with us, especially with Maja and Jacob, and he even made us a special prize. We had 2 weekends as an option, but I didn’t want the 3 French guys from our project to come – Maja and Jacob weren’t too keen on that either – and Jacob and I had already plans for the first weekend, so we decided to go from 12th to 15th of July, the weekend after the departure of the 3 French guys. Our collegue Caro didn’t want to come because she had other plans that weekend and so, to make the tour a bit cheaper, Jacob asked another German volunteer, Rahel, to join us.
On Wednesday, July 11th, Jacob and I took the 6PM bus to Macas and from the Y – the crossing point between the road from/to Macuma and from/to Puyo – we took another bus to Puyo where we arrived around around 9:30PM. Maja had already been in Puyo earlier that afternoon to do some last shopping before our tour. At the terminal in Puyo, we all enjoyed the free wifi – since there is no connection in the jungle – and then we took the 11PM nightbus to Coca. About midway, in Tena, Rahel joined us and we got a few hours of sleep before arriving at 4:30AM in Coca. César had already been in Coca the day before to prepare our tour and so we joined him in his hostel. It was still too early to go pick up the last things we needed or to have breakfast, so we slept 2 more hours in the living room of the hostel. At breakfast, I discovered Tigrillo, a delicious dish that I can only recommend (but I don’t know what it’s made of …). When we finally had picked up all the food and supplies, it was quite late when our taxi finally left for the Yasuní national park and it took us almost 3 hours to get there.
Our tour started in Tiwino, a very small town at the Tiguiño river. Our tour would take place in the southern part of Yasuní, on the Tiguiño river. It’s not a touristic place because the Waorani tribes who live there don’t get along with most tourist guides and don’t allow them to go there. Therefore, most tourists go to other places, like the Napo river in the northern part or the Cuyabeno national park. Being in the South was really awesome, because 1) we were the only tourists there ; 2) there are no fancy lodges but only basic/wild camping; 3) you get to see more animals as it’s more quiet.
In Ecuador, the tropical rainforest ist divided in 2 national parks accessible for tourists: Yasuní and Cuyabeno. In addition to that, there is the Tagaeri-Taromenane Intangible Zone and the Cuyabeno-Imuya Intangible Zone. In the Yasuní park, there are only Shuar, Waorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous tribes. All Shuar live on the road to Coca, close to town, while Waorani live next to the Tiguiño river in and around Tiwino. Waorani still have camps in the park where they only go for hunting and fishing. César has a very good relationship with them, that’s why we were allowed to travel in their lands and to stay in one of their camps. 2 of the Waorani were our guides and drove our motor canoe. They were rather quiet and nice and it’s hard to imagine that they would not hesitate for a second to kill you if you don’t follow their rules.
Some time ago, there was one outsider who opened a lodge on the Tiguiño river, but he didn’t get along well with the Waorani and he didn’t follow their rules, so they just burned down his lodge! Another story is even worse: one Waorani families had a very sick child and brought it to the medical center in Coca. Unfortunately they couldn’t do anything for this kid anymore and it died. The family blamed the doctors there for its death and went back there with lances to kill them. Fortunately the doctors could flee before they managed to enter the building. On their way back to their territory, they encountered a guy who was building a water station and, in their rage, they killed him in cold blood! Crazy right?!
You can’t deny the Waorani anything if you don’t want to get on their bad side, something you definitely don’t want. César, for instance, once went to a bar and some Waorani joined him for a couple of beers. In the end, they left him with a bill for more than 70$ but he had to pay it…
Then there are the Tagaeri and Taromenane, 2 tribes that have joined together. They have decided not to have any contact with the outside world and to live completely isolated and conforming to their old ways. The government has granted them their own territory which now is a protected zone. The government even gives them machetes, knives, lighters and other stuff via helicopter. These 2 civilisations are very brutal and dangerous; they kill every outsider they meet without a second glance. Unlike Shuar, Waorani and other civilisations, they completely refuse to learn Spanish or another language and to communicate with the outside world. The government monitors them to see where they seem to be – they are nomads – to be able to warn the Waorani living on the border of their territory. The Waorani are also fighters and hunters, but they are very afraid of the Tagaeri and Taromenane, so you can imagine how dangerous they are. Crazy that something like this still exists nowadays, right!? And not only in the Amazonas of Ecuador, but tribes like that also exist in the Amazonas of Peru and of Brasil !
We started our journey from Tiwino to our first camp at 1PM and it took us about 3 hours to get there. It was a bit cloudy, but quite nice, not too hot nor too cold. It was a weird feeling to be in this canoe, because it swayed a lot and we were a bit afraid the canoe might tip over. Fortunately, it didn’t and we got used to the swaying.
On the first day, I shared a very small bench with Maja and it was a bit uncomfortable, but cosy. 🙂 During this first day, we saw “only” birds (macaws, toucans, kingfisher, …) and a few monkeys.
When we arrived to the camp, we set up our tents and had a late lunch/early dinner. Then we girls went for a bath in the river. Well, of course not the main Tiguiño river which is full of piranhas, electric eels, boas, anacondas and caimans, but in a small river on the other side of our camp. The water was pretty clear and looked ok, but it seemed to be standing water which usually is full of bacterias and that didn’t inspire much confidence… César told us that they always take their baths there and that there is no danger, so we went anyway. And hey, we’re still alive, so it could not have been that bad! 😄 For cooking and washing plates, they also used the river water and it didn’t make us sick, but we had brought purified water for drinking. Surprising to have so good water in the Amazonas, but who would complain?
After our bath, we played a bit around with the lances of the Waorani and we built fishing poles. When night fell, around 6:30PM, we went back on the canoe and went fishing for piranhas. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky and we didn’t catch anything…
The next morning, we got up early and had a big breakfast before packing our stuff and getting back on the canoe. This second day, we went to a lagoon and it took us about 3 1/2 hours to get there. We had a short break after 2 1/2 hours, because the benches were pretty hard and we couldn’t sit anymore… On the way, we saw a deer, a baby boa (+/- 1m), a huge anaconda (+/- 10m), a turtle, a caiman and many birds. It was fun, but we got pretty close to the snakes and we were quite scared… Unfortunately the anaconda was about to leave the water when we passed it and I wasn’t fast enough to take a picture before it left… Boas and anacondas don’t attack people directly, but they might sink your boat and then break your bones by hugging you, suffocate you below water and then eat you. Fortunately, that didn’t happy to us…
At the lagoon, there was no camp, so César and the 2 Waorani had to build one. They cleared a space between some trees and built in a very short time a nice camp for us with a roof and palm leaves on the ground. We built our tents and had a nice soup for lunch, before we all went to the lagoon to fish piranhas. This time, we got very lucky, catching a lot: I got 3, Rahel 2, Maja about 6 or 7 and the guys about 10, so we had a very nice dinner! We grilled them and ate it with rice, tomato and oignon, delicious!
After dinner, we went back on the river to catch a caiman. Surprisingly, César actually caught one and we brought it back to our camp to take some pictures. When César released it, it turned around and almost bit us! The guys chased it to the river, but they were very mean to the poor animal and I could barely watch them… In it’s place, I would have come back during the night to kill them all!
That night, our Waorani heard a jaguar on the other side of the river and César found traces of a puma where we had been fishing earlier. That was pretty cool, even if we didn’t get to see them…
The following day, we packed our bags and our tents and, after really good fish and pancakes for breakfast, we left our camp and went back to our first camp. Unfortunately it rained all day long pretty heavily and, after 10 minutes, we were all soaking wet… The rain made the 5 hours ride back to the first camp pretty tedious and it was much less fun than the day before… It took us 90 minutes longer to get back than it had taken us to get there, because 1) we were going against the stream; 2) the river today had much less water and it was more difficult to navigate around trees and branches in the river. Due to the rain, we didn’t see many animals, but we came pretty close to a huge boa (+/- 8m). It was in the water and in attacking position, looking for its next prey. Fortunately it decided that it would not be us! 😄 Our 2 Waorani guides told us there was no danger, but César told us the opposite and, for our taste, we came way too close to this snake..
In the end, we were all very happy to finally arrive back at the camp, to take a bath and to get into warm, dry clothes.
Since it kept raining until late that night, we didn’t do anything that afternoon, except for staying close to the fire place, eating and listening to stories from César and the 2 Waorani. It was a nice afternoon, but we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t go hunting for peccaris like planned…
On Sunday morning, our last day, we left the camp quite late, because the sun had finally re-emerged and we were happy to dry our clothes before packing them again. It took us about 3 to 4 hours to get back to our starting point in Tiwino and we enjoyed the sunny morning, took a lot of pictures and saw some more monkeys.
On the one hand, we were sad that it was our last day in the Yasuní National Park, on the other hand, we were happy to get back to civilisation. César says that the best is a 5 to 6 days tour, but our 4 days were quite nice as well. I had enjoyed it a lot, but mostly the experience in itself: the (wild) camping in the jungle, the canoeing, fishing piranhas and learning about the indigenous of the tropical rainforest in Ecuador. The animals also were nice and – in the cas of the snakes – scary, but for me that was not the most spectacular about the trip; I had seen much more animals (maybe less dangerous) in the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.
I can definitely recommend you to do a tour in the jungle, I even think everybody who is in Ecuador should do it, but, if you can, do it with César Tucupi from the Selva Vida project (he also does private tours if you don’t work in his project) !