Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Ecuador: The Amazon Rainforest

by Kathy 22. May 2011 09:55

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<< Arriving in the Amazon Rainforest | Amazon: Rain, Rain, Rain Forest >>


Huge Bugs, & Water in My Boots

The Amazon basin has the highest biodiversity of anywhere in the world. Today we would be taking two hikes through the rainforest—one during the day, and the other at night—to look for different creatures and plants.

Since this is the rainforest, where it averages over 12 feet of rain each year, the ground remains fairly squishy in many places. Our lodge provided rain boots that definitely came in handy today!

Our first hike began at 7:00 a.m., after breakfast. Sebastian had his boots on and was ready to go:

The sky was covered in clouds, and the air was damp:

To reach the trailhead, we first had to canoe a short distance across Lake Añangu, and then down a smaller waterway called Cari Añangu Creek. Leaving the dock, Genevieve couldn’t resist trailing her fingers in the water (most of the piranhas seemed to be vegetarians):

A view of the Napo Wildlife Center lodge, with our room in the far-right cabana:

Genevieve just knew that we would find some fascinating things this morning:

We started off with a zigzag heron sitting on her nest:

She wasn’t as well camouflaged as the one that we had seen yesterday. Many predators were out there seeking a delicious meal from those eggs she was protecting.

Those predators include the highly intelligent capuchin monkeys, which happened to be scampering through the nearby trees. This group of white-fronted capuchins included one mother with a child on her back:

Sunbeams began joining the array of vines that fell from the trees around us:

An opening above revealed a beautiful blue sky (we loved it!):

Our hike this morning would be along the Sacha Huarmi (“Forest Woman”) Trail. Our Añangu guide Mauricio led the way with his machete to clear the path, followed by our naturalist guide Juan Carlos, then Genevieve and Sebastian.

Ben and I trailed behind taking photos and absorbing the scenery.

There were so many different kinds of trees. In a mere 2.2 acres of rainforest, there are generally 200 to 400 different species of trees. And that doesn’t include smaller plants, let alone insects and other creatures.

Mauricio stopped at a tall skinny tree trunk, which I could easily have circled with my thumb and forefinger. Then he gently tipped the trunk so that Juan Carlos could remove some leaves from the top.

This was the Ishpingo tree, which is related to the Cinnamon tree. A bite into the leaves released a wonderfully fresh cinnamon taste—yum!

I looked down, and the entire path seemed to be moving. We were walking on a carpet of army ants—nasty little creatures that can give a painful bite with their powerful jaws. Juan Carlos carefully picked one up so that we could get a close-up of the size of its front pincers:

He explained that the bite of the army ants was once used by indigenous people as “stitches” for a bad cut.

Small orange fungi poked up from the decaying leaves along the rainforest floor.

They looked like little cups, and indeed are called “devil’s cup” or “devil’s urn.” Juan Carlos explained that local girls learning to make pottery used to come and touch the shape of the devil’s cup fungi to gain wisdom and learn the shape of pottery.

Nearby, blending in with the brown leaves was a chunky, relatively small spider:

Another creature that blended in with its background was the “sharp nosed toad,” with coloring that looked like a brown leaf:

Can you find it in the photo below?

It’s in the exact center of this close-up photo:

(Pretty amazing camouflage, isn’t it?!)

Our next discovery provided Genevieve and Sebastian with one of their favorite moments of the day. A giant millipede tickled all of our hands! Here is the millipede with Genevieve:

She passed it on to Sebastian:

I even joined in to form a hand bridge for the millipede as it crawled quickly from one person to another. We were all quite enamored.  With a bit of reluctance, and last lingering looks, we returned the millipede to its feast of a rotting tree trunk.

The decaying leaves and logs on the floor of the rainforest provide the nutrients that the plants and trees need to grow. Trees cannot sink deep roots because there are not sufficient nutrients beneath the shallow surface; the soil is too poor. To compensate, some trees create a broad expanse of roots on top, like a broom.

Others develop wide, buttress-like fins that hold the trunk solidly in place:

One tree had white bulbous growths on the trunk, and Juan Carlos said that local people with tumors dance around this tree for healing:

Moving on, Mauricio showed us a form of lily that has a medicinal bulb that can be used to reduce facial acne.

The guayusa (pronounced “why-you-suh”) plant, with its purple flowers, has leaves that can be boiled for a caffeinated drink, or rolled up and stuffed into a tooth cavity to relieve pain.

A papery wasp’s nest was attached to the bottom of a wide green leaf:

Some white wild mushrooms looked like flowers growing on a fallen tree:

Before they ripen, the mushrooms are tender and good to eat.

We had to be careful of the jumbo-sized ants that were crawling around—they were called “bullet ants,” supposedly because their bite is as painful as being shot by a bullet.

Everywhere we turned, there was something fascinating to look at (and learn about).

Scrambling up a plant stem was beautiful green lizard called an “amazon forest dragon”:

A "pink-tip butterfly" was adept at mimicry, with front wings that were translucent and rear wings that looked like the head of a coral snake:

We almost ran into this slender spider in its sticky web:

Then came a long portion of trail that was covered in water. A handrail had been built along a slippery “path” of submerged logs. We moved sideways into the murky water, carefully feeling with the front foot until we were sure the log underneath wasn’t going to move too much before stepping down fully. Entering the water:

Without the logs, the water would have been way past our knees.

My boots were a bit shorter than the others, and the water flowed over the top edge during some deeper sections. No worries—it was all a grand adventure!

The rail made a big zig-zag, and we just followed it along:

Juan Carlos showed Genevieve and Sebastian a deep hole to avoid between the logs:

Here are Juan Carlos and the kids back on higher ground--Genevieve and Sebastian wouldn’t have minded another mile or so of wading:

Our trail then climbed upward, away from the water:

Near the top, Mauricio spied the fresh footprint of a jaguar:

Next, Juan Carlos gave the children some sticky fiber from a palm tree, and they picked out the small bits of wood:

It’s the "Tree" Musketeers!

Mauricio and Juan Carlos also carved some faces into two palm nuts for Genevieve and Sebastian:

This plant had a burst of color, with bright blue berries:

We were all delighted to come upon a moving line of leaf pieces—it was a parade of leaf cutter ants, with each insect carrying a chunk of green much bigger than itself.

Some of these ants, like one in the photo below, were even carrying another ant on top of their leafy chunks—the passengers were cleaning the leaves by eating bacteria and algae off the top.

The trail of ants crossed a log:

And then the ants disappeared inside a hole in the ground—the entrance to their nest:

Once inside, smaller worker ants start chewing the leaves to create a pulpy mass that is plastered on the walls of the interior chambers. Fungus then grows on the chewed-up leaves, and the ants harvest the fungus for food.

Around the outer rim of the ant hole was a mound of small dirt beads, deposited when the ants scooped out soil to create their tunnels and chambers. These piles of soft clay were traditionally collected by local women who would then mold the clay into pots after first picking out all of the small rocks. The process of pot-making would be passed down through the generations, including where to go to find the best mounds of clay in the rainforest.

Nearby was another hole in the ground—this one marked the entrance to a home of stingless bees:

This large black mushroom is known as a “devil’s chair”:

Macaws had picked the seeds from this dark, prickly pod that is commonly referred to as a “monkey’s comb”:

Mauricio stopped by a tree with a mottled brown and grey trunk, and what happened next made us all drop our jaws.

He took his machete and made a small slice in the bark, and bright red “blood” started flowing.

Indeed, this was the phenomenal “dragon’s blood” tree, which has been scientifically proven to have antibiotic powers. The indigenous people have used the tree’s medicinal “blood” to heal cuts, cure prostate problems, relieve ulcer pain, help diarrhea, and even repel mosquitoes.

Another important medicine comes from the small twig-like plant, with broad green leaves on top, whose roots contain an anti-venom for snake bites:

(The name sounded like “cararina”, but I’m not sure. If anyone knows the correct name, please let me know!)

Another beautiful “banana spider”:

Sebastian, following Juan Carlos through the rainforest:

The carpet of leaves almost hid this poisonous black frog:

After over two hours of hiking, Mauricio treated us to some locally grown bananas—small, and a bit sweeter than the kind we eat at home.

The trees in the rainforest do not grow in groves. Instead, they are spread out from one another. Sometimes only one of a particular tree is found within a 2 to 3 kilometer area.

Here is a “balsamo” tree, which is used in construction:

Another tree with a thick trunk was this 100-foot tall “arenejo” tree:

Relaxing on some tree roots was a big locust—thankfully solo, not in a swarm:

Juan Carlos gave Genevieve a leaf and told her to rub it against the bark of a tree:

(You can see that she approached this task very seriously.) The leaf was from the “cecropia” tree, and its leaves have the texture of sandpaper.  Mauricio explained that local people use it to file their fingernails, among other things.

Springing up from the forest floor occasionally was a marvelous little fungus shaped like a flower—it is known as the “earthstar” mushroom:

I had never seen this type of mushroom before, and I loved the shape. Every time I saw one, I felt like I had found some type of treasure.

Mauricio stopped at a thick, poisonous vine called “curare” and explained that it once played an important role for the local people in hunting animals.

The bark of the curare vine would be boiled and mixed with other toxic plants to form a muscle relaxant, in which darts would be dipped and set close to the fire to dry. When animals, such as monkeys, were shot with the darts, the poison would affect their ability to breathe, and they would fall from the trees. The recipe for the mixture was once passed down from generation to generation, but poisonous darts are no longer used by the young people, and there are not many old people who still have these recipes.

A flash or orange above us turned out to be a small group of golden-mantled tamarin monkeys, which are only found in this area of Ecuador and certain parts of Peru.

As we neared the end of our hike, we crossed over a stretch of water on a long, raised walkway:

This tree has small spikes all over its trunk:

Our canoe was waiting at the end of the trail to take us back to the lodge for lunch and a brief rest before we continued our explorations in the late afternoon.

On the porch of our cabana, Genevieve and I rocked in the hammock until one end came untied and we ended up "kersplat" on the wooden floor. Then Sebastian gave the hammock a solo ride:

Our view over Añangu Lake was very peaceful:

The front of our cabana:

Genevieve, heading up to the restaurant for lunch:

After lunch, we climbed to the top of the observation tower above the restaurant for a better view out over the lake:

Sebastian and Genevieve in the tower:


Today was Easter, and Ben and I put together an Easter egg hunt for Genevieve and Sebastian in our cabana, with a handful of plastic eggs and a few treats from home. Here is Genevieve with her small stash of goodies:

After the children took a refreshing dip in the lake, we were ready for some more exploring with Mauricio and Juan Carlos. Setting off in the canoe:

Wilmer, doing a stellar job of paddling in the rear:

Within the first few minutes, we were treated to some close-up views of a “hoatzin” bird:

With its spiky hair, orange chest and blue face, it looked like a character that Dr. Suess might have created.

When the hoatzin spread its wings, its hefty size was surprising:

Nearby was a blue “Greater Ani”:

A capuchin monkey watched us for a few minutes and then disappeared into the trees:

Other birds that we saw included a white heron:

I don’t remember the name of this pretty bird with sienna wings:

A toucan, high in the trees, sported a yellow and black chest:

An anhinga bird, with its black and white wings:

A “snail kite” bird:

Two curious woodpeckers stuck their heads out of a tree leaning over the river:

The sharpness of their beaks blended with the small spikes of the tree trunk.

A group of squirrel monkeys was playing in the trees.

The squirrel monkeys were hanging out near a group of capuchin monkeys.  The two types are often found together, as the squirrel monkeys are skilled at finding food, which benefits the capuchins, and the capuchins help protect the squirrel monkeys from predators.

One capuchin had a rather large child on her back--this might have been the same duo that we had seen earlier this morning.

We watched in shock as she aggressively pried the smaller monkey off and ferociously pushed it away when it sought to climb back on. We could only imagine that this was the “tough love” method of saying, “No more free rides, dear. It’s time for you to walk on your own.”

Some cylindrical wasp nests were hanging from the trees, like beautiful paper lanterns:

We got a very close look at what appeared to be the same anaconda snake that we had seen yesterday, but today the spots and colors were more visible:

Darkness was descending, and the noise around us increased as the night insects and other creatures came out to play. Genevieve was ready:

A convict tree frog:

A hoatzin bird, silhouetted against the sky:

We would soon be leaving the canoe and beginning our first night hike through the rainforest.

One of the first creatures we found with our flashlight beams was a juvenile clown tree frog (the adults are bright yellow):

This scorpion spider had ferocious-looking jaws:

We also saw a real scorpion:

A big stink bug:


A long “stick bug” landed on the front of Juan Carlos:

An olive butterfly:

A dung beetle:

A millipede:

A whip spider:

An amazon tree snake (imantodes lentiferus):

A foamy ball surrounded the eggs of a cicada:

The shimmering web of a banana spider:

On our ride back across the lake in the canoe, we were thrilled to witness a fishing bat swoop across the water and snatch up a small fish. (It was too dark for a photo.)

Sebastian had been pretty quiet as we walked through the darkness this evening. I thought perhaps that he was tired. However, when I asked him what he had enjoyed most today, he answered, “The night hike.”

Today had been stupendous in the amount and types of animal and plant life we had seen. And I am happy to say that I had quickly adapted to the presence of giant cockroaches in our cabana. To maintain a Zen state of calmness, I highly recommend the simple technique of averting one’s eyes--works like a charm!

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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
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   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
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   Janko Marca
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   Jasper National Park
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Costa Rica
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   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
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   Nkasa Lupala
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   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
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   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
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   City Museum in MO
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   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
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   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
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   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
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   Talkeetna, AK
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   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin