IT should have been a relaxing beer, but my drinking partner was making me very uneasy.
Maybe it was their long, hairy legs, or their black round body, but I couldn’t stop wondering when their statuesque stillness would be broken with a sudden jump.
It’s not often you share the bar with a tarantula, but then again, it’s not everyday you’re having a drink in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Life in an eco-lodge on a blackwater lake off the Napo River in the Amazonia region of Ecuador is a world away from the your average holiday accommodation.
For starters, everything seems to jump into life. On the first day guests nervously scan their thatched hut bedroom for snakes and spiders, wondering if that shadow in the corner is a rat or an old pair of socks.
When everything buzzes, squawks, croaks or hums it’s tempting to think even your bedside table will suddenly swish a tail out of nowhere. However, after a few days, a coiled-up snake basking in the sun on the roof becomes a point of interest rather than panic. Guests can even take a dip in a piranha-filled lake if they’re brave enough.
The area is about as off the beaten track as you can get. A typical journey to the Ecuadorian Amazon starts with a short flight out of the capital Quito. Landing at a small town called Coca, guests take a short transfer across town to the banks of the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. From there, it’s a two-hour journey up river on a motorised boat, followed by a short trek on a decked walkway through the rainforest, before guests climb into a simple dugout canoe, paddle through mangroves and finally cross a blackwater lake to the lodge.
At my hotel, La Selva Jungle Lodge, the rooms only have electricity for a few hours per day. You brush your teeth by the light of an oil lantern at night, and tucking yourself in means securing the mosquito net over your wooden bed so tight that no creepy-crawly can burrow in. If you don’t like your room, the next alternative hotel is two hours’ away by boat. Despite this, the chefs still pull off a sumptuous three-course meal at lunch and dinner, complete with freshly squeezed juices and Ecuadorian specialty soups.
But it’s the flora, fauna and wildlife visitors are there to see. And it doesn’t disappoint – unless you’re a spoilt teenager. Fellow guests told me their children had found the rainforest an anti-climax after the spectacular wildlife on the Galapagos. They recommended the rainforest was planned into an itinerary before a visit to the Galapagos.
However, most guests were as thrilled as I was by the night voyage out on to the lake to spot caimans or a trip to see the parrot clay lick, where hundreds of brightly coloured parrots come to pick at the exposed clay river bank for a mass detox.
Exploring the jungle revolves around treks along dedicated paths, kayaking through lakes, walking through uncleared terrain, and taking a bird’s eye view from canopy walks and lookout towers. As well as an English-speaking guide, people from local villages also accompany the excursions, pointing out wildlife on the way – whether it’s tiny ants building a nest, or listening out for a howler monkey.
The rainforest isn’t just home to the locals – it’s their food cupboard, medicine cabinet and builder’s merchants. Most lodges will organise a visit to a local home if requested.
It was after a two-hour trek through the jungle to a local home that we finally saw our guides flummoxed. En route we balanced on thin logs as we walked over swamps, swept away plants and made sure we didn’t agitate any spiders or snakes. As we progressed the guides were boasting that they could even handle a boa constrictor wrapping itself around their body.
But when they reached the house they came face to face with huge, angry-looking cows that grazed among the stilts holding up the house. Only at that point did they decide on a detour to the entrance, and I learnt that one person’s cow is another’s tarantula.
Cox and Kings sells an 18-night Ecuador tour taking in the Amazon basin rainforest from £3,800 per person twin-share departing in August. Accommodation in the Amazon is at the Napo Wildlife Centre, a jungle lodge part owned by the Quichua Indians. The price includes flights and all transfers.
Travel 2 has a 10-day Essential Ecuador tour, including a three-day stay at Sacha Lodge near Coca. The price leads in at £1,518 per person, twin-share, including flights and all transfers. Prices are valid between November 1 and December 16.
Exodus has a 15-day Galapagos and Amazon tour of Ecuador, staying at the Kapawi Lodge in the rainforest. Departing in December this year, the price is £2,945 per person, including return flights from London.