The drive from Lago Agrio to the River was long.  Our smooth paved road soon gave way to a bumpy gravel road, taking us further away from civilization.  Along the way we would occasionally see people on the side of the road, usually a family with a baby, hoping to catch a ride.  Ricardo would pick them up in the middle of nowhere and drop them off further down the road, in the middle of nowhere. We passed an oil facility heavily patrolled by armed guards, but other than that, just miles of tree lined road.  After nearly 2 hours Ricardo pulled off the main road and came to a stop by the riverbank.  Here was where we would catch our canoe for the ride down river.

While waiting for the canoe to arrive, Ricardo passed out the meals the tour company had provided.  The food was delicious.  The fresh made salsa that accompanied the chicken was the best we ever tasted.   For dessert we had a Maracuya, a type of passion fruit, yellow and egg shaped.  The outer coating was thick and you kind of ripped it open and inside were seeds covered in pulp.  You eat the seeds and the pulp.  The taste was amazing, not too sweet and not too tart.  After lunch the canoe arrived.  Coming back from the lodge were two women from the Netherlands and a guy from Scotland.  I asked them about their experience.  They said they had a great time and saw lots of animals, including monkeys.  Great news!  Monkeys were a top priority.

The workers finished loading the canoe and we took our seats. The wood canoe was pretty basic.  It was long, fairly narrow, wide enough only for 2 people to sit next to each other on wooden seats.  Dan and I sat in front of the kids and the 3 guides sat behind them.  The first hour or so was great.  Dan really enjoyed being on the river and it was cloudy so we didn’t have to worry about too much sun.  Then came the downpour.  For at least the next hour we were hit with torrential rains, so strong at some points I couldn’t see in front of me.  Luckily they provided us with heavy rubber ponchos.  There was nothing to do but huddle totally underneath them and hope the driver knew where he was going. When the rain finally ended we were again treated to blue skies.  The trip really was interesting.  We passed barges carrying trucks down the river, barges loaded with supplies and smaller canoes like our own, carrying families.  Many times we saw people in the water, bathing or doing laundry.  We took a branch off the main river onto the Cuyabeno River.  About thirty minutes down this river we again branched off and soon we pulled up to the lodge.  Ok, it really wasn’t a lodge. There was a main open air building right by the river.  Inside this building, hammocks hung from the ceiling and we saw a long dining table.  Behind this building were the cabins, cute wood buildings with thatched roofs.  Paula met us as we got out of the canoe.  She was our guide.  She showed us around and told us to take any cabin we wanted.  There was one other guest there, but he was leaving the next day.  Randomly we chose a cabin and headed off to store our stuff. 

We picked a cabin in the second row.  They all seemed the same.  Each building was actually divided into 2 cabins.  Inside each cabin were three beds and a bathroom with a sink and shower.  They seemed fine, a little rustic, but fine.  The bathroom had electricity, but next to the bed was a candle.  That was interesting.  The kids took the right side and we took the left.  It was nice to have them next door so we could have some privacy.  We dumped our suitcases on one of the beds and headed off to explore.  Dinner was served around 6 pm.  We wouldn’t go hungry here.  First course was soup, then the main course of a meat and vegetable and a fruit dessert.  Paula ate dinner with us and she filled us in on our itinerary.  After dinner, we would go out into the rainforest for an hour or so walk.  In the dark.  In the Jungle.  Were we ready for that? 

It was very dark outside as we followed Paula into the supply building to get our ponchos and boots.  As she sorted through the boots a giant cockroach scurried across the floor.  She seemed unphased and told us to be sure to store our boots upside down at night so no animals crawled in and to be sure to check them before we put them on.  Ok.  This was a surprise to us, but hey, rainforest….. Amazon…..  Paula introduced us to Claudio who would lead us into the rainforest.  Claudio was a Quichua Indian, an ethnic group indigenous to the rainforest.  He spoke Quichuan and Spanish but no English.  We quickly put on our boots and ponchos and headed into the jungle just as it started to rain.  To say we were a bit nervous was an understatement.  It was raining, it was dark, there were all kinds of sounds we never heard before, plus every once in a while we would hear something big crashing in the trees nearby.  We gripped our flashlights tightly and stuck close to Paula and Sacajawea (Claudio) as he led us deeper into the jungle.  Every once in awhile, Claudio would motion us to stay where we were and he would head off into the dark.  Just as I thought he wasn’t coming  back he returned and led us to a small or VERY large spider or bug he found.  He would lead us off one way, then that path would be blocked and we would have to backtrack.  We’d start another way then that wasn’t right.  All the time he was looking up and around or talking quietly to Paula. 

Sacagawherearewe?  I was sure we were lost.  I was so sure we would be spending the night in the jungle I started taking inventory of what I had on me.  DId I have food in my pockets?  Could we start a fire? Would anyone ever find us????  I was certainly not going to sit on the ground.  Could I sleep standing up? 

At one point, as we were getting ready to walk out of the jungle Paula had us stand in one place, turn off our flashlights and listen to the sounds of the jungle.  It was spooky.  The Amazon was very noisy at night. We heard every type of sound and it seemed the crashing branches noise was getting closer.  After about a minute with no lights, I felt a sharp bite on my leg. It hurt!  I turned to Dan and whispered that something bit me.  A few seconds later he got bit too.  It was something that was coming up under our pants and up our legs.  Tristan was bitten next.  After that I turned my flashlight back on and told Paula we were getting bit.  We must have been standing on top of some bug or ant hill.  What were the odds?  We started moving to the end of the jungle and toward the clearing that was the back of our cabins.  It seemed we had been in the middle of nowhere when in reality we hadn’t ventured that far from the lodge. As we exited the jungle a flock of huge fruit bats zig zaged past us and headed to the rafters on one of the cabins. (thankfully not ours!)  I was becoming less and less amorous about the jungle.

A boardwalk had been built to connect all of the cabins and the path to the jungle. This kept people from walking on the grass and turning it into mud.  The problem was when it rained (which in the Amazon was most of the time) the rubber boots we wore became very slick on the bottom.  I nearly fell twice in the first 5 feet.  Paula and Claudio were in front, Tristan and Tessa followed and Dan and I brought up the rear.  All at once Tristan screamed “OW!”  At the same time he jumped, his feet slipped out from under him and poncho and flashlight headed skyward and his butt hit hard on the boardwalk.

I quickly moved to help him up.  “Are you ok?  What happened?” 

“I got bit by something.  It really hurt!”

Paulo and Claudio looked at us with concern.  Dan and I checked him over for bugs but couldn’t find anything. 

“You need to be careful because this is slick.  You can’t jump if something bites you or you’ll fall again.”

We hadn’t walked ten feet when it happened again.  The scream “OW!”, the feet flying up in the air,  poncho and flashlight heading to the ground, the hard landing on the boardwalk.  It was like someone tasered him!  Dan and I quickly picked him up.  Claudio and Paula seemed less concerned this time. 

“What’s going on?”  I asked a little loudly.

“I keep getting bit!”

We again checked him over and found nothing. 

“We can’t find anything,” I tell him.  “You have got to stop jumping up if you get bit. You are really going to hurt yourself landing on this hard wood!”

Paula and Claudio were leading us to the river to wash off our boots.  Fifty feet of slick boardwalk lay between us and the water.  We moved another ten feet and I can’t believe it but it happened again. The scream, then the feet flying up and the hard thump.  Paula and Claudio don’t even stop this time.  Tristan was nearly in tears.  I was less than sympathetic.

“Something keeps biting me!”  (Later we found out it was biting ants.)

“I understand, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.  We’ll get your clothes off in a minute but for now you need to stay off the boardwalk and walk in the grass.  You are really going to get hurt!”

But he refused to walk in the grass.  On we went.  I was prepared though.  The next time I heard him scream I shoved him off onto the grass.  I know, not exactly a “Mom of the Year Move” but I had no choice.  In the process of pushing him off the boardwalk I step on a rotted end of a board, breaking it and nearly falling myself.  This trip was not what I had planned.

Tristan seemed better once we rinsed our boots off in the river and Dan and I breathed a sigh of relief as we headed back to our cabin, thinking the worse was over.  Someone had lit a candle outside our cabin and inside next to our bed.  How cute we thought at first until we realized this was our light for the evening.  The bathroom light was electric (but went out at ten pm) but the cabins were lit by a single candle, open flame, placed ominously close to the bed with I’m sure a highly flammable mosquito net.  Tessa came into our cabin and said she had ants in her bed.  Nice.  Dan and I went in and swept them out, put down her mosquito net and assured her it was fine.  I believe the words we used were “The ants won’t bother you”  Hmmm.

We went back into our cabin to get our clothes out of our backpacks.  Our backpacks with our clothes and snacks were on the extra bed in our cabin.  As we opened the snackbag, ants literally swarmed out, from everywhere.  My backpack was half unzipped and ants were making their way to and fro.  As I looked inside a GIANT cockroach was about to bury itself deep inside.  Knowing if the cockroach buried itself in my backpack I would never be able to get it out, nor would I ever be able to go into my backpack again, I acted on pure instinct.  I reached my hand in and scooped him out, flinging him somewhere in the cabin.

Dan, who was standing next to me asked, “Where did it go?”

A few seconds later he was yelling and trying to get something out of his head.  Found it!

The four of us stood, literally huddled together in the center of our cabin.  What were we going to do?  We couldn’t stay here with biting ants and cockroaches.  There was another canoe coming tomorrow bringing more guests, my thought was we needed to be on it.  Dan and I both looked at the candle on the table, our only source of light besides our flashlights.  We had about 3 inches of light left.  As we huddled together, a horrified American family, deep in the Amazon, wondering what to do, our survival instincts kicked in.  Dan and I realized that we must be doing something wrong. There was no way people would live like this or tour groups would stay here.  We rallied. We swept as  much of the ants, who were leaving on their own anyway, from the bed and bags and tucked the mosquito net tight around the bed.  Then we got Tessa and Tristan into their rooms and tried to get them settled.  Tristan calmly informed us that there was a mouse in their bathroom.  Really???  What else?  The mouse was apparently as scared as we were.  We left it alone.  I was so proud of the kids.  They didn’t complain, or say they wanted to leave.  They sucked it up and made the best of it and trusted us when we told them they would be safe under the mosquito nets. 

Once Dan and I were finally in bed, with the candle out, we heard all kinds of rustling sounds, like some giant animal up in the rafters.  Then we heard crashing tree sounds outside the cabin.  The kids called Dan in a few times.  Tessa thought she had a few lingering ants.  Tristan wanted Dan to check on something big on his  netting.  He assured Tristan it was nothing, but when he came back to bed he told me Tristan had the biggest spider he had ever seen on his mosquito net.   He killed it. Morning would not come soon enough.