On Monday we drove to the jungle lodge on
the Napo River. It was on the Napo
that a historic decision was made in 1540. Gonzalo Pizarro had left Quito on an expedition
with 350 Spaniards and 4000 Indians to search for cinnamon and gold. At the Napo River
he commanded his chief lieutenant, Franciso de Orelllana, to go downstream to
find food. Orellana went downstream right to the Atlantic mouth and sailed on
On his return to Spain
he told of the attacks by hostile Indians. Mistaking men in grass skirts for
Amazon, he named the Indians “las Amazonas” after the female warrior tribe
recorded by Herodotus in Sarmatia.
This name has
stuck to both the river and the jungle.
We were expected a tatty jungle lodge, like
the one I stayed at in Borneo, instead it was the very opposite, a luxurious
resort better suited to the Caribbean beach
than the Amazon rainforest. There was a small town by the lodge which kept a
butterfly farm. They grew twenty two local species, including one with the most
irredescent metallic cocoon to mimic wasps. The cocoon mimicry keeps them safe
until they emerge, which is when they are at their most vulnerable, as it takes
thirty minutes for the blood to pump into the wing veins to open the wings, and
three hours for the wings to harden enough to fly. Just outside the butterfly
farm we saw a line of leaf-cutter ants carrying sawn-off leaves back to the
nest. Leaf-cutter ants don’t actually eat the leaves, instead they are in a
symbiotic relationship with a fungus that they farm in their nests, bringing in
a fresh supply of leaves for it to digest and then eating the fungus. The
symbiosis also has a third partner, a species of bacteria that lives on the
ants and secretes an anti-mould compound that protects the fungus.
We finished off the night with cocktails in
the pool. The leeches, piranha and especially the Candirú (a parasitic catfish
that has the habit of swimming into the human urethra and lodging itself there
with sharp spines) discourage swimming in the river for recreation.