On the Napo River

Banos Travel Blog

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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 to Spain. 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.

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photo by: timbo