Category Archives: Ecuadorian Amazon

Fly Fishing Ecuador

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador

November 10, 2018

I have caught thousands of rainbows in my time, but this one has to be one of, if not the prettiest big ones I have ever caught and released.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those that know me know I have been all over the world through business travel… usually related to Microsoft. So, I always get asked, “What is your favorite place in the world?” and my answer is usually, “The one I’m in at the time. But, I can give you a top 5.” Ecuador is always in my top 5 list. Quito is one of my favorite big cities in the world. It’s at 11,000 feet and nestled into the Andes. Its people and its food are awesome. It’s traffic; not so much. However, what big city can argue being just a few hours drive from total nature in the Andes or the Amazon?
That is one of the many reasons Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador is so special. It’s in the wilderness at 12,000 feet near Cayambe-Coca National Park. And it is still within an hour’s drive of Quito. And it has awesome fly fishing that can excite the beginner as easily as the expert.
This was my 2nd time visiting Campuchoca Lodge and my good friend Eduardo Campuzano who runs the lodge and guides me to 20+ fish days of catching and releasing big Andean Rainbow trout.

Campuchoca – aggressive takes no matter how big the streamer is

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe I did a good job of documenting my last experience at Campuchoca in 2016 well here:

Campuchoca Lodge, near Quito, Ecuador


So in this post I’ll try to focus on what was unique this time; and the fly fishing experience; and guidance on how you can do this too when you are in the Quito area.

Compuchoca Lodge is only 30-40 or so miles outside of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Some of Eduardo’s property lies in the national park. Cayambe-Coca National Park is an Ecological Reserve / nature reserve in Ecuador located along the Equator. When the clouds clear (which they did not for me this time), the world famous, snow-topped Cayambe volcano is within view.

I have never been anywhere that has so many hummingbirds; frequently 10+ at a time buzzing loudly while competing for nectar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, what was the same this time around at Campuchoca was catching a lot of big rainbows and getting my ass kicked hiking at 12000+ feet by a 71 year old. But, I am 20 pounds lighter than my visit in 2016 so I think I held up pretty good; a lot better. It was physical for sure. There is some huffing and puffing. I’m sore today and my back and left arm are killing me from hiking and fighting big wild rainbows – a problem I love to have.
Eduardo picked me up at my hotel in Quito. There was zero traffic because it was a Saturday. Because we were excitedly catching up it seemed like we were at the turnoff into the wilderness in no time. As we drove up the well beaten up 4 wheel drive dirt road to the lodge we noticed a few rises here and there. As is typical, Eduardo was quick to point out that the Solunar Calendar was not in our favor and that I should have come to fish a couple days earlier. He said the exact same thing last time and we still killed.
We had a quick cup of coffee and I wadered up. You really don’t need waders or wading boots at Campuchoca; you never need to go in the water. But, I have fallen in love with my $69 wading pants from bass pro shops…. So much that I tend to wear them more than my $800 Simms Waders. I wear Korkers for wading boots so for Campuchoca I used the interchangeable hiking soles for them.

Is this burly little left-hander from N. Hollywood, CA having fun in the Andes or what?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a quick cup of coffee we got back in the truck and drove down to the water in the lower part of the Campuchoca lodge property. On this part of the property the water is not natural; Eduardo designed and built it. it’s mostly slow moving, but not froggy and it’s connected by a number of small creeks, locks and weirs. Sure enough we got there during a midge hatch and the rainbows were rising everywhere. I have some fantastic size 20 midge dry flies that kill at home (that I did not tie). I asked permission from Eduardo to use them and he granted it…provided they were really small. But the hatch was on and my Winston Boron 2 6 weight was still in the tube. If you are a fly fisherman you know this feeling: you hurry because the hatch is on and you make mistakes. And that is exactly what I did. I made a mistake that took me 3 hours to figure out. I looped the line around the last two eyelets of the rod.
It took forever to get rigged which included having to put on a brand new 5x leader. Sure enough by the time I was ready the hatch was over. I made 3 or 4 casts (that were really awkward and hit the water hard because of the looped line) and got nothin’. Eduardo told me to switch to nymphing and my heart sunk. Then he told me to use an indicator and I was heartbroken. There’s no grasshoppers in the Andes at 12K feet so using a Huck Hopper would have been silly…I think… I kinda’ wanted to try. So, I whined about throwing a bobber and searched for an indicator in my bag. I haven’t fished an indicator in so long it took me a while to find one and it was way too big for the water I was throwing at.

just another big rainbow caught and released at Campuchoca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, I switched my whiny attitude to a positive: “I’ll tie on two of my own “go to” flies to prove they work anywhere”, I said to myself: a size 18 Huck-Midge Cripple dropped by a size 18 huck-green caddis nymph cripple. My first cast with the bobber went nowhere. I hadn’t noticed the loop in the line and the friction it caused. So, I fired one harder and this time the line shot out of the rod without too much friction straight into a tree on the other side of the river. I lost both flies. Sigh. I went to a single huck midge cripple and didn’t get any takes. That is when Eduardo came at me with a really well tied flashy size 6 streamer in rainbow trout colors. Sure enough I got a viscous strike (that is what wild fish do) on it quickly and I battled a nice 18” female rainbow that jumped a number of times. After “Freddie” (Eduardo’s helper) released the fish Eduardo said, “Well, that took a while.”, with a smile on his face. I thought to myself, yea, I guess that was about 30 minutes before the first take so I said my usual, “Yea, we earned that one.”. We fished streamers the rest of the day.
The morning session before lunch was about the best river streamer fishing I had ever had. And all the rainbows were above 14” in that morning session. I did catch one special fish in that morning session: a huge male rainbow way north of 20” that battled me though numerous jumps. It had a red band so prominent it almost looked like a spawning fish. But, the rainbows in the Andes only spawn once a year in May. It just was a huge beautiful wild rainbow trout.

My favorite part of this big beautiful rainbow is the fishing dogs that served as my audience on both sides of the river while I battled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the water in the lower section is clear so Eduardo typically moves up stream of me a hundred feet or so and spots fish for me. It’s totally fun team fishing. He gets super excited when he sees big fish and now that we are buddies shows intense disappointment with me when I don’t fool them. 😊
Around noon we got back in the truck and headed back up to the lodge for a couple tuna sandwiches (pronounced “ahh-toon” in Spanish), water and a beer. Then we headed up the mountain for the 2nd session in the natural section of the river (which by the way is fed by numerous beautiful waterfalls.

It’s hard not to look up when fishing at Campuchoca. There are waterfalls and animals everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The water in the natural section was not clear. At least it was not this day so we couldn’t do any spotting. There were some slow points, but also some crazy good points of action. At one point I switched out the streamer I was using for a size 10 black marabou beadhead tied with a rabbit strip that I tied. It killed.

Almost like the red-band rainbows of Oregon many of these Andean trout have a well defined red stripe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a point where I was casting 40 feet to an inlet and getting strikes on every cast. It was like 100 fish were lined up at that inlet. The funny thing is I didn’t even notice it. That is another one of the best things about fishing with Eduardo. He tells you where to throw. There’s so much water you could spend the entire day trying to find fish without him. He knows where they are. He is the trout whisperer of the Andes.
All in all, I landed over 20 rainbows over the day. I’m not a counter; that is what Eduardo told me I did. That felt about right. Since I was streamer fishing I bet I had 40 takes where I didn’t hook the trout. That ratio (one landed for every 2 misses) is also about right, especially if you are using barbless hooks like I was.

the fireplace at Campochoca Lodge in the living room. many a crying funny story has been told here with cocktails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you find yourself in Quito and want to fly fish (whether you are a total beginner-Eduardo will teach you or an expert) you really do owe yourself a visit to Eduardo at Campuchoca. To top it off it’s inexpensive; especially if you compare the equivalent to fishing guided at a lodge in Montana. Actually, Campuchoca is ridiculously cost effective; like a fraction of the cost when compared to Montana.

Eduardo will custom tailor a visit for you that can include any or all of the following:
• Full or ½ guided days of fly fishing for wild rainbows in the Andes that not only includes an expert guide like Eduardo, but a “boy” who pulls your flies out of the trees and releases the fish for you. It’s such “spoiled” fly fishing. This in itself is a bucket lister for any fly fisherman. But it gets better:
• Custom cooked, arguably gourmet meals, in any combo of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We enjoyed the back strap of a white tail that Eduardo harvested himself for dinner on this night. Any hunter knows how special that is. It was so good, I actually thought it was a filet mignon (cow) before Eduardo straightened me out.
• Fine wines, beer and custom cocktails like Eduardo’s “signature cocktail”, the “Sole Sombra”, which served “up”, ½ pinchon (kind of like the Ecuadorian version of absinthe) and brandy. They are so good I bought a bottle of Pinchon in duty free so that I can make them for Kelly and me.
• Nights in 1 or 2 bedroom suites in the lodge. The lodge is not a cabin. These are super nice, 5 star level suites with all the appointments. Some of the rooms have stunning views of the Andes.
• Plenty of options that are not fly fishing like horse back riding, bird hunting, target shooting, hiking, trail running, bird watching, and, of course, visits to the national park. So, although I haven’t done it yet, having my wife Kelly join me at Campuchoca for a long weekend is definitely going to happen and would be a great weekend for any couple.
• Pick up and drop off from your hotel in Quito or the Quito airport.

the bar at Campochoca Lodge where Eduardo makes his infamous Sole Sombras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since writing that first post on Campuchoca in 2016 I have been contacted by numerous people on how to plan this. The number one complaint I get (actually only from Americans) is how much difficulty they have in making contact with Eduardo. This has everything to do with that fact that Americans not only do not use Whatsapp, but most don’t even know what it is.

The rooms in the lodge are beautiful, 5 star level suites with all the appointments. Some of the rooms have stunning views of the Andes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, here is your guidance to arrange a trip to Campuchoca easy:
How to fly fish Ecuador when in the Quito area at Campuchoca Lodge:
You need to contact Eduardo in one of 3 ways starting from the most effective to the least effective:
1. Whatsapp – It’s an app that runs on your phone or computer that is the dominant way of communication in Latin America. Install it. Add Eduardo to your contacts in Whatsapp by his phone number: +593 99 973 6205
2. SMS – text Eduardo by his phone number: +593 99 973 6205
3. Email – send Eduardo an email at: EduardoCampuzano767@gmail.com
4. Call him on his mobile phone: +593 99 973 6205

Eduardo does not live at the Campuchoca lodge. He lives in Quito so once you make contact with him he is very responsive.  And yes, he speaks beautiful English.

I should not have to say this, but there is no cell signal at Campuchoca so when he’s there he will be out of contact on his phone. And even if they did stick a big ‘ol ugly cell tower on that mountain it would not work. The cellular band ceases to exist at about 12K feet. But, he is very good about getting right back to you if you leave him a message.

Here’s a great video of Campuchoca from a drone on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=261&v=Qnl9h5M4jro

Campuchoca has a web site: http://www.campucocha.com

Have fun at Campuchoca. Email me a full report.

Amazon Basin, Ecuador

December 9-11, 2016

A baby Capuchin Monkey i shot while waiting for a river taxi (by pango)

A baby Capuchin Monkey I shot while waiting for a river taxi (by pango)

This trip was an adventure I’ll remember forever; mostly because I’m so lucky to be able to have visited the Ecuadorian Amazon.  And since there was a little bit of fly fishing and some guiding I say it qualifies for my fly fishing blog.  I was coming off a great weekend of fly fishing at Campuchoca Lodge near Quito and a successful business week with my developer team at Logic Studio in Quito.  The Founder of Logic Studio is a good friend of mine I have known for almost 20 years, Edgar Sanchez.  When I told him I’d be looking for adventure the weekend before and after the business trip, he immediately said, “You are coming with Carmiñia and me to the Amazon Basin for the weekend.”  So I was excited to spend a long weekend below the Equator.  I also immediately asked, “Will we see Capuchins?”  Every one said, “Absolutely yes.”  But, I had heard that before.  In Costa Rica.  And we saw lots of monkeys, but we didn’t see any Capuchins.  The Capuchin monkey is that smart one you see on documentaries that has learned to clean its food along with a number of many other ingenious hunting techniques.

The only bummer about this trip was that Kelly was not with me.   She loved the Costa Rica trip and would have absolutely loved most of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  I really missed her at many points of this adventure and yet a handful of times I said to myself, “God, Kelly would hate this.”   But, I must have told Edgar and Carmiñia 20 times during the trip: “Kelly would love this.”

So, we set out Friday morning from Quito in Edgar’s Ford SUV.  Edgar warned me that it would be at least four hours to the confluence of the Napo and Misahuallí (also called Tena) rivers where we’d catch a boat to the Misahuallí lodge.  And after we plowed through the morning Quito traffic he told me it would be a beautiful drive East, over the Andes, past the volcanoes, by numerous waterfalls, and into the Amazon Basin on the other side; it was.

Carmiñia and me on the Quijos River

After a few hours of driving we made a sack lunch stop Carmiñia had prepared before the trip at Pena Pivico Park on the Quijos river.  After lunch we checked out the river….and I was jonesing hard to fish because it looked like the perfect trout habitat – cold, fast water running down from the Andes.

Edgar and Carmiñia found each other later in life.  Edgar is my age and they have only been married a year or so.  So, it was like being with newlyweds.  That really made me miss Kelly although she won’t even hold my hand because “It’s sweaty”.  And Edgar and Carmiñia found each other through running.  They are totally fit.  In fact, they both just completed a marathon in Brazil.  So, in that respect, as couples we are really similar and in terms of fitness, but, I’d be the weak link of the four of us, which is motivating.

When we finally got to the small city of Misahuallí we got out of the car so we could figure out how we arrange the boat across the confluence of the Napo and Misahuallí rivers to get to the Misahuallí lodge.  And sure enough, there they were right in the town!  Capuchins!

Mother and baby Capuchins just walking the town of Misahuallí looking for mischief (food)

Mother and baby Capuchins just walking the town of Misahuallí looking for mischief (food)

In Spanish too fast for me to understand Edgar talked to the locals and got everything figured out.  Carmiñia and I waited down by the river while Edgar navigated the car down to the “beach” to drop off the luggage.  And we were surrounded by Capuchin Monkeys in the trees.  There had to be 30 of them.  It was awesome.  We hadn’t even got to the lodge yet and my number one goal was accomplished.

Three Capuchin Monkeys playing in the trees

Three Capuchin Monkeys playing in the trees

Jonas was to pilot his long skinny panga boat with an outboard motor that are native to the amazon basin.  And Edgar not only found out that Jonas was the “great fisherman of the town”, but soon we had arranged a full day of fishing and exploration with Jonas the following day.  And I didn’t feel guilty at the time because it was going to be ~ a half day of fishing and the rest a touristy boat ride with adventures.  I wanted to do an adventure where all 3 of us could have fun.  Jonas said in Spanish – You will see a lot of animals.  That was good enough for me.

Jonas loading the Pango with Edgar. Notice my 60 lb duffel bag filled with fly fishing equipment

Jonas loading the Pango with Edgar. Notice my 60 lb duffel bag filled with fly fishing equipment

The boat ride was only 5 minutes or so across the river to the Misahuallí lodge.  And the lodge is awesome…beautiful… on an island up high with a great view surrounded by 3 rivers.  As we walked up the stairs I was shocked to see a wild Scarlet Macaw hanging out at the lodge.  Well, we were to learn quickly that Paco the Parrot was wild…but, he wasn’t a parrot and he didn’t really enjoy the wild.

Paco the Scarlet Macaw after sneaking into the restaurant with the Napo River in the background

Paco the Scarlet Macaw after sneaking into the restaurant with the Napo River in the background

Our rooms were bungalows on stilts.  No TV; no A/C; no internet in the room; great by me.  It wasn’t long before we were having a snack and the local beer, Pilsener, while enjoying the view of the river from above.  After that we got a boat ride back to town to have a few beers and watch the Capuchins.

The bungalos at Misahuallí lodge

The bungalos at Misahuallí lodge

We were watching the Capuchins again standing in the town square.  They were up in the trees.  And we were talking to Jonas arranging the big adventure in the morning.  Everything was going perfect.  I took sunglasses off to see the Capuchins up in the tree better and that is when it happened: like it was in slow motion, this big ass bug flew out of nowhere right into my left eye and clamped on.  It took me 3 attempts to get it out of there and it stung really badly.  Jonas was fairly panicked and told Edgar to get me water to flush my eye immediately.  We walked briskly across the street and I started flushing.  My eye stinged like hell.  Jonas explained to Edgar that it was the “Choncherro”.  A flying beetle which lays it’s eggs in your eye and if successful it could be bad.  You can imagine me thinking, “ok, I have been in the Amazon 3 hours and I’m going blind because of a bug laying its eggs in my eye.”  Well, long story short it took 3 days, but my eye finally stopped hurting and the redness went away.  Beers really helped the pain that night, though.

A big male Capuchin just hanging out in town

A big male Capuchin just hanging out in town

We were really exhausted and went to sleep early.  Which means I rose around six AM, with the sun, left eye slight red, swollen and stinging.  And what was seemingly with thousands of birds doing their thing around my bungalow.  I walked the property with my camera, but the birds are so fast and so high it’s hard, if not impossible to get shots of them.

The view of the Napo River from my bungalo at Misahuallí Lodge

The view of the Napo River from my bungalo at Misahuallí Lodge

I met Edgar and Carmiñia for breakfast at the lodge (eggs, bread, fruit) and soon Jonas moved his boat across the river and we were ready for the adventure.  We took off down the Napo River.  The Napo is huge and it’s a feeder to the Amazon River.  What surprised me about the Napo was how much current and rapids the Napo had.  And this was the lower river point.  It must rage in spring.  And it must be a very dangerous river in Spring.

Our first stop was to arrange lunch for later in the day.  Honestly, I thought we wouldn’t see anything civilized on the boat journey, but we arrived at a ferry crossing where cars are shuttled across.  At the ferry crossing there was a small open air restaurant.  The owner of the restaurant came running out to take our order.  In Spanish he said, “Tilapia, Chicken or meat”.  It’s not the nasty farmed tilapia that we get in the states; the ones that live on the bottom of the salmon pens and eat the salmon pellet leftovers and excrement.  In Ecuador it’s the real fish caught by nets in the rivers and lakes so the tilapia is pretty good.

Edgar and Carmiñia at the beginning of our big boat adventure

Edgar and Carmiñia at the beginning of our big boat adventure.  Notice the official Timex Iron-man hat that Carmiñia is wearing.  That hat was worn in Ironman Kona by “legendary” triathlete Will Garratt.  i ended up having to give that hat to Carmiñia she liked it so much.

Anyways after making the order and agreement to return around 2pm we cruised on to the first fishing stop.  It was a really deep froggy pool on the inside of a bend in the river.  This is where I learned our fishing guide, Jonas the great fisherman of the village was targeting catfish in hugely deep water with bait.  And he was hand lining instead of using a rod.  As you well know that is the exact opposite type of water that a fly fisherman would fish in for predators.   No problem.  I’d just hop out of the boat and walk up river to find some decent water and it wasn’t far.  So, I did and fished my way back to the boat with no takes. Carmiñia and Edgar did a little exploring.  Well, I decided to fish near Jonas and the boat waiting for Edgar and Carmenia to come back and I stepped in what appeared to be quick sand.  I sunk to my thighs.  I didn’t really panic because Jonas was within site.  But, I lost my sandal to the amazon in the process.  It was over 3 feet down and there was no way to find/retrieve it.  If I was alone that was have been a bit scary.

My lone remaining sandal along with my fly fishing bag on the ponga.

My lone remaining sandal along with my fly fishing bag on the ponga.

The real problem was that Jonas was not guiding.  He was simply fishing.  I assumed he was going to teach Edgar and Carmiñia how to hand-line fish.  But, no, we were paying Jonas to fish by himself.  That bugged me.  And of course he got skunked.  So, I intended to teach Carmiñia how to cast a fly rod anyways so I called her over and that is what I did for the balance of the fishing day: worked on Carmiñia and her cast.  Which really pleased me because at this stage in my fly fishing life, I would rather teach beginners to fly fish than to fish myself anyways.  We wandered a few miles downriver and into a different river called the Arujiuna where the fishing was supposed to be better. The trick was that Jonas kept picking really deep froggy water backed up against a cliff and parking the boat in it – the exact wrong type of water for a 4 wt and a floating line.  But, Carmiñia and I kept trying.  And her cast was getting better and better and she was really loving it.  And guess what?!  She hooked two fish!  I even hooked a fish that I had on for a few seconds that looked like a piranha.

Carmiñia stripping back a streamer after another decent 30 foot reach cast. She's a natural.

Carmiñia stripping back a streamer after another decent 30 foot reach cast. She’s a natural.

One of our stops was an animal sanctuary (not a zoo) right on the Napo river.  That was a pleasant surprise and explained the “you are going to see a lot of animals” thing.  The sanctuary had 3 types of animals:

  • Wild animals that had been domesticated and then abandoned or confiscated, unable to return to the wild.
  • Injured animals on the rehab to be released back into the wild.
  • Wild animals whose offspring are released into the wild.

Our guide, Camilla, was a Danish scientist doing a 3 week volunteering effort at the sanctuary.  I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of mosquito bites she had.  She took us through an 1.5 hour tour of the sanctuary and it was pretty interesting.  I also got a number of good pictures.

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Another one of our stops was to a Kichwa viliage to see how the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian jungle lived.  We saw the genius natural traps made by the native people for catching animals.  The Shaman who did our tour did a crazy ritual on Carmiñia to rid her of evil spirits or something like that.  Right after that he told us for a dollar we could take a picture with his Caymen – so depressing.  The poor thing was put in a narrow deep hole of muddy water with his mouth bound.  No thank you.

Overall it was a really fun day of adventures.  We covered about 5 river miles.

river-map

We didn’t pull back into the lodge until after 6pm, showered up, took the “boat taxi” across the river, had dinner, beers, “boat taxi” back and crashed early again.

It was now Sunday morning and like the day before I woke up with the sun and the sound of all the birds….and Paco

But, I was staring at a red eye that night.  and the six hour drive back to the Quito airport.  the trip went so fast because I had so much fun.  Little did I know my biggest adventure in Ecuador was still ahead of me…

We ate breakfast at the lodge again.  Took the boat back across the river and Edgar retrieved his car parked right on the “beach” again.  We loaded up and off we went.

First there was another resort by way of one lane bridge across the river that Edgar wanted to check out for his next visit.  It was an awesome place with many small lakes.  And I bet Carminia and I could catch a lot of fish on the fly rod in those lakes.  There is no river view, though… which explains why it’s $20/night.

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We were told that the resort held a giant special fish.  Called a Paiche in the Amazon, we call it an Arapaima.  Anyways the lodge owners clapped their hands and splashed the lake and sure enough a seven foot Arapaima swam up.  Amazing.

a seven foot Arapaima acknowledging the call of it's owners

a seven foot Arapaima acknowledging the call of it’s owners

Somehow Edgar got a hold of a map that had identification of caves he had never been to in the province.  And somehow on the way out he called the town and got us a “guide” and after 3 or so hours in the car navigating back a different way to Quito we met Robinson Sanchez in Mera.  Mera is a tiny town in the eastern foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes.  Before we knew it Robinson was in Edgar’s car sitting next to me and we were on a nasty dirt mountain road headed for the caves called Cavernas Rio Anzu; a mountain road that demanded 4-wheel drive, which Edgar’s car did not have.  We finally made it to a gravel parking lot with an official government sign for the caves.  That was somewhat comforting because there are many caves in the US in the state and national parks that you can visit and do guided tours in.  But, what I was quickly to learn is that is the US where everything is indemnified and made easy on the tourist.  This is the Andes in Ecuador; I was to find out quickly you were at your own risk and surprises are just part of the deal.  I have a weakness in my personality in that I’m an ultra-planner that needs his expectations set.  Robinson did not speak English and I could tell that in Spanish with Edgar and Carmiñia that it was like pulling teeth getting information out of him.  I was dressed in the clothes I intended to wear on the airplane home.  What I gleaned was that there was a short hike to the cave entrance.  And that I should change to long pants because our legs might touch the plants on the hike.  Ok, fair enough.  It was a pain to dig my jungle pants out of my bag for a short hike, but ok.

Surprise #1: It wasn’t a short hike.  It was a 3-mile downhill death hike through the jungle, often sweltering on swampy ground; steep and slippery.  By the time we got to the cave we were already sweaty and dirty.

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Surprise #2: At the cave entrance Robinson handed both Edgar and me a flashlight.  Mine was a 50 cent Chinese piece of crap flashlight that was cracked to the point pieces were falling out of it with the batteries barely working – Useless.  And I left a high end professional backpacking head lamp in my bag at the car!  Uggg….  No problem, I’ll use the flashlight on my phone.

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We entered the cave and within 10 yards we had to climb and duck because there was no head room.  That just wouldn’t happen in the US.  In the US you’d walk with defined paths surrounded on both sides with ropes or guide rails.  I assumed it would just open up after that so we could walk around and explore in the cave after that.  Well, that first little climb took some agility so that was cool.  And you had to use your hands on the climb; it was dirty.  And since we only had one flashlight with Robinson carrying two candles the climb was mostly in the dark.

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Surprise #3: As we entered the first chamber I was looking forward to standing up and looking around.  Not a chance.  It was 4 feet in height at most.  I injured by back falling in the Upper Kern River just two weeks prior and sure enough I aggravated it again.  Now, my back was killing me and I was hunched over because there wasn’t enough room to stand up.  Yet, the stalagmites and stalactites were pretty awesome.  But, the cave was really muddy and wet.  My hands were already muddy so taking pictures with my phone or camera were out of the question.  The good news was that Robinson brought a camera and was willing to get his muddy.

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Surprise #4: I assumed that was it.  We’d take pictures and head out. Because there wasn’t any clear path large enough to go any farther.  Oh, was I wrong.  Robinson, in Spanish, said, “we keep going.”  And I said to myself, “you have to be kidding.”   Those who know me know I have done some crazy ass climbing just to get to the good fly fishing so I wasn’t going to be the one that said no.  At the same time Carmiñia (“Carmiñia Extrema”) was good with it so I was not going to be the guy that said no with her willing to keep going.  So we kept going.  And it kept getting harder and harder and the entrances kept getting skinnier and skinnier and required more and more effort to get through.  I turned to Edgar and said, “Do you see the irony of me being the tallest of the four of us in a place where it is advantageous to be short?”  he laughed.

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At one point I had to pull myself up through an entrance just big enough to squeeze my hips through…sideways.  In fact, I was stuck for a few seconds.  And it kept getting muddier and muddier.  And I kept thinking we must be getting to the large chamber where we can stand up.  But, no, the space kept getting smaller and smaller.   The cave was lined with a thick clay that at points that grabbed your shoes too.  So, I figured we were about 100-200 meters into the bowels of the mountain and we were completely muddy head to toe.  Finally, we could go no further and started the long process of heading back to the cave entrance.  At one point Robinson took a wrong turn!  I could help but think, “we are the first people he has ever taken in here.”

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Upon exiting the cave we were all smiles because it was a crazy adventure we’d remember for the rest of our lives.  It’s now 4pm and I’m sure that we are going to hike all the way back to the car.

Surprise #5: There’s another cave.   You have to be kidding me.  So, we hike another ½ mile down a treacherous and slippery “trail” to its entrance and do it all over again.

That's not a trail; that's a climb

That’s not a trail; that’s a climb

The 3 mile uphill jungle hike back to the car seemed simple compared to what we had just been through.  On the way I washed my hands, arms and watch in filthy puddles of rainwater.  My shoes and clothes were covered in mud.  Upon reaching the car I stripped down and put clean clothes on my dirty body…. Fully knowing I was going to have to fly from Quito to Houston like this.  My sole relief was knowing there was a shower at the United Club in Houston after the 5-hour flight.

You know the trail is treacherous when everyone has their heads down

You know the trail is treacherous when everyone has their heads down

On the long car journey to the Quito airport I fell asleep a number of times I was so exhausted.  On the plane I was in the row all by myself so I laid down over 3 seats and slept the entire way.  I slept right through the flight attendants coming with food and drinks.   As I showered in the club I smiled…until I felt my back killing me…noticed the hundreds of mosquito bites, and the big welt on my head from bonking it in the cave – totally worth it.dsc00079