Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Serching for the Woollies - A 5 day Trek in the Colombian Amazon - Day1


  Recently I had the pleasure of joining the Maikuchiga team on one of their research expeditions.  Over the last few years they have been heading out into the forest once a month in search of the endangered woolly monkey troops. In an effort to begin collecting baseline data, 4 to 7 days are spent walking through the forest looking for any signs of these beautiful primates. Population dynamics are a focus with data on the number of individuals, sexes and relative ages being collected. As their role as seed dispersers is also of interest, even when the monkeys themselves are not spotted, the team takes notes on the leavings of meals and any other signs that the woollies have been present.  Because information on most wild life is scarce, data collection is not just limited to the woollies as any large mammal sightings are recorded.

Karol, a 3 year old woolly monkey
It was thanks to Mike and Brian, a couple of American tourists that I finally had the excuse to join one of these excursions.  They wrote me requesting a 4 night trek through the Amazon and I immediately proposed heading out to look for the woollies. They agreed and a few months later we found ourselves on the Amazon river at sunrise heading towards the native community of Mocagua to meet up with the other half of the expedition.  A couple of hours were spent at the Maikuchiga monkey sanctuary while we made final preparations. Mike and Ben took advantage of this time to get familiar with some of the resident non-human primates. Mostly orphaned babies or juveniles they form a makeshift troop as the gain strength and experience so that they can eventually rejoin the wild populations. For more info on how the sanctuary works you can check out our blog post describing the work they do.  

Brian with a baby red howler monkey


Gonzalo, Julian, Mike, Brian, Freddy, Henry
 Joining us on the trek were Freddy and Henry, 2 indigenous members of the Tikuna tribe who had worked with the foundation for a number of years and Gonzalo an apprentice guide who works with us at Yoi EcoTours.  We set out around 9 in the morning each carrying around 30 pound packs.  I will not sugar coat it, the first day was hard. Trekking through the amazon rainforest is a slow difficult process. The heat, humidity and uneven terrain combine to challenge even seasoned trekkers.  Regular breaks are needed for rest but more importantly for hydration.  On average we would consume a liter an hour, so any streams crossed were exploited to refill our ever emptying water bottles.

These were not our only stops however as we were rewarded with a few wild life sightings on the way including squirrel monkeys as well as my first look at a white hawk.

 Acclimatizing to the environment takes a bit of time and despite being surrounded by beautiful forest our main focus was getting to our destination, a camp located approximately 9 kilometers from the sanctuary.  After 5 hours of hiking as we entered a small clearing, where we were met by a small slightly raised platform with a roof made of palms. This would be home for the next 4 nights. Sleeping in hammocks, bathing in the nearby stream and meals cooked over a wood fire would make up the domestic aspect of the next few days.  The rest of the time would be spent searching for and admiring the amazing wild life and nature that surrounded us.  Despite 5 years of living here and heading out on many treks into the forest, each outing would reveal new and sometimes surprising things to marvel at. So that night I slept well knowing that the day’s tough hike was a worthwhile investment and that we would be well rewarded in the days to come.

Launching from Leticia we offer immersive, personalized  amazon tours and treks.
If you are interested in maybe joining us on a trek or on a tour of the Amazon you can find more information on our website :
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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

And so Goes Juancho, Farewell!

Juancho during the last time tourists paid him a visit

For those of you who never got a chance to meet him let me introduce Juancho.  Juancho is a male red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus).  Howler monkeys are  herbivores who live in troops with one predominant male, who does almost 100% the mating, a number of females and a few submissive males who do almost 0% of the mating.  A result of this mating structure is that the dominant male needs to have a strangle grip ( almost literally) on the submissive males to ensure that they don't overthrow him.   Aggression is not limited to the males as the females also on occasion express themselves through violence.   It is when the monkeys reach sexual maturity, around 3 years of age, that they begin to manifest this aggressive behavior.  It will first manifest itself as mock threats but there will reach a point that  they can become potentially dangerous. 

Which brings us back to Juancho. A resident of the Maikuchiga monkey sanctuary, Juancho was know to be a sucker for female affection. It was not uncommon to see him curled up quietly in the lap of a female visitor as he enjoyed her caresses.  Amid the madness sometimes created by some of the other more hyperactive residents of the sanctuary he seemed a relief for those who found the other monkey's play a bit too lively.  Always happy to be stretched out lazily in the sun it was not a little out of character when Juancho began to manifest aggressive displays, climbing into overhead trees and threateningly shaking limbs.  At the beginning however, these demonstrations were harmless and a great way for guests to see how a wild howler monkey might receive intruders into his domain.  Unfortunately these displays did not remain so benign. On a visit in August with a group of 6 Germans which included 3 young boys Juancho made it very clear that things had gone beyond just mock posturing.  Although it was fascinating to see him charge forward , hair standing on end , violent intent written across his face, it was concerning that he had become so territorial.  Even though the expert staff controlled the situation and were able calm him down to the point where the boys could share the same space safely, it had become very clear that he had reached that point in his life cycle where he would be ready to take the next step in the rehabilitation process.  So the decision was made to relocate Juancho and allow him to make his fortunes out in the forest. 


Juancho was by no means unprepared for his new lifestyle.  Monkeys at the sanctuary are not kept inclosed and are encouraged to foray alone into the surrounding forest.  On many occasions Juancho would spend days at a time out in the forest only to return with marks showing he had some less than favorable interactions with a wild howler mokey troop.  Over time it became evident that he was ready to take on his own survival without the aid of the sanctuary.  It was with mixed feelings that he was sent on his way.  On one hand the primary aim of the sanctuary is to rehabilitate animals to the point where they can be reintroduced into a wild environment and fend forthemselves.  On the other hand, as many guests have found, it is easy to connect to these animals.  Their expressions and behaviours are sometimes so human that it is easy to relate to them and create freindships.  Juancho will be missed but it is the hope that he will play a role in building up wild populations to the point where instead of seeing these animals in sanctuaries we will be able to enjoy seeing them with more ease in the wild. Goodbye Juancho and farewell!

If you are interested in supporting the work of the Maikuchiga Sanctuary you may do so by contacting the

Maikuchiga Sanctuary -

or Yoi EcoTours -

If you are interested in visiting the sanctuary you can find out more information on the tours we offer by visiting our website:

or by writing us at:

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Year Goes by and Things Continue to Grow

I just realized today that it has been a little over a year since my last blog post, but it has not been for a lack of things to report.  Totally the opposite, things have been so busy that I haven't gotten around to updating this neglected blog.  Thanks to the continually growing interest in the lodge we have been happily forced to build a second cabin.  Start to finish things definitely went a lot smoother this second time around.  Things went so smoothly in fact that by the time I remembered to start taking photos, as you can see above, the cabin had already taken on its basic shape. It didn't take long for the rest of the cabin to fill out.

The only element that was missing at this stage was the washroom.  Not everyone was so keen on having to go outdoors at night to reach the washrooms when they received a nocturnal nature call.  So out of consideration for all the boyfriends who have had to first investigate and then stand guard at 1am we decided to add this little feature to our new cabin.  Just like our other washrooms it does have a flush toilet and a normally functioning shower.

With the washroom done our second cabin was completed.  After so much time and effort invested in this project all I am very happy with the finished product, both inside,

and out.

Thanks again to all our guests who have made it possible for us to continue along this amazing journey.

If you are interested in visiting us please visit our website for more information on our tours.

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Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Journey Continues

It has been a while since I last posted anything and it has not been uneventful here in the Amazon.
Altough there have been a few low points there have been an equal number of high points.
The biggest news  would have to be that we have built a maloca.  A maloca is a traditional indigenous home.  We took a few liberties with the design so it does not strictly follow the design of any one tribe but the basic concept is there.  It definitely was an element that was missing at the lodge.  It is a perfect spot to relax or take a nap in a hammock after a trek through the forest or a good meal. It is also great for sending those of your group who snore a bit too loudly.

Also inside the maloca we have also begun to create a mini museum with both natural and cultural items from the region.  This includes a collection of animal skulls, some fossils and a blow dart gun.
The animal skulls have been acquired by finding them in the forest or asking the natives to donate them instead of throwing them away after a successful hunt.  The fossils we have found in the river during the dry season. We make an effort to collect all of them because they will all be washed out into the Amazon and then out into the Atlantic if we don't pick them up. The hunting weapons have been purchased from the local community.

 For me at least the most interesting item we have is a fossilized tooth which looks very much like it could be of a giant alligator or crocodile. The tooth is approximately 10 centimetres long and about 5 wide. Hopefully sometime soon we can confirm exactly which species this belongs to.

We have also added a few other details around the lodge such as the sign which is visible above.  Although we will always be making small changes around the lodge, at least for the time being the facilities won't be changing much until our visitor volume increases.

Aside from construction there are always a million things that keep you occupied when your run a business on your own but it has been worth all the effort.  It has been a very satisfying journey and there is still a lot to come and I invite everyone to come down to Colombia and share it with us. 

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Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Rise and Fall of the Amazon River

I have been here in the Amazon since July of last year and have had the chance to see the various moods and manifestations of the incredible river of the same name.  Even though this river moves more water that any other on the planet it is not an unchanging body of water.  The river and surrounding forests generally know 2 seasons, the wet and dry.  However because of its immense length there are parts of the river that my experiencing one season and along another stretch of river you may find the opposite season in full force.   Don't be mistaken by the term dry season, it is used relatively, it rains during this time of year as well.  On average the Amazon rainforest gets showered with between 1.5 and 3 meters of rain.  Here near Leticia a large portion of that rain is concentrated from November to May with  the other half of the year receiving noticeably less rain.  As the rainy season progresses the Amazon river changes drastically.  Tiny streams 2 meters wide and 2 meter deep become rivers  50 meters wide and 17 meters deep.  (First series of photos)

   In some areas the river encroaches considerably flooding a few kilometres into to rainforest.  The only way to really  appreciate this is by showing you lovely people some before and after photos.  I realize that the extent of the change may not be entirely apparent in all the comparisons.  This mostly comes from the fact that now that the river is grown I couldn't take the photo from the same spot I did when the river was dry because that spot is now underwater.  In any case I hope the striking change still comes across in the images.

The first was taken in the port in Leticia.  The arrows indicate a point of reference so that you can get a better idea of how the river changes.

Taken in September

Taken in October

Taken in November

Taken in February

The next couple photos were taken from the community of San Martin. I am missing a photo to show how high the river is now but  I will hopefully be able to upload one by next week.
Here the river in some spots is less than a meter deep.

The river here is starting to rise and now is over a couple meters deep.

These last 2 were taken in front of the Yoi EcoLodge.

Taken in August

Taken in February
Not every year is exactly the same in terms of how high the river is at certain times and nor when the river is at its highest and lowest points.  Some times the river will rise and then drop drastically only to rise to the same level a couple of weeks later.  Its unlikely that climate change is helping the variability of  the river.  Unfortunately it may be challenging for those of you who do not live here to have the opportunity to see all the faces of this incredible river.  I hope that you will come and see at least one. 

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Monday, 6 February 2012

So you hate bugs….. Part 2

So I intentionally started off with some insects that may not be so popular but I will continue with some that are a lot more liked.  Just as with the grasshoppers the moths and butterflies (order Lepidoptera) are another order that come in a variety of shapes  sizes and colors.  Before I get critiqued by any of our more nerdy readers I should mention that moths are a group within the order of butterflies so technically they are butterflies but here we will use the two terms as they are popularly used.

For those of you who have no idea how to distinguish between moths and butterflies here are some general rules to separate them.
  •  Moths are generally nocturnal and butterflies are generally diurnal.
  •  Moths usually have feathery antennae and butterflies have thin antennae ending in a larger   bulb.
  •  At rest butterflies will fold the wings together while moths will have the wings folded down.
  •  The least reliable indicator is that moths may look a little more furry than butterflies.

 Here is a photo of a moth that typifies these characteristics

And here is a butterfly that shows off their common trademarks


Swallow Tail Moth  -Urania leilus
Of course as with most things there are exceptions to the rules.  A good example of this is  the Swallow Tail Moth (Urania leilus).  This flashy moth demonstrates almost all the trademarks of the butterflies. It is diurnal, has thin antenna and is not that furry.  This moth is also easily confused because it looks similar to many swallow tail butterflies.

Most people have the idea that moths are fairly drab colored, either grey white or maybe black. Although there are some that follow that color scheme there are many that are just as brightly colored as any butter fly. Here are a few examples

The moth below deserves special mention only because of how strangely it folds its wings. Normally it will appear as most moths do but for some reason it will at times curl up its wings and assume  the pose seen below.

 Butterflies on the other hand are well known for their bright colors which sometimes indicate that they are poisonous and they rarely disappoint in this regard. Here are a few examples
Passion vine butterfly -
Philaethria dido

But there are also some that are more subdued, such as the owl butterflies which flash the spots on their wings to startle and misdirect would be predators.
Owl Butterfly - genus Caligo

For those of you that already know a little about the wildlife found in the amazon you may have noticed the absence of the Morphos with their shiny metallic blue wings.  This is only because I have yet to take a photo of one that I am happy with. They are common but also very active and you generally only see them as they are flying by.

In the Amazon almost no matter where you go, day or night, you will find active members of the order Lepidoptera. So named because in latin lepid = scale and in greek pteron = wing, and anyone who has ever looked closely at or held a butterfly can attest to the very fine scales that make up there wings. These beautiful scaly winged creatures are just another element that make the Amazon rainforest the gorgeous spectacle that it is.

You are warmly invited to visit the Yoi EcoLodge  and share the beauty that is the Amazon.

For more information on our Amazon Tours visit our website at

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Monday, 5 December 2011

So you hate bugs.... Part 1

Grasshoppers - order Orthoptera
Following on the last post's theme of animals I feel obligated to mention the most common animals visitors of the Amazon will see, insects.  I realize that not everyone will be excited to see these residents of the rainforest but they are inescapable.  Of the 1 million species identified world wide, approximately 13 percent of them have been found in the Amazon.  Although 130 000 have been described, scientists estimate there may be over a million species left to find.  So it's not unfair to say that there are a lot of bugs.  This incredible diversity means two things, first that you will see a lot of them and second that you will see an amazing variety of these widespread animals.
 Surprisingly one of the most common and varied orders is the grasshoppers/katydids. From the tree tops to underground you can find members of this group and they come in a number of shapes and colours.  There are those that imitate leaves down to the last detail,
Leaf Katydids - tribe Pterochrozini
Bolivars Katydid - Typophyllum bolivari

those that imitate walking sticks.

Jumping Stick - family Proscopiidae
 Those that are brightly coloured, 

Short-Horned Grasshoppers - families Arcididae & Romaleidae

and a number that are just strange.

Conehead katydid -  subfamily Copiphorinae

Mole Cricket - family Gryllotalpidae

Airplane grasshopper - 
Pseudomastax personata

 Besides those already mentioned you can find the largest katydid in the world (Spiny Lobster - Panoploscelis specularis), grasshoppers that imitate wasps and even those that are carnivorous.  Regardless of your personal feelings toward invertebrates in general, its hard not to have your curiosity piqued by at least one insect.  If grasshoppers aren't your cup of tea there are many other groups that may intrigue you.  For those of you with a phobia of insects don't let your fear stop you from visiting the beautiful amazon, like most animals if you leave them alone they will return the favour. 

If you would like to experience the amazing biodiversity found in the Amazon rainforest check out our website

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