The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

To get to the jungle was no easy feat.  I flew from Quito to Coca, then took a 2 hour motorised canoe ride up the Napo River (about 70 kms in total), then walked through the forest for half an hour, and then had another canoe ride (this time a dugout canoe) for 20 minutes or so, and then we finally reached the gorgeous Sacha Lodge . The lodge is set in a private reserve of 1800 hectares, the largest private reserve in the Ecuadorian Rainforest, and it is built near a lagoon, which is also where we are encouraged to go swimming in our spare time. Not surprisingly, it is very hot and humid.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

We arrived, welcomed by a cocktail and an introductory talk.  As a group, we were told about living in the jungle and how the next few days ahead will work. We are divided into groups, each with our own English-speaking guide. Ours is Gus, and we also have an Indian guide, Segundo, who speaks Quechuan and Spanish. He was born in the rainforest so is very knowledgable about the plants, their medicinal uses and basically everything about the jungle. In our group there are six tourists and two guides.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

We were also encouraged to go swimming in the large lake near the lodge.  I had been somewhat reluctant as that is also where the piranha fishing is.  However I asked Gus, our guide, “What’s in the lake?” He responded, “If I tell you will you promise me that it won’t put you off swimming?” “Sure,” I responded somewhat nervously.  He then replied, “Piranhas, anacondas, electric eels, caimans and all sorts of other things. But you don’t need to worry yourself about the piranhas and caimans because they won’t view you as food, and the stingrays and electric eels prefer the shallower swampy areas.” Hmmmm, I wasn’t sure, but swimming in the lake with the piranhas is all part of the experience, so somewhat nervously, I did take a brief dip in the water. Swimming with piranhas (and anacondas, caimans, electric eels and stingrays) ticked off the list!

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

And if that wasn’t enough, I can now also say that I’ve eaten ants.  We were walking through the forest and came across a tree that had clear space all around it, unusual for the jungle. Local Indians believe that the tree is evil because the clearing around the tree is unnatural. However the scientific explanation is that the tree is home to a lemon-ant who sets up their nest in the tree and clears the space around it and creates space for their nests. Surprisingly the ants didn’t taste too bad.  And obviously tastes just like lemon.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

There were lots of different activities – trekking through the rainforest, night hikes, canoe rides, exploring the creeks, going up bird towers, so lots of opportunities to see different kinds of wildlife. The guides were excellent, pointing out different animals and birds and making sure everyone in the group got to see them. They also explained about the plants in the rainforest and how native people use them. I learnt more about nature and science than I did in years of schooling, for example in the Amazon there are something like 630 different species of trees and shrubs in one hectare. By way of comparison, there are 680 species in all of North America, so that gives you an idea of the diversity there is.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

There were so many animals to spot.  In fact just near the lodge, we saw some small black monkeys called Black-Mantle Tamarin. They had been hanging out in the area for a couple of days. Then a short while later we came across the Pygmy Marmoset Monkey, apparently the smallest monkey in the world. Not long after that we saw some Squirrel monkeys, and later we saw more Squirrel Monkeys who had joined up with a troop of Capuchin monkeys.

One of my most memorable experiences came one afternoon as we getting in our canoe and heading up the canal towards the lake that leads back to the Lodge.  We had to stop and make way for a group of Squirrels and Capuchins to cross. It was incredible, close to a hundred monkeys jumping through the trees and crossing the canal  above us. We later came across some Red Howler Monkeys, which takes our grand total of monkeys to five.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

Diversity was certainly covered in the rest of the animal world. We saw tapir prints during our day trips, once we even saw a green vine snake. I was quite relieved to hear from Gus that snakes are very hard to see on a tour. We saw lots of stunningly coloured butterflies, including the beautiful bright blue Morpho butterfly, and an iridescent bright green one which turned out not to be a butterfly at all but a Uranea Moth. We also saw fruit bats and bulldog bats, and on the night trip we saw all sorts of spiders, a couple of scorpions, one eating dinner which I was pleased to see was a cockroach. Then we also saw a Kinkaju, which is a mammal. Well we kind of saw it, I saw a creature up a tree with little orange eyes shining in the light. On evening canoe rides we also saw caimans, turtles and we saw frogs, toads and lizards.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

However it was in the bird world that we were truly spoiled. Don’t laugh, but I am now a converted birdwatcher. I even bought a little book of all 577 species of birds spotted in this area and have started ticking them off. However when you have spotted exotic and colourful birds with names like Spangled Cotinga, Ivory Billed Araçari, and Greater Kiskadee it’s quite addictive! I won’t bore you with all the names of the birds, but we saw dozens of beautiful birds that live in the Amazon rainforest. One evening we were gently gliding through the canal in the canoe when we spied a Hoatzin on one side. He then took off, swooped in front of us and settled on the other side of the canal. Other times we saw Macaws, Hummingbirds, Toucans, Tanagers and all manner of magnificent birds. One morning we went down the river a further 30 minutes or so and watched the birds at the parrot clay lick. There were four types of parrots feeding that morning and it was amazing to witness.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

We also visited a local community for an hour or so one morning to see the underwater world. This was really interesting, but it was just as interesting to find out about the local Indian communities that live in the rainforest. The guides had told us that the local people fish with dynamite, which I couldn’t quite believe until I turned around and saw one of the young Indian guys without a hand. Apparently this is quite common, so it was good to support the local community to reduce their dependence on dynamite fishing.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

The Ecuadorian Amazon

One of the highlights however was on our last afternoon as we were exploring one of the creeks on our way to a bird watching tower. We came across more monkeys, but more thrillingly an anteater! These are very rare and difficult to see, and even Gus got excited as in 11 years of guiding in the rainforest, had only seen two previously. We were well and truly spoiled.

The Ecuadorian Amazon

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