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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Ecuador - Amazing Amazon

ECUADOR | Monday, 14 September 2009 | Views [686]

Spectacular sunset in the Amazon

Spectacular sunset in the Amazon

Once I'd booked the Galapagos, I started to look at where else I should go on my travels. I got chatting to a guest on our diveboat who had spent a week in the Galapagos and then a week in the Amazon - I hadn't even thought about the Amazon, a little research later and a plan was developing.

The best option seemed to stay in a lodge within the Amazon itself, day trips are not really feasible and I didn't want to be based on a boat and hop on and off for excursions, what I wanted was to be emersed in the rainforest. There were a number of lodges, all offering pretty similar itineries. I settled upon was Sani Lodge (www.sanilodge.com).  I chose it over the others as it is owned and managed by the indeigenous people and all the revenue generated stays within the community.  The revenue keeps them self sufficient and protects the land from the oil companies - nuff said

Day 1:

So the day after returning from the Galapagos, I was on another plane to Coca to begin my 5 day adventure into the Amazon (no rest for the wicked). I boarded a motorised canoe for a 3 hour journey down the Rio Napo river.  There were 4 other guests, along with the guide that had collected us from the airport (Freddy) and a number of Sani people all heading back to their homes, laden down with provisions.  We snaked down the river, avoiding sand banks and half submerged trees (very low water levels as it was the dry season).  We passed people going about their daily lives - fishing in wooden dug out canoes, children playing by the waters edge and waving as we passed and tantalising glimses of huts through the trees.  We disembarked and as soon as we got off the boat the humidity hit me. WOW. It was going to be a hot few days. We walked for about 30 minutes, passing banana trees and coffee plants along the way. We arrived at a small tributary and climbed aboard a wooded dug out, paddling for about 20 minutes with one amuzing detour to the river bank to collect a wad of mud to plug a whole in the boat !!!.  We exited the tributary and found ourselves in the amazing Challuacocha lake, surrounded by floating hyacinths and with tall grasses obscuring the shore. There on the banks was the lodge. The view was truly spectacular.

We had a welcome drink and then Freddy told us about the Sani community, how the lodge came into being and the pressure the oil companies put on them to allow exploratory drilling (which they thankfully didn't succome to). It was already evident that Freddy was passionate about his community, the lodge, the Amazon and the preservation of their land.

The Sani own 47,000 hectatres of land and have a population of about 450.  Each family has a plot of land 250m wide and 500m deep for a house and to grow produce both for subsistence and to sell - bananas, yukka, coffee & coca. They have a community centre where the elders meet each day and a school (funded by the lodge) for the children. 

After unpacking and freshening up, we went for a canoe trip on the lagoon.  We were treated to a variety of birdlife, including tucans & parrots, but I think the serenity of the place was what struck me most.

We had a basic but tasty meal, then a few beers in the bar watching the sunset & later the fireflies.  The most amazing part though is probably the insect noises of the jungle - you need a recorder rather than a camera.

Had an early night as we had a 5am wakeup call.

Day 2:

Dressed by torchlight and ate breakfast by candlelight.  The chef even had a head mounted torch on to cook by !  After a short canoe journey we walked alomg a trail until we reached a huge, 450 year old Kapok tree.  A stand-alone tower was positioned next to it which had stairs leading to the top of the tree where there was a platform overlooking the canopy of the rainforest -  an ideal place to bird watch.  The vantage point was awesome, the canopy stretched as far as the eye could see, and in the distance you could just make out the lodge. At this ungodly hour of the morning, both the canopy and skies were alive with birds and birdsong.  We saw numerous tucans, parrots, macaws and kites.  I could see why this was a birdwatchers paradise.

Heading back to the canoe we crossed the lagoon before setting off on a several hour hike.  We saw red howler monkeys relaxing in the canopy (beware of their poo - it reeks!), and noisy night monkeys asleep in a hollow in a tree. The guides found and pointed out numerous creatures including bullet ants (painful sting), termites, frogs, toads and lizards.  The guides (Freddy who spoke English, and Addon who was a native guide) explained about the various types of plants and how they were used for medicenes, dyes etc.  I soon became aware how dependant we were on the guides, if they told you to close your eyes and then spun you around, you would never find you way out with the maze of tracks and trails.  It became increasingly humid during the morning and it was a relief to return to the lodge.

We ate lunch and then enjoyed a siesta.

A forest trek in the afternoon, learning more about the uses of various plants in the forest.  In a clearing we came across a 'arbol limon' tree - home of lemon ants.  Despite my aversion to ants I ate some, and was not too amazed to find that ... they tasted of lemons.

Watched the sunset from the bar and black caymen elegantly cruising in the lagoon.

After dark we took canoes into the lagoon looking for close encounters of the cayman kind.  It was so tranquil in the lagoon, looking up there were millions of stars and all you could hear was the sound of frogs.  We saw several cayman, from juvenilles to adults over 2m in length - no swimming in the lagoon for me, thats for sure !

Day 3:

Awoke at 4am to the sounds of thunder, lightening and heavy rain - with no windows in the hut (only netting) I pulled the blanket over me as protection from the rain and duly went back to sleep.  Awoke again at 5:30 and it was still raining, storm noises apart, the rainforest was completely silent for the first time since I'd been here.  No activities when it is raining as its dangerous to be in the forest, so back to bed until it stopped.  It had slowed by about 9am so we set off for a revised trek - if it rains this much in the dry season, I would hate to be here in the rainy season !

After the rain, the forest was a different place, the trails were all mud and rivers of water, the forest was also quiet, except for the sound of rain, most of which failed to get through the canopy.  We treked through quite dense jungle and swampland - and I only got water in my wellies once.  The heavy rain had caused a number of trees to be uprooted and many branches had fallen across the trails, progress was slow and often required a machete to clear a path, or for us to retrace out steps - it all felt like a real jungle trek.  It was much cooler then previous days, but a haven for mosquitos.

We returned for lunch, then took a motorised canoe back to the Napo river.  The rainfall had caused quite a large rise in the water level and so the passage was easier.  As we travelled down the tributory, a troop of squirrel monkeys passed above us, chattering as they jumped from tree to tree.  Once back to the Napo we crossed to the far bank to visit the home of Addons family - an opportunity to see a traditional Sani home.

Firstly we were shown the non food plants that they grew around their land.  These included leaves that were fire resistant and used to wrap food for cooking on the fire, leaves used for weaving baskets and sap used both as an anticeptic and poultice.

His family all greeted us warmly (even though they spoke only Kichwa) and we were certainly a curiosity to the younger children - all of whom were full of smiles and dirt !!

The home was constructed of wood, with an open lower level divided by a single wall.  One half contained wooden logs for sitting on and a couple of hammocks and washing lines, the other half had an open cooking fire.  Lodged into the rafters were fishing implements, machetes and 2 old rifles (no locked gunrack needed here). There were stairs leading to an enclosed second level.  Chickens and dogs wandered around the perimeter of the house.

Our meal was being cooked on the open fire - sweet bananas were being boiled in an old pot and plantains and fish (caught by spear in the lake) were cooking in the embers.  All were wrapped in the leaves we had previously been shown.  We laid the table (floor) with our plates (banana leaves) and prepared our cuttlery (fingers).  The food was delicious and afterwards a bowl was passed around to wash our hands.  We finished by  drinking 'chicha' (made from yukka) from a large communal bowl.

On the return journey we got stuck on a sandbank and had to rock the boat to free it !

The whole afternoon was a great experience.

That evening after dark we went on a night walk.  It was a short trail, but an amazing 30 minutes.  The trees and plant leaves were covered in an assortment of spiders (including taratulas) and insects. It was certainly my favourite excertion of the whole trip.

Day 4:

We headed up the Napo for about 40 minutes until we came to a parrot clay lick in the banks of the river.  There were hundreds of parrots and parakeets all eating the clay which aids them in the digestion of some of the unripe seeds and fruits they eat.  It was an amazing and noisy experience.

We then treked into the Yasuni National Park.  The terrain was completely different from what we had experienced so far, with lots of ridges resulting in us scrambling up mud and clay banks - fun but exhausting.  We saw more squirrel monkeys as well as Capuchin monkeys playing in the canopy.  The trails here were even less well defined, infact it was difficult to even discern if they were trails, we saw lots more insects and spiders along the way,

Once back at the lodge we had a tryout with a blowgun which was entertaining and that evening were treated to the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen.

What an amazing place ... a beautiful location and wonderful people.

Day 5:

The journey back up the Napo took 3 hours, again picking up Sani people along the way so they could persue business in Coca.

A short flight later and once again I was back in Quito.

The whole esisode in the Amazon was something not to be missed.

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