Tuesday-Friday (June 9-13)
I slept fairly well in my cube of white mosquito netting. It was nice to be able to throw off the covers without worrying about getting bitten. The chorus kept up all night long. The first night it was joined by a torrential rain and thunderstorm, which slowed to a steady rain for hours. We also had a nice breeze that night, not so for the other three.
Our days at Sani Lodge are already running together in my mind – lots of canoe rides, jungle walks, and humidity. The density of life is amazing. It rained a lot the first day; fortunately the lodge provided ponchos and “wellies”. We had sun the second day, and a mix of clouds and rain the third.
My favorite activity was riding in the paddled canoes through the lagoons and streams, especially at sunset. When it wasn’t raining, the water was so still that it provided mirror-like reflections of the sometimes prehistoric plants and trees surrounding us. It’s also when we saw the most wildlife (rarely close enough to photograph): five of the eight species of monkeys found in the area (squirrel, black tamarin, red howler, capuchin, and woolly) swinging high up in the trees, pairs of parrots squawking overhead (they mate for life), many other birds, a glimpse of a caiman, and turtles.
I also enjoyed our hikes, but breathed a sigh of relief each time we emerged from the rainforest. We saw a long skinny snake, frogs (one poisonous with blue belly), and numerous insects, many of them on our night hike – a scorpion, a tarantula and other spiders, nests of bees, wasps, termites, and fire ants. My favorite insects were the blind leaf-cutter ants marching in lines with their loads of green leaves, one ant carrying the leaf bit, a smaller one riding on board.
The plant life was dense with many species competing for sunlight. One tree has a symbiotic relationship with a fungus that stores sunlight and the “walking palm” grows roots in the direction of sunlight enabling it to move slightly each year. My favorite was the giant Saba tree with its buttress-like trunks. Our guide, Carlos, and his Suni partner, always carrying a machete, have a deep knowledge of this rainforest, frequently stopping to demonstrate or explain the uses of various plants.
The Sani Lodge is run by the indigenous people of Sani Isla, about 500 people spread across this area. They are committed to maintaining the forest as ecologically as possible and have opposed oil exploration. I hope more people visit their lodge so they aren’t temped by the oil companies. One day we visited their community center. A group of 25 women, divided into four teams, has organized various projects, including a school, agriculture, and fish farming. We got a tour and were served traditional food – a small fish and palm hearts steamed in a leaf wrapper. Some of my braver fellow tourists, Karen included, sampled the roasted larvae.
This morning we boarded canoes for the last time and returned upriver to Coca where we caught a flight back to the Quito airport. The river is much higher than we arrived, steadily eroding its banks. This time we’re staying in a hostel in Tababela, a small town only a ten minutes from the airport. Helena, a new Swedish friend from the jungle, joined us for lunch at the only place in town (arroz con pollo with beers for three only $9). Now we’re relaxing in a pleasant courtyard garden catching up on email and blogging.