Our day begins with breakfast at 5:30AM. Thankfully the coffee is good and strong. Breakfast consists of a small plate of watermelon and a second of one fried egg, two small corncakes, a tiny piece of cheese and another of some kind of cold cut, washed downs with a glass of blackberry juice.
By 6AM we have donned our rubber boots and are ready to take the canoe to the canopy platform.
In early morning hours, the jungle is loud and alive with activity. We stop frequently to watch the birds, a cormorant on a dead limb in the middle of the lagoon, several herons, flycatchers, pigeons, king fishers, and many others I can’t name. I photograph a few but most are gone before I can get the lens focused.
The morning air is balmy, but not hot, with a soft breeze as they paddle downstream.
Once we reach the dock we gather our packs and walk through the jungle about ten minutes to the viewing platform built about 120 feet above the ground in one of the tallest trees in the area. A metal staircase built in a cage stands next to the tree and leads to the platform.
Through the branches at the top of the tree you can see over the jungle canopy in all directions. The guides watch for activity with binoculars and then focus the big scope on the distant birds and monkeys they find – several types of toucans, parrots, wood peckers and howler monkeys.
Above the squawking of the birds you hear a distinct howling of the wind. But it’s not the wind; it’s the howler monkey marking his territory. In the distance we hear a flock of parrots. Every once in a while something disturbs them and the squawking becomes louder as they fly up above the canopy and then fly back down again to attend to whatever it was that they were doing. As the morning continues more and more pairs of parrots join the party. Freddy thinks that they have found clay which they eat to help balance the toxins in the skins of the seeds that they feed on.
As the morning progresses the clouds burn off, the sun becomes intense and the bird activity starts to dwindle. We head back to the canoe and take a short trip further downstream. Even with hot sun beating down near the water the stray bird can still be found.
In the trees a flock of hoatzin make a sound that from a distance sounds something like a dog panting, a freakish noise coming from something that looks like a large prehistoric pheasant.
By 10AM the jungle is nearly quiet and we head back to the lodge.
Lunch at the Lodge
Lunch – ceviche of palm in a light vinaigrette, chicken with a granadia (similar to passion fruit) sauce, scalloped potatoes, and a cabbage and gherkin salad. Kiwi poached in a spiced sauce for dessert.
Walk in the Rain Forest
In the late afternoon we set out again for a walk in the rain forest. The clouds are building, thunder rumbles in the distance and rain looks imminent. For the moment, the giant white formations are majestic against the darkening sky and jungle vegetation.
After a short canoe trip we dock and start down the jungle path. The sky grows darker and it starts to rain. At this early stage drops splatter in the high canopy above with few reaching the ground. Freddy explains various plants and other life forms. He carves a face into one of the large termite mounds encircling the trunk of a tree about four feet off the ground and allows the termites to cover his hand, giving us a chance to get a good whiff of their scent, like freshly cut lumber. Locals place the mounds under their homes as a natural mosquito repellent.
About an hour into the walk the rain is coming down pretty steadily. It’s a warm rain that only slightly cools the air. We opt not to put on the ponchos preferring the cooling rain to the hot covering. Freddy’s explanations dwindle with the intensity of the rain and soon we are on a fast march back to the boat.
It is getting quite dark. I can barely see the roots and other impediments on the ground, going as fast as I can without slipping in the mud.
Search for Caiman
Out of the forest we reach the boat at the last rays of dusk. On the way back to the lodge Freddy searches with his flashlight for glowing eyes of caiman along the banks. He lets the boat drift silently towards a baby caiman lying motionless in tall grass along the shore. I’m two feet from his big unblinking eyes before I spot him.
Baby or not I’m nervous to be so close to sharp teeth and more than content when Freddy decides to move on to look for his bigger brothers.
By now the rain has stopped, the water is calm and the sky dark except for continuous flashes from a distant storm, sometimes just a glow in the clouds, sometimes distinct bolts. The storm is too far away to hear much rumbling and most of the animals and birds are also quiet except for the soft chirping of insects and peepers.
Freddy finds his bigger caiman. This time he stays back, claiming that caiman can jump two meters. Again, the caiman lies motionless with just his head exposed and the outline of his body discernible in the still dark water.
We study him for a long time before he suddenly plunges beneath in a cloud of mud.
Back at the Lodge
Back at the lodge I take another cold shower before dinner. There is NO hot water at the lodge. Even though I’m a bit chilled from the rain, the cold water doesn’t feel as cold as it did earlier in the day, when the water felt like ice in contrast with hot day.
Dinner starts with mushroom soup served with popcorn (typical in Ecuador) followed by beef, pan fried yucca and a potato salad made from tiny, barely cooked potatoes.
December 5, 2011
For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.