During dinner the previous night the rain had started again. By bedtime it was raining pretty hard and it continued on and off most of the night. At day break it was still raining.
By breakfast it had diminished to a steady drizzle. We all decided we would go ahead with the planned morning walk in the rain forest. After all what’s a rain forest without a little rain?
In the wet morning air life along the stream is much quieter than the day before. After about 15 minutes we reach the boat dock and start the hike along the dripping forest path.
Fortunately, the rain soon eases and the sky brightens. We stop near a small tree that seems to have a small clearing all to itself. Freddy explains the symbiotic relationship that this tree has with the lemon ants that live in the smaller branches of the tree. The ants secrete formic acid making the tree sap and leaves acidic. When the fallen leave decompose the acid is transferred to the ground making the surrounding soil too acidic for other plants and thus leaving a clearing for just this one kind of small tree. Only the bigger trees are not affected by the acidic soil.
Freddy then cuts off one of the branches and whittles it down to the center to show us the ants, a local delicacy. “Would you like to try one?” Small and black they taste like lemon.
On our way back to the dock we stop at the same clearing for a snack. Freddy’s assistant lays out large leaves on a fallen log for us to sit on and passes out a granadia, a bright orange fruit about the size of a small orange, with a hard thin shell and a white pithy layer protecting the sweet mild center, lots of small edible seeds but quite tasty; and a package of black and white Oreos, America’s favorite cookie.
After the rain, the animals began to emerge and we spot a couple of blue and yellow macaws high in a tree near their nest, a couple of small monkeys, a glimpse of a small red deer and two pygmy owls near the dock.
Before returning to the lodge we take the canoe upstream to look for more wildlife (Freddy is somewhat disappointed with the lack of animal activity on the jungle walk). It is late morning but still many bird were fluttering about – a couple of kinds of large heron, lots of smaller flycatchers and king fishers and of course the heavy breathing hoatzin, also known as the stinky turkey.
Like the American turkey they can’t fly far and make quite a commotion as they try to hop away through the shrubby tree. It is pleasant floating on the calm stream, the day not too hot yet.
Back at the Lodge
Back at the lodge we have time for a quick cold shower and a short rest before lunch.
Lunch – cabbage, carrot and cantaloupe salad in a yogurt dressing, a piece of chicken and yellow rice. For dessert a baked apple filled with pineapple and served in a rum sauce.
At 3:30PM we board the canoe again and head back upstream. By now the rain is gone for the day leaving behind immense fluffy clouds and sunshine.
We pass the same areas we’ve seen before – the stinky turkeys make their usual fuss as we pass through their territory – but this time we’re here to fish for piranhas. In the canoe are four wooden sticks, each with a ten-foot length of fishing line. Pato, Freddy’s young assistant, also has a bag of beef chunks for bait. We will use up more beef than we’ll catch in piranha flesh.
Freddy shows us how to drop the line in the water, letting it sink to the bottom and then splashing the tip of the rod on the surface to attract the piranhas. The first nibbles come quickly. Even the tiniest fish will nip at the bait until nothing is left. You have to find the “big” fish.
After about 30 minutes of moving the boat to two different spots and going through half the bait (feels more like we’re feeding the fish than catching them) Don tells me, “Drop your line here. There’s a big one down there.” Sure enough as soon as my line falls out of sight I feel a tug and jerk my line, complete with a four-inch piranha, clear over the boat and into the water on the other side. Luckily the fish had imbedded the hook firmly into the side of his tiny mouth and I pull him back into the boat.
We continued to fish until the light was low. The last rays of sun playing on the water as the fish jumped for bugs.
Don caught (still using beef chunks) a “vegetarian” piranha called a pacu, easily identified by the lack of sharp teeth. By now everyone had caught a fish except for Freddy and I sincerely doubt that he would let us leave until he either caught a fish or we ran out of bait. He finally did catch a three-incher on the last piece of beef.
Back to the Lodge
Now we could head back to the lodge. With the sky getting dark we spied for caiman in the tall grass along the stream. Not my favorite activity as I don’t like being that close to a powerful jaw full of sharp teeth. We spotted two more caiman and a third glowing dot, the reflection of flashlight in the eye of an owl in a tree.
Dinner was carrot soup garnished with fried plantain chips and tilapia served with plantain patties and lentils. Terrible fish, old, tired and overcooked. They also, however, fried-up the pacu that Don had caught, just-caught-fresh and perfectly cooked.
December 6, 2011
For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.