Adventures in the rainforest

rainforestHalf the fun, I suspect, of going to Sacha Lodge is getting there.

We left Ilatoa Lodge in Tumbaco at 8:15am, arriving at Quito airport around 8:50am. A Sacha representative was waiting as they had said would be the case, and she took care of getting us boarding passes and our luggage checked. Kudos to them for a really well organized collect and drop off procedure!

The flight from Quito to Coca was only half an hour. Once we arrived in Coca and our baggage was collected and the Sacha folks bundled us into taxis. We had a thrilling ride (they drive like maniacs in Ecuador) through Coca to the Napo River where we caught a motor launch that took us down the river for about two hours to a missionary outpost called Pompeya where we had lunch and visited a museum that contained exhibits devoted to the indigenous peoples of Ecuador. We then continued down the river for another half an hour until we reached the Sacha dock. We disembarked and then hiked for about 20 minutes until we reached another dock, where we boarded canoes for a 10-15 minute trip to the actual Sacha Lodge dock. Total trip time from Quito airport to Sacha Lodge (with museum detour included): 5 hours and 15 minutes!

We learned that the trip back is just about as arduous (take out the lunch and museum stop): you have to leave the lodge at 6am to make the morning flights to Gayaquil or Quito from Coca. So although we signed up for 5 days at Sacha, we really ended up having more like 3 ½ days – a good thing to know when making reservations and they offer you the choice of 4 or 5 days (and honestly, that’s enough time unless you are a really serious devoted birdwatcher who loves bugs). The rooms were like little cottages –duplexes, really, as there are two rooms to each cottage. Our room has two beds, a little table, a dry box for electronics, a safe and a bathroom with a nice shower. Sacha sells itself as a luxurious lodge in the rainforest – but don’t expect too much. A good comparison in America would be a national park lodge.

At Sacha they match you with a guide when you first arrive, based on your language. There were six folks in our group (including us). We were the lone Americans – the other couples were British and very nice folks.  You can walk around the lodge grounds on your own and swim in the lake, but for anything more ambitious, you have to go with your guide. Overall, activities followed a much slower pace in the rainforest than in the Galapagos. Given the intense heat and humidity of midday, no activities other than walking around the lodge or swimming took place between 11am and 3 or 4pm. In the late afternoon and early evening all of the nocturnal critters come out, so the guides take you up the various creeks or along different paths to see what there is to see, which can include anacondas, tapirs, jaguars, monkeys and boatloads of birds. In our case we saw some birds a few monkeys and one snake. And a LOT of bugs! In the spirit of full disclosure I confess that I am not much of a birdwatcher and after about 45 minutes of staring through binoculars at distant objects just started agreeing with whatever was the bird of the moment. Do you see that white breasted toucan? You bet! See that red throated warbler? Absolutely!

The highlight of the trip for me was finally seeing the Southern Cross for the fist time. We had to stay up pretty late considering we’d woken at 5am – but sure enough, tracing an arc across the southern sky, it rose. I had my iPhone at the ready and we listened to the Crosby, Stills and Nash song as it appeared. That song has been the soundtrack to my bucket list from the moment I first heard it. What a wonderful rush it was to finally see it! Oh, and to top it off, there was even a shooting star!

The scale of the rainforest is huge, and the critters roam around so the odds of seeing anything bigger than a bird are really quite slim. The guides can make or break the place and our guide was okay, but he had his agenda of things we were to do and there was no variation. Don’t want to watch birds for two hours? Oh well. Don’t want to go on a death march through the swamp? Tough. Every time we went out, we’d come back sopping wet, reeking messes of sweat and Deet (and don’t buy into the lodge literature that says there aren’t that many mosquitoes here – there are, and ants and gnats and nasty little flies that all like to nibble on you). I think we’ve averaged 4 showers a day here trying (hopelessly) to stay semi-dry.

It’s beautiful in the rainforest, but it’s no “Medicine Man,” that’s for sure. Life there is tough – if you look past the lodge and think about how the indigenous tribes lived and in fact, still live – wow! It gets romanticized here, but it’s subsistence-level living, not too awfully far removed from the Stone Age. As with the Galapagos, we can see the challenge to preserve it when so many interests want to strip it of its natural resources, and how the presence of civilization is encroaching ever further on the rainforest borders. Unfortunately, I don’t think the odds are with the rainforest.

Photos here.

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