Click thumbnails for
We knew we were in the Tropics as
soon as we landed at the Coca airport.
We had an opportunity to learn about Coca and its founder (below,
click here for close up of sign).
After a walk around town, it was back to the port to head toward
We headed away from Coca and down the Napo River.
After about two hours on the river, a tributary of the Amazon, we
reached our destination, a large sandbar.
After a short walk through the rain forest, we reached our luxury
canoe, with cushions and life jackets. Below are what the locals
Then for about 2 1/2 hours we rode on a narrow, quiet stream through
dense jungle ...
Until we reached the lake and sighted the welcoming red cabins of
Napo Wildlife Center.
Its beautiful gardens were a good place to stroll, bird and take
The comfortable open-air lodge had a bar and wonderful food. It was
difficult to recall one was hours from a grocery store.
Marcel, bartender and waiter, took wonderful care of us.
The dining room tower above, and sunrise from the lodge, below.
A hand-drawn map of the wildlife center.
Friday, Sept. 23:
Napo Wildlife Center, Amazon:
please visit the web site to learn about this unusual lodge which
is a cooperative between the local Quichuas and a non-profit eco
organization – all the other lodges on the river are run by hotels)
We awoke to find that we were on schedule for flying to Coca. This
was great news! At the airport Julio of the Napo Wildlife Center’s
local office was waiting. He and Charlie took care of getting us
checked in and our luggage tagged and boarded without us having to
stand in line! When we got into the security line, Charlie
explained to the screener that I had an artificial knee. This kept
me from having to go through the scanner. They just took me aside
and patted me down.
We were met in
Coca by Oscar who is a local guide at the Center. Charlie was very
happy to see Oscar as they met in 1993 when Charlie came to Ecuador
for the very first time. Our transportation from the little airport
to the waterfront was in Chevy taxi trucks. In addition to our
small bags, the flight had also brought supplies for the various
lodges along the river as well as a duffel full of school supplies
that Mary and I had brought for the local school at the NWC. We had
a wild ride through Coca which is definitely a frontier oil town.
Our boat, a covered motorized dugout, was fueling so there was a
wait once we were dropped at the dock. One of the local fellows was
given the task of watching the luggage, and we headed off to stretch
our legs and do a bit of birding with Oscar in the lead.
When our boat,
the Giant Otter, arrived from the fuel depot, items bought in
Coca were loaded as well as our luggage and any supplies that had
come from Quito. These were at the back of the boat near Jorge who
manned the motor. Then there was a place for several guys who helped
operate the boat. In the front half of the boat were seats with
cushions for passengers. Before boarding we were handed life vests
to wear. Joining us in the front of the boat were Giovanny
wife Marta and their little boy, Daniel. Giovanny is one of the
village elders and a phenomenal birder. Collaborator with John V.
Moore, in the Sounds of La Selva, Sound of the Northwest
and other audio publications dealing with Ecuador, Giovanny is one
of those amazing human beings who has taught himself about the
birds. He has been heavily involved in the Napo Wildlife Center
As we settled in
the boat for our two hour ride on the Napo River, Ziploc bags
appeared with lunch in them. Two sandwiches, chips, a box of juice,
a bottle of water, a pear and a candy bar filled the bag. We shared
with the local people on the boat as this lunch had been sent by the
lodge for the “tourists.”
This was the
beginning of the dry season so the river was dropping. There were
sandbars that had to be avoided and Jorge did a fine job of guiding
the boat between and around them. We picked up speed and began our
journey downriver stopping twice as we neared our destination to let
some of the local people off close to their homes.
When we neared the
drop off point, we had to get out of the boat and walk across a
sandbar and then through a jungle area to reach the tributary where
we would board real dugout canoes. This area belonged to the
village and contained a plot of bananas and cassavas.
Getting into the
dugouts took a certain amount of panache - something for which I am
not noted! Needless to say, I am thankful that Jim did not video me
getting into or out of that canoe. One sits very low with bent
knees and this was the most difficult thing I did on the trip. When
the pressure got too great on my knees, I rested my legs on the edge
of the canoe so that I could straighten them out. The absolutely
most difficult part came when I had to get out! With help from
Marco and Luis, the lodge manager, I made it, but it was NOT a
pretty site. As the days passed, I developed a method to get in and
out that made it a bit easier, but it was never graceful!
The journey to the
Lodge took another 2.5 hours as we birded along the way and we were
going upstream. Jorge was in the front and a young man whom we
named “Motocito” was in the back. There was an extra paddle and
every now and then Oscar would join in to help move us forward.
We saw many birds
along the way including the Hoatzin which was one I’d hoped to see.
I got so excited as we really had a very good view of it. Little
did I know that by the time we departed Napo, we would have seen
dozens of them!
Arriving just at
sunset, the view, as we came into the lagoon from the river, was
lovely. A slight mist was rising from the water and the lodge and
cabins were spread out on the shore in front of us. We made our way
to the open air lodge, had a briefing along with a welcoming fruit
drink, marked our bird lists and sat down to a very delicious
What an exciting
day this has been! Leaving the metropolis of Quito for the sparsely
populated Amazonian jungle and all the wonders it has to show us was
truly a “two different worlds” experience.
With very little
ambient light, we could see the stars as we used our flashlights to
make our way to our cabins. Our bed had been turned down and the
mosquito net put in place while we had dinner. We showered and laid
out our things for rising early.
Saturday, Sept. 24:
Napo Wildlife Center, Amazon:
Oscar knocked on our door with a wake-up call at 4:30 a.m.
Breakfast was at 5 and we carried our gear with us to breakfast as
we left immediately afterwards to head to the canopy tower.
breaking as we took the dugout across the lake to the trail that led
to the tower. A small amount of light entered the rainforest as we
quickly followed Oscar and Charlie. When I looked up at the
structure next to the giant kapok (cieba) tree, I could not
believe my eyes! A staircase 10 stories high! Swallowing my fear of
heights, I collapsed my ever-present walking staff, stored it in my
daypack, and told myself that I could do this. Oscar and Marco led
off with Mary and Jack behind them. Grasping the handrails I looked
straight ahead and began the climb. Looking down would have been
disastrous! Charlie was right behind me with a litany of
encouraging words. Jim brought up the rear as he had stayed on the
ground to film as Marco fairly ran up the tower! Finally, I made it
to the top leaving fingerprints in some of the sections of
handrail. The platform, built around the crown of the kapok tree
has a sturdy railing. There were even two plastic outdoor chairs up
In the two and a
half hours on the platform, we were continually amazed at the birds
around us. One of the most magnificent was the Cream-colored
Woodpecker. Seeing a flock of Blue-and-Yellow Macaws flying was
awesome because they were actually flying below us so that we could
look down upon them! The early morning sunlight glinting on their
wings was spectacular!
Descending was a
bit easier and we stopped for a snack of water, fruit and cookies
when we reached the forest floor. We got a glimpse of the
Golden-mantled Tamarind which is the logo for NWC. Then we spent an
inordinate amount of time trying to spot a tapaculo which when it
finally came into view darted across the path so fast that Marco
named it the “jet tapaculo.”
The temperature was
rising and the humidity was about 95% so we headed back to the
dugout and across the lake to the lodge. I went straight to a cold
shower. After lunch we rested for about two hours before heading
out in the canoe for a “butt numbing” three hour birding ride. It
was great because we saw about a dozen Hoatzins along with
kingfishers, potoos, caiman and herons. Even though we found the
dugouts to be uncomfortable, we were happy to have the opportunity
to experience the area.
Evening found us in
the bar, having a drink, marking our lists and enjoying each other’s
company. Even though we are essentially living in each other’s back
pockets, we are finding that all of us are extremely compatible. I
often think about how different this would be if we were doing it
with strangers. Traveling with good friends is certainly the best
way to go! This trip is going to spoil us forever!
Sunday, Sept. 25:
Napo Wildlife Center, Amazon:
Our wake-up call was not until 5 this morning! By 6 we were in the
dugout as the sun was rising over the lagoon. Two and a quarter
hours later we were at a steep muddy bank where we disembarked and
climbed up to a path that would lead us to the clay lick where
parrots come to drink and eat the minerals that are found in the
Parts of the
path are paved with stones which makes it rather like a cobblestone
walkway. It is irregular but keeps you out of the mud during the
rainy season. There were two streams to cross on little bridges
made of small poles laid horizontally. Not my thing, but I made it
across. Charlie insisted on staying right with me although I think
I could have made most of it on my own as I did have my staff.
We arrived at
the clay lick at 8:45 a.m. Normally the birds begin to arrive
between 9-9:30, but today it was almost 11 before the majority of
them came. This was due to the presence of a Black-and-white
Hawk-eagle which was perched in one of the major trees near the
lick. It was a beautiful bird and we enjoyed watching it but it was
keeping the parrots away!
The blind at the
lick is large with outdoor chairs and several benches. While we
were waiting, Oscar and Marco went off chasing another tapaculo as
well as other birds. When they returned, Marco declared they had
gone almost to Peru! But he had added quite a few new birds to his
list and that made it worth the trouble. During our wait we also
had cheese sandwiches, cookies and water which appeared miraculously
out of a sack that Jorge had brought along.
hawk-eagle departed and the birds which had been chattering in the
canopy began to come down little by little. At first, just a few,
then a few more warily making their way to the trees above the lick
and pool of water below it. The chattering continued louder and
louder until suddenly they all descended on the pool in a flurry!
What a magnificent sight! Hundreds of birds taking off and landing
in this small spot, wheeling back and forth somehow avoiding
collision. The majority of them were Cobalt-winged Parakeets.
After about an hour
the onslaught slowed, and we left to walk through the forest to the
village where there is an open-air community building. Our lunch
was waiting for us. But before I could eat I really needed to get
rid of some of the water I’d been drinking all morning. Getting up
my courage I headed for the outhouse. What a surprise! This was
the first outdoor latrine I’d ever been in that did not smell! An
explanation on how it worked as well as instructions on how to use
it were posted on the wall. This is truly recycling to the utmost!
Our lunch was
extensive. Baked chicken, well-seasoned potatoes and cauliflower,
an apple and juice as well as lots of water. A sandwich and the
apple would have been sufficient but that is not their way.
After lunch, the
local shaman, Domenic, arrived to spend some time with us. Jorge
acted as translator for the shaman (Quichua to Spanish) and Charlie
translated for us (Spanish to English). It was explained that the
shaman lives at one with nature and uses the plants extensively in
his work with his people; however, if he feels he is not able to
help someone he quickly refers them to the nearest medical person.
There is a cooperative effort between the natural healer and the
healer who has been schooled.
The shaman offered
to do a blessing and Mary was unanimously elected to be blessed. (Note
from Mary: I was pleased to participate in this general
"cleansing" ceremony as the spiritual beliefs of native peoples are
one of my interests.
here for video.) It
was fascinating to watch and Jim was allowed to film. When he had
finished with Mary, Charlie asked if the shaman was willing to do the same
for Marco concentrating on Marco’s problem with hypertension.
Graciously, the shaman worked to remove the negative energy from
Marco as well.
We again birded
from the dugout as we headed back to the lodge, and this was the
trip that netted an elusive lifer for Charlie! Since his first
visit to Ecuador in 1993, Charlie has been tracking the Zigzag
Heron, to no avail. This was his lucky day and we thought for a
moment that he was going to jump right out of the canoe!
It was 4:30 p.m. by
the time we returned to the lodge. Just enough time for showers and
a bit of rest before gathering for drinks and marking our lists.
Dinner was again delicious. Since we were departing early the next
morning, we settled our bar bill and tips for the staff before
turning in. (See travel tips at the end.)
This extremely sturdy canopy tower takes
you up where the birds, such as the White-necked Puffbird, (below)
Later the same day, workmen were on their way to fix the top of the
tower which had become twisted when high winds had caused the giant
kapok tree to sway.
The secure platform was large enough for comfortable viewing. Just
don't look down.
At each curve on the stream or path, you never knew what wonderful
wildlife you might see, such as the Hoatzins above or the
A curious frog or blue mushrooms growing on a wooden step.
This Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle
made the parakeets nervous about coming to the clay lick, but
eventually they swarmed down.
Cobalt-winged parakeets at clay lick
The heat left no doubt we were near the Equator.
After lunch, we were honored by a visit of the local shaman,
Dominic. Through Jorge, he answered our questions. Below, Mary
receives a "cleansing." (Click
here for video.)
Then back to the river, where these children were playing, and into
our canoe for the trip back to the lodge.