Napo 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 Rivadeniera, his 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 Project.

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 dinner.

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.

Dawn was 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 there.

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 clay.

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.

Finally the 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. Click 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.)


3 –


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