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Trip Start Jan 19, 2012
Trip End Feb 03, 2012

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Where I stayed

Flag of Ecuador  , Orellana,
Saturday, January 21, 2012

Coca, Napo River and Sacha Lodge Lake Pilchicochi

Not a good nights sleep. Awake before the alarm at 7. Luggage out by 8 and depart by 8:30 for the airport. Mr. G runs the show and we just hang out at the small terminal. Board the small plane by 10 and take off shortly. I open up the iPad to read and minutes (15) later we're landing in Puerto Francisco de Orellana, also known a Coca! 15 min after landing the luggage arrives and we head to the Sacha lodge bus to take us to their "house" near the Napo river. We do a pit stop and final division between what we'll schlep on our backs and what will be hauled to the lodge for us. Also, stripping down time. Coca feels like 90/90 (temp and humidity)! Quite a change from Quito.

Shortly, we walk down the block to the river and begin boarding the boat. It's a large canoe, sitting 3 across at the widest with a canopy. We line up and are carefully handed into the boat, which, initially, has only seats. One man in the back helps us in and then lays down a back board for the seat in front of us. The next 3 are seated. Then he puts down the next back board and the next 3 are seated. And so on until the boat is filled with all of us seated and contained by the seats in front of us.

Off we go! The boat sits low in the water; I can touch the water which looks like hot chocolate and even seems to foam up as the boat picks up speed, spearing through the water. With the canopy, splashing water, and wind,we're nicely cooled off.

The river is quite wide with islands of vegetation and partially submerged trees and branches. The forest on either bank is mostly a solid wall occasionally broken by settlements. A few boats pass us heading in the other direction, otherwise we're seemingly alone on the wide brown river.

Two hours later we arrive at the pit stop hut and pier that is the entrance to the Sacha Lodge. We drop the life jackets and pick up our  carry-on's (as in, carry on our backs). We begin the 30 minute walk on boards and muddy paths through the jungle, finally arriving at the boat "garage" on Lake Pilicocha. Now we're carefully handed into the small canoes, 2 wide, and paddled across to the opposite shore. And finally we arrive at Sacha Lodge, built on piers above the forest floor and the channels of water feeding the lake. Wooden walkways connect the main building with the outlying cabins.

A welcome drink, dividing us into two teams for assigned to separate nature guides, followed by a late lunch, ( all the Jeans and men in one and the leftovers in the other- guess which group I'm in) and then we're shown to out little grass shacks. Screen windows from about 3 feet up to the ceiling, ceiling fan, small bathroom with shower and a private little balcony with chairs and a hammock. No locks on the doors, just a latch. Welcome to Amazonia!

It's now after 3. I shower, turn on the fan and nap for a bit. All I can hear are the sounds of the jungle and the murmur of voices from the neighboring shack. It's very peaceful and well worth the journey.

Lecture at 5:30 by Gonzalo and the most important event of the day: Wellies! as in Wellington rubber boots. We line up to order a size and try them on until we find a pair that fits. After a couple tries (they're in European sizes), our helpful staff and I settle on size 35 for me.

A beer before dinner and then Paulo, our naturalist guide, we eats with us gives us tomorrow's schedule and tells us to come down to the pier after dinner. There Team No Jeans loads into a small canoe with Paulo and Ernesto, our native guide. We float silently out into the small lake, leaving the pier lights behind. We're engulfed in the darkness.

Words cannot capture the magic of those moments. The still, dark mirror of the lake ringed around it's edge by the dark shadows of the jungle then, above, the lighter expanse of the overarching bowl of the sky. And millions of stars! With no distracting light either man made or lunar glow to offset the magnificence. No wonder the ancients worshiped at this natural alter.

 Ernesto softly paddles from the back and Paulo points out the stars, constellations, and planets with a laser pointer. The Milky Way weaves a path through them all. I don't believe I have ever been made so aware of it's great expanse.

Then we head to the opposite shore and float along the jungle's edge where Paulo shines a large lamp into the bush. Pinpoint lights low in the water shine back. As we float closer Paulo is able to identify the shining eyes as belonging to a Black Caiman, which  turns out to be a monster at 6 feet.  The we float back to land and reality. Return to our shacks and dream accompanied by a chorus of frogs.
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