Our First day in the jungle!

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

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Where I stayed

Flag of Ecuador  , Orellana,
Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sacha Lodge Lake Pilchicocha

Wake up knock at 5:30. I have a quick shower and then arm myself for the expedition: long pants and shirt, rubber boots, and remaining exposed areas covered with a lovely blend of DEET and sunscreen topped with a cap, camera, two lenses, spare battery and memory card. I am prepared!

Breakfast with our Team No Jeans and at 6:30 then gather at the Choza meetup point down the plank path.  Paulo and Ernesto lead off with the 6 of us gals not named Jean and Gonzalo bringing up the rear. We're off for a 45 minute walk through the jungle on muddy paths to the first of 3 metal towers about 120 feet high. We climb the stairs of tower 1 and then walk the canopy bridge to tower 2.

There we spend about 90 minutes watching for birds at the top of the trees. Ernesto is especially good at somehow finding these small creatures at distances well past the capacity of my 300mm lens. He and Paulo have schlepped a long range spotting scope and tripod along for just this purpose. When they spot something of interest, we all gather for turns at viewing through the scope.

When it's time to head out, we walk the canopy bridge to tower 3 and then climb down. We take a long walk back to the lodge while Ernesto and Paulo point out highlights: birds, monkeys, frogs, owls, trees, plants. Ernesto demonstrates how medication for the grip is prepared from a vine. He later points out a tree used to build their native homes, blow guns and bows. They show us a large nut, about the size of a small apple that splits up in cloves like garlic called a Tagua. It has a spongy, oily interior. The natives use it as a candle. (We'll see this again outside Riobamba, so remember- quiz time!)

What an experience and an education. I'm very proud that I didn't let my fear of heights stop me. The canopy walk is very secure- no sagging- and the sides covered with netting that left me feeling very tightly hugged.Then they pointed out the jaguar footprint in the mud on the walk back...

Last stop was the butterfly house (Mariposaria) where they are actually breeding some species for transportation to zoos. It's like an oven in the gauzy, tent-like structure and the butterflies are very active, so I decide to come back later. It's a very short walk from my cabin. I'm tired and soaking wet.

Another shower (this seems to be something of a regular necessity in this humidity) and then I spend time lounging on my balcony, uploading and organizing this morning's haul of photos.

At 12:30, Team No Jeans gathers at the lodge with Gonzalo and Paulo and their wildlife books to itemize everything we saw: great kiskadee, yellow rumped cacique, black mantle tamarind monkey, common squirrel monkey, red howler monkey, black agouti, ruby poison frog, black vulture, king vulture, yellow headed caracara, slate colored hawk, crested owl, white necked puff bird,  ivory billed arazari, channel billed toucan, piratic flycatcher, the misnamed purple throated fruit crow (it's really burgundy), palm tannenger. Not to mention the giant kapok tree that we all posed under.

After lunch, Ernesto shows us how to catch piranha in the lake. After snapping photos of it's teeth and receiving their assurances, Francie and I jump in the lake (actually, slowly lower ourselves from the ladder). The water is pleasantly cool, but I can't get over the tea color. My arms and legs, viewed through the water, take on a yellowish hue. Refreshed, I return to my little grass shack to relax before our evening adventure.

At 4:30 we all meet up at the dock for a canoe "stroll" across the lake. We linger at the dock, listening to the many voiced yellow rumped cacique tribe that occupies the three trees next to the dock shack. They are definitely the magpie of Ecuador.

We begin our canoe stroll along the shore, spotting birds there and circling in the sky. We turn in at a small stream that feeds the lake and helps give it it's tea coloring. The stream is even darker. The forest on its edges closes in on us. The very hot, bright sunshine of the lake is replaced by cool quiet shade. At times, tree trunks, limbs and vines drape over the stream forming natural bridges. Everything is in the process of growing or dying and even then giving life through it's death.

The trees are covered in moss and vines. Bromeliads emerge from the fallen trees. Roots from plants growing high in trees are sent downward like vines, searching for a toehold. Plants looking for sunshine at the top of the canopy grab hold of the roots and begin their circling climb upwards.

We reach a small pier that is the start of a pathway back to the lodge. Twilight is deepening here in the woods though I can still see blue sky through gaps in the canopy. The night creatures are taking over and begin to fill the air with the calls. Frogs are very loud!

We begin our walk and Paulo immediately begins the hands-on lecture, locating tarantula, carpenter ants, frogs, dragonflies, and an army of ants on the move. We eventually need to pull out  flashlights to guide our steps over tree roots as the path winds up and down. We finally end on the grounds near Choza, where we started our morning tour. The mystique of the dark forest is broken by the lighted, raised wooden walkways of civilization. Although it is only a veneer: the same forces in the forest are working to destroy the walk to ensure their own survival.

Shower time and dress up for the BBQ dinner out at the dock shack- now known as the BBQ shack. I put on my Hawaiian shirt for the occasion, though Gonzalo tops us all by wearing a bright green T-shirt with a tie design down the middle- tres elegant!

I stop off at the little gift shop on the way home and pick out a "guardabosque" t-shirt. Also tres elegant!
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