Amazing Amazonian Experience, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
Napo Lodge is a great Eco facility set deep in the Yasuni National Park of Ecuador. In May of 2012 I had the opportunity to spend a few days there, having recently arrived from Australia. Ecuador is reputedly home to about 10% of all the world’s flora and fauna. So there was much to anticipate.
River Turtles enjoying the sunshine
The Amazon basin is beyond vast. It used to be home to about 6 million people and 1300 languages; today those numbers have declined to about 300,000 people and around 170 languages. I chose to stay at Napo Lodge because it boasts such a huge variety of animal and plant species and it is owned and managed by the local indigenous people, the Anangu.
Napo River with oil production on the bank
After a short flight (40 minutes) from Quito, we boarded a long narrow boat, similar to those seen in the klongs of Bangkok. An impressively long prop shaft propelled us down the enormous and powerful Napo River. Despite the Yasuni being a National Park, we passed several chimneys which looked like oversized Bunsen burners as they burned off the excess gas and betrayed the extent of oil production in this most fragile of habitats.
Canoeing through the jungle
Having edged past the hour mark and picked my way through a fairly ordinary packed lunch (are they ever memorable?), we arrived at a kind of transfer station just off the main river. The banks were now just three to five metres apart – a stark contrast from the two to three hundred metres we had been watching blur past us on the Napo River.
Caiman Lizard (I promise you cannot see these from more than a few feet away)
Canoes were now our mode of transport, expertly navigated by guides who possess the eyes and ears of a bird of prey. “There look, a lizard!” I stared and stared at a log and saw nothing more than a rotten limb of a long-since dead tree emerging from the meandering waters. “There … Look!” Finally I managed to distinguish a snout and an eye and then it all came into focus.
In the Amazon almost everything is green or brown or greeny brown apart from the birds and monkeys. When your life depends upon being invisible, you get good at camouflage or become someone’s dinner.
Comedy Bird (or Hoatzin)
Comedy Bird (or Hoatzin)
As we ventured deeper into the jungle and away from the relative busyness of the Napo River, we started to hear and see more activity. These birds, Hoatzins (pronounced Watsons), were relatively common on our final leg of the journey to the lodge. We renamed them ‘Comedy Birds’ as they are amazingly ungainly and are dreadful at flying! They also possess a piercing screech so clearly have few predators.
The completion of the last few bends in the river before the lodge was interrupted by a tremendous chorus which sounded like a bunch of school children squabbling. We were asked to keep really quiet as we inched the canoes forwards. We all strained our gaze forwards at this impending remarkable sighting, though we were clueless as to what this might be. Several pleas for silence could be heard well above the surreptitious removal of lens caps on video and stills cameras.
Giant Otter pups
Our guide then snapped his gaze through 180 degrees – we all did likewise and there, cavorting about like a litter of puppies, were four or five Giant Otter pups. Maintaining a strict vigil to the side were their doting mother and father. It was a truly wonderful sight, especially as they are very rare.
Napo Lodge as we approached for the first time
Napo Lodge, so peaceful!
Rounding the final bend before the lodge was a stunning moment. Before us was a vast lagoon, framed by the jungle and punctuated by the dark terracotta buildings of the lodge. Individual rooms cascaded down to the water’s edge. Neatly thatched, they were a welcome sight to our group of about eighteen – we were ready for a cup of tea (beer) and a siesta!
Rainbow over the lagoon
Over the next three days we made several excursions into the jungle some on foot, the rest in the canoes. Our team of guides were at pains to describe the various animals and plants we came across. We saw one snake, a pencil snake. It was only once it had scurried off into the undergrowth that they let on that this was the most venomous of all the snakes. Thankfully we did not encounter any Anacondas which they disarmingly refer to as horse killers!
Eagle on the look out for prey
Across the lagoon
Parrots at a Salt Lick on the Napo River
We did spot a sloth, which, true to form, was motionless. They move so little that lichen grows on their fur, ensuring that they conform to jungle fashion … green.
Our Guides in the jungle
My Amazon experience was enhanced enormously by terrific guides who were very much in sync with their environment as well as being extremely knowledgeable. Their English helped too!
Spider Monkey traversing the canopy
Looking out from the Lodge towards the jungle waterways
Napo Lodge Jetty
The monkeys were extremely active and we spotted several species. Most abundant were the Spider Monkeys and Cappuccino Monkeys. In perpetual motion other than to feed on berries, their chatter was equally relentless. It truly was a privilege to observe the living jungle in all its facets.
Leaf Cutter Ants
Exploring the small waterways which meander through the jungle floor was especially revealing at night. Navigation by torchlight has its own unique flavour. These leaf cutter ants seemed to work twenty-four hour shifts, cutting and transporting these huge sections of foliage (compared to their diminutive stature). Great columns of these ants would stretch on interminably. I do hope their reward was sufficiently large!
The prospect of an encounter with a Cayman was particularly high on my wish list. I was not disappointed. Returning to the lodge one afternoon we encountered this fine specimen. We hazarded a guess at about fifteen foot long which is big for a Cayman. We found it minding its own business in the middle of the lagoon. He/she was seemingly unperturbed by our presence and fascination.
My seeming obsession with this magnificent creature is something I shall not apologise for. He/she looks like the most armoured instrument of war. Cold expression in the eyes and the self-assuredness to virtually ignore a potential feast tells me that killing is no more than a perfunctory and routine task. Not a great deal of evolution has been required for a great many thousand years. Apex predator? Absolutely!
Smaller Caymans were spotted near the banks and amidst the relative safety of the reeds. Our guides explained that when they are motionless and nestled in the reeds, they believe they are invisible. Camouflage again being the best form of defence.
Tarantula in the bar
Animals do not understand the acceptable roaming rights which we expect them to observe. This tarantula found its way into the bar.
Tarantula on ceiling
This moth chose my ceiling as its resting place one night. It was huge! Well … about a six inch span.
Anangu Lady with turtle shell wind instrument
Anangu traditional dance
In spite of these intrusions, my stay at Napo Lodge was not only exhilarating but very comfortable and the catering a cut above what one might expect in the heart of the jungle.
The indigenous community, the Anangu people, have created a viable and carbon friendly lodge in their own homelands and as a result are more able to preserve and celebrate their cultural heritage.