on June 8, 2006
Following an incredible week of in-your-face wildlife in the Galapagos Islands, my party of four adults extended our stay in Ecuador with a 3-night stay at the Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. Would we be disappointed with less dramatic scenery and wildlife that was afraid of humans? Even before we arrived at the lodge, following a 35-minute flight from Quito over the Andes to Coca, a short ride to the Napo River, a 2-hour motorboat ride followed by a 1.5-hour ride in a paddled dugout canoe, the answer was an emphatic NO! We were met at the Quito airport by two guides from the Napo Wildlife Center. They saw to our tickets and luggage and gave us an orientation to our destination. Along the waterways en route to the lodge, we were introduced to the harsh realities of oil company-dependent life--a life that will end in 25 years and too the hopes for development of sustainable ecotourism. Once past the oil towns and into the dugout canoe, we turned our rapt attention to the wildlife. We were blown away by sightings of cream-colored woodpeckers, snail kites, various parrots, oropendula, and the totally unique hoatzin--a sort of punk pheasant, if you will. Monkeys jumped overhead, and as we drew near the lodge we heard giant otters. These wonders were but a hint of what was to come. Once at the lodge, 10 spacious, attractive, thatched roof cabanas around a dining pavilion overlooking Lake Anangu, we had time to settle in and get a cold beer at the bar before orientation and dinner. Each cabana is arranged like a mini-suite. There is a king-size bed and a single bed, separated by a partial wall--plus a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower and a deck with a comfy hammock. The beds have high-end mosquito netting that forms a box over the bed rather than just draping all over you. These and the ceiling fans and good ventilation made sleeping temperatures comfortable, even though it is warm and humid. Just walking from the cabana up to the dining pavilion was thrilling. Leaf cutter ants marched relentlessly with their green prizes held high, occasionally interrupted by a few more romantic ants bearing red flower petals. Birds and butterflies were abundant on the grounds as well. At the dining pavilion we met with our guides to set a schedule to suit our interests. Our first planned activity was an night paddle in the lake to look for...and find...the resident caiman. Then it was off to bed to await our 5am wake-up call, and so it went. Everyday, according to weather and wildlife activity, we would rise early, then position ourselves at some great observation site--the clay parrot licks or the 125-foot tower in the Kapok tree. Exploring by foot or canoe, we encountered diverse wildlife and were introduced to indigenous ingenuity, like bush medicine and jungle building techniques, to tent-making bats to Amazon Forest Dragons--WOW!
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