Les Trois Escargots

A growing family of snails.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sacha Lodge, Ecuador

The day after Ma and Pa's arrival in Quito and, after our most luxurious hotel room all trip, a minibus picked the four of us up and drove us to the aptly named VIP airline where we rested briefly before boarding a 30 person plane, replete (I am glad to say) with two propellers. We took off into heavy mist and, twenty minutes later, we had crossed the Andes and could see the odd patch of green jungle through the low cloud. Our arrival in the frontier oil town of Coca was run by the Sacha Lodge staff like a military opertation and we were eating a packed lunch in their office just minutes after the plane touched down.
The dug out canoe, with twin 90 horse power outboards, shot downstream for two hours passing Amazon river boats, barges filled with machinery and small villages clinging to the river bank. With his normal disregard to being ordered what to so, Pa led us away from the group and the shouting guides down a board walk towards the lodge. The guides caught us a couple of kilometres later, but had forgotten his infringement. We got the first canoe across the lake to the wooden lodges of Sacha.

As we enjoyed our welcome cocktails, the heavens opened and we spent the rest of the afternoon reading and listening to the tropical rain hammer down around us. It was refreshing after the chaos ofQuito. At dinner, we met Gustavo, our guide, an father and son with matching beards, and Terry, a tattoed American woman working for an expedition travel company. After stuffing ourselves (well, I did anyway), we went to bed early listening to the frogs, cicadas and unknown wildlife in the darkness.

We woke before dawn and, after a big breakfast, we boarded a dug out with Andelmo, our native guide, and Gustavo paddling silently through the still morning air. We slipped into a narrow creek, silent and hoping tospot monkeys or caimans or something big. We saw nothing, but it was very pleasant (and soporofic at 6 in the morning - though no one succumbed). At the end of the creek, we walked through the forest to a huge Capok tree and climbed a wooden staircase into the canopy. The view was stunning - trees in every direction and the vast expanse of sky hanging over it.

We stayed for a few hours and saw red howler monkeys, pale cream toucans with impossibly long beaks and tiny blue tanagers flitting through the foliage. On thepaddle backtothelodge, Andelmo pointed out ascaly Caiman lizard sunbathing ona branch over our headsand Gusavo looked a little sick that he hadn't spotted it first. After lunch, we convinced Ma to swim in the lake - if she had seen thepiranhas that people were cathcing or the 9 foot anaconda that was fetched out the water the next day, she might have had second thoughts.

In the afternoon, we climbed another tower and walked along suspended planks over the forest. The view of the warm evening light over the trees and the callsof a pairof toucans were a wonderful way to finish the day. Another big feed, another nightime orchestra of sounds and another early start to get the canoe fiurther down river to a clay lick where we watched four species of pale green parrots chew pieces of clay from the river bank to soak up the toxinsof unripe fruit in their stomachs. On the way back to the lodge, we visited a local house and heard about the shaman who are still important in the small jungle communities. In the humid, other world of the jungle, it was easy to imagine how these beliefs had been formed and why they were so important in maintaining a stable way of life.

The next morning, we took the large canoe back upstream and caught the plane back to cool and rainy Quito. Albane fell ill (though she did well in choosing the Hilton as the place to do so), but was sufficiently recovered enough by the next day to join us on a day trip to Otavalo, north of Quito, where Ma and Pa bought leather jackets (Pa needing only his Capri and a cigarette to feel like he was 20 all over again). We said goodbye back in town - they were off to the Galapagos and we were off to America.


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