Friday 3 – Sunday 5 December
We left our excess baggage at Casa Aliso and embarked on our journey to Sacha Lodge on Lake Pilchicocha (nearest town Coca). The flight was only half an hour with Tame airlines, most pleasant (and much more room than our 6 hour flight to Quito from Santiago!). Hilarious to hear Lionel Richie playing over the tannoy while we were taxiing before take off. What is it with Ecuador and their adoration of ‘classic hits?!’
Arrived safely in Coca where we were bused all of 5 minutes to their downtown office (right on the Napo River). Had sandwiches for lunch and piled into large covered motorised canoes and hooned down the river for about 2 hours. It was overcast by then, and it was quite nice, fanging along with the wind blowing in the hair (which, for Nic, did not recover for the 3 days in the Amazonian jungle – just like Monica in that episode of Friends when she went all frizzy). Once we reached the landing point for the lodge, we walked for another 20 minutes before getting into smaller, regular canoes on the lake for a 15 minutes ride to our final destination. This whole approach to Sacha Lodge by water was just like we were in a movie – gliding across black, still water, with everything clearly reflected in its surface – absolutely magical.
We were certainly lucky with our accommodation. We had the best cabins – a very large room built on stilts and accessed by walkways, with a king size bed, ensuite and all walls were of wood and flyscreens (with half length curtains to draw for the evening, so that fresh air still circulated throughout the night, with the help of the overhead fan). We had a ‘back deck’ that was surrounded by the rainforest that was completely private, and housed 2 comfortable chairs and a hammock. It was just like living in a tree house, only with flushing loos and a hot shower and protection from the mozzies! And being an eco-lodge, we once again had to deal with not being allowed to put the loo paper down the loo, but in a bin next to it (in fact, this is quite common in Ecuador, generally).
The lodge issued us with wellington boots for the duration of the stay, and they were very handy with all the traipsing through mud and getting in and out of canoes. So with the ‘wellies’ combined with the jungle attire, and Nic’s abandoning of all efforts to tame her mop of curls, we were quite a sight – especially since John was issued with the only pair of bright yellow boots at the lodge – so much for discretely sneaking up on wildlife!
We were also blessed with our Naturalist Guide, Sebastian, and our Native Guide, Wilma, who were both lovely, gentle men, who were highly intelligent and knowledgeable and VERY patient!
We have had mixed luck with our wildlife sightings here. On the way to our room on the first afternoon, we also got lucky with our animal watching – we saw 2 black mantle tamarinds, and a pigmy marmoset (the smallest monkey in the world), all only a couple of metres from us. As a group, however, we have seen a few frogs, some grasshoppers, millipedes, a snail the size of a large grapefruit, many birds and lizards, while other groups have seen tarantulas, anacondas and monkeys frolicking…But they must have been in groups with softly spoken members – our group…not so much!!
There were two particularly lovely walks (of many) our trusty guides led us on – a canopy walk (about 50m above the ground), which comprised of 3 towers with 2 suspension bridges between them. The other involved a canoe ride across the lake and through some beautiful channels to the Kapok Tree Tower (also about 50m above the ground) from where we could observe all kinds of different birds, including woodpeckers, toucans, parrots, many different types of taningers, crested ‘this’ and speckled ‘that’, bewildering in the vast array of species and colours and wondrous beauty. Even got to see a couple of howler monkeys sulking in the rain.
One morning we headed out early (the wake-up knock at the door always came at 5:30am!) down river to see the parrot clay-lick. This is where thousands of parrots hover in trees (the same colour they are, which makes them difficult to see!), until some brave leader swoops down to the clay-lick and the minions follow. Problem was, they didn’t. We tried several different clay-lick locations, and got to see first hand how patient true birdwatchers are – but we ain’t! We had about 4 hours in total of waiting with not much action. Got some reading done, though. Oh, and we did see a lizard…and come cute indigenous women doing a wedding dance. The highlight of the morning really was watching a sharman smoke out the nasty spirits from the young woman from Chicago. He looked about 200 years old, but we later found out he was 42!! Unbelievable. Talk about hard life!
Spare time was spent on the back deck of our little tree house, and we were lucky enough to see 2 squirrel monkeys in a tree, just metres from us. Adorable!
Our final night at Sacha Lodge was delightful. It began with a night canoe ride on the lake where we hit the jackpot with our sighting (TWICE!) of a 3 metre long black caiman. Sodding brilliant! The closest we got to him was a couple of metres. We followed him through the water for a while and then he did a submarine number on us, before we discovered him again close to shore. Amazing. With the torch shining on him, he looked like he glowed in the dark. From there we ventured into one of the channels off the lake where we saw some bats who swooped at the insects attracted to the torch the guide was wearing on his head. Just like drunk fighter pilots! On the way back through the channel, Sebastian turned his torch off and him and Wilma navigated the turns of this waterway completely in the dark. It was so magical with the only light being from the fairly lights of the fireflies in the trees and the stars, with Jupiter shining like a beacon among them.
The night ended in a huge BBQ (with plenty of vege options!) – in fact all of the food was fantastic…and neither of us got sick! Our group was the last to leave the dining area, as we chatted and joked and bought drinks for our guides. In bed, we once again drifted to sleep to the accompanying sounds of the rain, birds, cicadas, frogs, and howler monkeys!
For more information on Sacha Lodge, go to: Sacha Lodge