South America Post 6 The Amazon Rainforest.
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‘Amazon Rainforest’ evokes wonderful images of a huge, fast flowing, muddy river surrounded by towering, dense rainforest teeming with life. We knew we had to visit. Although the fact that the teeming life includes a vast array of insects, spiders and snakes was slightly disconcerting.
The Amazon basin is vast, covering an area nearly equal to the whole USA. It extends into 8 countries. The Amazon river is formed from several main rivers and many small tributaries, all originating in the Andes.
There is some dispute as to which is the longest river in the world between the Amazon, Nile and Mississipi. The Amazon is over 4000 miles long. What is not disputed is that in terms of volume of water, the Amazon wins hands down. It’s estuary is 205 miles wide, and it discharges over 200,000 cubic metres of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean PER SECOND!!
Our easiest access point was in Ecuador. Easy being a relative term.
We took a local flight over the Andes to Coca. There we were met by the wonderful staff from La Selva eco lodge. It was Carnaval fiesta day. The locals were enjoying themselves, spraying foam and water everywhere!
For us, the next 4 days were to be some of the most amazing travelling we have done.
Firstly, 50 miles down the huge, brown, fast running Napo river in an open sided motorised canoe dodging sandbanks and floating trees!
Then a walk through jungle to a still and silent chocolate brown creek, where paddle canoes waited to take us on a mystical 20 minute ride into a huge lagoon.
Our lodge was at the far end. This is the only way here. No roads. Everything, supplies, water, fuel, laundry is transported by boat, 3.5 hours to Coca.
I will confess that after reading horror stories of people waking up with tarantulas on their pillows in the budget rainforest accommodation, I did go for something a bit more comfortable, but didn’t realise how super La Selva would be.
All staff were Ecuadorian, and many were from the local community. Our room (and loo!) had no windows… just mesh to let air in and keep bugs out. Temperature is between 75 and 95 degrees F all year round. Humidity is 80% plus.
The food was amazing, and locally sourced. Everything was quietly organised like a well oiled machine. We were issued rubber boots which hardly left our feet for the next 3 days.
The high humidity meant we got used to a permanent damp feel to both us and all our clothes!
The solitude and silence were immense. Especially at night. It was almost overwhelming. Then it would be broken by bird song or the eerie sound of the Howler monkeys, or warring Caymans in the lake.
Every day, and night, we were taken out in our small group of just 7. Us, and 5 lovely people from Massachusetts, USA. Hello ladies!!
We had Edwin, a Naturalist, plus Medardo, an unbelievably eagle eyed native guide, with us all the time.
They pointed out things we would never have seen, and constantly explained fascinating details about the wildlife, and also the plants and trees, and their uses, especially in natural medicine. This fungus is peeled apart to reveal a cool gel used to treat burns.
This black sap heals wounds.
This seed case is a comb, and the leaf below can be folded and twisted without it breaking. One use is to wrap food before cooking.
This is a place for people who can be ‘Wowed’ by tiny things and details. There are relatively few mammals, many of which are highly reclusive, so sightings are unlikely.But the tiny things are incredible. Tiny frogs and toads with amazing leaf coloured camouflage….
Then turn them over and WOW!!
We loved the fact that nothing was stage managed. There was no point where we felt that we saw something because it was enticed by food. Medardo would swiftly pounce and suddenly be holding a frog, but never harmed them at all. Everything was wild and natural. The guides were as excited as we were when something was spotted.
I had to curb my natural desire to jump up and down and squeal with excitement!!
We started in at the deep end with a night walk. Head torches and bug spray on, we set off.
Our photos often don’t convey size, but believe me, some of the insects were HUGE… just as many frogs were tiny.
These bugs were 4 inches long!
This was the weirdest Caterpillar ever!!!
We saw capuchin monkeys, too fast to photograph! The highlight was 2 Tarantulas. The bigger one scuttled into it’s hole, but this one was more obliging!
At about 5 inches across, I mentally thanked myself for booking the better accommodation. Phew!
The next few days were spent doing various jungle walks and canoe rides. Here are pictures of some of the creatures we saw.
This is a Howatzin, a large and very unique bird. No links to any other species, they eat semi toxic leaves, and therefore exude a terrible smell! They can dive underwater to escape predators, and young birds have hooks on their wings so they can climb around in trees!
The great Tinamou is very elusive. This one was asleep…with eyes open.
These were Howler monkeys, hanging on with long prehensile tails. Their eerie calls could be heard echoing around the forest.
The Great Potoo…
A spectacled owl!
The jungle is a place of survival. Camouflage is one defence. This is a toad!
Large numbers and team work are another. These ants worked as a team to carry this insect leg.
Some ants were huge. The bullet ant is feared. It is an inch long.
This Is a huge Owls eye butterfly…. confusing to predators
Or Maybe have viciously sharp spines….
Or enough poison to put a human in hospital, although you are less than 1cm long….
Or Just be horribly sneaky… this fungus seeps in through the insects pores, grows inside it, reaches it’s brain and turns it into a sort of zombie. The insect then walks to the sort of location which is ideal for the fungus to grow, and dies. 😱
Or just walk away! This is the walking tree. It apparently searches for light by casting fast growing roots in the direction of the light. It then loses the roots on the darker side and literally ‘walks’, possibly up to 8 metres in a year.
The lodge has a tree top tower which was so much higher than I expected, and every step and landing was metal that allowed you to see down.
My vertigo screamed NO!However I used NLP and somehow got up all 120 feet of it. We still weren’t at the top of the canopy but it was sensational.
There was a beautiful double toothed kite building a nest in the Kapok tree we had climbed, and we saw lots of birds around us! Magical. Getting down was accomplished by following Chris and singing ‘Walking on Sunshine’ to myself! My mantra song!
When rain or land slips occur, they sometimes expose mineral rich seams in the clay riverbank. These ‘Clay licks’ are then frequented by hundreds of parrots, who use the minerals to counter digestive disturbances brought on by consuming certain seeds and fruits.
We were lucky enough to witness this, and also stunning Macaws visiting a freshwater spring. Beautiful but unbelievably noisy and argumentative!!
We also visited the local community, and amongst other things, tried blowpipe blowing!
Our lodge leases land from them and supports their education and health programmes. Many of the lodge staff are from the village.
Our final night included a canoe paddle in pitch darkness to see night fishing bats and the Caymans, …or at least see their eyes reflecting back in the torch beam. The largest can grow to 9 feet long and they hunt at night. Rotten picture but you can see the body outline and the eyes!!
The lake also contains Pirhanas. We tried fishing for them, with beef as bait! Despite lots of nibbles, and a nearly catch for Chris, I have to show you the one caught by our guide! Eek! Those teeth!
Now we are being paddled silently along the chocolate creek for the last time.
Everyone seems lost in their own thoughts, genuinely sad to leave this magical, faraway place.
(Our remoteness was brought home to us when, after nearly 4 hours boating upstream, we arrived in Coca to find our flight back to Quito was cancelled due to storms. Edwin organised a bus, and within 30 minutes we embarked on a 6 hour road trip across the Andes!!
Our transfer to our next destination, in the cloud Forest, had waited at the airport, and then drove us through torrential rain and lightening for 2.5 hours. We arrived at 9pm after 14 hours of adventure!!! )