Not Quite Amazing, Not Quite Amazon

Sacha Lodge 042 We followed our visit to the Galapagos with an exploration of another great nature area of Ecuador — its rain forest in the eastern part of the country.  We flew from Quito to Coca, took a two hour boat ride to a dock, hiked a half hour, took a five minute canoe ride, and then . . . we arrived at our destination, the Sacha Lodge.   (Remind anyone of the movie “Planes, Canoes, and Automobiles”?)  And while we wouldn’t recommend Sacha to anyone other than hard-core birders, it did teach us a lot about the jungle, and made us interested in exploring the Amazon sometime down the road.

Sacha Lodge 084 The Sacha Lodge is in a large jungle area purchased by a Swiss family years ago.  They created a small eco-lodge of four rooms fifteen years ago, and it’s now grown to about thirty rooms and a staff of 70.  It’s located on the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon running through eastern Ecuador.  The rooms were basic, the food was basic, the bathrooms were basic, well, . . . you get the picture.    But the flora and fauna were far from basic.

Sacha Lodge 077 The area around Sacha is remarkably diverse.  There are more species of trees in a hectare there (400) than there are in all of North America.  It is home to a huge number of bird species (600 distinct species seen on the property), and various other exotic mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. 

Our “quest” animal on this trip was a snake, in particular an Anaconda.  But we were willing to settle for any old snake.  We figured the Amazon would have more snakes than an Indiana Jones movie, so we were surprised that two full days (including night hikes) resulted in 0.00 snake sightings.  I can’t imagine turning over more leaves, branches, or clumps of stuff on the trail in two days, and not finding much beyond a millipede.  

Sacha - GIbson 179 We met some incredibly nice people staying at Sacha.  Many were expert birders, but a highlight was talking to a couple from England, Ruth Miller  and Alan Davies, who are spending the entire year of 2008 birding around the world.  They sold their house in England to help fund the trip.  And they are going for the world’s record, which currently stands at 3,662 birds seen by someone from the U.S. in a year.   After what we observed, I’d bet that this great couple will break the existing record.

Sacha - GIbson 193 Ruth and Alan started their year in Arizona, then went to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and are now in Ecuador.  Next stop — Ethiopia!  And how are they doing?  Well, when they arrived in Ecuador, they had seen 500 bird species in two weeks.  At Sacha, they saw 170 species in just two days, including the gray-bellied hawk above right!  I’d bet heavily they exit January with 1,000 species (they have 708 as of January 18th), which would be amazing in and of itself! 

Sacha Lodge 005We met Ruth and Alan in an observation deck at the top of a canopy walk (41 meters above the ground), where we were all waiting out a rainstorm.  Even though they were shooting for a record, Ruth and Alan spent a lot of time with our children, explaining to them interesting things about animal behavior, answering questions, and helping them see fascinating birds through their telescope.  They couldn’t have been nicer.  You can follow their trip at www.thebiggesttwitch.com.  And, in a year when the U.S. screenwriters are on strike, someone out there ought to figure out a way to turn their adventure into a television reality series!

Sacha Lodge 113 We had numerous highlights while at Sacha.  The Lodge has lots of expert naturalists.  Our family of four, for example, spent each day exploring with two naturalists, one from Quito and one whose father is a shaman in a nearby village.  They knew every animal cold (not at all easy, given the area’s diversity), and knew tons about the plant life.  And Benji, who could become his village’s shaman (a leader with wisdom and expertise in all sorts of areas, including the use of plants to treat illnesses) in the future, taught us an enormous amount about the jungle. 

Sacha - GIbson 312 While in Sacha, we saw a bunch of fabulous birds, and got great views of a three-toed sloth (left), four types of monkeys, two types of caiman (South America’s version of a crocodile), a poison dart frog, a dwarf iguana, and piranhas.  People went fishing for piranha in the lodge’s lake, which also served as a great swimming lake.  Apparently, not all piranha attack humans (or the lodge would have lost a fair number of its guests!).

Sacha Lodge 035 Among many fun things we did at Sacha, our night-time canoe outing stands out.  We went out on the lake, and also explored many of the streams feeding the tributary.  We were on the look-out for the Brown Caiman, which we found.  But the sounds at night of the jungle as we glided silently along in our canoe were unforgettable.

Sacha Lodge 039

 

 

 

We visited Sacha in the “dry” season, which can only make me imagine what the rainy season is like.  We got heavy rain each day we were there, although it made for great nap weather.  Hearing the rain on the dense jungle canopy only amplified the sound, and even a light rain shower sounded like a downpour.  We were able to work around the rain to do our nature exploring, but there’s definitely a reason why they call this a “rain forest.”

Sacha - GIbson 216 I’d definitely recommend exploring the Amazon River basin and jungle if you’re remotely interested in exotic plants and animals.  It’s unique in its diversity (including the dwarf iguana on the left, photographed by Gibson), and many of the species are just astounding.  We missed seeing some of the giant snakes (Anacondas as long as 11 meters have been seen at the lodge), anteaters, jaguars,  and other rarities.  One of our challenges, though, was our short stay at Sacha (just two days), and the “overhead” of spending two full days to get there put a damper on the experience.  And, as much as we love nature, our overall recollection of this place will be hiking through mud in the rain, scrutinizing trees until our eyes got tired, and not quite seeing what we really hoped to see.   That said, as soon as we get internet access, we’ll be looking for another destination (one on the actual Amazon) for a future, longer visit.

Feel free to check out our photos and videos of our time at Sacha.

One Response to “Not Quite Amazing, Not Quite Amazon”

  1. Eric Fortune Says:

    One nit pick – you were on as real a part of the Amazon as it comes!! As it turns out, the area where Sacha Lodge is located is one of the most biodiverse areas in the entire Amazon basin. In short, it doesn’t get much more “Amazon” than Sacha Lodge! The hard part about your visit was going from Galapagos, where you literally trip over the animals, to the jungle, where the animals are far more difficult to see. It is easy to see why this difference exists… Galapagos has few predators… Amazonian forests have thousands of predators.

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