The day started off on a few dour notes and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. This morning’s wake up call at 5:30 came early and not due to the hour. For some reason, I could not sleep last night. So, when the knock at the door came, I moved slower than usual in the mornings. Next, breakfast was sad because our group was losing the St. Louis clan – Debbie, Michelle, Gina and Tom. And, finally, the morning sky was cloudy portending rain. Now, being in a rainforest, this weather is expected and our group had already been rained on. But, on this particular morning, it meant that we had to cancel an excursion to the National Park where we were to have gone birding and hiking – for a price. So, not wanting to spend money to see birds that weren’t going to come out in the rain and to miss a hike on a rainy road, we had to change course.
We opted to start the day back at the Canopy Tower birding. We were lucky again seeing many different birds. Today I took notes. We saw tanningers, oropendolas, flycatchers, toucans, parrots, double-toothed kites, yellowed-rumped caciques, parakeets, woodpeckers, black-faced dacnis, jacamarsand clusias. We didn’t stay as long this morning. But, we felt fortunate having seen so much in a short periof of time. We hiked down to the lake with all the fun creatures (caimans, anacondas, etc) to jump in our canoe. On the way, Magno stopped us as he saw one of the most famous rainforest creatures: the poison dart frog. Much to my surprise, he held it in his hand. Apparently they can be held safely as long as you don’t have any cuts in your skin where the poison can enter. Further along the path, we encountered another. The day was looking up despite the slow, rainy start.
We approached the far side of the glassy brown lake, passing through some plant growth on top of the lake near the shore and headed toward some trees at the far side of the lake. We continued moving forward and slowly the trees parted slightly revealing a stream behind the trees. We slowly navigated the canoe (and be we, I mean Magno and Daniela) behind the trees on the narrow stream. Immediately the high trees on both sides of the stream blocked the sun creating a low canopy covering us as we passed by slowly on the stream. Almost immediately we got stuck in the shallow water. Knowing what could be below, the four of us tourists froze not knowing what to do. We joked that I’d have to get out and push. And, as we laughed nervously about that, Magno got up from the back of the boat, walked through the shallow water and pushed us over the branch blocking our entrance.
At times, the silence in the river was broken by birds calling to each other. At others, the hum of bees played in the background. Bees humming while you’re in in a canoe on a remote stream in the middle of the rainforest isn’t as comforting a sound as you would think I prefer the song of the cicadas.
We stopped at one location to hear the Soldier Wasps. At this point in the river there was almost complete silence. On the count of three we all let out a loud yell and waited. About 10-15 seconds later, we were a loud thumping sound as if an army was marching towards us. This was the sound of the soldier wasps warning us of their presence. They don’t appear immediately but if the loud sounds continue, they were telling us that they would come out to attack. We quickly agreed that quiet was good and as the hum of the soldier wasps quieted, we continued down the river.
Further up the stream, the silence of the forest was broken by some cracking limbs ahead of us to our right. Our guide then said two magic words: howler monkeys. There were six in all. But, the inertia of our canoe started to push us past the trees with the monkeys. The mom and her baby crossed the stream right above us on a large limb. The others went and hid until we continued on down the river. Most of the time the monkeys were hidden from us so we had to balance (literally) to try to find the monkeys above us without tipping the canoe. It was great to see some of the smaller monkeys, but to see the howlers was a real highlight.
We continued going until the forest closed the stream to further access so we turned around to head back to the lake. We spent a couple of hours on the stream and by now my butt was killing me. Luckily it was lunchtime so I was close to getting some relief.
We ate a quick lunch at a campsite of breaded ham, beans, chocolate cake, juice, water and Oreos. It had been about 6 hours since breakfast and after the long morning, I scarfed it all down.
We climbed back in the canoe to head towards a rarely used trail off another part of the lake. This was the thickest, densest jungle route we had traveled on yet. Magno who led us had to use his machete much more often on this trail as we passed through. The trail was barely visible. In fact, even Magno took a wrong turn at one point. This afternoon we saw lots of fungi, spiders and marveled at the trees and flowers in the jungle. We found one fungus that we could write on. We were so thrilled with the day, we named ourselves the lucky group and left the fungus with our names on it in the forest. The afternoon ran long and I tired quickly. The combination of little sleep, the physical exertion and the humidity all took their toll. After about and hour and a half, we finally ended our hike, loaded back into the canoe and headed toward camp. We finally reached camp – where I immediately showered – at 4AM. Nine hours straight in the jungle was tiring.
We enjoyed a couple of afternoon beers and headed off to dinner – a meal of soup, pork with fried casava cakes and some type of tasty dessert made with phyllo dough and dulce de leche. Bed came early and I fell to sleep immediately.
The next morning I awoke to pack, have breakfast and we loaded into the canoe to begin our long journey back to Coca. There, we boarded our plane back to Quito and after a short 20 minute flight, we landed and I headed back to Gloria’s.
What an incredible adventure. I was sad to leave and surprised that I felt that I wanted MORE time in the jungle despite all the critters – especially after feeling so out of place yesterday. Maybe I was just tired and cranky. I think there was something very primal out there that touched this city boy. Maybe one day I can make it back out to spend a longer time out there.
Originally June 1, 2007