wooden jungle tower
Saturday, February 5 2005
setting: Sacha Lodge, Amazonia, Ecuador
This morning Gretchen reported that now she had a sore throat. I immediately assumed that she had whatever illness I'd had and I mentally retraced how it had slowly progressed to point where I was bedridden in Quito. We'd bought some chewable Vitamin C in there and I suggested that Gretchen have the rest of them.
Meanwhile my health continued to improve. One of the symptoms I'd forgotten to mention was laryngitis, which had robbed me of a clear speaking voice while in Old Town, Quito. My voice had been so bad that I'd been avoiding the speaking of Spanish, figuring that I was having a hard enough time speaking in my native tongue. Pronouncing convincing Latin vowels in a whisper was not something I had the audacity to attempt. Today, though, my voice finally began to come back.
Meanwhile one of the British ladies had spent the night suffering from some kind of stomach bug and wouldn't be joining us on our morning adventure.
The morning walk today actually began with a long canoe ride down the channel that drains the Sacha Lodge's blackwater lake. We saw a few birds along the way but nothing too spectacular. Since yesterday, I'd been riding at the front of the canoe and helping Ernesto paddle. It's a lot of work to paddle a canoe, particularly when you're doing it for forty continuous minutes.
At a certain point in the channel we came to a dock where we landed. From there we walked a short distance to yet another observation tower, this one built as a 140 feet of wooden scaffolding around a massive tree. The climb to the top gave my cardiovascular system a workout, so you can imagine my surprise when a morbidly overweight British woman (who I'd seen experiencing difficulty getting around the dining room) somehow managed to huff and puff her way to the top. She was part of a second group that joined us on the tower and shared our telescope. Again we saw toucans, and I did a better job of photographing them through the telescope. Actually, we didn't even need telescopes today because the toucans were much closer, some of them even landing in branches of our tree.
After awhile I was actually tired of watching the toucans, so I examined things that most of the others were overlooking, the epiphytes on the stout limbs that curved horizontally out from the trunk just above the observation deck. (Gretchen scootched about five feet out onto one of these limbs and nearly gave me a heart attack. Richard didn't care because Gretchen "had signed an indemnity form.) I was interested in those roots that the strangler figs and other plants send down in hopes of developing a supply line to the ground. It's a wickedly clever technique, yet no plants do it in temperate zones. As I was looking at one of these roots I saw a Conga Ant descending and I realized we weren't safe from their day-ruining bite even 140 feet up in a tree. Soon I saw another Conga Ant descend. Then another. Before long I'd seen them descending or ascending on many other roots. There must have been hundreds of them in this one tree! How can they possibly coexist with man in such numbers? I wondered why they hadn't yet succeeded in taking over the entire world or at least the Amazon.
Back in our little canoe, we went back the way we'd come, seeing a few more birds (most interestingly, a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker). We also saw a few more Hoatzins. But the main prize, monkeys, continued to elude us. We beached at the boardwalk that leads back to the Napo and went for a walk in hopes of maybe seeing some monkeys but we saw absolutely nothing, not even orapendula birds. These things depend on luck, and for whatever reason we didn't have any.
With the absence of one of our British ladies, our contingent had been joined by a young American man who will, in a matter of days, begin serving as a naturalist guide. He seemed awfully green to Gretchen; in one conversation with him he'd told her about all the heavy duty drinking he'd just finished doing in college. This had convinced her that he is an idiot. But I wasn't convinced. I told Gretchen that he was probably not nearly as stupid as he'd lead her to believe. To me he seemed like he was suffering from an "outsider trying to become an insider" complex. Such people are overly-eager to please and go out of their way to recruit allies wherever they can find them, often straying into overly-confessional or (in this case) unprofessional topics along the way. Such people should never be judged for the first impressions they make, since they almost always come across as pathetic and awkward. More troubling, in the case of this soon-to-be guide, was the fact that he was still resorting to a small handheld computerized translation device to help him with his Spanish.
A heavy rain fell during our afternoon siesta time. By this point our room had become a jarring spectacle of spread out clothing hoping against hope to somehow dry in the relentless humidity. Nothing seemed help, not even attaching socks to the ceiling fan and running it at full speed. Sacha Lodge does have a laundry service, but at a price of $2/shirt it seemed like extortion and we refused to play along. So far we were doing an amazing job of not running up extraneous charges. This was more out of principle than necessity.
Among our drying clothes was Gretchen's bathing suit, which she kept using to go swimming in the black water of the Sacha Lodge lake. Supposedly this lake has piranhas and caimans, but they're all the friendly kind and are absolutely no danger whatsoever. With the exception of the Conga Ants, everything about the rain forest around Sacha Lodge has proved completely, unexpectedly benign. Even if you get bitten by one of the infrequent mosquitos there's no history of malaria in the area.
Late in the afternoon we had another walk through the rain forest, starting in an area right near the compound. Here we saw two different species of monkeys (including the tiny Pygmy Marmoset and a smallest black monkey with a white face and a very long tail). I had the feeling that these monkeys were almost domesticated and this was the place the guides took their guests whenever they were desperate to show them monkeys.
At some point in the forest we came to a twisted pair of Strangler Fig vines that Richard said were ideal for climbing. He then proceeded to climb vertically some twenty feet. When he came down and asked if anyone else wanted to go, I took the bait and climbed perhaps thirty feet into the air. It was much easier than I'd expected, though the whole time I worried what would happen if both vines were to break.
We found our way to yet another marshy lake, an oxbow of the Napo. On its shore was a rooved dock with canoes, one of which we took for a circuit through the wetlands. While we were hit by a downpour which utterly drenched us. It was a perfect temperature of rain and actually felt good.
There'd been a plan for us to go on a night time canoe tour after dinner, but it was raining and it didn't look like we were going to get to go. That was fine with me; I didn't relish the idea of being out in a boat in the rain at night. But Gretchen and the others all wanted to go anyway. Fine, Richard said, and he took them out. I stayed behind and went through my photos, throwing out the blurry ones and duplicates. When Gretchen finally returned she said the canoe ride had sort of been a bust; they hadn't seen anything at all.
The tree tower with its wooden scaffolding.
Wild toucans photographed through a telescope.
A pair of primitive Hoatzins.
A persistent bee rode with me all the way across Sacha's blackwater lake.
A butterfly lights on Gretchen in the mariposio.
The front of the mariposio.
The "tacky" golden pupæ at the mariposio.
A native rain forest plant that strikes me as somewhat tacky.
Ernesto applies some war paint he mixed up from a native seed pod.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next