Monkey Business

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October 2nd 2009
Published: October 3rd 2009
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I guess I´m going soft... I decided to take the early morning flight to Coca, the edge of the Amazon. Can you blame me though when the alternative was a 10 hour bus ride and the flight only cost $45? I think not...

I arrived bleary-eyed into Coca and was promptly dropped off at a hotel to await the other souls heading into the jungle with myself. A couple hours passed and I was beginning to get a little grumpy when my companions finally arrived. Travelling into the jungle with me would be Ryan and Kate (an early 30´s couple from Scotland) and Thom (a brit with a lovely accent). Also accompanying us on the journey but (thankfully) not the rest of the trip was quite possibly the most demanding, stereotypical german woman I have ever come accross. Unfortunately, I was not there to witness the event but Thom told all of us about when he and another man were peacefully sitting on a bench in the airport when the german woman approaches, demands to sit down, and begins to does so with the two bodies remaining where they were. Needless to say, she was the but (pun intended) of many a joke over the next few days.

So all of us hopped into a motorized canoe-boat hybrid and began the 3+ hour ride down the Rio Napo, deeper into the Amazon. 3/4 of the way, we switched to a smaller boat and continued off the river into a picturesque lagoon over which the lodge stood. Now I can redeem myself. Thom and I were certainly not staying at the lodge. That would be way too posh of course. The two of us plus a new companion, Guillaume (Frenchie, "Gee" for short), would be sleeping out in the wild, in tents across the lagoon from the lodge.

Our afternoon was spent paddling around the lagoon, discussing the different birds that we saw and the variety of ecosystems present in the Amazon. That night, we hopped back into the canoes for a little caiman spotting. Caimans are very similar to crocs but seem to be a little smaller. Apparently, they are quite skiddish as well. Every time we seemed to get close they would simply duck under and...poof...were gone. Since we didn´t have much luck with the guides, Gee and I decided to head back out in search of the elusive caiman on our way back to our tents. With Gee navigating and me spotting, we were able to get much closer to one than any of our guides could have boasted on our previous attempt. I think I may have a future as an Amazonian jungle guide...

So...what is the first thing I see upon our return to the campsite that night? TARANTULA!! If you have been able to bear to stand me long enough, you probably know that I rate Arachnaphobia as THE scariest movie of my childhood. I don´t know why but for some reason the thought of a large, hairy spider climbing into bed with me necessitated that the lights stay on at night, if only for at least a few weeks. Anyway, here I am, camping in the jungle, and the first thing I see happens to be one of the most terrifying. Well I guess its better to get it out of the way first...

Jewish new year (as Thom called it) started off with a bang! We paddled through the lagoon to the sight of just about every single bird imaginable. Parrots flying two by two, scarlet and blue macaws, and toucans filled the sky! After an hour and a half of paddling, we got out of the boat and began our first hike of the day. Obviously, the Amazon is not a zoo so you need a little luck in order to see animals. Well I suppose luck was in store for the jewish new year because we came across a pack of big ol Wooly monkeys! Eduardo told us that we were extremely fortunate to see them because it was very rare for them to be in this place. They were not too happy to see us, though, cause they made a bee line for the opposite direction once they were aware of our presence. We also saw a HUGE amount of squirrel monkeys who seemed to be slightly more friendly, or at least curious.

The early afternoon was spent lounging at the lodge and swimming in the lagoon. As I was relaxing on the dock, I had about 3 yellow butterflies stop for a little chill session right on my toes. What a jewish new year!

Later on, we went for two separate hikes. One to try to find the the noisy night monkees and another to the top of the canopy tower. We got to see the monkeys but not much came out of canopy viewing. I guess our luck had run out...

The next day we hopped back into the motorized canoe and began the 2ish hour journey further down the Rio Napo to Laguna Panacocha. Finally, the "rain" part of rainforest reared its ugly head and we got POURED on! At one point, it was raining so hard that we had to stop at another lodge in order to wait it out. The laguna panacocha is famous for the pink dolphins that inhabit its waters so that is what we were there to find. Apparently, some actually saw this mythical creature. I, however, only saw distant ripples after it took me a split second too long to turn my head. Oh well, I certainly did not miss the sighting of the one animal I really wanted to see...THE SLOTH! Its actually really difficult to spot these suckers because they move so little that most people mistake them for termite nests in the trees. We tried to get out little guy moving but he was having none of our cat calls. After seeing some more monkeys (tamarind this time), we threw some raw beef onto hooks and tried to catch us some dinner...piranha dinner. Evidently, I am not the most talented piranha fisherman. It truly is an artful skill. Due to their sharp teeth, you literally have to fling them in the boat once you feel a bite. We managed to bag two of them. I have to say...piranha is pretty damn tasty!

One of the reasons I chose Sani, our tour operator for this trip, was because they were completely owned and operated by the Quichua community who resided on the land. Unfotunately, much of the Ecuadorian Amazon along the Rio Napo has been sold to oil companies. The Sani community chose ecotourism instead so I was happy to give them my dollars. We did stop at a local Panacocha bar on the way back and their life seemed a bit sadder. Because they had sold most of their land, the people there had very little to do. What better way to kill a little time than drowning some chica at the local watering hole. Chica is a drink thats pretty common to many South American countries. It is made by either fermenting corn or yuca until it gets a little boozy. Now, Adam and I had corn chica in Bogota and I must say, it is quite good. Yuca chica, what they drink in the Amazon is pretty terrible. Yuca, itself, does not have much of a taste so when you ferment it for long enough the chica just develops into a milky, chalky kind of substance remeniscent to drinking plaster or something of that nature. Definitely not something I will be ordering at the bar anytime soon.

Another added benefit was that we were able to go into the Sani community and meet some of the people that benefited from our tourism. Our guides took us into the school area where many of the people were listening to music, dancing, and drinking yuca chica. This time we were forced to drink a significant amount of yuca chica...ugh. At the very least I guess it improved my dance moves with the 60 year old quichuan women!

If you are ever in Ecuador and are interested in heading to the jungle please consider Sani Lodge. At the very least, make sure you are spending those hard earned dollars on a place that supports the local community and ecotourism as a whole. There is nothing less I wanted to see there than the sight of burning oil towers. So please do your best to show these people how important preservation of the rainforest is and that they can earn a living through showing others these wonders and not selling out to black greed...


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