After our sea-cruise (read about it here) we figured it was time to cruise a river. We were in luck as La Selva Eco Lodge invited us to stay with them in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Roads vs. Rivers
Even though the Ecuadorian Amazon is much more accessible by road than e.g. the Brazilian or Peruvian Amazon, there are still vast stretches that can be reached only by boat. A shocking 80% of the Ecuadorian Amazon consists of oil concessions and the main roads are a result of this industry. But even oil platforms are often unreachable by road; workers get there by boat, on foot, or are may be flown in by helicopter.
The tourism industry in the Amazon understands, I think, that getting somewhere by boat only adds to the experience. It gives a feeling of being far away, off-the-beaten track, deep in the jungle. This is not always the case. Some of the tourist lodges are only a short boat ride away from Coca, one of the two main gateways to the Ecuadorian Amazon.
To get to La Selva Eco Lodge, on the other hand, is a long trip. It lies right outside Yasuní Biosphere Reserve and we needed not one, but two boats to get there. Let me explain.
Life Alongside the Napo River
We met our guides at the pier in Coca. We shared a boat, a canoa with a canvas roof to protect us from sun and rain, with the lodge’s new shift of employees for the coming week. During the 80-mile trip down the Napo River we got a feeling for types of life along the river and the contrast was huge.
On the one hand there were Kichwa indigenous people, whose wooden huts we spotted every once in a while among the vegetation, as well as plots where they cultivate, among other things, plantain, yuca, fruit, coffee, and cacao. They sail the river in small, open boats with outboard engines.
On the other extreme sat the affluent oil business. We passed oil rigs and noticed a lot of heavy transportation going back and forth on the river. The employees use high-speed boats with a cabin that apparently even have aircon. We already wrote a blog post about a world of oil and indigenous people, which you can find here.
Leaving the ‘Real’ World Behind
By the time we were getting stiff, about two hours later, we reached our first destination and walked for about ten minutes through a forest to the next landing. Here we stepped into a small, open canoe and were in for a spectacular ride. The stream meandered through the forest and since it was in the middle of the afternoon, all animals were taking a siesta.
The world was dead quiet all around us except for the sound of paddles hitting the water, rippling the surface. We felt we had really left the ‘real’ world behind us. I hoped this canoe ride would last forever, never mind the rain that suddenly came down in full force.
Of course it didn’t but no worries, we would canoe here once or twice a day during our stay. The stream opened up to a black-water lake surrounded by dense forest. I don’t say this easily, but I felt I had landed in paradise; it was simply mesmerizingly beautiful.
Boating around La Selva Eco Lodge
Alongside the lake lies the lodge. We were received with a cocktail, fruits, shown our room, given an introduction about the dos and don’ts and what to expect in the coming days. All very well, let’s get back to that water!
It had rained since our arrival at 2.30pm. The second we stepped in the canoe the rain stopped and I wished I had brought my sunglasses. I had not expected to need those. Enrique, the local guide, paddled in the back while Andrés, our naturalist guide, sat behind me to do the talking. Coen sat in front of me to take photos.
A late afternoon sun penetrated through a cloudy sky. It added to the already world of magic, of mystery. It was so utterly peaceful, so beautiful and again I wished the day would never end. The big plus at this lodge is that the canoes don’t have outboard engines, but all is done by paddling. That, in our eyes, earns the lodge a lot of points.
Nevertheless I wouldn’t have minded having been just the two of us, without having to speak at all. Each word was one too many, I found. That, let me be clear, had nothing to do with Andrés, who is a very well-trained guide and who has an extensive range of knowledge about the forest. In that respect it was an absolute pleasure to listen to him.
Coen and I simply can really appreciate silence.
Right around the lodge bushes and trees were home to dozens of birds. Life was waking up. Especially because it had just rained, animals were celebrating life through sounds and movements. We spotted a sand-colored night-hawk, which is a nocturnal bird as well as are a migratory bird. Among the other birds were swallows and social flycatchers.
We loved watching the beautiful hoatzin, which we know from Brazil as mutum. They can fly only short distances. These birds have never had to learn to fly long distances as they don’t have predators. They are also called ‘stinky turkeys’ as their flesh stinks. The birds don’t have gastric juices but bacteria in their gut and the greens they eat make their flesh stink.
From Birds to Bats to Monkeys
No wind. The water was as smooth as glass and the vegetation mirrored in the water. Enrique quietly paddled all along the shore. The last rays of sunshine warmed me. In the distance were cries of red howler monkeys.
Underneath a trunk protruding from the water’s surface hung long-nosed bats. Small ones, which more appeared to be mushrooms than flying creatures. A huge number of squirrel monkeys jumped along the shore from tree to tree, eating fruits along the way as if they were in a hurry. They were looking for a safe spot to spend the night, Andrés explained.
Sunlight was fading, dusk was falling. It was time to paddle back and get ready for dinner.
We stayed at La Selva Eco Lodge for three nights. Apart from these daily canoe trips on the laguna – every day we spotted other animals – we enjoyed a number of other outdoor activities. Among them were hikes in the forest, during the day and in the evening, watching birdlife from a watchtower, taking another boat ride on the Napo River to admire hundreds of parrots at a clay lick (with a boa contractor sleeping not t0o far away from them in a tree!), and visiting a local community.