December 29, 2009
Quito - Coca - Sani Lodge
We were downstairs for breakfast a little before 06:30h. Never knowing quite what to expect at Sebastian for breakfast we had a juice so watered down as to be tasteless, extra strong coffee, fruit and eggs scrambled with bell peppers, ham and cheese.
There was a group of five people at another table and everything about them said "birder," so we went over and chatted. They were also on a Neblina Forest trip and were going to Coca on the same flight as we were. We were picked up by Sandra, Juan’s wife, and the others were joined by Lelis Navarette who would be their guide for the time they would spend in Ecuador. It was nice for us to meet Lelis who will be our guide in Colombia in November.
After a little initial confusion over tickets at the airport, we boarded our plane at 08:30h and took off just after 09:00h. The flight to Coca was a mere twenty-five minutes and we quickly moved through the airport and onto an open-sided "bus" which would take us to the dock on the River Napo whence we would depart for Sani Lodge. We had to wait, however, for an hour and a half because other passengers had not yet arrived. In a scene out of a Paul Theroux novel we were taken to a colonial-style hotel where we spent our time in a courtyard at the back. It was hot and humid, but the setting was pleasant with macaws, agoutis, a tortoise and monkeys to entertain us. We were able to get a cold drink and a sandwich.
Shortly after 12:00h we were on our way to the Napo River. All our luggage was packed into large canvas bags and it was suggested that we have our raincoats at hand, even though the sun was shining. We all clambered into the boat and by 12:30h we left the dock. The boat moved quickly but low water levels necessitated a lot of weaving back and forth to remain in deep water and frequently the boatman was forced to slow down.
A light lunch was provided on the boat comprising a sandwich wrapped in a banana leaf and a couple of kinds of fruit.
As we approached an area where we had to transfer to a smaller boat we got stuck on a sandbar. Despite an orchestrated rocking back and forth by everyone, we could not free ourselves, so a smaller boat came out and several Sani Lodge passengers transferred. We were then able to free ourselves and motored on to a rendevous point. The local passengers were picked up by another boat, leaving eight of us going on to Sani. Eventually a boat came to collect us and we move through narrow channels and reached Sani by 17:00h.
Along the way Miriam had seen her life Yellow-headed Vulture. We saw three Drab Water Tyrants which was a lifer for both of us.
At the orientation there seemed to be considerable confusion, but we were finally given our cabin numbers and assigned to guides who matched our interests.
Along with Jason and Lindsay, a very pleasant young couple from California whom we had already met at the airport in Coca, we were paired up with Olger, since it appeared we were the only birders, other than the group of five we had met earlier, but they had Lelis travelling with them at all times.
We had about a half hour to settle in and then joined Olger and his sidekick Juan who paddled us in a dugout canoe around the lagoon. It was a little cooler and the breeze out on the water made it very pleasant indeed. The only thing that could have made it better would be more comfortable seats. I think I have to work on developing a portable butt massager! I am sure I could make my fortune.
The birding was quite amazing. There were Hoatzins all around the lagoon, bizarre and primitive looking, fascinating and wonderful. Orange-winged Amazons flew overhead, a Black-capped Donacobius sang from a reed bed. There were Crested Oropendolas, and Yellow-rumped Caciques flying to and from their pendant nests. We had a spectacular look at a Blue-throated Piping Guan atop a tree. A species of long-nosed bat clung to a channel marker.
When we returned Miriam tried to coax some hot water out of the shower, but no luck! Once she got used to it, she remarked that the cold shower didn’t feel so bad. There was one electrical receptacle in our room and it didn’t work.
This lodge is an outstanding example of eco tourism operated by indigenous people, in this case Kichwa Indians, who refer to themselves as "The Community," but there is a little fine tuning to be done. There were some minor inconveniences but overall the whole experience was very worthwhile. I would return without a moment’s hesitation.
Dinner was a buffet of beef, shrimp, broccoli, yucca, rice, tomato salad, cucumber salad, and for dessert a very dense cake topped with fruit salad.
After dinner we were fitted with rubber boots for the walk on the muddy trails the next day. Neither Miriam nor I could get a really good fit, but we made do and retired to our cabin for the night, sleeping under mosquito nets for the first time this trip.
Accommodation: Sani Lodge Rating: Three stars.
All species December 29 - Speckled Chachalaca, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Striated Heron, Western Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Western Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Greater Yellowlegs, Yellow-billed Tern, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Red-bellied Macaw, Orange-winged Amazon, Mealy Amazon, Hoatzin, Greater Ani, Short-tailed Swift, Neotropical Palm Swift, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Lettered Aracari, Many-banded Aracari, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Drab Water Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Lesser Kiskadee, Bright-rumped Attila (heard), Violaceous Jay (heard), White-winged Swallow, Black-capped Donacobius, Lawrence’s Thrush (heard), Crested Oropendola, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Red-capped Cardinal, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager.