Monday, January 19, 2009

The Jungle, 13 January 2009

I love listening to the sound of the jungle at night. I cannot identify the various noises. I believe the frogs are very vocal, as are the cicadas. The birds are asleep. It is surprisingly noisy, especially if you close your eyes. We arrived at Sacha Lodge at dusk. A short plane ride from Quito at 9000 feet to Coca ( San Francisco de Orellana) at sea level, then a two hour motorized canoe jaunt down the Napo River, and a 30 minute walk through secondary forest, led us to Pilchicocha, another short canoe ride, and Sacha Lodge. The last part is breathtaking, even after having been here several times before. We climb into the canoe and float through a narrow inlet with hyacinths and orchids on either side. This opens up to the lake and if it is late in the day and if we are lucky, the howler monkeys are howling, a low growl that sounds like a machine in the distance. We did not hear the monkeys when we arrived, but they did start howling an hour or so later. All around the lake, the grass is a foot or so high and there is evidence of caiman, where the grass is flattened in the shape of  a very large creature. The birds are flying about. The stinky turkey (Hoatzin) makes a loud and distinct sound, as do the Oropendula. The birds are all sorts of colours and I never remember to bring binoculars, so I cannot identify them. Later, another professor offers me a peek through his binoculars and I see yellows and reds. I ought to pay attention to identifying and documenting what I see, but perhaps I will next time I come.
Maya loves to swim in the lake, which is dark and very deep. There are caiman and piranhas in the lake, so nighttime swimming is verboten, but somehow swimming during the daytime is perfectly safe. There are a few people fishing for piranhas on the side of the balsa, but the piranhas generally do not nibble on the swimmers. The students and Maya and Eric dive off the side and I try to capture the movement and the shapes with my camera. There is one very good one of Eric, but only parts of bodies on most of the frames. I am reasonably content with my efforts.
Eric and I meet with Benny, the founder of the lodge and we interview him for an hour and a half. Such great adventures he has had! He left Switzerland and came to Chile at 23, met Che Guevara and prospected for gold in Bolivia and then came to Peru and then Ecuador. He encountered obstacles and successes and failures and ultimately started the lodge and has returned to live in Switzerland again. I was pleased that I was able to communicate with him in German – what a remarkable life!!!
We had our nighttime hike this evening. Lots of spiders and stick bugs and butterflies and grasshoppers and even a paca (a huge rodent with spots, apparently yummy to eat ) and for the first time since I have come to the jungle, I have seen a coral snake, very poisonous and very beautiful. I was afraid to get too close to photograph it, because it is very dangerous and deadly. I checked my photos and was disappointed that the snake is not really identifiable in the photograph.
Maya is very excited to be in the jungle again. She came last year and adjusted easily to the place. This year she is a pro, and reported that she saw an armadillo, not once but twice!!!
I wanted to look for fish tonight -- my favourite pastime of all in the jungle. We travel out on the lake to Orquidea, a creek across from the lodge, and in the dark we paddle through the night, feeling fruit bats flying amazingly close to our heads. We shine huge flashlights in the water and look for the skinny small fish that my husband researches. It is challenging to catch them with nets. Sometimes we work in teams, one person shining the light and identifying the fish and another using the net. The fish are very careful and hide in the dirt on the banks of the river, so sometimes we are not too successful. I could not go fishing tonight because I do not feel comfortable leaving Maya alone in the room. I do not believe it is dangerous, but if she woke up, she could call and no one would hear her, and perhaps she would be frightened and wander around looking for us in the jungle. So Eric is out on the hunt, and I am listening to the sounds of the night and wondering how I will sleep with all this noise!
The rain began again. It has been raining off and on since we landed in Coca. We wore big ponchos on the ride in, and it cleared for a while when we walked in and crossed the lake. It was wet during our night walk, and again now. It rains in the rainforest! Eric is on the water in the rain. I am not sure if that helps or hurts the fish hunt. He has students and colleagues here who will do research after the rest of us have left. He is hoping to begin a research station at Sacha.

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