The River Napo, extreme humidity, animals, canoes
02/23/2018 - 02/25/2018
This weekend was awesome as well. We headed vey early to Tena so that we could get to the Amazon rainforest!!
Everyone at Cachamsi is awesome and a group of 5 of us went to Tena together. We left at 630a for the bus from Riobamba to Tena. This was a 5 hours jerky-many-stops bus ride as it is a public bus and stops for almost all pedestrians even though Tena is actually only ~120 miles away. We finally made it to Tena though and started feeling the heat and humidity of being near the rainforest. We met up with Juan, the owner of Sacha Sisa lodge. He was born literally across the river Napo and is kichwa! And I highly recommend staying at his lodge and calling him to discuss your plans and booking!!! He was amazing and catered to all our wishes and demands.
So anyways, we had lunch in Tena where you get a huge 1/4 chicken for $3 and then the employees of the lodge finished their grocery shopping for our food and we all hopped onto a taxi truck towards the lodge. It was about a 40 minute ride and then we got to a beach and headed onto a canoe for a brief 5 minute ride across the river to the entrance of the massive stairs to Sacha Sisa.
The view from the lodge
Chilling on the hammocks
We dropped off our stuff to our rooms and rested on the hammocks overlooking the river before heading out on the canoe with Anderson to a tiny pineapple plantation. An elderly couple maintains and cultivates the farm and they had a ton of chickens as well. I don’t know how they do the work everyday because we went searching for a pineapple for each of us to harvest and were sweating straight through our clothes. I have to say though that this was one of the best pineapples I ever had and it was super juicy and watery and the perfect thirst quenching snack. We then headed back to the lodge were we had a deliciously prepared meal including banana soup with popcorn (canguil or palomitas de maiz; one of my most favorite ways to eat soup now) and beef with plantains and a cucumber salad. We sat and played some card games before showering and tucking in for the night. And it poured and poured rain and thundered all night but we woke to 10 degrees less heat!
So many chickens
PONCHO on OSA the dog
The next day we woke up for breakfast of fruit and got ready for a 45 min canoe ride on the river napo headed to the Amazoonico. I have to tell you that even though there were some points where I feared the boat would tip over and we would have to swim, Juan and the canoe driver are super skilled in maneuvering through the river even with grade 3 rapids!!! It was also nice to enjoy the breeze in the midst of the heat of the amazon. And we arrived to the “zoo” with no issues and met a German girl doing a gap year to give us a tour of the place. Amazoonico is not a zoo however. It is a rehabilitation center and animals are either found or brought here with the hopes of being returned to the wild. Most of the animals we saw however have extremely sad stories involving humans and ultimately meaning they can no longer live in the wild. We loved seeing all the animals though from toucans to monkeys to parrots. Some of the squirrel monkeys roam free around the compound as one of the caged monkeys is their mother and they visit her every day for an hour, which we got to witness and both was endearing and heartbreaking!
Riding on the river
Hard to tell but one monkey is outside the cage saying hi to his mother
Caimans (look like gators)
We left with a newfound respect for the animals and the rainforest and a disappointment in humans. The ride back was equally as long and I think we were all pretty dehydrated as most of us passed out on the canoe ride back. We had a brief lunch and siesta and then headed out with our fearless leader, Juan. We walked for about 2 hours in the backyard of our lodge in the midst of the Amazonian rainforest. Juan has such a keen eye for things that he would often stop to tell us about the plants or the birds or find an insect or a frog. It was awesome listening to the sounds of the rainforest and watching Juan whistle for animals to appear. He showed us a lot but most importantly was to not touch anything as most everything is poisonous in the Amazon, especially those insects like the bullet ant that will make you sting for many hours! After staying closely packed together and hydrating adequately on the walk, we finally got back for dinner.
Covered in rainforest
A tiny frog that Juan managed to see and catch
Look at the fruit!
We enjoyed resting before dinner and just airing out from the sweat and heat for the day. The dinner was chicken and we devoured it and enjoyed showering off the dirt from the day. We then slept early for an early hike with Juan.
Poncho excited for grasshoppers
He took us across the river to walk in the more open parts near the rainforest to go bird watching. And although we saw many birds, it was only a really small fraction of the crazy amounts of types of birds in the Amazon. My favorites are the stinky turkey, woodpecker, and toucan. You have to have quick and keen eyes to see them and Juan would point them out to us so we could see them with the binoculars. It was too hard to take photos as the birds sit on the highest trees but it was cool to watch them fly and hop on branches and peck at the trees. We then headed back for breakfast before headed back across the river to where Juan was born and to visit his childhood home and mother!!
His mother showed us around their small farm that grows yucca, oranges, cacao, plantains. The mother also chopped down a yucca tree with a machete like she wasn’t in her 60s and had Sarah uproot the yucca and we then planted 5 brand new trees. After that we headed back to the house to try some chicha (fermented yucca drink that apparently indigenous kichwa use like water and used to be fermented with spit and used for ceremonies). Our chicha was made with a purple carrot for fermentation and she let us mash the yucca like mashed potatoes in a huge wooden bowl. It tastes sort of like a yogurt drink but not quite as good. We then moved on to making 100% chocolate!! We tried fresh cacao fruit which doesn’t have much meat but tastes sort of like lychee. It was sweet and delicious and tastes nothing like chocolate. We then waited for the cacao seeds that had already been dried to be toasted so that we could deshell the seeds. The fresh hot seeds smelled delicious with a nice deep roasted chocolate flavor and we grinder those seeds into the purest and thickest chocolate paste!! It was super bitter but wow was it flavorful....the mother then put it in a pan to mix it with water and tons of brown sugar. When it was the perfect chocolate fondue consistency, we got to eat it with fresh bananas and oranges. It was so delicious and I could just eat that chocolate all day! After indulging ourselves fully, we headed back to the lodge for our final lunch, which Juan called picnic lunch as it was tortilla wraps with chips. We showered off the last of the dirt and sweat and headed back to Riobamba and arrived exactly at the time the 3p bus was leaving. Short and sweet trip to the Amazon but it was so worth it and so awesome that it was a struggle to leave.
Harvesting the yucca tree
Cacao tree and the home
Chicha preparation with purple carrot
TIPS: So if you want a small experience of the Amazon, I highly highly recommend Sacha Sisa but you HAVE TO CALL AND SET UP BOOKING AND RESERVATIONS WITH JUAN (don’t use booking.com). We paid $180 each for the 3 days and 2 nights but it was super worth it as it included every activity, all 3 meals in the day, and our lodging. Juan planned everything and always made sure our needs were met and all the employees check in to see if you need help. The other awesome thing is that they let you wear these rubber waterproof boots to protect you during your time at the lodge. It isn’t the cleanest or best smelling but very helpful to avoid stinging ants and drowning legs in the rainforest. I’d recommend bringing extra long socks and long pants!! I also recommend bringing those quick drying pants and clothes cause you will sweat through it all and it’s better to have something that’ll dry quickly. Also, we used mainly 40% deet during the day all over our bodies and barely got bitten! (We also used 100 during our longer walks through the forest). I used 25 at night but there was also a mosquito net over our beds. Bring tons of sunscreen. Don’t expect hot showers but there is hot water and if you are lucky with your turning on and off of the shower, you can get a nice hot shower for the duration of your shower. Don’t flush toilet paper down these toilets as they don’t have the power to flush that. And charging phone time is only from 6p-10p everyday but if you have cellular data and service in Ecuador, you are close to civilization and will have 3g! Also, the dogs are very friendly and there is a monkey called poncho that loves OSA the dog like a mother. Try not to pet it as it may bite you playfully. And bring a water bottle to drink the filtered water. Ok I think that’s it. Lol