It’s been five days and our group of Vancouver Aquarium explorers is leaving Sacha Lodge and heading back to Quito. I am writing this as we are in the big canoe, seated three across, headed up-river for Coca and our flight back. In asking our group whether the experience met their expectations, I find that everyone enjoyed visiting an entirely new part of the Earth. In some ways, it’s vaguely familiar – not entirely dissimilar from a B.C. temperate rainforest. In many other ways, it’s entirely different. We are returning to Quito with lots of damp clothes. The constant high humidity (as high as 100%) and heat are clearly something we “northerners” would have to get used to.  Many of our group were overwhelmed by the noon to early afternoon heat. Thank heavens we could swim in the lake at Sacha Lodge to cool down.

As we motor up-river for Coca we watch the riverbanks.  We see single houses, some thatched-roofed, some roofed with corrugated metal, and a few more sophisticated buildings – signs of the oil industry working in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. There are some roads in the area, but no complete grid.  Most of the transportation depends on the river – barges with dump trucks and construction equipment, speed boats carrying oil industry workers up and downstream, and canoes like ours ferrying people who need to move up or down.  They all have very shallow drafts because the Napo is wide and very shallow with shifting sandbars that move regularly.  We watch our guide in the front of the boat as he uses hand signals to help the boat driver stay in water deep enough to not ground our outboard motors.

All in all, we are all glad to be going on to the next phase of our exploration. We now have a visceral or emotional sense of the rainforest, and we have all sharpened our observational skills.  That is perhaps the most rewarding aspect for me, watching people change – now looking out and seeing things they would have never noticed before.

Two Vancouver Aquarium Explorers head out across the aerial walkway between the steel observation towers at Sacha Lodge. Photo: John Nightingale.

Vancouver Aquarium Explorers listen to to Quichua and Ecuadorian guides explain that "walking" palms don't have a single base and root. Instead, they have evolved this pyramid system to brace the tree in the shallow rainforest soils. Photo: John Nightingale.

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