This frog is smaller than the end of your little finger. Photo: John Nightingale.

We arrived at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin after a flight from Quito to the “frontier” town of Coca, and then a boat trip.  Coca is a hub for the oil exploration and production in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, and it truly does remind one of a wild-west town.  It has grown from about 12,000 inhabitants 10 years ago to over 25,000 today.  There are lots of trucks and oil industry supply yards.

After a quick lunch, we piled into a large canoes powered by two outboard motors for the trip downriver.  These canoes seat three across (about 20 of us), so they are not exactly small, but they do have a very shallow draft.   This is because the Rio (river) Napo is shallow and wide here.  We are about 400 miles (640 km) above its confluence with the main stem Amazon River.  Even here, the Rio Napo is big, up to one-half mile across and is the color of a café latte.  We moved back and forth across the river to avoid sandbars under the guidance of a native boatman who gave hand signals from the bow.  The need to avoid sandbars and snags didn’t slow them down much – we went as fast as 40 km per hour on open stretches.  We knew this because one of our explorers had brought his GPS handheld unit along.  Landing on the side of the river after about two hours, we walked the 1.5 km on a boardwalk suspended about a foot off of the ground, to lake Pichicocha where the lodge is situated.  We took another narrow canoe and sat single file as we paddled across the lake to the lodge.

Sacha is a very comfortable lodge constructed in 1992 in the same way most dwellings are along the river.  The main lodge where meals are served, the walkways, and all of the cabins, are made of wood and are up on stilts over the edge of the lake. While it is completely comfortable and modern, it is a bit rustic at the same time providing an experience that helps us all begin to “feel” the essence of the tropical rain forest.  The lodge sits in the middle of a 5,000 acre (2000 hectare) reserve on the edge of a “blackwater” lake.  The water in the lake is clear, but stained black by the decaying vegetation.  This is opposite the Rio Napo which is considered “whitewater”, not in the sense of having rapids, but in the sense of the water having lots of silt in it giving it a “coffee with cream…lots of cream” look.

After dinner, we headed out on a night walk with headlamps and flashlights.  We are all wearing long pants to ward off mosquitoes and rubber boots.  We are out tonight looking particularly for tree frogs – most of which would not be “out” in the daylight.  We found six different species, so we considered the hour and one-half a success.  It’s “up early” here – the first groups of six (or so) guests and guides head out at 6 a.m. with everyone underway by 6:30. So, it’s off to bed.

Explorers in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. Photo: Sacha Lodge.

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