As we had discovered on our first night at La Selva, we were in for several early mornings in the coming days. After making sure to head to bed early, we were lulled to sleep by the storm and drumming rain. It seemed I had just closed my eyes when a knock came on the door of our room, accompanied by a cheerful call of good morning. Breakfast was thirty minutes away, just enough time to try to gather our thoughts, and greet the dark morning.
After a hearty breakfast, our group was ready for our early morning activity. We were led by Diana, our guide and Sergio our native spotter. We would find in the coming days that Sergio has amazing eyes, and is able to spot animals we would have never otherwise seen. Our destination was a short meander throughout the woods and we were at the massive tower built around a canopy breaching tree within 20 minutes.
The base of the tree was massive, its thick ropy roots raised ridges covered in moss and fungi, disappearing into the nearby undergrowth. They estimate the tree to be near 400 years old, a slow growing behemoth that is perfect to built such a tower around. The top branches were barely visible through the heavy mist that was settled over the forest.
Taking a deep breathe to steady myself, I put on a brave face as we began the climb, when asked about fear of heights the night before, I had shied away from admitting my phobia. Now, with sweaty palms and pounding heart, each consecutive level passed increased my heart rate, and I made a commitment to not look down until we had reached the top. Luckily, I as not the only one who had not raised their hand the night before and I learned that another woman in the group felt the same way and we bonded over shared fear.
Finally reaching the platform at the top, our position towered over a vast expanse of green that was the canopy of the forest. I quickly found a seat on a bench near the trunk of the tree, trying to gain my “sea legs” or whatever you might call trying to acclimatize yourself to standing 150 feet above the ground held up only by two inch thick planks.
A little later in the day a sudden rainstorm cancelled the hike we had scheduled for the afternoon, but not before Joe and I both swung on a thick vine, calling out our best impersonations of Tarzan. Tramping through raindrops the size of marbles, ponchos were quickly handed out, though I chose to carry mine instead of donning it. Quickly drenched with warm water, i relished in the feeling of being in rain while in the rainforest, squishing thick mud underfoot, tempted to jump in the quickly forming puddles.
Arriving back at the lodge though thoroughly soaked, but not displeased, we had the early afternoon to ourselves before jointing back together for the afternoons activity, another lovely paddle around the lagoon. This was where the Capuchin monkey threw a hornets nest at us when we drew too close to him (Joe wrote a quick blurb about this a couple of weeks ago). We spotted many monkeys, different birds, and finished the ride as the sun was setting over the forest to the west.
It was a wonderful conclusion to what had been an exciting morning, the perfect way to wind down and prepare for the next days adventure. We found out over dinner that we would be rising early again the next day, heading to the nearby Napo river to see four species of parrot at a famous clay lick, and after that going to visit an indigenous town that partners with la selva. Bed came early once again, and we barely said goodnight before falling into a deep sleep, the jungle singing us lullabies throughout the night.
Somewhat less shocked by the early hour that second morning, we rose, breakfasted and quickly began the journey back across the lagoon that would lead us to the Napo river. Silent as we paddled, we took in the different sounds the forest emits in the early morning hours. I was still not quite sure what a clay lick was, but was excited that we might see several species of parrot and parakeet. Switching from the paddled canoe to a motorized one on the large river, we took off in the direction of Coca.
Less than fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the lick, its presence first announced by the slew of motorized canoes idling a safe distance from the birds. We were able to see dozens of different species stuck to the wall, biting the clay clinging with their claws against the bright red clay. Diana explained that it's not %100 known why they do this, but that one of the leading theories is that it supplements their diets with minerals and nutrients they might not other be receiving. The sight of so many birds, eating clay and completely at ease shoulder to shoulder with other species was great to see. Although, I was personally more amused by the boat loads of tourists watching open mouthed through binoculars, lined up in various canoes from other nearby lodges.
When we finally sped away, it was not a moment too soon, since not many in our group were serious birders, we had ended up chatting when we were supposed to be bird watching. We took the boat to a nearby bank on the river and began a trek through the forest towards the village we would visit. Shielded on both sides by thorny bamboo as thick around as a dinner plate along with unique species of trees referred to as walking trees that actually move by growing new root “legs” throughout their lifetime, there was a feast for the eyes of vegetation and fungus. We noticed when we were almost to the village we were being followed by incredibly shy locals, an older woman and several younger children. They refused to pass us and stayed mostly hidden in the trees and around corners.
When we reached the Kichua village they finally all sprinted past us giggling, with heads down, desperate to get away from our group. We were able to look at the farm the villagers were keeping, one that included yucca, banana, chocolate, coffee and a slew of local medicinal plants. They work to farm sustainably, since the topsoil here is just fifteen centimeters deep, it's incredibly important to nurture the soil, and not strip it of its nutrients.
After our quick tour of the gardens, we were invited to learn about local dishes, cooking technique and habits. As we sat munching on potatoes, corn, and porridge in the home of our host a local councilwoman, Diana told us of their traditions, and how they are trying to find a balance between new technologies and keeping their heritage. It's a delicate balance that La Selva hopes to contribute positively to by providing jobs, food, and helping with other necessities as they come up. We were able to practice shooting targets with a massive blowgun after our snack, quickly learning that none of us are born hunters.
We were able to walk back to the dock after our visit, ready for some relaxation after such a busy morning.
The restful afternoon prepared us for the nighttime canoe ride later in the evening, where we were able to see caimans, bats, numerous bugs and a wonderfully entrancing moonrise. A large full moon, orange as it crested the horizon, we had trouble paying attention to much else as it made its way into the sky.
Tired and more than ready for bed after our dinner, heads barely touched the pillow before sleep overcame us.
In what I know was Joes favorite day overall, we spent the morning at their butterfly farm. They showed us the process of breeding caterpillars, collecting cocoons and eventually hatching butterflies to breed and when possible research into the wild. Joe got to practice his macro photography skills, which he displayed in a previous post. It was a relaxing way to spend the morning, and we had plenty of time to prepare for the nighttime hike later that evening.
After lunch, we prepared for a long trek through the jungle. We started in the late afternoon, and didn't finish until long after night had fallen. Accompanied by owls and bats above, with tarantulas and other spiders below. We attempted to find as many nighttime crawlers as possible, while not falling on our faces. Our group of 8 had three flashlights between us and more than once, the light wasn't sufficient to prevent a slip or a trip on the winding path.
We saw lightening beetles that were bright orange in the otherwise black night that when caught lit up a brilliant green and heard monkeys settling in for the night. Leaf cutter ants crossed the path more than once bearing burdens many times the size of themselves, marching resolutely toward an unknown destination. It was incredibly creepy but fun to be out at night and I was more than ready for the lights of the lodge when we returned. I always been quick to jump in the dark, and when you combine that with a black jungle, I'm sure you can imagine my pulse was hammering once the sun set and I had no flashlight of my own.
It was hard to believe that our time here was almost up, but I was looking forward to the next days activities: Pygmy Marmosets and maybe, possibly seeing my favorite animal, the sloth.
On our last day here, Joe wasn't feeling well, and skipped out on an early morning adventure to see Pygmy monkeys, the smallest of all primates. Not being able to say no to a tiny monkey with large eyes, I went with the group, and oohed an dashed over the tiny creatures, no larger than my hand, sucking sap from all of the tree trunks. We saw mostly juveniles, a fact obvious by the ratio of length of their tail to their body, once it's longer than their body, you know it's full grown.
After watching the monkeys for a while, we hiked in search of a sloth, the one creature I hoped to see more than any other. Their usual haunt was empty, and I resigned myself to not seeing my favorite animal on this trip.
Joe was feeling better in time for a last boat ride in the early evening. We were fortunate enough to get an amazing view of nocturnal monkeys sleeping at the top of a huge palm tree using one of its fronds as a hammock. 20 or so minutes after this Sergio motioned for us all to be silent. miraculously he had spotted a three toed sloth perched high in a tree far into the forest, hanging out and munching on leaves. I of course was elated at seeing my favorite animal in the flesh, and couldn't stop freaking out about the luck of seeing it on our last venture. The kicker was that I almost passed on the last boat ride since we had had quite a few. I can't imagine how bummed I would have been to find that I missed out!
Our visit was incredible, with memories to last a lifetime. It was a truly special treat to have such an experience, and all being said and done, our jam packed schedule being planned out for us was a blast. There was no time to wonder what to do, but our lazy afternoons were a wonderful break in between events.
I'm not sure we will ever make it back to La Selva except in our dreams, but if you ever need a place to get away to in the middle of the jungle, we cannot recommend them highly enough.
Thank you Diana and Sergio for imparting your knowledge and wisdom to us, and tell the jungle hello.