In March 2005, I visited the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador. I flew into Coca via Quito. From Coca I took a boat to the La Selva Jungle Lodge, about 40 km (25 miles) downriver. I stayed at the lodge for 5 days. After a boat trip back to Coca, I boarded the Manatee and stayed on that boat for 5 days, cruising up and down the Rio Napo.
The transportation medium of choice in this area is of course the boat. There are not many roads in the jungle. The normal boats are somewhat slow. The lodge has much faster boats. The fastest boats are the speedboats of the oil companies. They are REALLY fast.
The La Selva Lodge was excellent, I can really recommend it. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful. The organization is very conscious of environmental issues. It is a North American organization, but the lodge employs mainly local people. The lodge can only be reached by foot and canoe. All luggage is transported by porters from the Rio Napo to Garzacocha Lake (Heron Lake, an apt name), on which the lodge is located. It is about a 15 min walk. From there everything (and everybody) continues in canoes. One of the pictures below shows the supply ship with a load of soda and beer The canoe ride takes another 20 min. It is very scenic, especially during sunset. There are no motor conveyances whatsoever in and around the lodge, everything moves by people power.
I was somewhat concerned about mosquitoes in the lodge, but found out soon that this is not an issue. There are two types of water in the Amazon basin, white water and black water (see picture below). The white water is river water that comes from the mountains. It is light colored from the sediment that the river carries. It makes the river water completely opaque. The black water is water in the lakes and brooks in the basin. It is black from tannin from decaying vegetation. It is black but transparent. This water is very acidic. Mosquito larvae cannot live in acidic water, so there are no mosquitoes around the black water. Since the lodge is on a black water lake, there was no problem with mosquitoes. The river with white water, is a completely different story. The mosquitoes like that water, so the islands in the river, that have lots of standing water, are swarming with mosquitoes. That was a problem during the excursions from the Manatee. It was especially severe during one excursion on a large island in the Rio Napo. On the Manatee itself, it was not a problem, since you are two decks up, and mosquitoes don't fly much about ground level. The ship was also on running water, so mosquitoes don't hang around much.
The food was very good. Meals are included in the price, only the bar bill is extra. The local beer is pretty good, and in ample supply.
The excursions are interesting. The excursions around the lodge are either by paddle canoe or on foot. To the excursions to the parrot clay licks you go to the Rio Napo by canoe and by foot, and then take a short motorboat ride on the river. Behind the lodge is a 35 m (115 ft) high canopy observation platform, build around a tall tree. It gives you a splendid view over the jungle canopy.
The second part of the trip was on the Manatee. There were only two other tourists on the ship while I was there. The accommodations were very comfortable, there even was air-conditioning in the cabin. The food was excellent, and the crew friendly and knowledgeable. We usually did all-day excursions from the ship with a motor boat. We went to Limoncocha, where we saw the caimans, and to Pañacocha (Piranha Lake), where we saw a lot of birds.
The main attractions in the jungle are the plants, and of course birds, insects, and monkeys. We didn't see any larger mammals. The variety of plants is what you would expect from a rain forest: it is huge. The number of insects and the number of birds species is equally impressive. As far as mammals are concerned, we saw mainly monkeys.
The plant variety is enormous. Some of the trees where huge. They have very varied types of bark. One of the trees had a neat means of getting rid of the lianas and other plants growing on them: It completely sheds its bark every year. This gets rid of anything that tries to hold onto it. The lianas are everywhere. They sometimes have really interesting cork screw-like shapes. The strangler fig is the most notorious. It grows around a tree and eventually chokes it to death. By that time the strangler fig has become so strong that it can stand on its own. There where lots of epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants, like the philodendrons and bromeliads.
Most of the forest along the main river is secondary growth. This means that the original rainforest had been cut down. The secondary growth doesn't have the large trees, and is much denser with small underbrush. The fertile soil in the Amazon basin is usually only a very thing layer. Underneath it is non-fertile sand. When the rainforest is cut down, and the land is farmed, the nutrients in that thin layer are used up very quickly, and the land becomes unusable. It then takes a long time for the rain forest to come back, if it ever can. Clear cutting and loss of fertile soil are the biggest danger for the rain forest.
Insects are everywhere. They are in the lodge as well. Some of the tour guests were disconcerted by them, but they didn't bother me. I didn't see any in my room (mainly because I wasn't really looking for them). I think that is the best way to handle them, just don't look at them. It may be ostrich policy, but I think it works for my relationship with insects
One particular type is ever present: Ants. There are army ants (they are roving ant colonies without a permanent nest), bullet ants (they are almost 3 cm (1.2") long, with a very painful bite), and leafcutter ants (see pictures below). The leafcutter ants bring pieces of leafs to their underground nests. They then grow a special fungus on these leafs. The fungus is their food.
Other ubiquitous insects are grasshoppers and crickets. They look somewhat similar. The grasshoppers have the short antennae, the crickets have long ones. Some of them were colorful, others were camouflaged.
Then there are beetles, lots of different species. There are many more beetle species on earth than species of any other kind of animal. British biologist J. B. S. Haldane was once asked by theologians what conclusions he could draw about God from years spent studying life on Earth. Haldane is reported to have said that God must have "an inordinate fondness for beetles."
Spiders also are ubiquitous. From small ones all the way to the big tarantulas. Some of them build large webs, others hunt on the ground. A strange looking one was the scorpion spider.
Wasps are also very common in the jungle. The most amazing ones were so-called "Marching Wasps". We were on a boat, canoing along one of the small brooks when our guide stopped. He said we should yell real loud "March" on a count of three. One, two, three, "MARCH". At that moment there came a loud noise from the tree above us. It sounded just like a marching army. Our guide explained that it is a warning mechanism of the "Marching Wasps". When they hear a threatening noise, they start to beat their wings inn unison in the nest as a warning to whoever is around. It was a fantastic experience to hear that.
As for mammals, we saw mostly monkeys and bats. The bats were very interesting, we got pretty close to a bunch of them that were roosting on a dead tree trunk through the day. We saw monkeys quite frequently, but not from very close, so I don't have any really good pictures of monkeys.
The black water lakes have plenty of fish, including piranhas. Some of the people in our group were fishing for piranhas and they caught quite a few of them. One of the lakes, Limoncocha, has quite a few caimans in it. We did see them just after sunset on an evening canoe ride. They are easy to spot. You shine a search light across the lake, their eyes, reflecting the light, look like bright flashlights.
I did see some lizards and frogs, but not all that many. They seem to be well camouflaged.
I had a great time and saw a lot of wildlife. The two parts (jungle lodge and ship cruise) are somewhat redundant, since you visit some of the places twice (e.g. the parrot clay licks). But it still was worth it I think. The best way to do that would probably be a cruise that goes longer distances than the Manatee.
If you know the name of any of the plants or animals for which I don't have a name, I would appreciate it if you would send me that name to email me
I have the bird pictures from the Ecuador Amazon area, together with bird pictures from other parts of Ecuador on a separate page:
View over the rainforest canopy from the observation tower. (1256k) The original rainforest along one of the small black water rivers. (1309k) A black water lake, Mandicocha, getting choked by water hyacinth. (1018k) The fertile soil in the Amazon basin is usually very thin. Underneath this thin layer is sand that doesn't allow anything to grow. (1140k) Merger of a black water river and a white water river. The waters of the two rivers stay separate for quite a while, it shows off the difference of the waters clearly. (983k) Moonrise over the jungle. (444k) Moonrise over the jungle. (622k) Late afternoon on the Rio Napo. (549k) Sunset on the Rio Napo. (491k) Sunset on the Rio Napo. (516k)
Flora on the Rio Napo
Large bamboo in the rain forest. (1140k) Palm tree in the rain forest. (1431k) Huge buttress roots. (1111k) One of the large trees a Ceiba or Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra, german: Kapokbaum, french: Arbre à kapok), left over from the original rain forest. This is secondary rainforest, growing after the original rainforest had been cut down. (806k) This tree towers over the original rain forest. Notice the lianas hanging down from the big tree. (925k) This tree was probably pulled down for a while by some other plant, therefore the bend in the trunk. (978k) One of the cork screw-shaped lianas. (1131k) Lots of lianas on that tree. (810k) A Strangler Fig has almost enveloped this tree. (1148k) Some trees try to discourage animals from climbing up. (1093k) This is a paper ant nest on a tree. (764k) Capirona (Calycophyllum spruceanum, german: Mulateiro). This is the tree that sheds its bark every year. You can see that it is very smooth, preventing other plants from getting a foothold on it. Notice the column of leafcutter ants carrying the green leaf pieces down the tree. (785k) The trunk of this tree starts about 2 m (7 ft) above ground and is held up by a system or roots. (1060k) Another one of these trees that stand on stilts. This is a Walking Palm (Socratea exorrhiza, german: Wanderpalme, french: Palmier marcheur). According to our guide, this tree will move slowly by shortening roots on one side and lengthening them on the other side. This has been shown to be a myth, not fact. The heart of this palm is used as roach kill. (1088k) Fruits on a jungle tree. They seem to grow directly out of the trunk. (886k) A bromeliad growing on another tree. (1080k) Another epiphyt. (811k) A flowering epiphyt. (893k) A philodendron growing on another tree. (730k) A young shoot. Young shoots tend to be reddish, they become green as they mature. (734k) Jungle plant in a clearing caused by a fallen tree. These clearings have a very different mix of plants than the main jungle. Smaller plants can grow in these areas, since they can get sun. The main forest is pretty dark on the ground, not many plants grow there. (813k) Flowering plant. (754k) These are not real flower petals, they are main leafs that are brightly colored, like flowers. (564k) A flower stand. (693k) A flower stand. (637k) White flower. (726k) Anchored Water Hyacinth (Pontederia azurea, french: Eichhornia azurea). (595k) Amazon Lily (Eucharis amazonica, german: Amazonaslilie). (537k) Trumpet flowers. (709k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). Heliconias were everywhere. These bright red beautiful flowers came in all kinds of shapes, hanging or standing. (968k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (449k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (576k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (577k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (575k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (516k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (645k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (638k) Heliconia sp. (german: Helikonien:Genus). (631k) Mushrooms. The rain forest is full of mushrooms. They don't need much light, so they can grow in the dark on the forest floor. (908k) Mushrooms called "Pig's Ears". (743k) Mushrooms. (909k) Mushrooms. (804k) Mushrooms. (735k) Some of the mushrooms were really beautiful. This is a "Copa de Mono" (Monkeys Cup) (Cookeina sp.). (672k)
Fauna on the Rio Napo
Water strider. These insects can walk on water. The surface tension of the water is strong enough to support the small insects. (505k) Insect. (639k) Insect. (612k) Large beetle (about 7 cm (2.8") long). (650k) A beetle, ready to fly off. (678k) A really strange looking beetle. (528k) Two Nymphs. (444k) Millipede. (559k) Millipede. (650k) Foam nest. Some insects build such foam nests for their larvae. (443k) Termite nest in a tree. Termites build these nests and tunnels on trees so they don't have to go outside. (1098k) A flower pod with a Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata, german: 24-Stunden-Ameise). These bullet ants are about 2.5 cm (1.0") long and have a very painful bite. (527k) A column of leafcutter ants carrying the pieces of leafs into their underground nest (entrance on the left). (934k) Closeup of leafcutter ants. The big ones carry the leaf pieces, the little ones sit on the leaf pieces as guards and defense against would-be leaf thieves. (624k) Another view of leafcutter ants. (523k) The big one is cutting off a piece of leaf, it is about half way across. The little ones are waiting for their ride. (385k) Ant lion traps. Ant lions are insects. The larvae of this family of insects build these inverted cone shaped traps. They sit at the apex of the trap and wait for an ant to fall in. When an ant is in the trap, they throw sand at the ant to keep it from climbing out. When the ant falls all the way down, they grab it. There were hundreds of these traps in the sand under the huts in the jungle lodge. (1279k) Grasshopper. (463k) Long-horned Grasshopper (Katydid, Tettigoniidae gen. (german: Laubheuschrecken, french: Sauterelles)). (458k) Large Katydid (about 10 cm (4") long). (577k) Another large Katydid, this one more colorful. (555k) Mating crickets. (639k) This katydid was laying an egg on a tree. (598k) Stick Insect (Phasmatodea fam., german: Gespenstschrecken, french: Phasme). Some of these are very well camouflaged. (582k) Stick Insect (Phasmatodea fam., german: Gespenstschrecken, french: Phasme). (778k) Mating Stick Insects. (493k) Praying Mantis (Mantodea fam., german: Gottesanbeterinnen). (509k) Meneria Metalmark butterfly (Amarynthis meneria). (616k) Butterfly getting moisture from a swampy area. (858k) Uncertain Owlet butterfly (Bia actorion). (503k) Butterfly. (509k) Blushing Phantom butterfly (Cithaerias pireta). This butterfly has transparent wings, you can see the leaf behind the wing. (468k) Owl Butterfly (Caligo sp., german: Bananenfalter, french: Papillons-hiboux). (869k) Dragonfly (Order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera). There were lots of different dragonflies around the lakes. (526k) Damselfly (Order Odonata, suborder Zygoptera). (502k) This dragonfly has transparent wings, except for the black tips. (596k) Big, brightly colored Dragonfly (Order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera). (780k) Another big Dragonfly with a tiger-striped torso (Order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera). (666k) Spider web. (717k) Spider in a web. (735k) Wolf spider. (867k) Tailless Whip Scorpion (Heterophrynus longicornis). (956k) Orb Weaver (Eriophora sp.). (572k) A spider with prey. (492k) Tarantula. This one lived in the bamboo hand rail in the jungle lodge. (601k) The same tarantula on her way to hunt. (819k) A wasp that just started to build a nest. (450k) A large wasp nest. (864k) According to our guide, this is a wasp larder. The wasps build these mud enclosures around an insect that they have caught. The insect still lives, so it keeps for a while, till the wasp needs it. (488k) Two nests on this tree, the left one is a nest of Marching Wasps, the right one is an ant nest. (1200k) A Tree Frog (Hylidae gen., german: Laubfrösche). (825k) A poison dart frog. (460k) Gecko. (680k) Broad-headed Woodlizard (Enyalioides laticeps). (802k) Lizard. (598k) Lizard closeup. (540k) Giant South American Turtles (Podocnemis expansa, french: Arrau), resting on a log. (964k) Giant South American Turtles (Podocnemis expansa, french: Arrau). (676k) Redeye Piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus, german: Schwarzer Piranha). (337k) Red-bellied Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri, german: Natterers Sägesalmler, french: Piranha rouge). (410k) Proboscis Bats (Rhynchonycteris naso, german: Nasenfledermaus, french: Chauve-souris à long nez) roosting for the day. (680k) Close-up of a Proboscis Bats (Rhynchonycteris naso, german: Nasenfledermaus, french: Chauve-souris à long nez). This one has a baby on her belly. (777k) This was as close as I got to a boa constrictor. The big snake was high up in the tree, about 30 m (100 ft) away. You can see it in the center on that clear part of the branch. (840k) South American Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus crocodilus, german: Krokodilkaiman, french: Caïman à lunettes). The eyes reflecting the search light. They were easy to spot because of these reflections. You could see them clear across the whole lake. (744k) White-bellied Spider Monkey (Ateles belzebuth, german: Weißstirnklammeraffe, french: Singe-araignée à ventre blanc). (720k) Humboldt's Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri cassiquiarensis, german: Humboldt-Totenkopfaffe). (742k) Humboldt's Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri cassiquiarensis, german: Humboldt-Totenkopfaffe). (744k) Colombian Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus, german: Roter Brüllaffe, french: Hurleur roux). (926k) Colombian Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus, german: Roter Brüllaffe, french: Hurleur roux). (508k) Colombian Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus, german: Roter Brüllaffe, french: Hurleur roux). (632k) Common Woolly Monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha, german: Brauner Wollaffe, french: Lagotriche commun)? (776k) Humboldt's Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri cassiquiarensis, german: Humboldt-Totenkopfaffe). (862k) Spix's Night Monkey (Aotus vociferans, german: Spix-Nachtaffe, french: Douroucouli). It was sitting in this tree hole, eyes reflecting our search light. (624k) Ecuadorian White-fronted Capuchin (Cebus aequatorialis, german: Ecuador-Kapuzineraffe). It was a mother with her baby on her back. (869k)