Images: Juan Pablo Verdesoto
As years roll by, those who’ve periodically visited the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin surely feel overwhelmed at the speed of change. Not change in terms of evolution or natural life cycles, but the change provoked in the name of so-called progress.
With only a morning’s stay at the frontier town of Coca, waiting for the motorized boat that will take us towards the well publicized ‘Amazonian Rainforest’, the image these words conjure in our minds is torn to shreds by gigantic speakers rumbling noisily through the reflective glass, tin roofs and cement of an unfinished building.
Along the majestic Napo River an irrigation pipeline breaks through the greenery, the thirst of development. When we finally embark on our motorized boat ride and travel over two hours downriver to the Yasuni, the picture does not improve: dark-windowed, ultra-fast speedboats violently break the calm; towers interminably burn fossil fuel with huge incandescent flames, product of oil exploitation; giant barges carry tankers, trailers, dump trucks, excavators, and other monsters of extraction, seeking to sink their claws into the heart of this green haven.
Upon reaching our destination, and to our surprise, we disembark onto a cement dock. “To enter Napo Wildlife Center we must leave the motors behind… so as not to scare the animals”, explains guide Jorge Rivadeneira with plain conviction in his voice. The journey into the true rainforest has begun.
We find a tiny crack in the lush borders of the Yasuní National Park through which to enter now on lightweight fiberglass canoes that have replaced the single tree-truck dugouts traditionally used, rowing silently along a stream of Oolong, or so it would seem from the look of the crystalline black water that meanders its way through the forest.
This is the lifeblood of our final destination: Añangu Lake.
Countless trees block the light from this secret cave of biodiversity. Our movement takes us near a pair of feeding Blue-and-Yellow Macaws; they drop fruit onto the muddy riverbank, the sloshing impact of it hitting the forest floor a mere afterthought within an impenetrable web of sound, a continuous symphony that floods our every sense. I tend to think of it all like a magnetic field where nature multiplies ad infinitum.
A family of monkeys notices us; mopping curiously from branch to branch high up in the trees, maybe thirty meters above. They follow a bit, backlit by skylight, under the shadow of what scientists are calling the most varied collection of leaves in one single place. They then lose interest and stay behind as we advance. A Urania moth shines its glistening green wings like a strobe light. And then, even when so much is going on, we notice the buzz of a dragonfly and the paddle of our ‘remero’ (boatman) gently swiping ripples across the water. Our senses are heightened. Two hours of this is an act of meditation. Two hours of this is a rite of passage. You will never be the same again.
As Añangu Lake opens before us, like a gigantic moat protecting its hidden kingdom, we see the Yasuní forests rise above, behind the lodge’s high thatch-roofed cabins, which incidentally remind us of a long-lost civilization as we approach them, reflected against the jet-black waters of their glorious lake. We are rendered speechless.
There are several reasons why Napo Wildlife Center is amongst the best places in the world to discover the wonders of the tropical rain-forest. It lies on the south bank of the Napo River, within the realm of the Yasuní, which, as we’ve mentioned before, holds world-record bird, bat, reptile, frog, or tree species. There are very few other ways to get to Yasuní as part of a travel operation (we mention the most important and convenient in this magazine); but few are as smartly operated. Visitors get to stay in a magical location, teeming with nature and wildlife, and can explore it at their pace, for days, and with all the creature comforts you could wish for.
Another crucial perk of Napo Wildlife Center is the community’s Draconian prohibition of hunting on the premises. This, in a few words, has made nothing short of a wildlife paradise, bringing the animals out of the forest deep (at least as far out as they will ever come); few other places in Amazonia offer as many sighting possibilities of everything from record numbers of monkey species to the magnificent Giant Otter. Few also beat Napo in terms of birding, as birds are not as prone to flush; leks of rare manakins and cotingas, the spectacular Harpy Eagle, communities of antbirds, spectacular waders like the dashing Agami Heron, the hefty Rufescent Tiger-Heron, the secretive Zigzag Heron or the long-toed Wattled Jacana; and to top it off, there have even been jaguar sightings (and youtube videos to prove them)!
Four days/three nights are enough to make you want to stay forever.
This is what it is all about, and this is what, we hope, we are wise enough to protect and cherish for posterity. Respecting nature, in silence, paddling your way along a stream, the shadows of the forest dancing around you; creatures singing incessantly at your feet, or overhead, in a concert in which we are only invisible spectators; the songs are not for us: they make up the rhythm of the forest, of life, in its most glorious expression.
Napo Wildlife Center top sites
Hiking trails are fabulous. There are some more difficult than others, and one continues on for hours until you reach the Tiputini River!
Torres de dosel/canopy – (there are four!): The magical world of the canopy is a universe within itself. Discover it by climbing 150 feet to the very top of a chosen emergent kapok tree or metal structure! A remarkable experience.
Salt licks –The phenomenon of mineral sedimentation in ‘salt-licks’ creates parrot feeding frenzies that can gather hundreds of individuals; a sight to behold, with the very happy occurrence of a tapir, peccary, or ocelot!
Rowing in creeks – Streams are wonderful ways to discover the forest, as you quietly lurk beneath the trees within the shaded forest, to the encounter of macaws, monkeys, and perhaps the stars of the show, Giant Otters.
For more information, see www.napowildlifecenter.com