Written December 4, 2011
Our adventure to the Sani Lodge in the Amazon basin of Ecuador started at the airport in Quito where we were to meet a representative from the company before our 2pm flight. She was to help us check-in for our flight to Coca and I was to give her a check for the balance due for the 5 day 4 night stay at the eco lodge. Sounds easy enough. But somehow the ticket agent for TAME could not my find my plane reservation, only Don’s. Much discussion ensued concerning my “real” last name, not my husband’s last name. “My ‘real’ last name is the same as my husband’s”, I explained. The ticket agent wouldn’t take the ticket number off the representative’s smart phone and insisted that she go back out to the ticket sales window and get a hard copy. Of course there is a long slow line, but she eventually gets the printout and returns to the ticket agent. It turns out that they had issued the ticket under my middle name plus my last name together as one long name, thus starting with the initial L rather than B. Problem solved and we are on our way.
You know you are on a short flight when they hand out juice boxes even before the plane takes off. 30 minutes later we land at the Coca airport with a reception hall not even big enough for a luggage belt. They drive the luggage cart up to a large window and hand the luggage over the counter to the passengers.
Our guide Freddy and his girlfriend Marie meet us as we exit the airport, recognizing us by the nifty name tags given to us by the representative in Quito. We climb into the back seat of a king cab truck with Freddy, Marie and the luggage in the back bed for the three minute ride to the dock. We have just a couple of minutes to take in the dock and town – a wooden dock, a few boats
and an unfinished bridge
– before we board the long boat for the two and half hour journey downriver to the Sani Lodge.
The Napo river plain is wide and flat; the air warm and heavy. Banks of solid green vegetation against a blue sky filled with immense cloud formations dwarfing the 100 feet trees lining the river’s edge.
We cruise down the river at a good clip, the driver weaving back and forth along the long windy river to keep the boat in the deeper channels. He slows down from time to time when the water gets too shallow. It’s surprisingly empty, just a few boats and the occasional structure along the bank mostly hidden in the jungle foliage.
Two hours later we reach the Sani dock where we unload our belongings and walk about 15 minutes along a boardwalk through the jungle to a canoe that will take us along a smaller stream to the lodge. Freddy explains that this is a section of pioneer forest, fast growing plants, bamboo and palms, that take over the areas closest to the river.
He adds that December is the end of the less dry season. It’s never really dry enough to have a true dry season, just a wet season and a less wet season. And to make his point, just after we board the canoe, it starts to rain, big wet drops. Ten minutes later it stops.
Philodendron with trunks the size of small trees line the banks of the stream.
The stream’s water is black from plant matter falling in and decaying in the relatively calm waters. In contrast, the water of the Napo river is white from sediment washed down the river by the heavy rains.
As we approach the lagoon the sun is getting low in the sky and the evening air is loud with bird chatter, like day break during mating season.
Our first view of the lodge is the outline of the main large huts just off the boat dock.
These open air living areas include the bar, dining hut, and lodge offices. The smaller guest huts are located at the back of the compound connected by wooden boardwalks. Campers pitch tents in a large A-frame hut along the bank of the lagoon. The structure is divided into two levels with two compartments per level, looking something like the side view of a doll house.
The roomy cabins are basic yet clean and comfortable – two beds, a double and a twin, each with mosquito netting, a wobbly shelving unit to store your gear and a serviceable en suit bathroom.
A hammock hangs from the small porch in front for the lazy hours after lunch when the weather is too steamy to do anything.
Before dinner Freddy talks to us about the various communities that live along the river. When oil was found in the region, the local communities had the choice of working with the oil companies or finding other ways to support their communities. The Sani people decided to preserve their land by opening it up for tourism, thus creating the Sani Lodge. It was a struggle at first because they needed to learn not only tourism and guiding skills but also English. After 15 years they have a well-respected lodge, one of the best in the region.
Dinner was a simple affair. In the dining room, two tables were set for guests, one for about ten guests and their guide and a second for the four of us – Marie, Freddy, Don and I. Freddy’s English is good and he entertains us with tales of his travels in Europe: arriving in Amsterdam in December – his first encounter with snow, and his amazement at the punctuality of French trains – he missed two trains in one day. He would tell a story in English and then retell it in Spanish for Marie, a native French speaker who doesn’t speak much English. Dinner is served in courses starting with fava bean soup followed by a light plate of cucumber, tomato and onion salad, steamed cauliflower, a handful of marinated shrimp and plantain fritters. A piece of white cake drizzled with an orangey glaze finishes the meal.