Staying at Sani Lodge, you are nestled in the jungle inside your comfortable, wood-floored cabin. The bird sounds and frog calls provide constant background noise – the jungle’s elevator muzak, but exceedingly more pleasant. These sounds lull you into sleep at night, and in the morning, the bird songs beckon you for another day of adventure.
There are so many things to do in the rainforest – birdwatching, a paddle trip to view wildlife on the lake, bird-watching from the decks, or simply sitting and reading a good book from the lounge library.
I’m enjoying a strong cup of coffee this morning when I see Luis, one of Sani Lodge’s several indigenous Kichwa guides, heading my way. He is carrying a knife, which is holstered in a leather strap around his leg, a birding field book is his hand, and he’s wearing a small pack on his pack holding cold bottled water. He wants to take me for a hike into the jungle. He knows that, at this time of the day, our chances are very good for seeing the monkeys.
Before we go, Luis asks, “Que el tamaño de tu zapato?” Why does he want my shoe size, I wonder? Will this be a statistic the authorities will use to identify me if something happens to me in the jungle? No, of course not. He wants my shoe size because he insists that I wear rubber “wellies” as protection from the damp jungle floor.
We walk through an open meadow across the lodge property. I see the jungle wall about 50 feet in front of us. It is a literal wall – a dark, dense row of towering trees and palm leaves. There is no turning back. In we go.
Immediately, nature envelopes me. Every tree, leaf, palm, bird song, and frog call is suddenly so close. I can feel the air’s moisture on my skin. Everywhere I look, the forest is teeming with life, from jostling in the crowns of the trees to movement on the jungle floor. It is so overwhelming that my eyes can’t adjust quickly enough. It is all a green mass of foliage.
Gradually, my senses become attuned to my surroundings. I’m fully engaged, a little claustrophobic, and pretty darn jumpy. The noises and sights still so foreign. Are there snakes? What about spiders? Luis has reassured me that I am safe, but I’m still nervous.
We proceed quietly, as Luis is listening and watching for wildlife as we walk. I learn to step where he steps and stop when he stops, carefully watching his gestures to stay or come forward. Every branch crack or leaf rustle can impede his ability to listen for wildlife calls. My rubber boots make me feel flat footed. I am sure he can distinguish the unique sounds of at least fifty or more animals and birds.
Suddenly, I feel something on the underside of my arm! I jump with a gasp and swat at it madly. Whew… It’s only the strap of my backpack. I need to calm down.
Eventually, I become more at ease. I start to differentiate plants and notice the astounding variety of colors around me. My eyes pick up movement. We silently walk for several minutes. I’m beginning to feel more sure-footed in my big black rubber boots. I follow Luis closely as he points out a variety of a trees – a ciebo, an algodin, a moral with its brilliant orange algae. He points out two perfect circles –
flat-topped mushrooms. He gestures to and names a red flower, and directs me to watch a line of hard-working ants carrying tiny leaves across the pathway.
At one point, Luis stops quickly and hunches down. He looks up and gestures for me to “Hush!” He sees movement in the canopy. I look up and indeed, I see it too. We hear the sound of fruit peels dropping to the jungle floor. It’s a howler monkey high up in a tree, swinging with one hand from branch to branch, while eating fruits with the other. He’s moving quickly. We follow him and watch for several minutes. Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he’s gone. Monkeys can move fast.
As we pass a towering Ceibo tree, Luis tells me that his ancestors believed that spirits live at the base of the tree. I can believe it, as the hallows are large and dark. There are actually a lot of living things at that base – an entire underground insect world.
Around a bend on the path, we enter the first of three bird blinds we will visit today. Just 20 feet in front of us, a wooden beam is hung. Fruits are spaced apart on a branch to attract birds. Within minutes, we spot our first bird, and then one after another. Luis whispers the eating and migration habits of each one.
My favorite is the colorful White-Throated Toucan, with his long beak, yellow and red stripes, and turquoise circle around each eye. Luis is on the hunt today for an elusive, very small and intensely colorful bird, which he shows me in his field guide. I want to see that bird, too. But today, he stays in hiding.
Luis grins as he sees my delight in watching the birds. I am finally at peace and at ease in the jungle.
As part of our continuing work with the indigenous Amazonian community of Sani Isla in Ecuador, Deborah Tompkins is sharing a travelogue of her experiences as an American in the Amazon. Deb’s company, Sage Point, works with NGOs in Africa, Asia and now Latin America to develop and execute marketing and communication strategies. She is donating her time and expertise to support RP and the Sani Warmi community. We invite you to join Deb as she introduces you to the people, the community, their Amazon ecolodge, and their forest home.
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