Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ecuadorian Amazonia

The magical sounding Amazon Basin!
How nice to be able to compare and contrast our own tropical rainforest in Daintree to that of the awe-inspiring Amazon.
The similarities are amazing - the structure of the rainforest, the vines, the orchids, the palms, the epiphytes, the cauliflory fruiting for pollination by bats, the huge canopy trees, the buttress roots, the richness of plant species, the butterflies, the birdlife.
The most noticeable differences, though, are the species themselves, including bromeliads, kapok trees and enormous fruiting palms. There are flooded forests, tannin-rich blackwater lakes, harmless caiman rather than crocs, several species of monkeys, toucans, macaws, woodpeckers, piraña, boa constrictors, poison dart frogs etc, etc, etc.
Most striking is the familiarity of so many of the plants - you realise that half the plants in your garden originate from the Amazon!! And look how tall they can get!!
Also is the knowledge that when you look to the east, the rainforest continues for millions of square miles. While that is encouraging - it is the earth's lungs after all - the rate of deforestation and the amount of oil drilling that is going on is threatening this resource. They say there is probably only 20 years of oil left in the Amazon in Ecuador, but there certainly appears to be a big push to get it while you can, and to keep exploring for more.
We are told that 50% of the Ecuadorian budget is from Amazonian oil. The new socialist government is working hard to replace this dependency and roses, funnily enough, have become the country's third biggest earner and they are working on other industry and tourism to fill in the gaps.

Our stay was at Sacha Lodge, one of the oldest lodges perched on the edge of a black water lake where you can both swim with and fish for piraña. We did both!
You share your time with a guide and local paddler/guide in a small group. In our case, as birders, we had the head guide Oscar, his son Oscar and local guide Jaime and a lovely English/Sth African couple from New Zealand who were also birders. Oscar was fabulous - local Chichewa names, English names, scientific names and a great eye and ear. Also a good laser pointer which we couldn't have done without in the dense rainforest.
It is very intense - up at 5 am every morning to get going, home for a rest after lunch and then out again in the canoes from about 4pm. Well organised, but a little Germanic at times. (The owners are Swiss). Who would ever think of having a full staff meeting at 7 pm when you have 20 people at the bar clambering for a pre-dinner drink?
They own 2000 acres of forest, mostly primary, and have a huge canopy tour which straddles a 45metre kapok tree and can be a little vertiginous, plus an aerial walkway which is 270 m long and 60 m high. Fabulous birding from the top early morning as the fog lifts to reveal toucans, barbets, antbirds, woodpeckers, fruit crows, cotingas and many more.
Canoes take you through a labyrinth of creeks and waterways with great names like Anaconda - no luck with wrestling (or seeing) an anaconda!
All in all a fabulous time - 130 or so species of birds, 4 of monkeys and zillions of other little critters. It was a great rainforest experience.

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