I’ve gotten to know the staff here. They always seem happy, even though they work very long hours. Days at Sani Lodge begin well before dawn. Guests arrive for breakfast at 4:30 am, then leave on their wildlife excursions. The workers stay well into the night when the kitchen wraps up after dinner and begins preparations for the next day’s meals.
Yet I often hear Miguel, the chef, singing in the kitchen as he stirs soup in a large metal pot. I see Luis happily sweeping the wood floors in the lounge. Guides him and smile as they tie up the canoes, knives strapped to their legs. They are always eager to escort another group into the jungle, cameras, and binoculars in tow.
This afternoon, I see Enoc coming toward me, calling “Dora! Dora!” The staff has given me a fond nickname – “Dora the Explorer.” Enoc tells me a group of adventure travelers from the USA is going on a jungle walk with their guide, Olger. Would I like to join them? Of course! They don’t call me Dora the Explorer for anything.
We head through the jungle wall, this time in a different direction than on my previous walk. I’m thrilled to be with this group, not just because they are enthusiastic and friendly, but also because they have some excellent cameras. Some are biologists and conservationists. I know they will be knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. I also expect they will get some excellent photos of the colorful birds.
Leading a walk in the jungle is difficult. The guide must keep everyone together, remain soft-footed so the wildlife calls can be heard, and attend to the needs and many questions of his group. Olger brings a second guide with him today, Fabricio, who stays at the rear of the group, knife at the ready. I assume the knife is meant to cut stray branches because I don’t want to think about any other purpose it might have.
The call of a Scarlet Macaw can be as loud as a lion’s roar. When we hear it, the group stops in its tracks, and all heads turn up. Olger trains his ears and eyes on a distant spot in the canopy. The macaw calls gain. It’s so loud! Is he angry?
No, he is calling for his mate, who responds in kind. Olger spots them both, two vividly colored birds perched high in the trees. Olger sets up a viewing scope on a tripod, and we take turns looking at this amazing creature through the lens. Christine expertly aims her iPhone through the scope, capturing a clear, close-up shot.
We continue along the jungle floor. Olger points out a wine-glass mushroom and a hole beside it, about two inches in diameter. “Tarantula’s house,” he calmly says. The group gasps, then gather around the hole, as Olger taps it with a small stick. I peak between two shoulders, and sure enough, out crawls the hairy creature. He scrambles across the palm leaves. Olger tells us this is a bird-eating tarantula, whose preferred food is small bats. Holy crap! I try not to picture the spider at mealtime.
On we hike, turning a bend and emerging into a clearing. Wait – a clearing? This is highly unusual. Walks in the jungle typically involve squeezing, single file, along narrow, tunnel-like pathways cut through the dense foliage. You have to crane your neck to catch even a tiny glimpse of the sky. Yet here we are, the entire group forming a circle in the open space. It’s refreshing to see light around us, sky and clouds overhead.
Olger tells us that the Kichwa refers to a jungle clearing as “jardín del Diablo” – the “devil’s garden.” These open spaces are manmade, designed to help those who have lost their way. In these clearings, small lemon-ant trees grow. If you are lost and hungry, and you happen upon a devil’s garden, you can eat the protein-filled seeds from these trees.
I silently remind myself to stay very close to my assigned buddy for the rest of today’s walk.
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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