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Adventures in Ecuador's Amazon Rainforest — Page 2

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The Kapok Tower, a Giant Rat, and Poisonous Frogs

The escapades continue that day as we climb the 135-foot Kapok Tower, a wooden tower in the grips of a mighty Kapok or Ceiba tree. Height-challenged, I cautiously climb to the top platform.

Dusk now, pastel–colored wispy clouds brighten the sky as the sun lazily makes its descent. Through the powerful telescope, we observe a three–toed sloth, a russet backed oropendola and white–billed toucans. Stillness surrounds us except for the short–lived flapping of wings as birds move to different branches. Looking down on the canopy of trees over the understory, I wonder how many creatures are watching us.

AmazonsOn the trail back to Sacha, a black agouti—the size of a grown cat—scurries by us. This huge rat–like animal scavenges in the swampy area beneath our cabins. Caiman lurk here too. We still have the night walk ahead of us. Fernando shines his flashlight in wavering motions, where huge black beetles scurry in front of us. The beam shines on a red poisonous frog. Though beautiful, these hand-sized frogs can be lethal.

By Canoe to the Parrot Lick

On this day, all four groups enter the lagoon on canoes heading to the parrot and parakeet clay licks. After landing at the Yasuni Parrot lick, a 20-minute boardwalk takes us to a blind where we wait for two hours. I peer through the blind and see a barren clay hill without birds.

Our patience pays off as hundreds of squawking green-bluish parrots and parakeets appear, crazed to eat from the lick. The clay serves as an antacid to clean the toxins accumulated during forages for food. Without warning, the entire mass of birds flies towards us in a mad flurry of squawks and feathers, only to return to their previous spot. We are not sure what startled them.

While returning to the lodge, we visit the butterfly house, one of the largest in Ecuador. Huge plastic rounded tents cover their "flying room". We visualize the life cycle from egg, larva, and pupa to adult and witness a butterfly's struggle to emerge and spread its wings to freedom. Iridescent blue morpho butterflies, yellow swallowtail and glass-wing butterflies flutter in every direction, only pausing at nectar-pots and flowers.

Sacha lodge bridge

Following a hammock siesta we hike to the 94-foot steel observation tower with a 940-foot steel suspension bridge linked to 3 towers. Nearly 600 species of birds have been spotted in the area and this tower puts us up at high branch level to spot ones we would never see from the ground. We arrive at sunset as its last glow reflects emerald hues onto the vast rainforest around us. As the sky darkens, we climb down the tower towards our lodge with the smell of a barbecue filling the air. Sitting at long tables, we catch up with other groups' adventures of the day. Fernando takes time to thank the entire staff for their tireless work to make our trip unforgettable. Heads bob in agreement.

One more adventure to go. Sitting in the canoe, Fernando and Miguel take us to edges of the lagoon searching for caiman with a powerful flashlight. "There!" We see red eyes glowing from partially immersed, thick scaly bodies in the grasses and swampy areas. Being careful not to "rock the boat", we return the canoe to Sacha's dock. It feels a bit odd that our Amazon adventures are almost over. Tomorrow we will return from this mysterious natural world to "civilization." Thankfully the critter and birds will live on without us, with plenty of room to roam.

For more information: Sacha Lodge
Story by Sandra Kennedy, photos by Kennedy except first one courtesy of Sacha Lodge.