written by Steve Arnold
“I’m off to the Amazon”. One of the cooler statements I have had the pleasure of gloating to pretty much anyone who would listen. Watching people’s eye light up as they imagined me out in the jungle with a machete, wiping leeches off my legs, and dodging killer snakes and spiders while taking a photo of a rare monkey. I assume that’s what they imagined. They were probably secretly imaging something more sinister and hurtful. Spiteful bastards. Anyway, somewhere along the way I managed to buy into this vision, picturing myself like the next Indiana Jones swinging from vines across a croc infested river.
So when I got my itinerary and saw that I was actually going to the Napo river, the Amazon’s largest tributary, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure it was still technically the Amazon, but it wasn’t the Amazon Amazon. Still, it was going to be an adventure nonetheless, and with $600 worth of jabs and vaccines on board (pretty sure I was tricked into a few jabs for made-up diseases – barking spider flu exists right?), I headed off on my adventure.
The Napo is a tributary to the Amazon River on the Ecuador side. With a total length of 1075 km it’s an impressive river in it’s own right, and every bit as exotic as the Amazon proper as I was about to find out. We arrived in Coca and were greeted by our guides, who ushered us onto a long speedboats for a 2 hour trip up the Napo. From here we were transferred to a smaller boat which was paddled by our guide and a couple of native chaps form a local village. These paddle boats would become our vessels of choice over the next few days. Our guide from the Napo Wildlife Eco Lodge, Danny, was very friendly and quickly went to work pointing out gigantic spiders, various exotic birds (excluding the not-so-exotic, but amazing looking ‘stinky turkey’) and an amazing family of giant otters. The giant otters are 8 feet long and quite a site to behold – and the noise they make! Have listen here.
The bungalows at the Napo manage to pull off a mixture of authentic charm and relaxing luxury. I quickly claimed the massive four post king bed. We managed to get a water-front hut that was about 3 metres from the lake. From our veranda we could observe many different types of birds and were even treated to a very vocal parade from the giant otters at one stage.
Paddling out of the river into the lake where the lodge is was breathtaking. The terracotta coloured eco huts were perfectly mirrored in on the perfectly still lake. For the next 4 days this would be our launch pad for our river adventures. Being a boat of 6-8 people we were teamed up with an hilarious family from England. We would stick together as a group over the next 4 days (it’s the rules!) sharing out canoe and sitting at the same dining table every night, along with our guide and naturalists. By doing this we didn’t get to meet many other guests, apart from at the bar, but we did get to talk about everything we’d all seen which was great.
So, it turns out if you are looking to witness a lot of wildlife, the Napo is the place to go. For example, one morning while out we saw seven (yes seven) different types of monkeys. This included sitting in our canoe on the river watching two different troops of monkeys crossing. What an amazing thing to see. We also went to a really high viewing platform that sat up in the canopy to view all sorts of wonderful birds including Large billed Tucans, a bright red McCaw, and various others.
The Amazon is a rainforest, and guess what. It rains sometimes. Crazy heavy rain. But even the rain is amazing. It’s Amazonian Rain after all. And this was a great time to relax and read, as the forrest totally shuts down with the rain.If you got caught out in the rain, Ponchos were always provided by staff, as well as gumboots which was a welcome benefit when the skies opened.
If you are looking to experience the raw natural of beauty of the Amazon without having to sleep with the fear of a tarantula sharing your sleeping bag, the Napo Wildlife Eco Lodge is for you. If you get there, ask for Danny to tell you about the 2 kiwis lads and the English family of four that racked up the largest bar tab the place has ever had. Proud moment! Oh, and I was not bitten by a single mosquito. Result!