After landing in Coca, we were quickly ushered into small buses and whisked away to the Sacha Lodge city office for a quick lunch and orientation for our 2 hour motorized canoe ride down the Napo River to the lodge. I got the impression that they didn't want you to wander around Coca on your own, as the city is a bit of a wild west place due to recent expansion of the oil industry exploration and influx of new people. Sitting two abreast in the canoe, we headed downriver at about 30 mph dodging other river traffic and numerous submerged sand bars, that only the pilot seemed to know existed. After the 2 hour relatively smooth ride, we disembarked on the banks of the Napo River for a 45 minute hike through the jungle to the bank of a black water lake ("black water" refers to the high tannin content of the water due to decaying vegetation), requiring another canoe ride across the lake to the lodge but this time propelled by two native paddlers. The Sacha Lodge was quite comfortable, had all the comforts of home, and the food was great. We learned quickly why this is called a "rain forest", as it rained every day and most nights. We were issued knee high rubber boots when we got to the lodge to help navigate the muddy jungle trails, and our naturalist guide always had a poncho in his backpack that we could call for when the rain threatened to surpass the GoreTex repellant properties of our jackets. Surprisingly, the mosquitoes weren't too bad presumably due to continual movement of the water on the forest floor and fortunately, this area did not have malaria - what a paradise! Each cabin in the lodge had a "hot box" (wooden box with an incandescent lightbulb for heat) to store cameras and other electronic gear, as an attempt to beat back the every present jungle moisture and keep technology operable. It worked famously and was even good for drying socks.
At the Sacha Lodge over 600 species of birds have been identified providing some appreciation of the diversity of life in the Amazon rain forest. The figure that I've heard quoted is that the equatorial rain forest compromises only 2% of the earth's surface but contains 60% of all animal and plant species in the world. Let's hope we don't lose this diversity, because things are changing fast in the Amazon. Amid some controversy, oil exploration has accelerated in the Ecuador Amazon basin in an attempt by the government to generate revenue, eliminate some of the budget deficit, and keep the developed countries lending institutions from foreclosing the government. Ecuador has made considerable infrastructure investments (such as the new Quito Airport and expressway) and increased education funding. All good things to do but someone has to pay for this and like most less developed countries, Ecuador has borrowed heavily to finance this activity. Much of the economic boom in Coca was due to oil exploration and drilling, as evidenced by the numerous pier constructions and equipment depots along the Napo River. Hopefully Ecuador will be able to extract their oil resources without too much damage to the rain forest or disruption to life of the indigenous peoples. Both are very fragile. In our five days at Sacha Lodge, we climbed above the rain forest canopy in man-made towers, slogged along muddy jungle paths, and canoed along silent flowing river tributaries witnessing the incredible variety of life in this area in a constant struggle for survival. One of the highlights was a visit to a native village further downstream from the lodge, where we were welcomed by mainly the women of the tribe, as most of the men are working at paid positions in the tourist industry, oil exploration, or hunting in the forest. Their ability to subsist on the bounty of the forest was very impressive, including banana groves, mango trees, manioc plantings, and even aquaculture harvest of tilapia in fish ponds. This five day venture into the Amazon Basin was a wonderful experience and was a great follow on after the Galapagos trip.