'I'm going to Ecuador' my artist friend Karen said to me some time ago 'why dont you come along?' Why not indeed? It seemed like a wonderful adventure just waiting to be had. The Galapagos islands have long been somewhere that I wanted to visit and so along with another artist friend we both decided to go see them with Karen on this amazing art safari. But first, Jane and I decided that since we were going all that way, an adventure into the rainforests of Ecuador was a must do too. I didn't know anything at all about Quito, Ecuadorian amazon or the cloud forests before I went so it was going to be very exciting.
I learned lots of new things, here is an interesting thing... If you measure from the centre of the earth the top of the highest peak, the one that would stick up the furthest (into space) is not Everest but Chimborazo in Equador. Something to do with the bulge in the earths shape at the equator I believe. Anyway....after a long flight in and constantly looking out of the window at nothing much at all I was finally rewarded with the amazing sight of the highest peaks of the Andean mountains poking up through the dense clouds,, lots of them, looking huge and jagged and dark and dangerous! As we descended slowly I fervently hoped that our clever pilot would somehow manage to miss them all. I'm a nervous airline flyer. its strange because put me in a helicopter with no sides on and I will happily hang out of it to take photos of giraffes or elephants. Boeings and suchlike?...nope. Guess ive seen to many disaster movies because they give me the heebie jeebies! Once safely under the cloud bed I could see that Quito was a vast sprawling higgledy piggledy collection of low buildings many of which were perched precariously on slopes and looking like one good rainstorm would send them all plummeting down to the bottom. It seems endless and it was built in the middle of a range of volcanoes many of whom are 'sleeping' but some who are 'awake or waking up' I also learned that volcanoes are either male or female, who would have thought? We would be returning to Quito old town for a longer visit at the end of the trip, so the next day we flew onwards to Coca , where we boarded a long motorised river canoe which sped us up the Napo river. A few hours later we disembarked and then climbed into a proper canoe for the last leg of the journey to the Amazon lodge which is only accessible by boat.
This arrival by canoe was totally magical and even better than I had imagined it would be. We were paddled slowly and silently through narrow waterways, I was captivated, gazing all around and drinking it all in, so different was it to anything I have experienced before. As the jungle closed in around me it made me feel that I was in a place almost untouched by the outside world, a place with a rhythm and soul of its own. Listening to the sounds of the forest and the soft rippling of the water I could imagine myself as an explorer from another era knowing that this must have been exactly as they too would have seen and felt.
The narrow canals suddenly opened up into a beautiful lake, its dark waters mirroring the trees like a jewel. Across this sparkling gem lay our lodge.
La Selva Jungle Lodge is simple and rustic, built with bamboo it sits comfortably at the edge of Heron Lake. The trees surrounding it are full of night hawks which every morning give a wonderful display as they circle the lake before coming in to their roost. The rooms are airy and cool in spite of no air conditioning there are ceiling fans and mosquito nets. The large open veranda where we ate and socialised looks out over the lake and is a great place to gaze at the many colourful birds that visit to feed on the berry laden shrubs beneath us. It was a perfect place to paint or sketch.
We had our own english speaking guide who was very likeable and a local native guide who was astonishingly good at finding even the tiniest jungle creatures. Trail walks day and night were wondrous experiences ,there was so much to absorb. It seemed everywhere you looked there was some new and unexpected flora and fauna and Jane and I chattered away (sotto voice) asking questions like excited school children. 'Are these edible?' I asked as we passed a bush laden with pretty round fruit .'Sure, try it' Luis handed me one that he plucked as we walked along the path. In one seamless motion I took a huge bite and immediately hurled the viciously sour tasting mouthful back into the bush with an expression of intense indignity that had everyone in stitches. '....but they are not sweet" he added angelically, ( good grief, I can't believe I fell for that! ) he redeemed himself a bit later by giving me a different fruit that was truly delicious, one of the nicest things I've tasted. Going out on the trails at night was amazing but if you don't like bug's maybe the night trails are not for you, The place is a metropolis for creepy crawlies of unimaginable shapes and sizes.... and we wanted to stop and look at them ALL! the tiny pretty blue poison arrow frogs, bugs of all kinds that I wouldn't even know what to call, I actually enjoyed the tarantulas and spiders which usually would make me shiver all over. This one hides by pretending to be a stick. The creatures here are experts at camouflaging themselves!
Canoeing around the lake was both fascinating and relaxing, The Hoatzin were rather spectacular, looking birds, almost like something that would have been around at the time of the dinosaurs. As we drifted along the water a beautiful snake swam in front of us, its golden underside glowing like fire in the afternoon sun. Further on I was surprised to see some tiny bats roosting on a post literally inches from the surface of the water. They are Proboscis bats, very pretty and barely noticeable against the wood.
I also saw my first ever river otter on the lake. I was thrilled! He was fishing along the edge of the water and we shadowed him the length of the lake. They are amazing creatures, he was so agile in the water, telescoping to look at us every now and again. He seemed to be alone and Luis my guide thought maybe he was looking for a new territory.
One of the best afternoons I spent was visiting this dauntingly high observation tower that rose up above the tree canopy. Im not good at heights but I was not going to miss it so with rather wobbly legs and a cast iron grip on the railings I climbed to the top. I was speechless at the view (and maybe from the exertion) and we spent hours up there watching the birds flying below us and listening to the jungle speaking. In the distance a large volcano was visible. It was fortunate for me that Luis did not tell us we would be climbing back down those scary steps in the dark until after I was already at the top. But I lived to tell the tale, even if it did take me twice as long as the others to descend!
I have so many wonderful memories from my short visit, too many to write here .before moving on to the cloud forest and I would heartily recommend anyone going to Quito to make time for an excursion to come here.
Art in the wild
The wildlife art and photography of Caroline Debansi