A Travellerspoint blog

A weekend in the wilderness

Napo Wildlife Centre Ecolodge

rain 31 °C

The journey from Quito to the Napo Wildlife Centre in Yasuni NP was an adventure in itself:

  • a 30-minute flight to Coca, an oil-rich supply city and staging post on Rio Napo, a tributary of the Amazon in the eastern part of Ecuador,
  • then 2 hours (about 70km) on a motor boat along the Napo River,
  • followed by 1.5 hours down Añangu Creek in a people-powered canoe, until we reached Añangu Lake.

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After travelling all day, we arrived at the lodge just as the sun was setting on Friday evening.

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No wakeup call was needed on Saturday morning, as the howler monkeys were already on the job! It sounded to me like they were right next to my window, but when I opened the cabana door I realised they were across the lake. If you watch this clip, turn the volume up loud!

Our first proper outing with the naturalists was an early bird-watching session from the 40m tall observation tower not too far from the lodge. They were incredibly talented in spotting the birds and anticipating what they were going to do next. With their amazingly powerful scope, we were also able to see and photograph the birds as if they were only an arms-length away.

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Walking back from the observation tower, we got to study the tiny creatures and the flora of the rainforest floor, provided we followed the rule – DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING; IT MIGHT KILL YOU. Point well made.

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Through the middle of the day it was too hot for birds, animals or people, so apart from panting to the top of the lodge to admire the view, we just relaxed and watched the turtles in front of the cabana as they took turns sunning themselves on a submerged log.

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As the afternoon cooled down, we enjoyed the antics of a few different monkey species in the creeks around the lodge. There are 10 different species in the NP, and over the course of the weekend, we were lucky enough to see 6-7 of them.

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On Saturday night I had my first experience of rainforest rainfall – so much wet! No night-time forest walk, and unfortunately it also meant we had to cancel our visit to the clay/salt licks to see the parrots the next morning. It would have no doubt been the highlight of the weekend, but I just look at it as a good reason to return one day!

Instead, while the rain continued, Sunday morning was largely devoted to a close encounter with a golden-mantle tamarin family, of two adults and one very young youngster. They were slowly making their way through the trees towards the Lodge’s small papaya orchard for breakfast.

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Throughout the day there were a few breaks in the rain, so we got out as much as we could; searching for the local giant otter family that had been sighted that morning after a long absence, watching the birds, monkeys and butterflies, and participating in some cultural activities with the local Kichwa people. At one point we were caught out on the creek in a deluge, and even though I was quickly wrapped up in a Napo poncho, I still got soaked within seconds.

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On Monday morning it was time to return to Quito, and with the extra 3m of water in the creek, our 4am departure in the pitch dark felt a bit scary to me. The locals were amazing though, navigating in the dark even with the changed water level. Our canoe was grounded a couple of times – stuck on fallen trees and other detritus – but after a quick check for lurking caimans, our paddler would get out of the canoe and rock us back into flowing water so we could continue on our way. It was a long, slow, fraught journey, but we made it to the airport in Coca on time.

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Posted by Andrea R 21:26 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds rainforest wildlife nature lake river amazon Comments (1)

Tejo in Medellín

The sport of drunks*

overcast 25 °C

What better to do in Medellín on a dark Thursday night than play with gunpowder while drinking neat spirits? That’s tejo: the sport of drunks (*according to Wikipedia), and a Colombian tradition.

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The drive to the tejo venue seemed to take forever, because it really was a moonless night and I couldn’t see much. I think it was generally in the north of the city, and on the outskirts somewhere. The business is owned by an American guy called Chris who lives in Medellín, and is the only foreigner to play tejo at national level. He gave us our drink cards to exchange for shots of the local, anise-flavoured aguardiente (important!) then showed us how to hold and throw the tejo, a kind of metal puck that can weigh anywhere between 225-680g – small ones for the l-a-d-i-e-s thank you very much.

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The target is a sloped box of clay with a metal ring buried in the centre. Around the ring are pink triangular envelopes of gunpowder, called mechas. In friendly games there are 2, and in competition only 1. Excitable tourists get 4, because that’s more bang for your buck!

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In a round, if your tejo lands closest to the ring you get 1 point. If you hit and explode a mecha it’s 3 points. If your tejo lands in the centre of the ring without touching anything (a bullseye), you get 6 points. The holy grail is worth 9 points – landing your tejo in the centre of the ring AND exploding a mecha at the same time.

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After being coached through a few practice throws each, we were split into teams of 4 for a half-court game of first-team-to-10. During the game the two teams alternate until everyone has had a throw, then the referee adds up the scores and you go and dig your tejo out of the clay. Or like me, find where it has rolled to and just pick it up off the ground… At least it stayed clean.

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It was great fun and there were a few explosions, but sadly none from my tejo. I did manage to win one round, but that was a fluke, because most times I could barely hit the clay.

Posted by Andrea R 19:42 Archived in Colombia Tagged sport colombia medellin Comments (0)

Hacienda Venecia Coffee Experience

Learning about Colombian liquid gold

sunny 25 °C

One of the main reasons I chose this Colombian itinerary was that it included a couple of days at a coffee estancia. The one I went to was Hacienda Venecia, near Manizales, which is in between Salento and Medellin.

To start off an afternoon of coffee indulgence we went to the Coffee Experience tasting room, where we sniffed and tasted to learn about fragrance vs aroma vs taste, with some really interesting results. There were 3 coffees, and for both fragrance (dry) and aroma (wet) I liked #2, but when it came to taste I couldn’t go past #3.

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While we were learning about the coffee, our host was roasting the actual beans that we were tasting in a mini-roaster pictured on the bench. It was almost excruciating to be able to smell the coffee roasting while we listened patiently!

  • A tip – if coffee is marketed overseas as Colombian it will be 100% Colombian first quality Arabica.

After the tasting we went out into the fields to look at production and learn about how harvesting works, the pickers’ conditions, the economics of farming and so much more. Then we went over to the processing part of the property, where we were taught about quality.

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First quality coffee cherries sink and second quality floats. Then when the second quality beans are separated from the fruit, one of the two beans inside each fruit will sink (still 2nd quality) while the other will float and becomes 3rd quality. We did this experiment in a coffee cup, but of course the farm has enormous tanks where basically the same thing happens. We also checked out the drying room, the packing room and so on.

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It’s amazing to think that Colombians may never get to taste their own first quality coffee, as a packet would cost the equivalent of one day’s average wage.

The Coffee Experience finished just approaching sunset, when we went back to the tasting room for a proper cappuccino. I wouldn’t normally drink coffee so late in the day, but I couldn’t resist.

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Posted by Andrea R 07:27 Archived in Colombia Tagged coffee colombia Comments (0)

Hiking the Cocora Valley

Up amongst the clouds

overcast 18 °C

The pretty little town of Salento is a jumping off point for entering Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, to hike the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora). The valley route is around 15-16km, and ascends from about 2200m in Cocora itself, to a high point of 2860m at Finca La Montana.

At first the walk was through agricultural grassland, along the side of the forest. It was really dramatic, with the sacred mountain looming in the background. From there it was already possible to see lots of wax palms (palmas de cera), although most of them are inside the park, as they are endangered. Along this stretch there were also 3 types of pine tree, including the Colombian rosemary pine, which has beautiful bark. Although its leaves look similar to rosemary, the scent is distinctly pine.

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Entering the park at the start of the forest, there was an immediate change – it was cooler and wetter. There were flowering bromeliads, and a few different types of orchid visible from the trail. The first part of the walk, up to Reserva Natural Acaime, was through dense, lush forest. The trail is mostly quite muddy and covered in horse poo for good measure! There were about half a dozen swinging bridges, in various states of repair, as well as a couple of log bridges. For me the worst one was the log bridge along a rockface – there really was not much room to move. Apart from the very last push up to Acaime, the gradient was fairly gradual and I was more concerned about the slipperiness of the trail rather than the incline.

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It took about 2.5 hrs to arrive at Acaime, where lots of hummingbirds hang around the homestead. They are attracted by the tree with the orange flowers, whose name I can’t remember.

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From Acaime it was a short, steep walk up to see the largest pine tree in the forest. It looked like something out of the Avatar movie, with this whole ecosystem happening - things hanging off it everywhere. Veering off in a different direction we went up a little higher to see some indigenous gravesites. There were 2 on the route but I only really recognised one of them as they are in a fairly bad state of repair. Up higher the trail was much drier, and easier to walk.

Rejoining the main trail, there was a fork and the trail on the right took us to Finca La Montana. This was definitely the toughest part of the hike – really steep. At one point, we were walking along this gully and we heard a really loud crashing sound. A log had fallen out of the canopy in between two members of my group, missing one by about 1m. After that, our guides warned us that we probably should be alert to that sort of thing… Along the way there were signs posted on trees, showing the different wildlife that can be seen in the park, but we only saw the birds. No bears, no panthers.

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Up at Finca La Montana we were inside the clouds, making the walk back to Cocora (along a more established trail/road, very atmospheric (and cold). This part of the hike was easy because it was downhill, and quite lovely walking amongst the wax palms looming up out of the clouds. About halfway down we took a shortcut across grassy farmland back to Cocora. Some parts of this were a bit treacherous as there were tree roots and sheer drops to be careful of.

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Posted by Andrea R 07:03 Archived in Colombia Tagged hiking colombia cocora Comments (0)

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