The Sani Lodge made our stay in the jungle everything my wife hoped for and proved a skeptic like myself that it was a more than worthwhile destination. What really set the lodge apart were our guides. Native Guillermo and naturalist Elina were everything a person could hope for to make for a special experience. Thank you both.
Fondest memory: When I thought of Ecuador, visions of volcanoes danced in my head. Being a lover of the mountains and hiking, Ecuador provided for me a lot of both in a very concentrated area. I poured over maps and guidebooks relishing the thought of wandering the hills for six weeks straight, broken perhaps by a few colonial towns where I'd sample local foods and enjoy the architecture. Then I got married. Well, to be more precise, I found someone who while very accommodating with regard to what I liked to do had some definite ideas on the matter too. More importantly she knew how to get her way.
So, it came to pass that my six week hiking vacation in Ecuador was now a more varied one that had already taken in the Galapagos Islands (which I surprisingly loved) and was now about to venture off into the jungle. Now, I'll be honest. For me the jungle is Africa and it's full of mountain gorillas. If there was a jungle trip I wanted to do, that was it. But my wife had her own images and it turned out she was not alone. On telling office mates that we were going to Ecuador all of them invariably warned us about the dangers of the jungle and the extreme heat. It seemed not one of them knew about the volcanoes nor that we would more likely be cold than hot in those places. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Over the course of the next four days we would go on guided walks (one at night), enjoy communal meals, swim in a piranha/cayman infested lake (well, maybe not infested but they're there, we saw them), and best of all, guided canoe trips. I enjoyed the hikes through the jungle and the guides made them more interesting by not only finding wildlife but also giving us lots of details on what they found But I liked the canoe trips even better. I'll have to admit I even had my reservations about that. I love paddling and the idea that I was going to sit in the middle of a canoe and be paddled around seemed a bit too posh for me. I figured I'd be bouncing out of the canoe with unconstrained energy but there was something incredibly relaxing about the whole thing. First, my hands were free to take pictures but it was something more, something sublime. The sounds of the jungle, the ever so slight breeze from the canoe's movement through the calm waters unhampered by the normal exertion of paddling all made for a collectively meditative experience.
But it might have been one other thing. I always strategically positioned myself behind my wife. All I could physically see was her blond hair sprouting out from under her hat to protect her from the tropical sun. Sure, her head turned from side to side, enthusiastically soaking it all in and I imagined the corners of her mouth upturned. I didn't have to see it to know; she was smiling, she was happy. Then I looked up and closed my eyes. The lush jungle canopy enveloped me. I was happy too.
Fondest memory: Nothing quite prepared us for when we entered Lake Challuacocha and got our first glimpse of Sani Lodge. Rustic in the most charming way, even from afar, it oozed the words: jungle, lodge. This was going to be good. The paddle across the mirror-like pond was dramatic and there was no letdown when we got to the lodge pub with its 270 degree panoramic view of you guessed it: The Jungle. Nice appetizers were provided and a complimentary beverage. It was time to check out our lodging. We'd opted for the camping portion of Sani Lodge to save some money but once we got to our tent which was on a stilted platform with thatched roof we were glad we did not just because of the savings but also the incredible view. (concluded below in Fondest memory)
I am also not a big fan of group travel and the jungle pretty much necessitates such so I approached the whole thing with a bit of trepidation. That it was very expensive compared to the rest of Ecuador only added to my apprehension but I had decided to be a good sport and enjoy my wife's dream as well as what would easily be the least complicated and most relaxed part of our whole six week trip. This became completely apparent when our naturalist English speaking guide picked us up at the Coca airport. Yup, airport. We didn't monkey around with a nine hour ride on the local bus which would normally be my forte. No, we hopped a plane and in less than half hour we were in the smallest airport I'd ever seen and what now seemed a million miles from Quito. She couriered us over to the boat docks and all we had to do was jump in. No negotiations in Spanish to contend with. The next thing we knew the big motorized canoe was humming along and the sticky heat of Coca was no more. We were hungry and then there was lunch. It was too easy. Not a gourmet meal but tasty and hassle free. Our guide explained some things and I half listened. I was too busy relaxing. It was the first time in weeks I'd really been able to do just that. Not a logistical thought in the world.
A few hours later we had to switch to a dugout canoe and since the water was so low we had to do a small hike through, yup you guessed it, the jungle. I was entirely prepared to carry my backpack but no, they would bring it for us. That's when I knew I was in for an easy time. The dugout was another surprise. No paddling for this boy. They navigated the calm narrow Challuayacu easily and the sounds of the jungle were just like those new age “jungle” recordings. It would have been a cliché but it was real. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
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