11th August – Thursday
In the morning we went for another short walk (about 4 hours) through the jungle. We followed the noise of some squirrel monkeys but never caught up with them. Very often we saw tapir tracks but no tapir. We saw the scratch marks of a giant anteater but no anteater. We saw lots of giant armadillo diggings but no giant armadillos. One thing we that we did see lots of were brown leaves (an “in joke” at the time)!
The most exciting finds were strangler figs, which completely overwhelm their host trees by growing from seeds dropped in their upper branches by birds. The roots grow down to the ground, then the fig grows around and over the original tree, which eventually dies. The most magnificent specimen we saw had grown over a kapok tree which is huge anyway. We had previously followed a kapok root for over 90m across the forest floor. Inside this huge strangler fig we found some bats and a nest of conga ants which must have been the 48 hour variety by the size of them!
The other interesting, and perhaps rarest find of that morning walk was a white praying mantis. Amazing to see!
After lunch we set off for the local community on the River Napo. Dad stayed behind as it was raining again. In fact it was raining so hard that I’d taken another shower outside at lunchtime. Much better than the little dribble which came out of the pathetic shower in our room!
We had to take the boat straight over the top of a recently fallen tree in the Yuturi, which was a bit worrying. Out of the mouth of the Yuturi we turned right down the Napo, away from Coca, and went for about 15 minutes.
Innocencio knew the Chachi family who lived in the stilted hut where we stopped, so we went inside for a bit of socialising. All the men were pissed out of their brains. We were served chachi in aluminium bowls. Chicha is made from pulped yucca, sweet potato and banana. It ferments in a container like a small dug-out canoe. In the old days the indians used to chew yucca to pulp it but they SAY that they don’t do that now. It tasted OK but was very potent and a bowlful was a bit much. Still, it would have been rude to decline the offer. We shook hands all round, including the toddler who had been drinking chicha too, and headed off down the track.
We met the president of the community, Bolivarandi, who was remarkably, and somewhat uniquely, sober. Further down the track we ate palm heart from the Pajatoquilla Palm, and saw how the other end of the heart splayed out to make the material for Panama hats. These were always made in Ecuador, but sold in Panama. The leaf of the same palm is used to make roofs which last for 15-20 years. Very good in this climate. The track itself is made between each community and so extends continuously all the way down both sides of the Rio Napo.
Having crossed what passed for a football field, and having seeing the school, we came to the museum/shop. Oli and I bought a few things whilst Sonia and Helena chatted with the local schoolmaster. Apart from all the usual miscellaneous local craft found in such places all over the world, the museum housed a tapir’s skull and pelvis and some fragments of ancient pottery.
Innocencio took Oli and me back down the path to see the huge Kapok (or Sabre) tree. David and Helena caught us up as we arrived at the tree. It was hollow for a good 30 feet up into the trunk and there was a huge pile of bat excrement on the ground inside the tree. Shining our torches up inside, we could see hundreds of bats. The evening migration of the flocks of bats as they go out in search of food is quite spectacular.
Warning: bat shit absolutely stinks!
On the way back we saw the oropendolars massing to fly off for the evening. We had to stop to pick up Sonia from the school where she had been trying to set up a link with her own school in Chicago. Again, for Sonia’s sake, we called in at Innocencio’s house in order to pick up an uncleaned tapir’s skull. She really is a pain!
By now it was very dark, and we had to proceed with great caution up the Yuturi using our flashlights to look for any signs of life. We were lucky enough to find a caiman within a few minutes. It was on the bank, so we could see it very clearly – all of 4 feet long. When it slid into the water, all we could see were the red eyes and their reflections. It looked as if it had four eyes. As we paddled further up the river we saw a couple of motmots, which are a bit like giant kingfishers. It was amazing to see thousands of little green eyes all along the bank of the river. We wondered what they were until David told us that these eyes belonged to spiders.
Sonia couldn’t hold out and had to pee over the side as we went along. This seemingly simple operation was carried out with the maximum of fuss and noise which we had come to associate with everything that the irritating lady did.
Although we were late for supper, we still had time to go for a short walk afterwards. Just Dad, Oli and I went. We didn’t find much, but heard monkeys thrashing around in the trees above us.