Justi goes to the jungle

Napo Wildlife Centre observation tower and cabanas mirrored in the calm water of beautiful Lake Añangu. Picture by Napo Wildlife Centre
My bed with mosquito netting in daytime mode in my lakeside cabana at Napo Wildlife Centre’s eco-lodge. Picture by Justine Tyerman
One of the spacious lakeside rooms at Napo Wildlife Centre’s eco-lodge. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
A spa bath with a rainforest view in one of the luxury suites at Napo Wildlife Centre eco-lodge. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
A drone’s eye view of Napo Wildlife Centre on beautiful Lake Añangu. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
Paddling up the creek on day one.
Chefs at work in the kitchen at Napo Wildlife Centre’s eco-lodge. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
A selection of delicious dishes created by the chefs at Napo Wildlife Centre’s eco-lodge. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
A canoe emerging from one of Lake Añangu’s creeks. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
A white throated toucan, one of many birds that inhabit the rainforest surrounding Napo Wildlife Centre. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
The glass jungle-view floor in one of the luxury suites at Napo Wildlife Centre eco-lodge. Photo by Napo Wildlife Centre
Black caiman live in the lake and creeks at Napo Wildlife Centre. Picture by Napo Wildlife Centre
Guide Pedro calling to monkeys in the forest canopy. Picture by Justine Tyerman

Fear nearly scuttles Justine (aka Justi) Tyerman’s trip to a special place in the Ecuadorian Amazon . . .

A vivid imagination is a wonderful thing — but recently mine spiralled out of control and had the power to sabotage a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was so anxious, I nearly chickened-out of an exceptional trip with Quasar Expeditions to Napo Wildlife Centre eco-lodge in a remote corner of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

I was haunted by images of a tiny, single-engine Cessna being tossed about in a tropical storm, a jungle teeming with spiders and scorpions, anacondas coiled around every tree, and caimans with their jaws wide open waiting to chomp off a limb.

I imagined myself entangled in jungle vines while paddling up narrow creeks in dug-out canoes with only a hand-span of free board between me and the black water seething with piranha.
I envisaged sleepless nights on full alert, awaiting a visitation from a UCC (unidentified creepy crawly).

But none of these nightmare scenarios came to pass — and I would go back in a heartbeat.
However, a tarantula did scuttle across the floor of the dining room on our first night at the eco-lodge which prompted me to jump on a chair, scream loudly and flap my arms as if trying to take flight. The Australian guests were highly amused.

Located in the vast Yasuni National Park, Napo Wildlife Centre is not the easiest place to reach, but the journey there was part of the adventure.
From the brand new airport in Ecuador’s capital city Quito, we flew 45 minutes over the Eastern Andes to the town of El Coca. The aircraft was no Cessna. The sturdy, twin-prop ATR was bigger than the planes that fly in and out of Gisborne, and the flight over volcanoes and rainforest was smooth and incredibly scenic.

At El Coca we boarded an elongated, semi-enclosed motor boat and navigated down the wide Napo River, a major tributary of the Amazon, for about two hours to the Napo Wildlife Centre HQ.
Here we met our delightful Ecuadorian naturalist and guide Pedro and his Amazon-born colleague Patricio who accompanied us everywhere for the next three days and nights, and inspired such trust in me, I soon began to feel at ease despite my initial fears.

An eight-man dug-out canoe powered by a pair of strong paddlers, fore and aft, was our mode of transport for the next two hours as we made our way up the narrow Añangu Creek through dense rainforest.

Relaxed, totally absorbed in the experience

The Napo River is high in sediment from the Andes so it is the colour of “coffee with cream”, Pedro explained, whereas Añangu Creek is part of a black water system, high in tannins so it’s the colour of “strong coffee without cream”.

Gliding slowly and quietly upstream in dappled light with the rhythmical sound of the paddles dipping in and out of dark water was a sublimely tranquil and peaceful experience — the landscape unravelled gradually which allowed my senses to adjust to and absorb the colours, textures, scents, sounds and pulse of the jungle. Pedro and eagle-eyed Patricio spotted an abundance of birds and monkeys and rattled off the Latin and botanical names of all the species.

At times, there was probably even less than a hand-span between me and the water but I felt surprisingly relaxed and totally absorbed in the experience. And no anacondas dropped on me from the trees above.

Late afternoon, we emerged from the creek and skimmed across the mirror waters of beautiful Lake Añangu towards the impressive 40m observation tower of the Napo Wildlife Centre eco-lodge and graceful lakeside cabanas. The lake was formed by “a meander” of the Napo River when a U-shaped bend was eventually cut off from the main river creating a large pool, said Pedro.

The welcoming party included a caiman floating just below the surface of the lake a few metres from the jetty, red eyes unblinking, ever-watchful. My heart skipped a beat but he seemed more interested in a couple of nearby turtles than the human beings disembarking from the canoe.
“No swimming,” said a sign on the jetty.
“Believe it or not, the sign is necessary,” said Pedro.

My home for the next three days and nights was a very comfortable, spacious, stand-alone cabana with a queen and single bed and an ensuite bathroom, overlooking Lake Añangu. The lodge also has superb luxury cabanas with jungle-view spa baths and glass-floored lounge areas.

At a briefing before dinner in the magnificent open-sided restaurant beneath the tower, Pedro explained the history of Napo Wildlife Centre. The eco-lodge was built by the 200-strong indigenous Kichwa Añangu community with all materials transported to the site on foot or by man-powered canoe. The centre is one hundred percent owned and managed by the community and all proceeds are re-invested into local projects such as renewable energy, education and healthcare. More on that later . . .

A team of smiley chefs, hard at work in one of the smartest, most spacious kitchens I’ve ever seen, presented a delicious gourmet dinner on our first night, and the barman was an absolute whiz on the cocktails.

By the time I retired to my cabana for the night, my room had been inspected and insect sprayed, and the mosquito net “deployed” around the bed. I tucked the net firmly into the mattress to ensure no nocturnal visitors found their way inside my impenetrable cocoon overnight. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt rather chuffed with myself. I had thoroughly enjoyed day one and had only screamed once . . . but our jungle expeditions and night walks were yet to come.
— To be continued

  • Justine Tyerman was a guest of Quasar Expeditions, www.quasarex.com, a leader in experiential travel in Latin America and pioneers of small-ship cruising in the Galapagos Islands.
  • Quasar Expeditions is a boutique, family-run company established 33 years ago whose focus is on small-group travel to ensure an intimate and personal experience, interacting with local communities and wildlife. Their mission is to provide guests with the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most remote, hard-to-access destinations while leaving behind the smallest possible footprint.
  • Contact your travel agent or South America specialist to find out more about this and other awe-inspiring adventures and wildlife encounters in South America.
  • Justine flew courtesy of LATAM Airlines (www.latam.com)
  • <<<<

Fear nearly scuttles Justine (aka Justi) Tyerman’s trip to a special place in the Ecuadorian Amazon . . .

A vivid imagination is a wonderful thing — but recently mine spiralled out of control and had the power to sabotage a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was so anxious, I nearly chickened-out of an exceptional trip with Quasar Expeditions to Napo Wildlife Centre eco-lodge in a remote corner of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

I was haunted by images of a tiny, single-engine Cessna being tossed about in a tropical storm, a jungle teeming with spiders and scorpions, anacondas coiled around every tree, and caimans with their jaws wide open waiting to chomp off a limb.

I imagined myself entangled in jungle vines while paddling up narrow creeks in dug-out canoes with only a hand-span of free board between me and the black water seething with piranha.
I envisaged sleepless nights on full alert, awaiting a visitation from a UCC (unidentified creepy crawly).

But none of these nightmare scenarios came to pass — and I would go back in a heartbeat.
However, a tarantula did scuttle across the floor of the dining room on our first night at the eco-lodge which prompted me to jump on a chair, scream loudly and flap my arms as if trying to take flight. The Australian guests were highly amused.

Located in the vast Yasuni National Park, Napo Wildlife Centre is not the easiest place to reach, but the journey there was part of the adventure.
From the brand new airport in Ecuador’s capital city Quito, we flew 45 minutes over the Eastern Andes to the town of El Coca. The aircraft was no Cessna. The sturdy, twin-prop ATR was bigger than the planes that fly in and out of Gisborne, and the flight over volcanoes and rainforest was smooth and incredibly scenic.

At El Coca we boarded an elongated, semi-enclosed motor boat and navigated down the wide Napo River, a major tributary of the Amazon, for about two hours to the Napo Wildlife Centre HQ.
Here we met our delightful Ecuadorian naturalist and guide Pedro and his Amazon-born colleague Patricio who accompanied us everywhere for the next three days and nights, and inspired such trust in me, I soon began to feel at ease despite my initial fears.

An eight-man dug-out canoe powered by a pair of strong paddlers, fore and aft, was our mode of transport for the next two hours as we made our way up the narrow Añangu Creek through dense rainforest.

Relaxed, totally absorbed in the experience

The Napo River is high in sediment from the Andes so it is the colour of “coffee with cream”, Pedro explained, whereas Añangu Creek is part of a black water system, high in tannins so it’s the colour of “strong coffee without cream”.

Gliding slowly and quietly upstream in dappled light with the rhythmical sound of the paddles dipping in and out of dark water was a sublimely tranquil and peaceful experience — the landscape unravelled gradually which allowed my senses to adjust to and absorb the colours, textures, scents, sounds and pulse of the jungle. Pedro and eagle-eyed Patricio spotted an abundance of birds and monkeys and rattled off the Latin and botanical names of all the species.

At times, there was probably even less than a hand-span between me and the water but I felt surprisingly relaxed and totally absorbed in the experience. And no anacondas dropped on me from the trees above.

Late afternoon, we emerged from the creek and skimmed across the mirror waters of beautiful Lake Añangu towards the impressive 40m observation tower of the Napo Wildlife Centre eco-lodge and graceful lakeside cabanas. The lake was formed by “a meander” of the Napo River when a U-shaped bend was eventually cut off from the main river creating a large pool, said Pedro.

The welcoming party included a caiman floating just below the surface of the lake a few metres from the jetty, red eyes unblinking, ever-watchful. My heart skipped a beat but he seemed more interested in a couple of nearby turtles than the human beings disembarking from the canoe.
“No swimming,” said a sign on the jetty.
“Believe it or not, the sign is necessary,” said Pedro.

My home for the next three days and nights was a very comfortable, spacious, stand-alone cabana with a queen and single bed and an ensuite bathroom, overlooking Lake Añangu. The lodge also has superb luxury cabanas with jungle-view spa baths and glass-floored lounge areas.

At a briefing before dinner in the magnificent open-sided restaurant beneath the tower, Pedro explained the history of Napo Wildlife Centre. The eco-lodge was built by the 200-strong indigenous Kichwa Añangu community with all materials transported to the site on foot or by man-powered canoe. The centre is one hundred percent owned and managed by the community and all proceeds are re-invested into local projects such as renewable energy, education and healthcare. More on that later . . .

A team of smiley chefs, hard at work in one of the smartest, most spacious kitchens I’ve ever seen, presented a delicious gourmet dinner on our first night, and the barman was an absolute whiz on the cocktails.

By the time I retired to my cabana for the night, my room had been inspected and insect sprayed, and the mosquito net “deployed” around the bed. I tucked the net firmly into the mattress to ensure no nocturnal visitors found their way inside my impenetrable cocoon overnight. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt rather chuffed with myself. I had thoroughly enjoyed day one and had only screamed once . . . but our jungle expeditions and night walks were yet to come.
— To be continued

  • Justine Tyerman was a guest of Quasar Expeditions, www.quasarex.com, a leader in experiential travel in Latin America and pioneers of small-ship cruising in the Galapagos Islands.
  • Quasar Expeditions is a boutique, family-run company established 33 years ago whose focus is on small-group travel to ensure an intimate and personal experience, interacting with local communities and wildlife. Their mission is to provide guests with the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most remote, hard-to-access destinations while leaving behind the smallest possible footprint.
  • Contact your travel agent or South America specialist to find out more about this and other awe-inspiring adventures and wildlife encounters in South America.
  • Justine flew courtesy of LATAM Airlines (www.latam.com)
  • <<<<
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