Lost in the jungle: A trip to the Amazon Dolphin Lodge

24/Septiembre/2012 | 09:12

By Lance Brashear

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When Stefan Poenisch, a German citizen and resident of Spain, chose to visit the Amazon Dolphin Lodge in Ecuador he did so because he wanted to go to the jungle rather than have the jungle come to him. 

Anyone who has visited a few lodges in the rainforest understands what he means.  Many tourist destinations orchestrate the Amazon experience with animal rescue centers and cultural interpretation centers - all part of a nice rainforest package.  And for many people, that is okay.

But the Amazon Dolphin Lodge, established by the San Carlos Foundation and part of the Yuturi Conservation Group, offers a more remote and authentic experience.   The lodge was a response to human aggression – founded after Yuturi was forced to relocate its original location due to petroleum drilling activities.

Patricio Herrera, founder of San Carlos Foundation and the director of the Amazon Dolphin Lodge, says, “The Yuturi Conservation Group is working in tourism development and wildlife conservation programs. “We have tried to unite our efforts in forming the Yuturi Group.”  The group also includes another lodge - Yarina Eco Lodge, near to Coca - the Yuturi Travel Agency and the Oasis Hotel.


Finding the Jungle

The Amazon Dolphin Lodge has less to offer in terms of conveniences (no Internet, cell phone service, or hot water), but much more in the way of raw jungle experience, which is the appeal for travelers like Poenisch and his wife, who visited along with his brother and sister-in-law, Martin and Beate. 

So when their group, of which this writer was a part, became lost in the rainforest for a couple of hours one day, Poenisch got exactly what he had asked for.  Once it was clear the group was walking in circles, he nonchalantly shrugged it off.  “We were once lost for 10 hours in Indonesia.”

The Dolphin lodge - a dozen cabins and common dining area huddled on the banks of the Pañacocha Lake - sits in a remote location, four hours by motorized canoe down the Napo River, and another hour inland, up the Pañayacu River.  The small waterways that lead to the lodge are the bloodstream of the Amazon.  Rainfall delivers vast amounts of water to the region, but lack of it leads to quickly, diminishing water levels.

During our tour the water dropped three feet in as many days, forcing the group to push their tour boat at times.  But a heavy shower at the end of the week restored all that was lost, demonstrating the dynamic nature of the rainforest.

When the water recedes too much, so too does the one, prized mammal after which the lodge is named: the fresh-water Amazon dolphin.  During our four day tour, we failed to see even one.

But the absence of one species does not preclude the presence of many more, which are only seen by entering the jungle.

Lost in the Forest

The Amazon rainforest has an enchanted eeriness about it - a wetland of stark contrasts that functions perfectly well in the absence of man.

As we departed for our first day-hike Poenisch quietly commented:  “[We are] entering the green hell,” a description that would underscore the unadulterated, primal existence in which we would eventually get lost.

There are really two forests in the Amazon: one that is alive and green and another below it that is brown and decomposing – a soft, dark, organic carpet below your feet. 

But both seem to be in constant motion and never silent.  The ground moves as millions of ants march continuously to build up their colonies – a series of large mounds that occupy entire clearings.  The forest echoes as fruits continually fall from overhead and trees crash to the ground, unprovoked.

Most trees eventually fall down in the rainforest due to shallow roots, a result of the poor soil in the Amazon basin.  And those that do not fall are often strangled by others in an unhurried competition for survival.

The Amazon jungle is a world that plays tricks with one’s senses.  We hear a strange wind blow, though we cannot feel it.  It turns out to be groups of howler monkeys, out of sight, announcing their territory.  And part of the forest seems to grow upside down as we walk past tree trunk-size vines hanging from the canopy.

Our guide, Fausto Ani, a native Kichwa inhabitant, shows us that the forest is many things, including a source of nourishment for humans.  He drinks clean, fresh water filtered through vines and eats ants that have a natural, lemon-flavored, acidic discharge – clever Kichwa Boy Scout tips in case you lose your way in the rainforest.

Ani’s knowledge of the forest is surpassed only by his youthful ambition.  We watched him unsuccessfully try to capture everything from an armadillo to an anaconda.  During a nighttime ride along the lake he briefly left our motorized boat.  In the dark we could see his flashlight bobble and hear the water splash near the shoreline.  He returned with a small, young caimen – an Amazonian alligator, one of the jungle’s greatest predatory species.

Like many guides, Ani has the uncanny ability to find wildlife that would otherwise pass others by, be it a motionless sloth resting in a distant, ceiba tree or the camouflaged Common potoo bird, nesting near the lake (It was one of 50 species of bird we would identify during our trip).

But other species are easily seen by the least experienced of our group, including squirrel monkeys that shake nearby, tree limbs and the prehistoric Hoatzin birds that flap like chickens near the water’s edge.

A visit to the Amazon Dolphin Lodge reveals a living, breathing, ecosystem – harmonious in the absence of man’s destructive activities, but continually restless with life that is at once symbiotic and parasitic, nurturing and aggressive.

Aggression is part of the harmony, the continual tension and struggle of nature that keeps all things in balance.  It contrasts with man´s aggression against nature, whose actions only disrupt that balance.  This is ultimately what the Dolphin Lodge and the San Carlos Foundation want you to understand and what Ani keenly shows you first hand as he leads you into the lost world of the Amazon.

There are times when you feel as if you are trampling on top of a mysterious world and other times when you are being swallowed by it.  But at the end of the day you are glad to walk out, while at the same time ready to go back in for more.

To visit the Amazon Dolphin Lodge contact the Yuturi Conservation Group at their Quito offices, in (02) 238 358 / 545 179 or write directly to [email protected].  For more information about other tourism offerings visit www.yuturiconservationgroup.com



Amazon Dolphin Tour Packages



$600 + airfare to Coca


Ciudad Coca

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