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Amazon Basin (Kapawi Ecolodge)

Total Pictures Taken: 103




Visit to a community

Getting There


We spent 4 days in the Kapawi Ecolodge, deep in Ecuador's Amazon Basin, near the border of Peru.  It took two flights on small planes and over an hour on a canoe to reach Kapawi, which resides on the land of the Achuar people.  The lodge was built without nails, in the Achuar style of architecture.  The concept of the Ecolodge is to teach visitors about the ways of the indigenous people and help preserve the Achuar culture. The current owners plan to give the lodge to the Achuar people at the end of 15 years when they are ready to run it.  We had very full days hiking in the rain forest, bird watching, cayman (crocodiles) watching, fishing, and even visiting a traditional Achuar community.  Every meal at the lodge was outstanding -- some of the best food we have had on the trip.  It rained every day but was a unique and interesting experience.



Year ecolodge built: 1999

Number of days it rained: 4/4

Number of TVs/telephones: 0

Number of people at lodge our week: 19

Language: Spanish, Achuar

Dial-in access: none

Number of tarantula/scorpion sightings in huts: 3



Day 1

When we arrived at the ecolodge on the first day, they fed us a huge snack, and gave us some information about the lodge:

    • No nails used to construct the lodge.  Tightly bound cylinders of vine/fiber were used in place of nails.

    • Conceived of concept in 1996, and completed the lodge in 1999.

    • Uses solar power for everything, but has back up generators for use when it has not been sunny enough.

    • Implement restrictions on how much power each hut is allowed so you can turn on no more than three lights at a time in your hut.  This rule was somewhat arbitrary, because each of the 5 lights in the huts was only about 12 watts, and their brightness depended totally on not only how many lights you had on, but also what other power was being pulled from other huts. Basically, it was dark at night!

    • Not allowed to place toilet paper in the toilets.  Separate bins were placed next to the toilets, and they were cleaned twice a day.

    • Five gallons of hot water for a shower was delivered to your room at 4PM each day (only if it was sunny, since it was solar heated)


We then divided into groups.  We had been lead to believe there would be very small groups, but because many people wanted to do moderate to strenuous activity plans we were part of a group of 4 couples.  We did all of our activities with this group all week, so we got to know them pretty well.  Richard and Jane, the British couple, were also on extended travel (3 months) and had many experiences and preferences frighteningly similar to ours.  We will definitely keep in touch with them.


Our hut was near the end of the lodge, so we had to walk a long way on the slippery raised path through the rain forest to get to our hut.  On any walk to our hut, there would typically be one section that would have a swarm of ants on it -- always a different kind of ant than the last swarm.  But within the hour all the ants would be gone.  Since we always wore the Kapawi-provided knee high rubber boots, walking through ants was trivial.  The huts were very basic, but had water, some lighting, and beds with ever so critical mosquito nets.  Even though there were lots of mosquitoes, the nets served mostly as a sense of protection from the many sounds and sights of things in the forest.  Because the huts were so embedded in the rainforest and they were so open in their construction, it felt like you were sleeping in the very active noisy jungle.  We were very careful to secure our mosquito nets to the edges of our beds in the light before going to dinner so that we could know that there was nothing in there with us when we got back later in the dark.


We met each night before dinner to agree on the activities for the next day.


Day 2

The activities for day 2 included early morning bird watching and then a hike in the rain forest, and then cayman watching at night.


The bird watching started at 6:30 AM, before breakfast.  Supposedly, the Ecuadorian rainforest has 1/3 of all bird species in the world.  Even though none of our group are 'birders' it was  interesting to see the really odd and big birds.  We quickly realized that our digital camera does not have a strong enough zoom lens to take any real pictures of birds.  Other groups came to Kapawi specifically for the bird watching.


The hike this day was very much a "nature" hike -- we stopped every 50 feet to learn about insects, plants, etc.  There were so many unique insects it was kind of freaky.  We tasted some of the fruits in the rain forest -- most of them were not ripe enough so they did not taste anything like what we expected.  We learned about and saw many 'strangler' trees that engulf an existing "host" tree.  Eventually, the many strangler vines come together to form a very large solid tree around the host tree, killing it. We saw huge strangler roots and vines all over the forest floor, as well as completely grown real trees.  We also saw very long trails of 'leaf cutter' ants that were stripping trees and taking the leaves to their nest.  You could follow the trail of millions of ants all carrying large leaf pieces for hundred of yards along the forest floor.  It looked just like a Discovery Channel show.  We saw some monkeys, but they were always so hard to see (they stayed up high in the trees) that it was not that impressive.


The night cayman watching was pretty interesting because it was pitch black on the water except where the guide's flashlight was shining.  Even though he was in the front of the long boat facing right and left looking for cayman, the driver in the back of the boat was still going full speed in the pitch black!  The drivers of the boats are all Achuar and they know the river at all levels like the back of their hands so they could do it with their eyes closed, fortunately.  We spotted several cayman including a 6-8 foot long cayman, which was barely on the shore.  With the flashlight freezing it, we got very close to it, almost coasting into it, before it jumped and caused us to almost fall out of the boat -- everyone jumped to the side away from the cayman and we almost toppled into the water with it!


Day 3

The activities for day 3 included a longer, faster paced hike than the day before, and fishing in the late afternoon.  We took the boats to a spot up river, fast-hiked for 4.5 hours, then paddled kayaks 2 hours down river in the rain.


We did not slow down much on this hike except for crossing large creeks and deep mud.  We did run into an area of 'lemon ant' trees where the ants live inside the hollow trees.  You cannot tell by looking at the trees, but if you break a limb you can see hundreds of ants and larvae.  The ants are supposed to taste like lemon, thus the name.  Dan is the only one in the group to taste the ants, but he could not taste lemon over the DEET (mosquito repellent) on his hands, even after eating many ants!  One of our group was stung twice during the trek by what we think were wasps.  His hand swelled for a few days so we all wondered whether it was something else.


We stopped for a hot lunch at a thatched roof hut beside the river, before the kayak trip.  At one point we thought the rain was falling through the roof onto our heads, until we realized there was a swarm of ants in the roof and they were falling onto us.  Very unsettling.


Only three of us and two guides went on the fishing activity, because it was raining and everyone else was tired from the long hike.  Although we tourists did not catch anything, the guides caught a piranha and some very ugly large catfish.  One catfish, called the 'chainsaw' catfish, had short double spikes along both sides of its body and looked prehistoric.  It howled at us as the guide was cutting the hook out of its mouth.  They kept all the fish they caught because the Achuar believe if you throw the fish back, they will tell the others and you will not catch any more.


It rained so much that night that the river rose 6 feet and the lagoon in front of the huts started to fill up.  The guides said that during rainy season the lagoon would rise another 20 feet and come up to edge of the hut porches, and people would jump into the lagoon from their hut (with the piranha and cayman, etc!) 


Day 4

Day 4 was the visit to the Achuar community.  See the next section for details of the visit. 


From Quito, Ecuador we took two small planes to get to Kapawi.  This second plane landed on a dirt airstrip with mud splashing against the windows.   ka-arrival-small-plane-second-kristen-600.jpg (59566 bytes)
ka-arrival-small-plane-dan-kristen-600.jpg (55783 bytes) The second  plane had 5 seats.  We felt like we were sitting in the back seat of a VW bug!
Some views of the Amazon rainforest from the plane as we headed to  Kapawi. ka-arrival-forest-view-2-600.jpg (42551 bytes)
ka-arrival-forest-view-3-600.jpg (59757 bytes) ka-arrival-forest-view-5-600.jpg (48106 bytes)
The Kapawi Ecolodge huts were built based on the Achuar Indian architecture.  During rainy season that grass is a lagoon.  ka-huts-overall-2-600.jpg (119425 bytes)
ka-hut-outside-kristen-doorway-600.jpg (121990 bytes) Kristen standing in the doorway of our luxurious hut.
The lighting is virtually nonexistent in the hut, so we had to wear our headlamps to see anything.  Our first self-pic on our trip! ka-hut-inside-dan-kristen-headlight-self-600.jpg (78995 bytes)
ka-hut-inside-kristen-headlight-600.jpg (69129 bytes) Fortunately each hut has mosquito nets to protect from the insect wildlife.
We are standing in the common area of the lodge.   ka-huts-general-area-dan-kristen-600.jpg (89406 bytes)
ka-rainforest-tree-biggest-dan-kristen-600.jpg (93505 bytes) The rainforest had some HUGE  trees. This is the biggest one we saw.
One of the most interesting trees, the 'strangler' tree swallows other trees.  Notice the strangled  tree in the middle. ka-rainforest-tree-strangler-600.jpg (116055 bytes)
ka-rainforest-tree-crossing-kristen-600.jpg (143320 bytes) During our hikes in the rainforest we crossed many streams and mud flats.
We crossed a 'black' lagoon, although it was really green! ka-rainforest-black-lagoon-canoe-dan-600.jpg (109718 bytes)
Just like on the Discovery Channel, we saw a swarm of leaf-eating ants. Click here to see a short video of the ants (be patient - big file, will be streaming video in future) ! ka-rainforest-ants-1-600.jpg (123071 bytes)
ka-river-achuar-canoe-1-600.jpg (83561 bytes) Some Achuar locals in their homemade dug out canoe.
View from our motorized canoe as we travel on the river to our next hiking spot. ka-river-view-from-boat-600.jpg (54294 bytes)
ka-river-kayak-dan-kristen-600.jpg (135209 bytes) We paddled back from one hike for 2 hours in the rain. 
We went caymen (~crocodile) watching at night. This is one of the biggest we saw.  It was frozen in the light as we drifted closer to it...  ka-cayman-watching-1-600.jpg (67965 bytes)
...and closer to it...within 18 inches... ka-cayman-watching-3-600.jpg (74972 bytes)
And then it jumped and everyone in the  boat jumped away -- therefore a nice picture of the boat protecting us from the attacking caymen:) ka-cayman-watching-4-600.jpg (24208 bytes)
ka-sua-comm-view-from-river-600.jpg (60869 bytes) We visited a real Achuar community.  It was positioned on the river to see both directions.
"Walter" is the head of the community.  Typically you are not allowed to take pictures of the Achuar, but Walter was very cool abut everything. ka-sua-comm-family-600.jpg (100462 bytes)
The infamous 'ChiCha', the staple drink/foor of the Achuar.  It is made from yucca plant and saliva. ka-sua-comm-chicha-600.jpg (61511 bytes)
ka-sua-comm-blowgun-display-walter-600.jpg (95795 bytes) Walter gave us a display of his blowgun, the main hunting tool of the Achuar.
He wanted us all to try it.  Dan hit the papaya fruit in the field! ka-sua-comm-blowgun-dan-600.jpg (57924 bytes)
ka-sua-comm-blowgun-kristen-600.jpg (93866 bytes) Kristen was one of the few female hunters!
Walter had some very cool pets.  This kinkajou is a nocturnal animal that Walter woke up for us.  It was soooo furry and soft. ka-sua-comm-pet-kinkajou-dan-600.jpg (71733 bytes)
ka-sua-comm-pet-parrot-dan-2-600.jpg (71628 bytes) And his parrot was also pretty cool.  If you tickled its neck it laughed like a hyena.
Walter playing with his pet boa constrictor. ka-sua-comm-pet-python-walter-handling-2-600.jpg (72602 bytes)
ka-sua-comm-pet-python-under-leg-jpg-600.jpg (76198 bytes) The boa got a little too close for comfort!
This is our main group at the lodge. We had lots of fun!  From bottom left counterclockwise: Vin and Sue, David and Franklin (the guides), Jane and Richard, Bill and Laura, and Dan and Kristen. ka-dinner-table-group-600.jpg (96085 bytes)

Visit to an Achuar Community

A very special activity during our week was a planned visit to an Achuar community.  The lodge will set up a visit so that people get a real sense of what the Achuar are like.  They visit many different communities so no one community gets much tourist interaction.  There is extensive protocol and tradition for this type of visit.  We were set up to visit the Sua Community, lead by Walter, a very well known Achuar in the area.  Walter had played a role in building the Kapawi Ecolodge so he was a little more worldly than many of the other Achuar leaders.  He and our guide (David) were friends so it made it easier, too. The visit protocol states that we all (our group of 8) are lead into the 'visiting room' and we are to sit quietly until Walter recognizes us.  The visiting room is just the front part of the hut/house where they allow visitors -- no one is ever allowed in the family quarters.  We all sat around the room for a few minutes while Walter finished carving a paddle.  Then he looked up and smiled, and said welcome in Spanish (fortunately he speaks Spanish, so our guides only had to translate Spanish-English, not Achuar-Spanish-English, where much meaning can be lost).  Then our Achuar guide (Franklin) engaged in a long melodic 'greeting' exchange with Walter.  It was very cool because at one point they were both talking very fast at the same time and they ended at exactly the same time.  We understood from David that it is a very customary greeting (an extended 'hello, how are you', 'I am fine, thank you', 'and you', etc) and since they both know what the other is going to say one may answer the other while he is talking.  The sound of Achuar language made it even more interesting.


During this exchange, Walter's wife hands out ChiCha, the staple drink of the Achuar.  We were prepared for this by David.  The woman of the house makes ChiCha by repeatedly chewing yucca plant and spitting it into a bowl.  The chewing mixes the yucca with saliva and starts the fermentation process.  The drink smells like bread and vinegar, but looks and tastes just like spit.  David said we did not need to drink it all but we had to taste it and hold it as if we liked it so she would not be offended.  No one had more than a sip.  The Achuar guides all had second and third helpings. Supposedly, the Achuar can live for days on just ChiCha.  But it could also be that because it is an alcoholic drink, they are too drunk to know they are hungry.


After the Achuar greeting, Walter signals that it is time for us to go around and introduce ourselves (via the translator).  After that, he introduces himself, and asks a couple questions to some of the group (like, what kind of law do you practice?)  After those formalities, he opened it up for any questions we could think of.  We wanted to learn about the Achuar so the group asked questions about community culture, marriage customs, religion, etc.  Although Achuar men typically have many wives, he has only one, with 10 kids by her.  He started his own community just 3 years ago when he left another community because of family fighting.  He started it with his sons and their families.  He is 54 years old. Lots more detail available...


Typically, outsiders are not allowed to take pictures of Achuar or their homes, but Walter had no problem with pictures.  When we asked about the blow gun darts he had on his wall, he showed us how they hunt with the blow gun and even wanted each us to try it.  He had a variety of interesting pets, including a boa constrictor, parrot, and kinkajou, all of which we played with.  We had a a very interesting time during our 2 hour visit. 


Getting There

We flew out of Quito's 'Icaro' airport terminal -- if you fly from Icaro everyone knows you are going to the rainforest.  We flew on a 16 seat plane about an hour over the Andes Mountains and landed at a tiny airport.  Once we weighed ourselves and our bags we were divided into multiple little 5 person planes -- they were tiny!  We had already befriended the British couple that rode with us face to face (literally) in our plane so it was not that bad.  The views of the rain forest were awesome since we were flying low at only 2500 feet.  In our one hour flight we had to skirt a couple significant lightning storms and flew through rain most the time.  There were only a couple scary stomach jumping moments.  We landed on a dirt/mud air strip in an Achuar Indian community, with mud splashing against the windows as we hit the bigger potholes.  It was still raining, so we hung out under a hut roof with no walls for about an hour waiting for all the little planes to land.  We donned the ponchos the ecolodge provided and boarded some 25 foot motorized canoes that held 10 people each.  The boat ride to Kapawi was about 90 minutes because we had to slow down often because of trees/limbs barely submerged in the water.  Since they were just ending dry season the water was low and the path is more difficult than during the rainy season.



Name Contact Info Comment
Kapawi Ecolodge


Very friendly group.
Lost World Adventures


Atlanta based travel agent.  Not the best at returning email/vmail..

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Amazon Basin