Yasuní National Park
Napo Wildlife Center: Journey to the edge of the Amazon
Marketing Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge - miércoles, diciembre 21, 2011
ORIGINAL TEXT: http://www.hoy.com.ec/noticias-ecuador/napo-wildlife-center-journey-to-the-edge-of-the-amazon-500899.html
By LANCE BRASHEAR
The Yasuní National Park, located in Ecuador's Orellana Province, is part of the Amazon basin, a vast, multi-layered world of flora and fauna that is truly difficult to grasp because of its size, biodiversity, and the many mysteries contained within it.
Ecuador's share of the jungle, which comprises 40 percent of its land mass, is only two percent of the total Amazon basin. But in a small corner of this immense ecosystem, sits the Napo Wildlife Center, a lodge owned and managed by the local Kichwa Añangu Community, where every day visitors see and experience a small slice of this natural wonder.
In the air and on the river
Getting to Yasuní requires a series of jaunts, the logistics of which are well-managed by the Napo staff and Añangu Community.
We begin with a 40-minute flight from Quito to Coca and within minutes the Andean landscape gives way to what appears to be a vast blanket of broccoli - the canopy of tropical rainforest, which extends beyond the horizon.
Upon landing in Coca, officially known as the Port of Francisco de Orellana - named for the Spanish explorer who came to this region and discovered the Amazon River nearly 500 years ago - our itinerary carries us two and a half hours down the Napo River. But our trip has all the luxury Orellana never knew: a 30-passenger fiberglass boat with two motors, a canvas roof, leather seats, and a sack lunch along the way.
This is the dry season. The river is low and the boat zigzags to avoid submerged sandbars. Almost 70 kilometers downstream we turn into an inlet and as quickly as the droning motors drop to an idle, the water color changes instantly from the milky, muddiness of the Napo (a result of sediment carried from the Andes Mountains), to a dark, black water canal.
Black water is common in the Amazon. The rainfall is filtered through decaying jungle matter to form dark, acidic creeks. Though the color is akin to an oil spill, the black water is the work of nature a sort of natural tea which leaves stains upon the trees and roots as water levels recede this time of year.
We transfer to smaller canoes and members of the Añangu community paddle us upstream.
The ride is quiet, the vegetation dense. We are in the broccoli.
An hour later the tree cover parts and the black river becomes a black lake upon the shores of which are 16 lakefront cabins with thatched roofs. The Napo staff welcomes us with a fresh glass of mango juice.
Welcome to the jungle
Though accommodations are first-rate (24-hour electricity, satellite Internet, and great international food), visitors do not come to Yasuní to lounge in comfort. The days begin at 5:30 am with breakfast and an early departure from the dock.
Meliton Yumbo, a strong, young, guide from Añangu, silently paddles our group through black water canals until we reach solid ground. We trek to an observation tower 50 meters tall, built alongside a giant kapok tree.
The jungle has several layers, each of which is observed as we climb. The forest floor, which receives only two to five percent of the sunlight filtered through the trees above, is full of vegetation with large leaves. This gives way to the understory, which transitions to the canopy - the layer of forest where it is believed most life is found in the Amazon. Scientists say we know more about the depths of the oceans than we do about life 40 meters above the jungle floor.
As we reach the top of the kapok we step onto a platform emerging from the canopy. It is 7:30am and we are above the broccoli.
The jungle is full of life and some of it we see immediately, like the Weaver birds and Ivory-billed Arazaris darting from the tree tops. A Scarlet macaw sails across the horizon and the shaking branches in the foreground reveal squirrel monkeys jumping from limb to limb.
But much of the forest needs an acute eye and the experience of knowing where to look for wildlife.
A telescope hones in on the Great Potoo a nocturnal, predatory bird, camouflouged against the nearly white tree limb upon which it rests. Three hundred meters in the distance, unaware of our presence, we watch a family of red howler monkeys, named for their low-tone grunt or howl, as they soak up the sun. Hours are spent in this tree house before we return to the forest floor.
On the way down our tour guide, David Yunes, shows us a plant beginning to grow on one of the large branches of the kapok. It is a strangler fig, the seed of which was probably deposited when a monkey ate the fruit from a nearby tree. The seed sprouted and though it seems improbable, the young plant, over a period of lifetimes, will eventually consume the kapok, reducing it to broken logs on the forest floor to become part of the natural tea bag that filters the rainwater to the dark river channel where our canoe awaits.
We reach the forest floor - a soft carpet of decomposing plant matter. Though Yasuní has a greater variety of plant life in one square kilometer than can be found in all of North America, the soil of the Amazon is poor, with most of the nutrients near the top. For this reason, root systems are shallow, but extensive, able to anchor large trees like the kapok.
As we walk, Yunes kicks up the earth to show us something a few inches beneath: white fungus. He tells us about "mycorrhiza," the symbiotic relationship between the fungus and the tree roots - the key to soil life and chemistry in the rainforest.
"What you have here is a network of microscopic fungus...all of the trees are connected to one another through this," Yunes tells us. Then he drives home a lesson about why the rainforests must not be destroyed: "When you cut a big area of rainforest and you let the sunlight come in you are going to kill it because the ground is going to dry you let this fungus die, it can never recover. This is the key to rainforest survival."
A few feet below the soil is clay, and though incompatible for plantlife, parrots will lick it daily in order to neutralize the toxicity from the berries they consume in the forest.
The Napo Wildlife Center has set up designated "clay licks" where hundreds of parrots and parakeets can be observed at one time. Our visit, though, is interrupted by rain, which keeps the parrots at bay.
In the afternoon Yumbo paddles us back toward the lodge as we continue to marvel at life near the water's edge. Young caimans float in the reeds as restless Hoatzin birds flutter on the branches above. And more howler monkeys are heard grunting in the distance. They are all part of the wonder of the rainforest, as are the members of the Añango community.
Añangu means "ant" in Kichwa, a name that communicates the small, laborious role they play in this mega-ecosystem. Through their hard work the Napo Wildlife Center is able to show the world every day the magic that is Yasuní.
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