Back up the River
Morning came without the sun, a dim awareness of nights end. The rain started early, slowly, almost like an afterthought. And it was cool, not quite cold but hardly tropical. By the time we reached the Napo River the rain was a substantial thing, not a deluge but made us thankful for any article of clothing that was water proof. The trip up the Napo to Coca was not pleasant. With the rain, coupled with our speeding boat, it was a cold trip. Protected by their own rain covers, the camera packs sat on our feet to keep them out of the slowly rising water in the canoe. Shielded by ponchos, we were mostly dry, but hardly warm.
The two hours to Coca took their time in passing and it was with great relief that we disembarked to still, warm air. Without the speeding boat it was now a pleasant warm rain. All we had to do was find our driver and head for the Cosanga Valley. Jairo located our guy and his vehicle, which was a relief, sometimes these long distance arrangements don’t work so well.
The trip of several hours was a revelation of magnificent scenery, dimmed by continual rain. Waterfalls great and small fell from the steepening mountain slopes, a photographers feast. Except we made no images, a little rain is not an issue, a lot of rain slows me to a stop. Our destination, Cabanas San Isidro sits at about 6800 feet on the east slope of the Andes in humid, montane forest. 1700 hectares of private reserve, cool and damp with a riot of green and flashes of brilliant color. That color comes from some of the 300 plus species of birds in the area. We spent little time getting moved in to our cabina and started to take a look around, getting located. Alejandro, the manager made us feel right at home.
The humidity got to my camera, I lost the use of the LCD two days into our stay at San Isidro. Talk about shooting blind, no histogram, no on the fly edit, just like a film camera…the horror. If that weren’t enough, my flash gave up as well, only it gave up totally. No flash in the rain forest makes it very difficult to even out the light. Using flash in the deep shadows of the rainforest is obvious but well controlled flash is also useful in opening up shadows when the sun is blasting through openings in the canopy. The death of the flash was when I really kicked myself for not bringing a backup. The camera that Barb brought and her flash (same model as I was using) worked flawlessly. Back in Colorado, with our high and dry climate the equipment that failed healed themselves, but that was a couple of weeks away. Equipment failure certainly complicates photography but with the myriad of bird species, great food and hot water bottles(!) to warm our bed in the chilly night it was easy to overlook the hassle a bit. Overlook is maybe a little strong, survive perhaps.
The days spent here morph one into the next, a constant reminder of why the tropics are so amazing. Not just the sheer numbers of species, most of which we never see, but the diversity of the creatures that we do see. Luminously glowing hummingbirds took center stage. With 32 species on their bird list and an excellent hummingbird garden where else could we go? Out at night, that’s where. When the sun gives over to dark in the tropics things can get even more interesting, frogs, snakes and bizarre insects show themselves to the interested observer. Here, finding an owl that lives nowhere else on the planet and has yet to be described by science becomes the focal point of night roaming. The “San Isidro Owl” (there is more than one) seems to hang out in the same areas night after night so finding it, while not a given, is pretty straight forward.
Days and nights passed quickly and we headed up toward Papallacta Pass on the way to the western slope of the Andes. Spent one night at Guango Lodge, higher up the mountain, much cooler and the rain began again. We whiled away more time in than out but managed to get a few images of the implausible Sword-billed Hummingbird, made the rain and chill far more tolerable.