29.03.2010 - 29.03.2010
We walked from the Swissotel to the Coffee Tree restaurant in Plaza Foch (about a half mile) for breakfast. There was an ATM right across the street, so we also got some traveling money.
We were short on time after breakfast, so we caught a taxi from there to the Swissotel to get our luggage and then to the airport ($8).
FLYING TO COCA:
Again tell your driver “nacional” for the domestic departures, and there is just one entrance for all airlines. At the Quito Airport, there are airport people just inside the door to point you in the right direction (I said “Tame” and “Coca” and that seemed to work). There was a woman from Sacha Lodge at the airport that took our luggage and gave us our boarding passes, so we didn’t even have to stand in line at the Tame counter. We filled out an information sheet for her, and she gave us a flyer with more information about the lodge.
We went through security, which is a relatively simple process and then had time to relax in the departure lounge. There are 5 gates, so you have to listen for the announcement of your flight. We were listening and watching the departure screens but still almost missed it. Luckily, we saw other people going to Sacha Lodge getting in line and joined them. There were 2 lines right next to each other, and we didn’t realize until the front of the line that we were in the wrong one. Then, after they took our boarding passes, there were walkways going left and right and almost went the wrong direction. Lesson learned: ask lots of people for help because they will point you in the right direction!
The flight is only 30 minutes long, so the flight attendants handed out orange juice boxes, and that was their service for the entire flight. Our flight was delayed because some people checked in luggage and then didn’t show up for the flight, so we had to wait until they took those bags off.
On the flight, we had a nice view of Cayambe above the clouds. The second half of the flight was very turbulent.
GETTING TO SACHA LODGE:
When we arrived at the very small Coca Airport, 2 naturalist guides greeted us. We collected our luggage (they checked luggage tags!) and carried them to the parking lot where an open sided bus was waiting for us. This drove for about 5 minutes to a house in town where we had lunch and bathrooms. They gathered our luggage, put them all in dry bags and sent them off by boat. I had a couple of minutes to run to the pharmacy to get a few items (toothpaste and sunscreen).
Then the adventure started! We were given life jackets and walked about a block to the boat. They call the boat a “motorized canoe.” It was long and skinny and holds about 30 people on wooden benches. There is a driver in the back and a spotter in the front. There is a (mostly) waterproof mesh roof.
As we slowly started down the river, our guide gave us a brief overview of the area and our ride to the lodge. Then the boat sped up (maybe 30 mph) – “air conditioning” they call it. The water splashed high off the sides, and I was amazed we didn’t get wet at all.
The water level was low, so the journey on the river is actually very twisty because of sandbars and logs. The driver would suddenly slow down for a shallow area of the river. The navigation of the river was amazing to experience.
It was very hot this day, so egrets were the only wildlife we saw. Then about halfway on the river, the rain started. Our guides passed out rain ponchos, and we snuggled in tight.
The ride on the river was about 2 hours. It was interesting just to watch the scenery go by – young boys in dugout canoes and mining operations. If it hadn’t rained, we maybe could have read a book. My son took a short nap and listened to his iPod.
All of a sudden, out in the middle of nowhere, there was a sign for Sacha Lodge. Our boat docked, and there was another building nearby with bathrooms. When everyone for the lodge arrived (2 motorized canoes), we started our 30 minute walk through the jungle.
At first, the hike was on a trail but soon it was swampy enough that we were on an elevated boardwalk. I was hoping to see monkeys, but they eluded us at the moment. We really felt like we were in the deep rain forest – strangler fig trees with enormous roots, giant palms, an amazing bird chorus, and bizarre mushroom formations.
At the end of our hike was a dock with long dugout canoes. The canoes had wooden seats with cushions – about 10 people per boat. The guide in the back of the canoe had a wooden paddle as did the guest in the front seat. In our case, my son paddled until it wasn’t so fun anymore and then my husband took over.
We glided silently across the black lake to our wooden jungle lodge (15 minutes). Very beautiful! What an amazing place!
SWIMMING AT SACHA LODGE:
There is a dock at the water’s edge, which is the “swimming pool.” Then there is a narrow channel where we paddled into and found the main dock for the lodge. Up the hill slightly is the main dining area and lounge (the main hangout area).
We were directed upstairs for our welcome drink, snacks, and briefing. After the short orientation, we were given our room assignments and shown to our rooms where our luggage was already waiting for us.
It was about 4:00pm, and we had the afternoon free until dinner at 7:00pm, so we headed down to the lake for swimming. One of the rules is that you only swim from 7:00am until 6:00pm because sunset to sunrise is when the caimans (similar to crocodiles) come out.
The water was surprisingly warm on top, but about 5 feet down, it is sharply cold. I was careful to swim on top! The water is also very dark and orange in color. You couldn’t see more than a foot or two deep.
We brought a beach ball and water football, which were fun, as was the diving dock. We did not use swim goggles as it was too dark to see anything underwater.
The swim dock area has a few sling-back chairs and many picnic tables. It was a popular gathering spot to read, play cards, or just enjoy the view.
At the dock is a boat house where we were given our rubber boots for our stay. How they can keep track of U.S., U.K., and European foot sizes, I just don’t know!
Before dinner, we headed to the bar area upstairs in the main building. It is a very cozy gathering spot. We got some wine, lemonade, and popcorn. It was a great place to socialize with lots of interesting people from around the world.
At dinner, we are assigned to a guide and our group sits together. Groups are 6 people maximum. We were with a nice couple from Vancouver, so only 5 people with our guide.
After dinner, our guide took us on a 30-minute night hike around the lodge. We brought headlamps and flashlights to see the night creatures. With this light plus a flash, some pictures came out okay even though it was pitch black in the forest. My son got to hold a tree frog, which he thought was pretty cool.
• Tree frogs
• Walking sticks
• Jumping sticks
Some people on our Galapagos cruise talked about all the bugs and the giant spiders, and this hike was when we saw some of those things. However, I have to say that all in all, I was surprised how few bugs there were. For about half of the night hike, I wished I had some bug spray on my neck, but the rest of the hike was fine.
After the hike, we went right to bed because tomorrow we have a 5:30am wake-up call!
Sacha Lodge has a main building with the dining area on the main floor and the bar/lounge area upstairs. The rooms are in duplex bungalows spaced around the main building and connected by elevated boardwalks. All the buildings are made of wood with thatched roofs.
The dining area has a number of tables which are made from beautiful natural wood slabs, and the benches and chairs are made from logs. There are tables set up in a circle in the middle for the buffets. Another table has coffee and tea all day.
Upstairs from the dining room is the bar and lounge. This is a popular gathering spot during the days and evenings. From this floor are stairs leading up a tower in the middle, which gives a great vantage point around the lodge.
Most of the rooms have 2 double beds and a nice-sized private bathroom. Triple rooms have an extra single bed. You can request a king size bed. There are some family “suites,” which are 2 regular rooms with a sitting room in between.
Each room has a porch with hammock, table and chairs, and wooden laidback chairs for watching the monkeys and birds. There are no glass windows, just screens. There is also no TV, telephone, or hair dryer. This is the deep jungle experience – but with a touch of luxury!
It was cool in Quito, but it is much hotter in Coca. Some people wore lightweight long pants and long sleeved shirts, and others wore shorts and short sleeved shirts. The zip-off pants were handy. Our guide said that we might need bug repellent for the beginning of the walking portion, but we really didn’t, so shorts and short sleeves would have been fine. Walking shoes and hat were also good.
The Coffee Tree restaurant (breakfast) has lattes and WiFi, so I was happy We also had a fruit plate with yogurt and granola, an “American” breakfast with eggs/bacon/3 rolls, a ham and cheese sandwich, and 2 orange juices for $17.
When we arrived at the Coca Airport, Sacha Lodge had a lunch of sandwiches (cheese and tomato on wheat, chicken salad heavy on the mayo on white bread), bananas, oranges, Tango cookies, coffee, tea, and water. We also got a Popsicle from the store next door.
Dinner at Sacha Lodge was a buffet of pork, chicken, green beans, 4 different salads, battered zucchini, garlic toast, carrot soup, and fried potatoes. Dessert was a selection of fruits, chocolate cake, and an extremely delicious passion fruit mousse.