Parakeets and piranhas

The wake up call was at 5:30am. Unlike on the yacht, the wake up call was very low tech. Siconda came and knocked on our doors one by one. I woke up before 5:30am so I opened the door and thanked Siconda. We met in the dining hall at 6am for breakfast.

There was a light rain and it meant that the parakeets might not appear. Gus asked us if we wanted to continue with the original plan or go with Plan B. He said that if we did not get to see the parakeets today, we would still have a chance on Sunday. Our group decided to go ahead as there was a chance that the parakeets might still appear. Thankfully, it stopped raining after breakfast.

Pilchicocha Lake

To get to the clay site to see the parakeets, we had to make our way back to the Napo River. So all of us got into the canoe and paddled back to the muddy trail. Pilchicocha Lake in front of Sacha Lodge looked so peaceful in the morning. The water surface was so still that it looked like a mirror. Nobody would be able tell that it was raining only 15 mins ago.

Way to Sacha Lodge

We walked back to Napo River to board the motorized boat. Another group and their guide were joining us to see the parakeets.

Amazon rainforest

As the boat moved down the river, we could see mist (steam?) rising from the jungle.

Clay site

The clay site was just within the boundaries of Yasuni National Park. Our boat had to stay at least 20m away from the clay site so that we would not scare the parakeets away. Gus told us that even though technically we did not enter the national park, we were viewing a site within the national park. So sometimes the rangers would come and collect fees. It sounded reasonable, and the fee was only USD 2 so I was quite alright with paying.

We did meet the rangers but they did not collect the fees from us as they did not bring the necessary documents to issue receipts. I thought it was very honest of them because all of us had the USD 2 ready and were quite willing to pay it.

There were no parakeets at the clay site. The guides decided to wait and see if the parakeets would turn up. Gus told us that the parakeets could be delayed by the rain as usually by this time, they would be around.

Sleeping bird

Although there were no parakeets, we saw another bird sleeping along the banks. Gus said that it was a nocturnal bird so that was why it was sleeping now. We stayed far away and this photo was taken with my lens zoomed to the maximum.

Boa constrictor

Gus spotted a boa constrictor in a tree. Even though he pointed it out to us, it was impossible to see it without binoculars as it was so far away. It was also camouflaged perfectly and looked as if it was part of the branch it was lying on.

Howler monkey

We also saw a howler monkey in sitting in a tree.

Ten parakeets here. Can you spot them?

Finally we heard the calls of the parakeets. They were on their way to the clay site and we could see them flying above the trees. But they did not land at the clay site immediately. Instead they landed on the trees, to see if there were any predators lying in wait. They were very cautious and at first they landed on the trees far away and slowly flew a little bit closer and landed on the trees a little bit closer. The parakeets were green and this made it very difficult to spot them among the green foilage. I just snapped away when I saw the branches moving and crossed my fingers. It was quite frustrating at times and I felt like wringing someone’s neck. There are ten parakeets in the photo above. Can you spot them all?

Blue headed parrots

Some blue headed parrots joined them and they were much easier to spot with their blue heads.

Parakeets

After waiting 30 – 40 mins from the time we first saw them, some brave souls finally landed on the dangling roots in front of the clay site.

Parakeets

Once everybody saw that it was safe, they all flew to the clay site.

Parakeets

The parakeets fed on seeds which contained toxins so they ate the clay to neutralize the poison. Gus said the parakeets do not stay long at the clay site; probably around 20 mins before they flew off. If it was raining heavily, the parakeets would not appear at all.

Napo River

Then we went to a cultural village for a cultural show. The father in my group and I were not keen on watching the cultural show so we went on a ride along the river while we waited for the others.

Hoatzin

We saw a strange-looking bird called a Hoatzin (pronounced as “what-zinc”). It was about the size of a goose and ate leaves. Gus told us that the local nickname for it was “Stinky Turkey”. The leaves were hard to digest and so they fermented inside the bird. Due to its digestive system, the meat literally stank and was not nice to eat.

Hoatzin

The hoatzins built their nests along the river banks so that if predators came, the young could dive into the water and swam away. The young have hooks on their wings to help them climb back up the trees. Once they could fly away from danger, they lost the hooks and the ability to swim.

Yellow Spotted Amazon River Turtle

We also saw some Yellow Spotted Amazon River Turtles basking along the banks. Gus told us that they had yellow spots on its head. But I couldn’t see the yellow spots.

We cruised along the river for 30-40 mins before we had to go back to pick up the rest. Then it was back to the lodge. I had some time before lunch so I went to use the internet. I discovered that there was no mobile phone coverage at Sacha Lodge so I needed to find some way to contact KKH. There was only one terminal at the Administration Building and it cost USD 5 for 30 mins. If it wasn’t the only way I could contact KKH, I would not have bothered to use the internet as I felt it was a little expensive.

Lunch was good and I enjoyed it. Someone from my group showed me the baby caimans that were below the dining hall. The dining hall was built on stilts as it was located in the flooded part of the forest, near the lake. So baby caimans would gather in the shallow waters.

At 2 pm, I went to the jetty to watch the father and son fish for piranhas. Siconda was there with some fishing poles and pieces of meat. The father, who was an avid fisherman, invited me to join them and I was handed a fishing pole. The moment I dropped the bait into the water, I could feel something biting it. Even though we were not able to see the fish, we could see the bait moving in the water so something was definitely eating it. Sometimes I felt a strong bite and pulled the bait quickly upwards to see a piranha open its mouth and drop back into the water. I did not have the patience of a fisherman and after losing my bait to the piranhas a few times, I went to read my book. Finally there was only the father left fishing. Nobody caught anything this afternoon.

Boa constrictor

Siconda found a boa constrictor along the boat house and all of us went to take a look. It was a young snake so it wasn’t as big as the one we saw in the morning. But it was much closer and easier to see.

Leaf cutter ants

At 4pm, Gus brought us on a hike where he showed us some leaf cutter ants. The ants were really industrious and had collected so many leaves from the nearby plants that there was a clearing around their nest. We also found a stingless wasp nest a few steps away from the ant nest. Gus said that the wasps were sometimes found together with the ants but it was not known what was the reason for their close proximity.

Gus also took us to another area to show us the secondary forest. We saw some banana plants left behind by farms originally in the area. I couldn’t help thinking that I would have gotten hopelessly lost in the rainforest as everything looked the same to me. It was made more difficult by the tall trees which blocked the view everything more than 5m away. It was amazing that the guides were able to tell the difference between the trails and knew where to go.

Evening at Pilchicocha Lake

We ended our hike with a canoe ride in Pilchicocha Lake where we did some fishing, much to the delight of the father.

Evening

Gus told us that the plant with the big leaves beside the lake was called elephant ear. They contained a lot of tannin in the leaves. When the leaves dropped and decomposed in the lake, they stained the water black, like tea leaves would stain the water. The tannin also caused the lake water to be a little acidic and this prevented mosquitoes from breeding in the lake. Although Sacha Lodge was mosquito-free, there were still mosquitoes in the rainforest as they breed in the water that collected in the puddles or the trees.

Termite nest

Gus pointed out that the strange round bulges on the trees were actually termite nests.

Piranha

We tried one fishing spot without success. After a while, we moved to another fishing spot and where we had better luck. I didn’t catch any as I was too impatient to sit still for long. Every once in a while, I would shake the fishing pole to see if any fish was biting. The father caught one while the son caught two. I was glad as it meant that it was the end of the fishing session and we could go back.

Piranha

Siconda carefully removed the hook and released the piranhas back into the lake. He saw showed us the sharp teeth of the piranha. They looked like mini shark teeth. Gus told us that there were two types of piranhas living in the lake; the red bellied piranha and the silver piranha.

Fried piranha

The second piranha that the son caught was a big one, about the size of a small pomfret. The hook was embedded too deeply for Siconda to remove. I saw him struggling to remove it but it was difficult because the end of the hook came out beneath the piranha’s right eye. So we had it for dinner instead. All of us took a bite of it. It did not taste muddy or fishy and was very light in taste, like a pomfret. It was also full of tiny bones so I only took one bite. I was too lazy to pick the bones from the meat.

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