Sacha Lodge, Ecuador

Peter Dolton travelled on our 'Ecuador - The Andes & Amazon' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Toucan Barbet low res 

Toucan Barbet, Ecuador

There are footsteps outside the bedroom door, then a hurried knock and a call to get up. You are already awake and have been for some minutes. Those pre-breakfast essentials of washing and dressing are taken care of briskly; rucksack, packed the previous night, is ready by the door.

Outside with wellingtons on it’s a hurried walk to breakfast. Last chance to check that nothing is forgotten.

Then it’s into the outside world. It’s dark, very day, black dark. Looking down to see where you are placing your feet, you see nothing. You wonder whether, independent of the rest of you, your eyes have shut.

There are the sounds of the night. They are unfamiliar, but you guess that most are frogs - several decibels louder than anything you are used to at home. Then there is the quiet, repeated sound of water lapping against the shore. Above, there are stars - in numbers and configurations that you have never seen before, and almost straight above us a pale blur. In the absence of any light pollution this is the Milky Way like you’ve never seen it before. A half crescent of light pulls itself above the eastern horizon and you can just make out the outline of a canoe. You stumble on to it and sit back and, seemingly without any signal or sound, the canoe moves away from the bank. The channel opens up and it is possible to discern that you are going across a stretch of open water.

An eerie, wailing sound alerts the senses. It is repeated. From the front of a canoe a flashlight lights up the shore. It shows up a dead tree trunk. You hear the sound again but as the sound dies you can make out the top of the dead tree jerk upwards. You are heading towards the dead tree and as you approach the same call and the movement are again synchronous. It is not phased by being in the light. Closer still and you can make out that the highest point on the trunk is not dead and is in fact a bird. A Potoo is sitting there, a perfectly camouflaged extension of the branch. In the distance, it is answered by two others. The light is turned off and the Potoo’s call continues unaffected by our intrusion into his world.

Once across the lagoon, you enter a narrow creek. The canopies of the creek-side trees meet lowering the light level. A few more minutes and the canoe nestles alongside a jetty. On disembarking, a short walk through the forest brings you to the base of a tree which is encased in a series of steps. One at a time, our group ascends. It’s now much lighter, being well above the forest floor. A platform is reached. There is forest stretching out in all directions. You are now level with some of the upper branches. As the light continues to improve, shapes go from monochrome to coloured, from inanimate to animate. Names can now be put to birds. You wonder as your guide picks out specks in the distance and can put names to them. Closer, he sees tanagers and hummingbirds where you see only leaves. You wonder whether he can see through leaves as he picks out another brightly coloured sprite but then the bird comes into view as if it and the guide are in collusion.

Time slips by quickly. A group of toucans chatter as they move from tree to tree. At this height they are in view all the time. The increasing warmth of the day causes a vulture to stir itself from its roost spot and it drifts upwards and away. With the platform being in amongst the branches, you feel a part of the forest rather than an observer looking in. You are an honoured guest.

Activity declines and you descend and then retrace your steps back to the canoe. You return to the Lodge. It’s now hot, and humidity is increasing. The lagoon that you crossed in darkness now becomes your swimming pool. Floating on your back a King Vulture drifts over.

Highlight of the morning? The whole experience - the sounds, the sights. Retrospective thought? That this should be there in a years to come - the hope that more people may share this and that by more people experiencing this, there will be greater desire for it still to be there for future generations.

Read more about our 'Ecuador - The Andes & Amazon' holiday.

We’ve been nominated ‘Best Safari, Wildlife & Nature Holiday Company’ in the prestigious 2020 British Travel Awards. All voters will be entered into an official prize draw to win a Rhine or Danube cruise! Please click here to vote.