Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002
From: Nigel Venters
Subject: Trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon
Grace and I travelled to the Ecuadorian Amazon in late December to review and advise on the production methods used at Sacha Lodge Butterfly farm. I hope you find the following account interesting....you've always got the delete button if you don't!
Grace and I left on the 24th November and flew to Quito via Miami. We left at our house at 4am UK time and arrived in Quito some 23 hours later...very tired and exhausted! Quito is around 9000ft altitude and the first thing we noticed was it makes you a little light headed....a sort of tingling feeling behind you eyes. Lee Schel from Sacha Lodge picked us up and we went straight to a little
hotel and slept like logs. The next day happened to be the day of the National census....and no one was allowed out of their houses....great!...But as we were still tired we had a lazy day in the Hotel....can you imagine our societies putting up with that! The streets were completely dead....so at least the traffic fumes were not too evident.
The next day we took a short walk around where we were staying before going to the airport to catch the flight across the Andes into the Amazon Basin.
Lee picked us up from the hotel and we had a short drive to the airport and we caught a 20 seated Beechcraft aircraft for the flight to Coca over the Andes and into the Amazon basin...about 35 mins. The journey is very interesting as the country becomes very dry as you approach the Andes....as soon as you cross the mountain ridge
the Jungle starts! The ground below us was green and completely untouched for as far as you could see. A few minutes before landing at a bumpy airstrip you can see the first signs of human activity...cleared forest and Palm Nut plantations. Coca is like an Old West cowboy town...small with unmade roads full of potholes and liquid mud and water. The short journey to the Napo river is made in a sort of battered open 16 seater bus with a canopy on top to keep the rain off. The next part of the journey was made by motorised canoe...two very powerful outboards push you along for 3 hours at speeds of around 20 mile per hour.
While waiting for the canoe...I searched some Lemon bushes for a couple of minutes near the waters edge and found 4 eggs of (What turned out to be) Paipilio androgeus...this is a huge Swallowtail with stunning colours and the farm had been trying for ages unsuccessfully to catch a female to get this species into production. The female flies very high unless she is egg laying! They were well impressed I can tell you....especially as I found another 4 eggs later on at Sacha Lodge!
The river is exactly what you'd expect....fast flowing...full of mud.... floating logs and vegetation and the banks are completely covered in a huge tangle of jungle vegetation....every now and then you could see a small thatched hut on the banks...with a few Breadfruit trees and a patch of Manioc plants (I call this Cassava in Africa) a staple diet. Eventually we arrived at a landing stage at the beginning of Sacha Lodge's land.
As soon as we got out of the canoe a small and very friendly Woolly Monkey came to us and climbed up my clothes...very tame and very sweet...it was after some food of course! The luggage was loaded on to some rickshaws and we then had a three quarter mile walk along a raised walkway....the forest is flooded here and the huge trees and matted vegetation floats in a thick tangled mass...I was amazed how such large trees could stay upright when not directly rooted into the ground!
The boardwalk was an adventure in itself....bright tropical birds such as Toucans and parrots were noisily chattering in the trees and the butterflies were amazing....you hardly saw the same species twice...the diversity is huge! At the end of the walkway, we were taken by dugout canoe and paddled through a creek and then out into a large lake that was completely flat calm. (That's one thing we noticed that there is very little wind in the forests and many butterflies have adapted to having large wings and small bodies to just float around the forest floor). Soon we could see the entrance to Sacha Lodge on pillars at the far side of the lake....we then realised that Heaven did exist....even in the middle of the tropical rain forest!
Sacha is just wonderful...built on elevated wooden pillars it caters for the top end of the luxury tourist market. Tourists can experience the Rain Forest in luxury...comfortable wooden cabins with fans, separate modern washrooms and showers. A generator provides 24hr power to the complex.
The restaurant was superb...fresh real coffee on tap at anytime of the day...and the meals were amazing...an excellent chef produces fresh cooked wonderful food for every meal (All the food has to be brought from Quito...in fact EVERYTHING has to be brought from Quito!) The view from the restaurant looks out towards the lake..above this is a bar which stocks everything...and from here you can climb steps to a central tower to a viewing area that looks out over the forest. In the trees around are lots of pendulous hanging nests of brightly coloured birds called Oripendulas...they have a very loud song that sounds like high pitched air bubbling up through water!
The farm is quite large...I would guess the covered area at around 100 yards by 100 yards with plant area outside...they are breeding some lovely Parides species (Swallowtail) plus true Swallowtails, Morphos and many Nymphalids...There is a large flying area for visitors to see the most wonderful array of tropical butterflies you could imagine!
The forest is also full of butterflies flying in low light conditions...and as I said before there are so many species you hardly see the same one twice!....the temperatures are pretty much the same all year...around 27C and 92% humidity, even when you wash clothes they don't dry in that humidity....so you need to get the staff to dry them in the dryer! Loads of other bugs and creatures...saw large Moths, Mantids, Beetles, Capybara, Also Howler, Squirrel, & Capuchin Monkeys, plus some Marmosets that were called milk-drinkers as they were black with white around the mouth...just like they had been drinking milk! Snakes,....etc.etc....you get the picture loads of animals and birds! But we still think the most amazing thing we saw were the firefly click beetles! At night there were lots of them flying around with a very bright orage red light emitting from their abdomens....if you catch one in a net...the light goes off and is replaced by a green light! As soon as it flies off the light changes back to orange....a sort of natural World traffic light!
We worked hard for the two weeks...after a rather long and non-eventful journey back home tumbled into bed for a good sleep! The AA Flight from New York...to London (Yes the return was Quito-Miami-New York- London) was almost empty only around 40 passengers on the whole plane...they must have lost a packet flying with around 300 empty seats! Anyone who want's to see the Amazon should consider this as a trip of a lifetime....meanwhile Grace and I are off to Central America again next month....this time to advise on starting up a new butterfly farm...life is tough at times!
A Thank-You from Lee Schel
Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 19:34:40 -0500
From: Lee Schel
Subject: Re: Trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon
Many, many thanks to you, Nigel and Grace, for your wonderful report... Sacha has kept me very busy which is why I didn't respond right away, but I really appreciate your effort in sharing your experiences with all!!! To all of you other butterfly farmers, you can't imagine how big of a help Nigel and Grace were to us... They are extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of this business, and they taught us an incredible amount in only a couple of weeks.
If any of you are looking for someone to help you get your production up, I highly recommend them! (Sorry, Nigel - now you'll really have to go traveling around!) What we knew of butterfly farming before was all learned through 3 or so years of trial and error, as there aren't many expert breeders to be found in Ecuador - let alone out in the Amazon.
What Nigel and Grace taught us in two weeks, well... I guess it would be equivalent to what we'd pick up in about 10 more years of experimenting! It was truly an invaluable learning experience for us, and I can't express enough gratitude for their efforts. It was a long trip over for you guys, but I'm glad you enjoyed it and you're welcome to come back whenever you like. And to think I almost didn't go to the IBBA convention in Orlando and meet you guys! Whoever didn't go, you might want to reconsider next time around... It was certainly worth our while to meet such knowledgeable people there.
But Nigel - you forgot one thing: I can't believe you didn't tell the piranha story! Nigel's finger was "savaged" by a piranha out at our lake... and he has the scar to prove it. It was certainly one to tell the Grandkids about, but if any of you breeders ever decide to come down here, don't worry! I'll make sure to have someone else unhook the piranhas when you go fishing so it doesn't happen to you. (Sorry Nige!)
For now, I though you might like this picture of Nigel and the staff he helped train...
Nigel and his "Mariposeros"
Both Nigel and Grace have been wonderful, and our "butterfly guys" have learned an awful lot from them in a very short time.
Anyway, many thanks again to you both and I hope to have the pleasure of working with you again in the future.
Lee Schel Sacha Lodge & La Casa del Suizo,
Julio Zaldumbide #397 y Valladolid, Quito
Tel. (593-2) 256-6090 / 250-9504 / 250-9115 / 250-8872
Fax. (593-2) 223-6521 firstname.lastname@example.org / www.sachalodge.com
DON'T FORGET THAT SACHA LODGE WILL NOW OPERATE ON ANY DAY OF THE WEEK (except Sundays)!!!!!!