Amboseli and the Kenya drought of 2022

Maasai giraffe at a water hole where the body of a dead giraffe lays prone

The road was bumpy and the wind was cool blowing through the sides of the open 4 x 4 vehicle.

I felt a slight mist on my face and saw the evidence of the water droplets on my hiking pants.

And I began to cry.

Tears of gratitude.  Tears of hope.  

Hope that the mist was a symbol of the rains to come.  

Hope that the rains this time would be enough to start and sustain growth of the grass and plants.   Food desperately needed by man and animal.

Many parts of Kenya are in a severe drought.   The worst drought since 2008.   And news media is now saying the worst drought in 40 years.

It's hard to understand because Amboseli has water and you'll see pictures in this post (and probably in social media) of water.  

The swamp areas are fed underground by Mt. Kilimanjaro BUT there has been NO RAIN and NO RAIN = NO FOOD.    

The animals are starving to death.  In this cases drought = starvation.

According to a report released in early November by the Kenya's Ministry of Tourism, 

“The Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers, Community Scouts, and Research Teams counted the deaths of 205 elephants, 512 wildebeests, 381 common zebras, 51 buffalos, 49 Grevy’s zebras, and 12 giraffes in the past nine months”.

Hundreds of thousands of people are also impacted as is their livestock.

The drought is impacting the tourist regions of Samburu, Amboseli and Tsavo.  Of course, it is impacting other regions of Kenya that as a tourist, I am not familiar with.

I was a little nervous to come on safari in Amboseli due to the drought but I also know that tourism brings much needed funds to the locals, so I decided not to change this part of my trip.

I

WAS

NOT

PREPARED . 

I've seen some really hard things while on safari but I was not prepared for the carnage of the severe drought.

WARNING!

Many pictures in this article are very difficult to see...they were excruciatingly hard to take.

I do have some beautiful pictures taken during the same trip later in the article - so please, buckle up and proceed so you can be aware...

because with awareness brings change.

I became numb as we drove from the airstrip on our first game drive.

We started counting carcasses and within minutes we stopped because there were too many.

Every corner we went around there were carcasses.   Sometimes one or two, sometimes we could see 6-8 with one glance.

a picture showing 5 carcasses with animals trying to graze in the background

This image shows 5 animals that died from starvation while some other animals try to get some nutrients out of the remaining grass

They were in different states of decay.   Some had just died.  Too weak to continue, the bodies just laying there with eyes that could no longer see.

a dead zebra laying on the ground

Others had been scavenged completely and others had part of them gone and parts still in tact, eaten by scavengers.

a skinny wildebeest carcass partially eaten
The carcass of a gazelle which had not been touched by scavengers
Another carcass of an animal that starved to death
A carcass of a very skinny animal from starving

This is the time for scavengers.   But even with all the lions, hyenas, jackals, and vultures, they can't keep up with so much death.  There is rotting flesh everywhere.

And with weak animals all around, they preferred to hunt to get fresh meat.

a lioness with a death grip on a wildebeest neck

The wildebeest was too weak to defend itself or stand up and the lioness takes advantage.

We saw animals so weak they struggled to walk.  

We saw animals so thin they looked like a wind would certainly blow them over.

a very thin starving wildebeest

A very thin wildebeest photographed with a long lens thru the windshield as to not startle him

the back of a healthy wildebeest

A healthy wildebeest taken a few days later in the Maasai Mara - an area not effected by the drought.

I wasn't prepared.  

I could never be prepared to see this, smell it, and stand by helplessly watching the animals I love so much suffer.  

For me, it was like my soul had been torn into pieces.

The drought has had the worst effect on the wildebeest.  The live ones were so skinny and weak.   I'm sure the number of wildebeest bodies we saw was in the hundreds.   Next was zebra and then gazelles.   

On top of all those dead bodies, we also saw one  giraffe and 3 elephants including a baby.

Maasai giraffe at a water hole where the body of a dead giraffe lays prone

3 giraffe at a water hole. A dead giraffe lays on the side probably too weak to stand after drinking

Seeing the elephant carcasses was the hardest for me because not only are they my favorite animal but also because the government comes and cuts the tusks off them so the tusks can't be sold on the black market....this leaves a hole in the front of the face - a face that had once belonged to a beautiful and sentient creature.

the carcass of an elephant with his tusks cut off

We saw this elephant just a few hours before he went down and was too weak to stand up.

An eaten carcass of an elephant

(I'm in tears just writing and remembering it.)

The toll on the people is just as bad.   The Masai people live and die with their livestock.   Livestock is their food and their money and they (the livestock and the people) are starving.

They can't grow fresh produce for themselves and they can't feed their cows, sheep, and goats which means no milk for them or their children.   Their entire wealth gone in a matter of a few months.

We went to a Masai village and I watched a beautiful young lady carry a heavy bag followed eagerly by goats and small sheep.    She opened the bag and took out fresh greens that the animals eagerly ate.   I assumed she had purchased the greens but I found out that she walked almost every day to the marsh to cut the greens and carried the heavy bag back to feed the animals.  The marsh is almost gone too.   The plants overgrazed and the water getting low.

The young Masai woman walked through land that had lions, hippos, buffalo, hyena, elephants and snakes.

Risking her own life with every step so she could bring grass to her charges.

Buying grain and feed isn't an option in this remote area.   There is no money and no supply.

Some NGOs (non-profits) and to a small extent the Kenyan government have been helping where they can with food for the people and hay for the wildlife.   Big Life Foundation has set up 2 feeding stations - knowing they can't possibly save them all, they found the routes of the most vulnerable and feed 10 bales of hay at each location every day.

The day we left, the government came into the park to lay hay for the wildlife.

It's an impossible task.   There are too many animals to save them all.  The only thing that can save these people and animals is a good and proper sustained rainfall.

Enough rain over an extended period of time so the grasses and marshes can regrow and so the trees can regenerate.

I realize droughts are a common part of nature.  As are floods and fires and so many other things.   But I have to wonder, why are they coming so much more frequently and severely...or do I have to wonder?

Have you ever been to a city with an air quality warning?   The air pollution causing difficulty to breath?   How can we even question if our pollution is hurting our planet?

It makes me wonder how I could live a better life with less impact on the planet?   Can I do more/better?   I know I can.

Can you imagine if every person just did one little thing to help the planet (plant a tree, recycle, buy products with less waste, buy used instead of new, etc) the impact we could have on our planet in a good way?

Will these changes save the weak animals I just saw?  No.  They won't.  But maybe, if we all change just a little bit, the next drought or flood won't come so soon or be as severe.   And being a better steward of the Earth certainly won't hurt anyone or any animals or plants or trees or rivers or oceans.

Please comment below if you have ideas of a  small change that would have a good impact on the planet.

The pictures of the carcasses in this article were taken on the last day as we drove around our camp and then to the airstrip.   I had decided I needed to write this article and that I needed to show the carcasses so I took the pictures of the dead and of the weak. 

These carcasses pictures were all within a 10-15 minute drive from our camp.  I did not post them all.  I couldn't photograph them all.  The very essence of my soul was torn and I had to stop photographing them.


If you are thinking of visiting Kenya and any of the parks mentioned above, I say please go.  

Don't let this article dissuade you.   There are many beautiful things to see in Amboseli and all over Kenya.

There are healthy populations of elephant and beautiful sunrises and sunsets and lions and hyenas and cheetahs and so much more..

If you do come to Kenya, maybe you could bring a few extra dollars and buy some handmade goods from the locals.


A few of the beautiful and fun images I took in Amboseli that will hopefully lighten your heart.   

sunrise with a silhouette of a giraffe and wildebeest

Image taken by my guide Junior with my iPhone

photo of an elephant with big tusks - his name is Craig
Flamingo with a reflection
A baby hyena
A lioness at sunrise
A lion cub

If you would like to help with the current situation, Big Life Foundation is accepting donations for hay and water for the wildlife,  the people, and the livestock in and around the greater Amboseli ecosystem.   


Another great organization that is helping is Amboseli Trust for Elephants.  
From their Facebook page:

"Some (organizations) are already focusing on feeding wildlife & livestock which helps save some lives but there are many more issues that require action. We are therefore putting our resources into working with our partners on:⁠

1) Primary school nutrition as well as feeding elderly community members ⁠

2) Borehole restoration from elephant damage, and construction of elephant proofing, as well as wildlife troughs.⁠

3) Livestock nutrition and health support - one of the biggest challenges right now are heavy parasite loads in both livestock and wildlife. This initiative will support livelihoods, and protect wildlife health by efforts to manage parasite burden.⁠

⁠As many of you know our work is entirely reliant on donations. If you wish to make a donation please visit our website" https://www.elephanttrust.org/donation-online/


And one last little note.    Most of my posts are about happy and cute and fun things... so if you are interested in wildlife and are new here -- please subscribe below to my newsletter which is sent out periodically through the year.


The right place at the right time…rescuing 2 herders from a charging lioness

Her beautiful amber eyes changed from soft and alert to cold and piercing.

They looked like they could burn holes into a 10 foot wide concrete wall.

The air changed too.   You could feel it on your skin and in your gut.

It's one thing to know the lioness was a fierce predator.  But, it's so easy to forget when you watch them relaxing and walking gracefully, playing with their cubs.   It's so easy to forget even with the evidence of a dead buffalo right behind her.

It's another thing to see her become that fierce predator.  The shift happened in a millisecond.  In her eyes, her posture, the air, her voice.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was on safari in Ol Pejeta Conservancy.   A fabulous conservancy and rhino sanctuary.   I was traveling with my friend Michelle who had never been on an African safari and my sister Lynne who has been on safari a handful of times.  We were guided by James Mwenda of Jemu Expeditions.

The morning started out by photographing giraffe and then  hyenas (fierce predators in their own right - but they are so cute and fluffy and funny - it's hard to remember the other side of their nature).

2 Reticulated giraffe peek around a tree
a young hyena walking

One of the other guides told us that he saw a male lion and a recent kill.  We hadn't seen a male lion yet on this trip, so we decided to go try to find him.

The topography in Ol Pejeta has so much variety.   From huge open grasslands (because of the drought, the grasslands were super short and brown), to scrubby bushes, and large forests of acacia and other types of trees.   Their are swamps and other types too.   The variety supports a number of different species and it's a fabulous place to start a safari.  

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is well known because they are the sanctuary for the last 2 northern white rhino in the world and they only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees - a sanctuary for chimps that were rescued from the pet trade (they don't live in Kenya in the wild).

We drove awhile and found ourselves on a narrow dirt road surrounded on both sides by thick brush and bushes.

Michelle shouted stop stop stop.    

There was a lion cub very close to the road just on the outside of the bushes.

Through the very thick brush, we counted 3 cubs, mama lioness,  and the  buffalo kill was seen hidden inside the brush.   

Two of the cubs were deep in the bushes and mama was behind some branches.   Just one brave cub was out in the open.

a lion cub in the grass looks at us

The bushes were not far from the road - probably about 10'.

We were photographing from the windows to get under the branches but mom was so hard to see so Lynne stood up to see if she could see mama's face clearer.

I then also stood up.    The mama lioness watched us.  

Lions in tourist wildlife areas are usually very relaxed around cars.  They will often use them to lie in the shade on hot days, walk next to them, and sometimes even spray them to mark their territory.

This lioness wasn't as relaxed as others I've been around but she was comfortable.

Her deep amber eyes soft but alert.

James also wanted a different vantage point to see if he could see the male in the thick underbrush.   

He opened the roof over the driver's area and stood up.

The change in the mama lions eyes was dramatic...the change in the atmosphere was also dramatic.    

Have you ever seen soft eyes go cold and hard?   Perhaps a horror movie of a killer animal?   or perhaps in a person?  

The tingling up and down your spine, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.   All your senses get magnified.   If you haven't ever seen it, you'd recognize it instantaneously as I did.

Her soft but watchful eyes changed to daggers.   The energy in the air changed from cautious to high alert and maybe even anger.  

Everything melted away in my vision except her and her eyes.   The sounds were magnified in my ears as I listened to any sound that would indicate a tiny shift in her weight.    

It is hard to define but it could be felt on every inch of my skin and in my gut.

She was really close and could close the distance to our vehicle in one stride.    

Her amber eyes became so large and piercing they demanded all the attention in our bodies.

She started to sound a warning growl.    James sat down slowly as did my sister and I.

intense eyes on the mama lioness behind the branches

She stopped growling as soon as we sat down, but her eyes didn't soften.   We slowly drove away - no sudden movements around a lioness that was in protector mode.

We drove a few minutes trying to find the male.    

We circled and came back and then James found him under branches covered in various shades of green leaves.   He was probably about 50 yards away from mom and cubs.

When he was lying flat, you couldn't see him at all.   If he moved an ear or sat up, you could just see the outlines of his head.

We decided to have our breakfast boxes in the car watching him, hoping he'd get up or move position so we could actually see him.    

As we dug into our breakfast, Michelle saw 2 people walking on the road getting closer to where the mama lion and the cubs were hiding.

The rangers and anti-poaching teams are always on foot at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.   And we later learned that the herders also often walked from the cattle herds to the office.   

The herders have some training but not the type of training that the rangers and anti-poaching teams have....at the time we thought the men were experienced rangers.

James signaled them that there was a lion in the underbrush.   They had not seen her as she was very well camouflaged by the bushes.

As soon as they saw her, she saw them and the vocal message she sent them was undeniable -- GET AWAY FROM ME AND MY CUBS.   The throaty sound was eerie and unnerving!

Lynne and Michelle were scared and you could hear "oh my God, Oh my God" echoing thru the car.

James kept a very watchful eye.

I was certain the men would be ok.   I didn't think with their training they would be in real danger.   I don't know if that was my intuition, my gut, or just denial - my mind not wanting to consider the potential of a horrific and tragic outcome.

I could hear myself saying staying impossibly calm - "They'll be ok.  It's ok" as if my words could manifest a safe outcome.

The men quickly changed direction and cut into the underbrush on the other side of the road.

Any movement on our part could have triggered the lioness or the men so James stayed put ready, hyper vigilant and very calm and composed.

We lost sight of the men through the bushes and everything seemed to be fine.  Until...

We heard the bushes rustle (it's truly amazing how loud things sound when you are on high alert) and she was out charging towards where we last saw them with what appeared to be blood lust in her eyes.  

I can't even explain the sounds coming from her - alerting the entire pride probably hidden in the nearby bushes of the perceived threat to her cubs.

The sound so guttural and biological I'm sure all our bodies reacted the same way - with the knowledge of extreme and eminent danger.

In that same fraction of a second, James had the car racing towards the lioness.

He expertly turned the vehicle over the large dirt curb and placed the vehicle between her and the two men.     

The movement was so fast and sharp, our breakfasts went flying through the cabin of the car.   

We were grabbing things and moving them around in the car as fast as possible so the men could get into the vehicle and into safety.

Mama lion was PISSED.   You could see it in her eyes and her stance and you could feel it in the air.   

I was silently praying that she would not redirect that anger towards us and charge the car.    

She stood her ground.

Once the men were safely in the car, James quickly and efficiently backed the car down the road to give the angry lioness space to calm down as well as the rest of us to gather ourselves.

After a few moments of silence the rush of voices started as often happens in high tension scenarios.    

The men had never been charged by a lion before.   We found out that they were herders.    

They had been watching a herd of buffalo on the other side of the road and didn't see the lioness due to the heavy underbrush until we pointed her out from the car.  (Buffalo are very dangerous as well and for them, that was the threat.)

We showed them where the male lion was.   The cubs were now with the male.  Mama at some point during the ordeal must have commanded them to go hide with him.

James explained that the growling she had done when she saw the men alerted the rest of the pride including the male.   

James was quite certain the lioness would not have hurt the men but that since the male was on high alert, he may have especially if the herders continued on their path and "bumped" into him.

The rangers and anti-poaching team are trained extensively on how to handle being around dangerous and aggressive animals.   However, every day they put their lives on the line and any day, they can be killed by the animals they protect or by poachers.

We were also told that the lioness was well known to be very aggressive and has sent many experienced rangers up the thorny acacia trees.

Do you believe in fate?   That things happen for a reason?   I usually don't...but the night before, it was raining, so James put the glass windows back in the vehicle.   Usually the sides of the car were just open with no windows and just very large openings.    

Had the windows been off the car, the lioness could have easily jumped into the vehicle and taken her aggression out on us.   Had the windows been removed, all of us would have had a much different and much scarier experience.

The vehicle with the windows taken out

Photo courtesy of @Michelle Osterhus

We decided on the spur of the moment to have a boxed breakfast that day and we luckily spotted the male under the trees once when he sat up and decided to eat breakfast there-- otherwise we would NOT have been there.

breakfast all over the car which James cleaned up beautifully once we were in a safe area

Breakfast all over the car. James cleaned it beautifully once we were in a safe area

After cleaning the vehicle, we had to go back through the road to get out.   The mama lion and male lion were much calmer but we just drove through to give them space.

The information was quickly passed through the tourist vehicles so that the drivers would stay away from the area to give the lions a rest.

mama lioness a bit calmer after some time
One of the male lions

The rangers, anti-poaching teams, herders, and staff risk their lives EVERY SINGLE DAY to help ensure the safety of the wildlife, the wild places, and the clueless visitors stay safe.   

Something I will never ever forget again.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is about a 4.5 hour drive North from Nairobi.   They work with the locals and use the land as a wildlife sanctuary as well as a working cattle farm.  It is a beautiful example of how humans and wildlife can live peacefully side by side (with a few scary moments here and there.)

There has never been a "successful" lion attack on humans in the conservancy.   Many charges and many men up in trees, but no one has ever been injured by a lion.


James Mwenda, founder of Jemu Expeditions was a ranger in Ol Pejeta for 3 years and then became the caretaker for Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino in the world.   He also cared for Najin and Fatu, the last female Northern White Rhinos.  

 He is the bushman that is very concerned about our world and environment.   You can find his podcast on Spotify called Conservation Couch where he and 3 others discuss the world and what we can do to respect it. 

He now organizes and leads safaris through Kenya and other areas of East Africa for conservation minded guests.


This and other stories will be available in my book

Safari Tales

Coming mid-2023


Leaf Cutter Ants at Napo Cultural Center Ecuador

leaf cutter ants

I don't know much about leaf cutter ants.   I've only seen them on two occasions.   Once on a night walk in Costa Rica and once in the Ecuadorian Amazon when I was staying at the Napo Cultural Center.

Doing a quick search on the internet, I've read that the name "leaf cutter ant" is generic and there are 47 species of ants that can be considered leaf cutters.

I also read that they can destroy crops - and I believe it after what I saw.

But with all that - they are fascinating creatures!

At the Napo Cultural Center lodge, there were a lot of walkways and natural areas all around the lodge area.

Walking from the main dining area to my tent, I couldn't help but notice the ants carrying the leafs across one of the pathways.

As I looked, the path was really far starting further than I could see, over the grass, down and over the walkway over the grass, across another walkway until their hole in the ground.    Even the grass path was trampled down by these tiny little ants.



Walks and Canoe rides at Napo Cultural Center Ecuador

a monkey peers through the canopy

There are many activities at the Napo Cultural Center.   This article is about the things we saw while hiking and canoeing through the tributaries.

To read the article about the Clay Licks and Tree Top Tower, you can go here: Lisamroberti.com/amazon-clay-licks

I was graced with one magical sunrise.   The first day there, it was overcast and the last day we paddled out before the sunrise in the dark - more on that later.

The only way to get to the Napo Cultural Center is via canoe...so we spent a lot of time in the canoes.   The naturalist and one other person paddled the canoes and we sat 2 side by side.   

The amount of plant life was spell bounding and the canoeing was very peaceful.

Here are some videos and images from the canoe and from the hikes around the water and lodge.

a monkey walking in the tree tops
2 blue and white birds sit on a branch
long nose bats on tree
long nose bats on a white tree
Caiman's eyes
poison dart frog

To see more images from the Amazon and the Napo Cultural Center, go to my photo galleries at

 www.lisamroberti.photos

Night Walks at Napo Cultural Center – Ecuadorian Amazon

a gray moth type creature

When the opportunity for a night walk came up, I wasn't too sure.  I am not a fan of insects - especially spiders.

All my little girl nightmares whirled around in my head about giant insects.

But, I've never missed an outing in the wild, so I put on my "big girl panties" and headed off with the group.

I was so surprised how much I really loved it and as other people left to go to bed, I stayed until the end.

Aaron Baggenstos, the trip leader from Aarons Tours (a company I travel with often), had brought macro kits with him.   So, I was able to borrow a trigger unit and he held the flash unit on the animal.

This was really my first time shooting macro, so the photographs aren't stellar - but they will give you an idea of the little critters that roam the jungle at night.

I have to admit there was one - that was so very creepy looking, I just couldn't take its picture - it looked like a giant spider and scorpion mated...just thinking about it gives me the willies.

We went out on two different nights for macro.   The last night we didn't stay too long as we had to pack and had a very early departure the following morning.

brown bug with antenna on a leaf
black scorpion

This scorpion was very small.. you can see by the size of the leaf - but I still would NOT want to get stung by him.

red dragon fly
some kind of creature with tons of legs - looks blue
big spider with dark black and brown
close up of the spider

This spider was quite big - bigger than my hand.  It's the same spider, the second picture is just cropped in so you can see some detail on it's body and face.

some type of cricket
smiley face spider.  a clear spider with black markings that look like a smiley face
close up of the body of the smiley face spider

A spider with a translucent body and then a smiley face on it's back.   This was a very small spider.  We couldn't see the smiley face with the naked eye, we saw it when zooming into the camera to see if the image was sharp.

a small frog on a leaf
a gray moth type creature
green cricket type insect
black scorpion
green lizard
tiny orange and black frog on a hand
orange and black frog on a leaf

Amazon Clay Licks and Tree Top at Napo Cultural Center Ecuador

parakeets at the clay lick

One of the activities at the Napo Cultural Center is visiting the Clay licks and another is the Tree Top Tower.   On my trip, we visited two of the clay licks and the Tree Top Tower on the same day.  

The day started early with a 5:00 am breakfast.   We got on the rowed canoes with the rubber boots that we had been fitted with the night before and they rowed us in the dark back to the welcome center - where we stopped the day before.

It was unsettling to be in the canoe, very low to the water in the dark.   It was a very overcast day, so no sunrise.

At the welcome center, we boarded a power canoe and canoed back to the main river to get to the clay lick.

We stayed pretty far back on the river so as to not disturb the birds.  They hadn't made their way down onto the soil yet.    

the clay lick area from across the river

There were a lot of birds flying around and resting in the trees.   We couldn't see them very well, but we could hear them.

3 birds on the clay lick
2 parakeets in the trees

There was another bird hunting the parakeets and the parakeets didn't stay long.   As we boated back to the welcome center, we saw a Howler monkey and her baby up in the tree and 2 red titi monkeys.

howler monkey high in the tree holding her baby
2 red titi monkeys

We then went to the tree top tower.   It was a decent walk thru some mud to get to the tower.   

Not only am I afraid of spiders, I am super scared of heights...I don't even like to get on a glass elevator or a Ferris wheel.  

It was a little scary as the whole tower moved quite a bit.   We went to the first landing and it was a really nice view point that was still in the trees and then went up to the upper landing which was above all the trees.    It shook a lot more up there and I didn't stay too long before going back to the first landing.

looking down from the first landing -  you can see some of the tree tops and part of the stairs

Looking down from the first landing area

the stair case down from the first landing area

The following images were taken from the very top:

Panorama from the very top
View from the top looking towards the river...so many tree tops
me being brave at the very top
looking down at the first platform from the top
leaning over looking straight down from the top

Being above the trees offered such a different perspective.   We were, unfortunately, not rewarded with lots of birds as we hoped but still an experience.

We had a little snack up in the tower and as we walked back out we stopped to take a few images.

The tree trunk below was at the bottom of the stairs and a 6' tall person is a midget standing inside .

beautiful red and orange flower
a huge tree trunk
the walkway getting back from the tower
a butterfly getting some nectar

We than went to the other clay lick.  This one was very different from the first.    They had a covered seated stadium area in front of the clay lick.   I didn't take any pictures of it or the seats.   We got there early so we were the first group.   We had to sit and be quiet to not scare the birds and since we were photographers, we wanted a clear view.   

The birds have a lot of natural predators so they are timid to come down to the clay lick to get their needed minerals.    

Again, we could hear the birds and see a few.  So we sat quietly waiting for nature to do its thing.

cobalt winged parakeet on a branch

Another group came in and sat behind us.   They stayed a short while and then left.

After about 2 hours of waiting in silence, the parakeet show happened.   

They stayed there for about 10-12 minutes with many of the parakeets leaving and more joining.   It was fascinating to watch them and to hear them!

parakeets on the ground and some flying in
many parakeets on the clay lick making a mound

We walked back to the cultural center for lunch and then a slow canoe ride to the lodge.   A fabulous day in the amazon.

 

creepy, eerie, jungle noises AKA Howler Monkeys

caimin eyes

Have you ever been in a jungle?   Or even a really thick forest?

Just imagine, it's hot and humid...you feel sticky all over.   The river is narrow and the light is getting low with the evening approaching.

You see spiders (and these are not your normal spiders) everywhere

a huge spider on the bark of a tree

And eyes of reptiles peering at you from the water

caimin eyes

it's just you and the other people in your boat..there are no other boats around

and you hear this

I was very happy that I was not alone in my canoe 🙂

The sounds came from Howler monkeys.   They can be heard from over a mile away.   Eerie...but also very cool!

Napo Cultural Center Ecuador Amazon Lodge Review

The Napo lodge

I'm not sure exactly what I was thinking when I signed up for an extension to my Galapagos trip to go to the Ecuadorian Amazon.   It sounded exotic and colorful and fascinating and so I just signed up....then the realization - massive heat, humidity, huge spiders, snakes, and other poisonous critters lived in the amazon...I was a bit nervous to take on this particular endeavor.

It was a bit of an adventure that is for sure!   I did this trip as part of a group trip with Aaron's Tours.  It was an exploratory add-on after Galapagos with a few days in Quito in between.

The trip started with a 6:00 am breakfast and a 7:00 am departure for the Quito airport.  It was a quick 30 minute flight to Coca.  

the mountains from the airplane window

Upon arrival we gathered our bags.    The restrooms at the tiny airport were maybe typical for a remote place. No running water and no electricity the day we were there.

We met the folks that were transferring us to the lodge - and oh what a transfer it is.   Our bags went into the back of a pick up truck and we went into an air-conditioned bus.   

street view of the city

Unfortunately, the bus broke down about 1/2 way to our destination, so we all got out and started walking with our camera gear and briefcases.   After a little while, the pick up truck came and took our gear and we walked the rest of the way.   It was an easy walk but warm in the sun.

the group walking down the street with all their gear

We got to a secured area with nice bathrooms, lounge chairs, cold water.   We had to sign some waivers and then we were given water bottles and a packed lunch.   We claimed our luggage to make sure it was all accounted for and tagged properly and the luggage left on a boat.

We then all loaded a power canoe.   It had one seat on each side and we all had our cameras / carry-ons with us.   We had to wear life vests on the power boat but it was covered from the sun and when it was motoring, the cool breeze felt very good.

me on the powered canoe in my life vest

We were on the power boat for about 2 hours and it started on the Payamino River and went to the Napo River.

view of the shoreline from the power boat
view of a building from the power canoe
view of the jungle from the power canoe
views of buildings from the power canoe

then the boat landed on a small dock area.   We all got out and were able to fill the water bottles and another really nice restroom break.   

From here, we got into small paddle canoes.   We watched as our luggage was taken on another canoe and we all boarded one canoe with our cameras and briefcases.

canoe loaded down with our luggage
another canoe with seats waiting for passengers

As we were paddled in the canoe down the river, the amount of wildlife was astonishing.    So many birds - and one of the participants with us, Grant, was an avid birder and fabulous spotter.  several types of monkeys, caiman, and oh yea....spiders.

a huge spider on the bark of a tree

And you know, it would have been one thing if the boat stayed in the middle of the channel with water all around and the spiders on the branches and leaves on the LAND....but many many many times, the boat would brush up against the bushes and leaves...and yup...don't you know, the spiders would hitch a ride in the canoe with us (or on one of us in the canoe).   Eck...it's making my heart pound just writing about it - as many of you may know, I am incredibly scared of spiders.  And I was not the only one.

The good thing is - we both kept our witts - even when a baby tarantula (yes, you read that right) hitched a ride on Chantelle's arm.   We did not tip the boat, no one went over board (well not because of spiders anyway) and none of the equipment went over either.  

I'm not exactly sure how we managed that one.   Enough about spiders...it's time to talk about the cool stuff...the stuff I came to the amazon for...

We saw a brown throated 2 toed sloth (it was the only sloth of the trip)

brown two toed tree sloth climbing high in the trees

Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and a squirrel monkey baby, caymen and so many birds.  

monkey in the trees
monkey walking on a branch
caimin eyes
butterfly
monkey hanging from a tree
2 monkeys playing on a branch
back of a black and white bird
front of the black bird that has white on its wings
birds that resemble chickens
paddling thru the rivers while the sun is setting

And this was just the transport to get to the lodge.

Big Caimen in the lake in front of the lodge

The river opened up to a lake that was in front of the lodge.   The lodge looked straight out of a movie.   

Napo Lodge from the lake

It was fairly dark by the time we got there because we stopped so much on the way to take pictures.   The luggage was already in the room waiting for me.

The room was very comfortable with a twin bed and a double bed, a little desk, a cabinet and a bathroom with toilet, shower and sink.   It also had a hammock on the front deck which I did not get an opportunity to use.

One of the beds in my room
the twin bed in my room
the desk in the room
the bathroom

My room was right on the water (as were many of them) - it made for the most amazing sunrises.

beautiful sunrise over the lake in front of my room

And also just stunning views from my deck.

view from my deck
panoramic view from my deck

We got settled in and then met for dinner.   There are a lot of stairs to go to the main lounge / dining area from the rooms.   I didn't see a handicap accessible area - but I didn't ask, so there may be one.   If you need an accessible lodge, be sure to ask before booking this one.

There was a bar in the lounge and a sitting area as well as the dining room.   Meals were served buffet style and the food was incredibly good.   No one went hungry, that's for sure.

bar and dining area

The building that the bar / lounge / dining were in was a tower.   There was an elevator that you could take up the tower or you could make the many flights of stairs.  At  the different levels of the tower were seats to have a beautiful view all the way around.    

one of the levels of the tower
some of the stairs to walk the tower
another level of the tower
sculpture of a giant river otter

I actually didn't go up to the tower until the last night - so I didn't see it during the day.

view from the tower at night
the view from the tower at night

Each morning we took the canoes out.  Sometimes we would get out and hike and other times we would stay in the canoe.

The diversity in plant life and animal life here is really amazing.   It is incredibly clean and the food is really great - which is surprising with the remoteness of the camp.   

I am so glad that I went on this extension and got the opportunity to stay at Napo.   I highly recommend a visit there (even if you are afraid of spiders).

a panorama of the lodge

Below is my video review of the lodge - very similar to this written review but it has some additional information.

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www.lisamroberti.photos


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Condor Tour in Quito Ecuador

Andean Fox in tall grass

During one of my days in Quito, I took a Condor tour with 2 of the other Galapagos participants.

We were super excited because prior to the Galapagos trip, 2 of the other participants did this same tour and had absolutely amazing images of condors in flight and portraits.   Unfortunately, we were not as lucky but we still had a good day in the cold and rain.

The only condor we saw was way far away - perched on a rock with his back to us.  Even through the spotting scope, he was very small and hard to see any details.   Here is my sole picture of the condor (and for those that understand photography - it was taken with a 500mm lens with a 1.6 x crop factor - so 800 mm and here is the image uncropped.)

a condor, barely visible in the hills across the ravine

and in case you couldn't find him in the picture -- see below the bird is circled in white.

the condor circled in the picture

One of the many overlooks we stopped at to try to find the condors...they were there ...somewhere

a panoramic view of the ravine

The tour was an all day tour that started fairly early and I don't remember the names of the places that we visited or even the identities of the birds we saw...

It was a very scenic drive with huge vistas everywhere and so many birds.

We got out of the car on several occasions to take pictures of the birds and deer - and the ground cover was beautiful.   I'm not sure how to describe it -- it was very squishy but not overly wet.   The naturalist explained that it held a lot of water.  There were many different kinds of plants and flowers growing it and it was like walking on foam balls.   Super soft yet supportive.   

some of the plants growing in the ground cover
different types of plants growing in the ground cover
yellow flowers growing in the ground cover
purple crocus growing in the ground cover
black bird with orange face and white fluffy legs

I wish I had taken notes on this day of the types of birds and how they lived.   I remember being fascinated by what the Naturalist told us and I guess I thought I'd remember...definitely taking better notes next time!

I do love the fluffy legs on this orange faced bird though

We also got super lucky and saw this Andean fox.   He hung out for awhile with us.

an Andean Fox - brown and black with red tones
Andean Fox in tall grass
Andean Fox running

We stopped at a really nice place for a meal.  They have multiple hummingbird feeders and we had a lot of fun and laughs trying to photograph the very fast hummingbirds.  

As you can see in the video below, my first attempt was a pretty epic fail -- until the birds starting hovering towards the end - they must have taken pity on me and gave me a chance to get something on film.

After our fabulous meal, I went to the lower feeder and this time I was smart and just kept my phone focused on one area and let the hummingbirds fly in and out.   I find this video very peaceful with the two different types of birds.

As we headed back to Quito, we stopped to photograph some more of their beautiful birds.

dark grey bird with a red mark on his neck in the trees
brown and golden brown bird feeding
green and blue and purple iridescent bird
brown and gold bird

I had two more days in Quito and I stayed at the airport hotel.  I caught up on emails and rested up for the next part of my trip...the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Visit my travel gallery to view more images from this trip and others.  
(it is a work in progress with more images being added weekly)

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Santa Cruz Island – 2

profile view of the tortoise

The final morning in the Galapagos.   Breakfast at 5:00 am with all our bags packed and ready to go.

It was super choppy getting into the pangas this morning with all the carry-ons but everyone made it with no one and no bags taking a swim...so a success!

First stop was El Chato 2 Ranch.   It is an ecological reserve for tortoises.    We donned big mud boots and went for a nice walk thru a cave and then to see the tortoises.  

The wood sign for El Chato Ranch
A tortoise in the water
profile view of the tortoise
front view of a tortoise

They had a little snack and gift shop.   And in the shop, they had tortoise shells -- of course we all had to climb in one to see what it was like to be a tortoise.   It's good their necks work differently than ours - because it was not comfortable.   And in the picture, you will see Aaron - the tour leader having some fun with me in the tortoise shell.

Aaron sitting on top of the tortoise shell that I am inside of

We stayed for awhile and then made a stop at a ravine on our way to the airport - it had started raining so we did not do the walk at the ravine.

a panoramic view of the ravine

Back to the dock where they loaded our suitcases on top of the boats (so happy it had stopped raining) and then on the boat across the water to the other side and on the bus to the airport.

lading the suitcases on top of the boat

A fairly fast flight back to Quito and to the airport hotel.    The Galapagos trip was over with many fond memories and some new friendships.

I'm so glad that I was able to experience some of the Galápagos Islands. It was an interesting and educational trip.