Ecuador – Sani Lodge

We flew from Quito to Coca on the banks of the Napo river to begin our 2.5hour trip in a motorized canoe to Sani Lodge. This highly recommended tourist destination is deep in the jungle of Amazonia; set up and run by and for the benefit of the Sani community. The wide and brown river – a bit of a navigation nightmare with sand banks and studded with tree trunks is busy with boats ferrying locals to their homes and tourists to resorts along the river.



arrival boat

From the main river, it was a 10 minute walk, then a paddle in a canoe before we reached the lovely Sani Lodge.

sani arriv

sani dockboats


sani bedOn our first evening we meet Lucy, the resident 3m long caiman who lives under the deck. Fortunately she only ventures ashore when she is encouraged by staff.


A night walk uncovered very large, very hairy tarantulas, millipedes the size of dinner plates, frogs, bats and owls but fortunately no anacondas or pumas.

Our small group for all activities was great fun. David from London, Shome,  a Brit who now lives in Sydney and Karen, an American travel writer.


The day starts early here. We met for 5.30am breakfast so that we could get to the 35m viewing platform early when the birds are most active.

tree obs

The birdlife (500 species) varied from tiny humming birds to toucans, many species of parrot, macaws to osprey and vultures and spoonbills and cranes. We were so lucky, as we could see a wonderful assortment of colourful birds from the viewing platform. Our favourite was the toucan, feeding very close to the viewing platform.

touc3touc4Our superb guide (Victor) who speaks the local Indian dialect of Kichwa, Spanish and English who was born in Sani. He was amazing – he could spot a monkey at 200m high in the trees through dense jungle. We saw capuchin, spider and squirrel monkeys. We heard, but did not see the noisy, elusive but very aptly named howler monkeys.




We spent several days paddling the creeks, walking the trails,  learning about the medicinal properties of plants and spotting a tiny fraction of the bird and animal life. Some favourites were many magnificent prehistoric ‘stinky turkeys’, large herons, and tiny bats which spent their day on a tree in the middle of the creek.



Victor took us in our small canoe piranha fishing one afternoon – you don’t do that everyday! Victor caught our dinner but the only piranha hooked flicked off before Victor landed him in the boat.


sunset cerilloWe joined other boats to view the hundreds of parrots who visit  the ‘clay licks’ each day. The clay is important to detoxify palm seeds which form a main part of their diet.

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We walked through more pristine jungle to a recently established butterfly farm run by a local family.

jungle path


girl1After our tour of the Sani community centre’s school and food growing areas, we were given the opportunity to taste some delicious traditional local food cooked by the Sani women.

sani commsani cooksani lunchWe turned down Victor’s offer of eating a live larva from the palm tree beetle. These very mobile, thick white critters are about 8cm long and are eaten alive, head first, (as demonstrated by our guide Cerillo) are a great delicacy. The fact that they taste like prawns I’ll have to take their word for!



The Sani women raise money for the community by selling handcrafts and coffee.

sani ladies

After our faces were painted in traditional patterns we tried our hand at the art of blowgun hunting – amazingly accurate even for us mugs.


paint girls

paint boys

sani girl

Our last night paddle spotted a number of caiman lurking along the river – surprisingly easy to spot as their eyes reflect the torch light beautifully.

sunset canoe

A too early departure left us wishing we had a few extra days at Sani Lodge. A wonderful place – we’d definitely recommend you add this one to your bucket list! The staff, food, accommodation and guides were all fantastic. Not to mention the sunsets…..sunset 5sunset 6

Back on Sea Cloud – Curacao to Colombia

Six months back in Australia flew by with work (for Ian) catching up with family and friends and preparing for our next long stint away on Sea Cloud.

We were very pleased with our choice of Curacao Marine. It was a great spot to leave Sea Cloud out of the hurricane zone. The new management is very hands on and the work done by the yard very good.  It was easy to get parts shipped in, the ‘yacht in transit’ system works well here. Once launched, Sea Cloud had a few days in the small marina while we worked madly to get her ready for the season. Not so easy when the temperature was in the mid 30’s during the day.

sc cur marine

Although we didn’t see as much of the island as we’d have liked, Curacao was a pleasant place to stay, we did get to sample a few of the restaurants in the restored Pietermaai, area.

curacao curacao2Mundo Bizarro’s Thursday salsa evening was great fun, with a very talented group of musicians.

mondo bizarrosalsa bandWith Sea Cloud ready (well almost) and a favourable weather forecast we left for Santa Marta, Colombia.

To break the journey, we anchored overnight in Rogers Lagoon, Aruba. The view in front of the boat was far prettier than that behind!


The Columbia basin has a notorious reputation that we were well versed about, but despite all due risk management strategies, it was tough. The local conditions are well known and are driven by a bad combination of strong trades with 1,000 mile fetch + katabatic winds coming down from the Andes + rapid depth gradient from 3,000 m to 200m + strong countercurrent against wind (= steep truly horrible seas). To cap it off,  this area to Panama is called the lightning capital of the world – which we can vouch for!

Although we had good conditions, the relatively short (2 day, 320Nm) passage from Aruba to Santa Marta (Columbia) was more stressful than 95% of the Atlantic crossing due to a combination of waves and very impressive electrical storms.

We kept 75miles clear of the Venezuela/Columbia coast and well outside the 2,000m depth contour. Although wind rarely > 30kts, the combination of ALL of the above created a sea state that we’ve never seen before. Very steep waves ave 2-3m, with horrible sets of 10 or more every 30 mins > 4m and cresting waves. We took a large amount of water into the cockpit and one sneaky one down companionway.  At some point we had to chip away at the 75miles off to get into the Columbian coast, but at this time these horrible seas are more on the beam – it certainly focussed our attention! We know of several boats suffering knock downs and one dismasting in this little patch. To cap it off, most of the 2nd night we had colossal thunder storms with strikes all over the place. At one stage the radar showed us encircled by red storm cells with a small gap at 1 o’clock which we headed for and managed to sneak out the gap unscathed. Needless to say, not much sleep was had!

We were very glad to see daylight and the skyline of Santa Marta in the distance.

at sea

Santa marta

The marina is very pleasant, with friendly staff and many cruisers staying for a few weeks to enjoy this interesting part of the world.  As we arrived, Santa Marta was getting ready to host the  Bolivarianos games – a big event with 34 sports, and participants from South and Central America.

santa m2santam3

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of the games as we left Sea Cloud in the marina, and headed off to enjoy fascinating land content in Colombia and now Ecuador.  Cartagena & Medellin in Colombia were well worth a visit. The bus trip down from Santa Marta to Cartagena was an eye opener as to the poverty in the country side. We were the oldest backpackers on the bus by > 40yrs! The “bohemian” section of Cartagena, Getsiminde,  was very colourful, with some wonderful street art.


get art

get art2get art3Our hotel was very close to the very lively Plaza de la Trinidad, the hub of the area.

IMG_1635One night there was a great band with the best juggler


the next evening, a Zumba class

Fortunately, our hotel, like many others in the area was set well back from the street.

casa hotel cytia

Once you work out that a restaurant bill of 1/4 million pesos equates to $15 a head, the living is cheap! The street food, which looked very good, was even cheaper.


Cartagena was lovely with Spanish colonial architecture.cart4

cart5cart3cart 2 Probably shouldn’t have watched Narcos before visiting Medellin! It’s 3.5M population is nestled within a high mountain (> Kosckiusco) valley.

medeThe Comuna13 tour, a 5 hour walking tour of the city filled us in on the complex and difficult history of Medellin.  Comuna13 is where the guerrillas and Narcos ran the show for many years till 2003. Unbelievable the extent of anarchy there in 80’s and 90’s. The area was so dangerous the police couldn’t go there as they were shot by snipers. It took a full scale 3 day military operation in 2003 for the govt to regain control of the district again – the challenge now is to prevent it happening again.

The city has implemented a number of interesting projects. Gondolas and series of escalators have been built to connect the residents of the comuna with the city, cutting a 2 hour commute down to 45minutes.


As explained by Walter, our terrific comuna13 guide, graffiti plays a huge role in the life of the people living in these areas. The early street art symbolised the battles and difficulties these people experienced, with later art being much more upbeat. These very talented artists are all young, and prolific!




art8art7On the whole the Colombians are very hospitable and helpful, the food superb. A very lively, enjoyable and colourful place to visit!

We flew into Quito (Ecuador) last night and just spending one night in transit in a tiny village out of town. It’s just 30 miles south of the equator but at 2,500m altitude it’s beautifully cool – a welcome change from the heat on the coast. Sitting on the verandah of a hacienda – watching 3 lamas grazing in the yard – You don’t see that every day!


llamasOff to Amazonia and up the river tomorrow so have started malaria prophylaxis (had yellow fever shots in Sydney!) and covering up + lots of mosquito repellent.