After landing in Coca we were greeted by Pedro and escorted to a motorized canoe to transfer 90minutes downstream to reach the Manatee Amazon Explorer riverboat. The canoe was surprisingly comfortable and treated us to the first scenic journey down the Napo River, offering rich views of the luscious and diverse vegetation.
My first impression of the Manatee was that it had jumped straight out of an Agatha Christie book, being an old-style riverboat with iron railings and observation decks, although sadly no steam paddles. Once aboard we were warmly greeted and shown to our cabins. The rooms were basic but comfortable and clean, had suitable storage space and a decent power shower in the bathroom, as well as the requisite air conditioning to combat the humidity.
The Manatee was constantly moving along the river so for the excursions we often boarded the motorized canoe to get to our designated spot to begin exploring. The excursions ranged from trails through the rainforest, to canoe rides in lagoons and cultural visits to local family homes. The variety offered great exposure to all aspects of the Amazon Rainforest in a short amount of time.
My favourite was a canoe ride through a black-water system at dusk. The experience was ethereal, surrounded by diverse vegetation which was reflected in the water as the sun set and the almost ghostly silence broken only by birdsong, not to mention the sightings of the Caiman and their crimson eyes standing out against the dark water - a memorable experience!
Another outing of note was the Kury Muyu and Parrot Clay Licks where we observed the rituals of these incredible birds. This required patience as the parrots got closer to the clay whilst simultaneously checking for the presence of predators. However, it was definitely worth it, as not only did we see the parrots en masse but also observed a troop of squirrel monkeys in the trees and a wild fawn swimming along the river. I quickly learnt that the sudden appearance of wildlife is synonymous with the Amazon and it was a great credit to our tour guides that we were able to see so much on our trips.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn't always on our side: the clue to the rainforest is in the name. However, the crew were clearly well prepared for these eventualities and provided onboard entertainment in the form of cookery classes. The chef came out and showed us how to make the local empanadas from green bananas, before surrendering his chef's hat and letting each of us have a turn, and then devouring with some sweet coffee. I enjoyed this immensely - I love Ecuadorian food and it also gave the opportunity to get to know the crew better.
Whilst onboard the service was impeccable and extremely attentive. The food was in abundance from cooked breakfasts to three course lunch and dinners with snacks and fresh fruit juice in between excursions. The cuisine leaned on the side of the traditional with dishes including potato soup, corn and fresh fish, and was all delicious.
One of the most impressive meals on the cruise was being served breakfast whilst travelling upriver in a motorized canoe at 40 miles per hour. The crew managed to serve up quite a variety from granola and yogurt to hard boiled eggs, not to mention fresh fruit juice and coffee, without spilling anything. This incident both entertained and took the edge off the 5.30am wake up call.
Exploring the Amazon Rainforest was unreal and the main thing I learnt was that anything can happen in this area of untouched and remarkable biodiversity. Just remember to take your binoculars!