We spent five blissful days at Sani Lodge, owned and operated by the indigenous Sani tribe. We watched the sun rise over the jungle from a 100-foot metal platform—Mr. Gualinga helped build it when he was 14, he said—in the crown of a 900-year-old ceiba tree, and waited for scarlet macaws to descend on a clay lick to eat minerals that neutralize toxins in their diet. For lunch one day, we were instructed by a group of Sani Village mamitas at the community center in which we folded tilapia and palm heart into long, green rumi panka leaves, which we then roasted over an open fire, along with two types of plantains and chontacuro beetle larvae. We paddled through flooded forests looking for anacondas and fished for piranhas along a small creek.
Yes, the wifi in the lodge was spotty. And no, there was no swimming pool. By this point, Olaf had pretty much gone rogue, disappearing with Mr. Gualinga and another oarsman before the rest of us met for breakfast, returning long after lunch, only to set off alone again and return. times after we finished eating. .
Wealth and wonder
One morning, Martha and I were gazing through our binoculars at a beautiful paradisiacal tanager—green, blue, and red—when I was filled with a kind of piercing joy that had crept up on me at odd times. “This trip is particularly poignant for me,” said Martha, “because it may be the last time I see many of these birds in the wild.” I put my arm around her and thought about it.
Birding is not for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s for me. What is for me, however, is experiencing the natural world in all its richness and wonder, and seeing how other people live, and hearing their stories, all the while understanding how very different we can be, and also how very similar.
By then I had gotten used to my binoculars. I had also noticed that when Mr. Gualinga followed a bird, he moved low and quiet through the forest, whistling softly, as if speaking directly to the bird until he responded, standing very still on one leg, gesticulating slowly that we should come and see.