After our overnight at the Eco Inn (should be called the Echo Inn!) we boarded our flight to to Puerto Maldonado. Pedro our guide met us and a short drive to the office to unpack our day pack gear and leave our suitcases at their base. One small duffle between us later off we went into the boat. The boat up the river is a 5' wide, 40' long river boat powered by a 75hp Yamaha. We must have done 25 knots plus the whole way.
On the way up we saw two white speckled cayman. They aren't white but there is a black one (very endangered due to hunting) and these guys aren't them so they are called white. Pedro is an amazing spotter. I saw rocks and gravel, he saw the cayman.
We also saw some Capybara. They kind of look like 60 pound Guinea Pigs
Some very pretty Jays.
A short 2.5 hours later we were at our first stop, Refuguios de Amazonas. Aside from the poor 5 year old kid who was bored out of his tree and therefore annoying, the trip upriver was great. They really should put an age limit. The parents spent the whole trip trying to entertain a bored child and missed out on the view. The rest of us had to endure a bored not very well behaved kid. Lunch was on the river. A Chifa in a banana leaf. Chifa is basic Chinese Fried Rice. Apparently just like at home, Chinese came over long ago to work the rail roads. Peruvians like their Chifa. So do I.
On a related but side note, today we've celebrated yet another succesful year of marriage. We've been some very interesing places and the Amazonian Basin is yet another. May we have another many years together.
We slept well at least and in the morning (5am start) we went for a nature trail hike. That included a climb up a 67m tower to above the canopy which afforded great views. Then another hour hike to an oxbow lake. Lago Condemnos. Or condemned lake. The local tribes here have interesting names. Inferno (where the boat launches) and Condemned. Apparently the Condemned were very inbred therefore so named. Weird but true. Anyway back to the lake. We hopped into a 25' canoe and went for a slow paddle. We saw the Hoatzin bird. Kind of looks like a pheasant but with a dinosaur like beak. It has hooks in its beak to help it pull itself into it's nest. Some scientists believe this bird is a direct link back to the pterodactyl.
Under the log that these Hoatzin were sitting on were some leaf bats.
We also fed the pirhana. They are fast but won't eat you as long as you are not bleeding. Similar to sharks in that way. Movies have that wrong. They mostly eat dead animals that fall into the river and lakes. We were the first to the lake because Pedro knows that if you are last you see nothing. We saw lots of Hoatzin. Good job Pedro.
Then a slower walk back to the lodge. We saw leaf cutter ants, fire ants, toucans (from a distance), and a Wolf Whistle Bird. Yes he sounds exactly how you'd think.
After the hike it was back aboard the boat for a 5 hour ride up river to the Tambopata Research Centre. This is as far as you a can go into the Reserve. TRC has a special ability to do this because they also host the Macaw Project which in 1989 help rehabilitate the dwindling Macaw population. In fact the Macaw Project spawned the Eco Tourism in the area when in 1993 they started offering tours and the TRC was born. The difference in wild life once we left the buffer area and into the reserve proper was amazing. No people means no fishing or hunting which means more animals for us to see. Great way to still survive economically but protect some wilderness. Just up the stream another 10 minutes is the absolute border for people. After that it's only the odd special researcher and wild wild wild. The TRC was awesome, our room had 3 walls and a open “window” to the jungle. Only downside was the head and humidity. You can't get everything and the “in the wild” experience is pretty cool. Right from our room we saw Peccary (bush pigs), Scarlett Macaws and a bunch of other birds and bugs that I'll never identify.
It is the very beginning of the dry season so the trails are still quite muddy. The lodge offers rubber boots. We thought we'd be fine in our hiking shoes. Pedro held his hands up and suggested 8″ of mud. We wore boots. My first pair the right one had a leak. Kris found me a beatiful new pair. Unfortunately she could only find one tall one and one shorter one in her size. She made it work with 3 socks (2 on one foot and the normal 1 on the other). Still, our shoes would have been more comfortable but we'd be dirtier than we were.
The next day was an early trip (5am) over to the Clay Lick. Lots of socializing by the birds but not much clay eating. Still pretty cool to hear them and see how they interact. One may wonder why the macaws eat clay. There are 2 main theories. First is that they eat clay due to a lack of salt in their diet (we are very far from the ocean) and clay is high in salt. Or second to make the acidic diet better. The former is the current winning theory and the latter is the longer standing one. Both may be true, nobody yet knows for sure.
Back for breakfast aroud 730am and then back to see the larger Macaws. Still quiet or at least low action. I shouldn't have used the word quiet. Macaws are chatty. In fact I now wonder how anyone can stand them in a house. They are loud when the let loose. I can appreciate their beauty and intelligence but hosue birds they aren't.
Before we headed back to the lodge we wandered around the island we were observing the clay lick from. Once again, Pedro got us to the pond first. Lo and behold there was 2 different kind of herons just hanging out and posing. First one sitting on the railing was the Rufescent Tiger Heron. Then the white and blue headed heron was out on a branch fishing.
We also saw a few groups of tadpoles swarming the surface, ergo the reason the herons were around.
At breakfast the local Macaws were hanging about. Apparently they know pancake day. One tried to steal one of Kris' while she was getting a photo of a different bird. Cheeky buggers!
After lunch and a siesta it was time for a trek/slog through a swamp, then a hike up to an overlook. Most difficult trail I've ever done. And it was mostly flat! To boot, Kris got a Fire Ant bite above her lip. Ouch!
Upside is that we saw Tamarind, spiders, tarantula and a ton of birds I'll never remember the name of.
And a Poison Tree Frog
It was dark when we got back, no real time to clean up before dinner. Each night the researchers do a talk on a subject. We learned about mix flocks, where a bunch of species come to together to feed and sometimes shelter. Pretty cool how each bird complements the other and doesn't compete for food. They share the same space but eat different stuff. There is usually one or two nuclear species and 2-4 peripheral species. Meaning the 2 nuclear depend on the others to help them survive and in turn usually are the leaders and defenders of the pack. Pretty cool teamwork. The other talk was the one about the Macaw Project itself. It is amazing to me how well they are understood yet we still know so little. Conservationists use the “pretty and lovable” birds as an umbrella species. Meaning you fight for the Macaw and when their area is protected the rest of the species that live there benefit too. Kind of like making Robson Bight protected for the Orca but by default protecting the algae and crabs that live there too. Nobody fights for algae. Yet we really should.
The next day was another trip over to the clay lick. May is the low season for clay eating so not much happened but it is still a cool experience to see them socialize. We decided that since the activity was “low” we should go find monkeys instead. Once again Pedro knew the way and we saw lots of Tamarind, a lonely spider monkey which is rare, they are usually in groups. Tons of Peccary (a group of around 100) and Howlers from a distance. Those Howlers are LOUD. I thought the noise earlier that day was a gas fired hot water heater (rumbling roar) I was wrong that is Alpha Howler challenging the others to fight or stay away. I can't imagine being up close and personal with him. I'd be deaf. The Tamarind were feeding near the trail. They didn't like us that close and I got pooped on. It was worth it for the photos though.
At this point both Kris and I agreed we were pretty done with Rainforest (we've seen lots on different continents now) so I asked Pedro is we could grab a boat and go jaguar hunting. This is not normally part of the tour but he arranged it no charge to us. No jaguars to be seen, but we did end up on the commute home for all the Macaws. We must have seen at least 30 flying directly overhead. They are majestic birds.
We also went up the river as far as we are allowed. Above where we stopped is animals only, no humans allowed. Was a great experience to see another part of the area. So pristine and special.
The Andes are in the distance. Puno is on the other side.
On the boat ride back, the sunset was stunning.
About the Reserve, it was originally a part of the Incan Empire and home to the Antis. There has been little influence from the Spanish Invasion – most people do not speak Spanish. White man came into the area in the late 19th century to ‘mine’ rubber trees, and in 1970 for a mini gold rush. There is illegal gold mining here today. That is very bad due to the mercury being burnt off and released into the air. It's gotta stop but as all governments, too may rules and not enough people to fully enforce the good ones.
Lastly the Toucans here are black and white, not nearly as colourful as the Central American ones. Squawk's like when a puppy's tail is stepped on.