Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Boats, Birds, and Bugs

by Shelley

On December 28 we started our visit to the rain forest (you're not supposed to call it the "jungle" although that's what it seemed like). We flew from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado, took a bus to the river and then a 3 1/2 hr boat ride along the Tambopata River to Refugio Amazonas, located in the Tambopata National Reserve.

The Refugio is an amazing place made of natural and local materials (mahogany, bamboo, cane, clay and palm fronds). There are no doors or outside walls. The bedrooms are three sided, with one side open to the jungle; curtains served as door coverings. Although there was no electricity the bathrooms were surprisingly modern. There was no hot water but after sweating it out most of the day a cold shower was tremendously welcome! There was also no electricity (kerosene lanterns lined the walkways to and along the rooms) except in the main lodge during certain times. There was also wi-fi which Andrew noted in a previous blog.

We stayed here one night at the beginning of this part of the trip, one night at the end, with two nights further along the river at the Tambopata Research Center (not quite as fancy as the Refugio but still very natural and nice).

Activities were early in the morning (i.e. 4 a.m. wake up calls!) and later in the afternoon when the animals were most active. Our guides, Yrma and Johan, were very knowledgeable and gave a running commentary about all the things around us.

The first hike we did was learning about all the medicinal plants in the jungle. Johan had us chew the stem of one of the plants and our tongues all went numb!  The plant was apparently used as a local anesthetic.

One early morning we went to the canopy tower, climbing stairs 135 ft into the air to an observation platform. A bit crowded with 11 of us plus guides! But we saw lots of bright coloured macaws, toucans, and other birds.

The brazil nut tour was an eye opener. I'll never eat another one without thinking about the incredible amount of time and energy that goes into harvesting them (all by hand), in very rough conditions, for very little pay!

Andrew enjoyed the night hike which provided an added opportunity to see snakes, frogs, tarantulas and other slimy creatures. He also kept Johan out for extra hiking time trying to find all manner of bugs, spiders and creepy crawlies.

Although Bev and Gretchen kept a detailed list of all the birds, animals and plants/trees we saw, some of my favorites/memorable were:

- huge strangler fig trees
- monkeys (red howler, black spider, tit, and brown capuchin) -- especially when they actually sat still long enough to get a good look at them!
- leaf cutter ants and army ants marching, not two by two, but by the hundreds!
- capybaras
- wild turkeys
- peccaries (wild pigs)

Unfortunately, we didn't have much luck at the macaw clay lick. We were hoping to get to see the usual 300-400 macaws but the first morning we went out it rained (they don't like rain) and the second morning the river was too high to go out. The high river also foiled our chance to go on a night boat tour looking for caimans (like alligators). It was amazing how quickly the river changed from hour to hour. It was definitely very high due to recent rains and was moving very quickly!  Our return boat rides took about 1/2 as long going back downstream!

photos from the rain forest

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