Wild life I
7 Oct 2005
|Apologies for another big entry, not enough internet cafes in the jungle.
So off we flew to the jungle, or more specifically Puerto Muldanado, a jungle town on the Peru/Brazil/Bolivia border. The area is called Madre de Dios, which is a curse in Spanish. A very short flight, and it is very humid and hot here! It feels quite exciting though, and Puerto Muldanado has quite a buzzy feel to it despite the heat. Bit of a frontier town, logging, gold extraction and probably smuggling. There is ocasional trouble (and people killed) between illegal loggers and tribespeople, but our whole experience is peaceful.
So off we go down some long dirt track for an hour or so to a tiny place called Infierno (`Hell'...colouful names round here), where we get a motorised canoe up the Rio Tambapata for another hour or so. We see a variety of wildlife on the way, a small caiman (type of alligator), sunbathing turtles surrounded by clouds of butterflies feeding on their tears, capybaras (very large rodents) and their attendant birds, flocks of colourful macaws, etc. There is a lot of wildlife round here, most of it insects, most of it trying to eat us. A lot of the more interesting wildlife is quite elusive though, if seen at all it is usually from afar through foliage and hence difficult to photo. Exciting and interesting nevertheless.
We are living in a jungle lodge, which is a clearing in the jungle with a number of buildings in it. There is a large dining room/communal area built around a tree, and a number of smaller buildings further divided into rooms. There are also a number of resident naturalists here doing research and monitoring, and it all seems largely environmentally correct, etc.,. Our beds have mosquito nets, and the room is ensuite. Whilst ensuite is normally desirable, our bathroom is shared with a number of large cockroaches. They are disturbing as they pop up unexpectedly, like on the towels, on the toothbrushes, chewing the soap, or inside the toilet roll. Worst of all is that some of them live under the rim of the toilet bowl. This is unpleasant to think about when on the toilet, almost primal in its yukkiness. This may have contributed to Erica being ill for the first few days. And needless to say the showers are cold, as there is no electricity here, or anything much like that. Despite that we live comfortably and eat well, just go to bed and get up very early. Each morning just before 5 am troops of Howler Monkies make this unearthly noise out of a gothic horror film for at least ten minutes. Personally I think the noise is great, but I would not like to hear it if I was lost alone in the jungle in the dark.
So, talking of getting lost in the dark, etc, off we go caiman hunting on our first night. Caiman are a type of alligator, not usually known - we are reliably informed - to attack people. We look for animals at night by eyeshine, that is, shining torches and picking up the reflections of their eyes. Even spiders will give eyeshine. So basically we motor up and down the river in the dark, and when we see a caiman we kill the engine and drift in towards it. We see a few - though none very big - and its all good fun, and the drift with the current back down the river is just fantastic, brilliant night sky, fireflies, etc.
8th Oct: Up very early, gulp a coffee, and off down river to watch green macaws eat clay at what is called a clay lick, which they do to balance their digestions. I have become a twitcher! We stay in a hide, and patiently watch the macaws. They are more difficult to photo than the two host parrots at the lodge. Willie, the blue parrot, was rescued when he crashed into the lodge and broke his wings. He is friendly, though a bit crazy. Wowee, the red parrot, can still fly, and likes nothing better than to swoop down from the sky on unsuspecting people and attack them. He is a complete psycho, and is also always attacking Willie.
So after the clay lick, breakfast, and then we went with our guide Edwin for an educational trip in the jungle on the other side of the river. This is not part of the Tambopata Reserve, like where we are, and is therefore not primary rainforest, though still pretty jungly if you ask me. We learn lots about medicinal plants - half of which appear to be powerful hallucinogenics - how people live in the jungle, etc. Unfortunately, as it is Saturday, there is not a soul around, they have all taken their canoes to town to party. Nevertheless, it is both atmospheric and interesting, huge termite nests in the trees, etc. Bloody humid though.
And in the afternoon, left to our own devices. Edwin - a strange mix of native guide and university education, machete in one hand, GPS in the other - lends us his machete so we can go explore on our own. He tells me this machete has saved his life twice, though he is not clear from what. I hope I don't need to find out. There are a number of fairly well marked trails through the jungle around the lodge, so off we go with a map, and a compass, my GPS, and Edwin's machete just to be sure. The machete is great fun, as is exploring on our own, and later other people at the lodge are envious that their guides haven't lent them machetes.
Later that night we go for a night walk with Edwin. This again relies on eyeshine, and involves us creeping along in the dark, stopping every now and then while Edwin smells or hears something. Mostly we see insects and birds - either by torchlight or with Edwin's infrared bins. We see some great little monkies, as well as various rodents and bats. Edwin tells me there are other bats we might have flying around our heads that are the size of dogs with wings. I think he means a small dog. This is all great fun, though slightly spooky when I am the person at the back of the line as we creep through the dark jungle.
9th Oct: Again woken by the sound of the Mummy returning from the grave, I mean the howler monkies. This morning a big walk north to an oxbow lake (where a curve in the river has become cut off to form a lake), of which there are shedloads in the jungle, as you can really appreciate from the air. On the way we spent some time following a howler monkey troop, good fun, and allowed Edwin to demonstrate more of his wide range of animal calls. We went to the lake to see giant otters, (river wolves in Spanish), a very endangered species, but they were keeping shy of us. We saw lots of monkies though, and amused ourselves in the hide by feeding our biscuits to the black piranhas in the water below. Each bit of biscuit made the water boil frenziedly for a few seconds. Edwin told us on the one hand they could strip a cow in less than five minutes, and on the other that they didn't attack people unless you got between them and their young. How you could tell where their young were in this murky water I had no idea, and if their enthusiasm for biscuit was any measure, I thought we would be completely ate in less than two minutes. So to put this to the test we took a canoe out on to the piranha filled lake, which was a suprisingly tranquil and relaxing experience.
Other highlights were leaf cutter ants clearing paths through the jungle, and this extremely aggressive army ant on a tree. I was poking my finger at it, and it reared up and kept trying to attack, despite the fact I was a million times its weight and carrying enough insect repellent to kill a forest. We ran - literally, as instructed - through a whole gang of them on the way back, and still had to brush dozens of the speedy and agressive little bastards off each other. After returning, a little nap before we went for another walk on our own, and ended up down by a river, where we startled a caiman into the water. It then came back to glare at us, growling each time I inched nearer for a better picture. At about two metres it dived again. Cool!
10th Sep: Our longest walk yet, with Edwin to another lake, along generally less trodden paths. The piranhas there seemed less desperate for biscuit. Today the trees are interesting. Never mind the fact that some are huge. There are walking trees that have roots reaching down to the ground, putting new ones out in the direction they want to go and letting old ones die, moving maybe six inches a year on average. And strangler figs, where creepers envelop other trees - sometimes very big ones - and gradually completely cover and consume them until the old tree dies....creepy. And the penis tree, a bit like the walking trees, except the roots look like....guess.
Also very exciting was a group of very smelly wild boar, very close. It turns out these could be very dangerous (Edwin had already got his machete out in case), but they left us alone. I was also stung by a wasp, but was still breathing after ten minutes, so no worries. This was after Erica had fished some spider out from under my shirt that Edwin said was poisonous, not dangerously so, but not at all good to be bitten by. Both of us were occasionally prising hungry insects out from our flesh, successfully I think. And some neat red parrots too. I was jealous though of some of the naturalists who had seen a jaguar on their way back from night-time caiman monitoring in the northern lake. We made up for this a bit though on our late afternoon solo expedition when Erica spooked a 3 metre green tree boa sunbathing in the path and we watched it disappear down a hole.
11th Oct: Very sad to leave the lodge, as we have had such a great time here despite the cockroaches. So off we go down river back to Infierno via a load of red macaws at another clay lick. Minibus to Puerto Muldanado and then to a hotel with electricity and cockroaches with the decency to hide, though still cold showers unfortunately. It is incredibly hot and sweaty here though, without the shade of the jungle trees. So we sort ourselves out a canoe up river, and off we go to visit Lago Sandoval, a very popular place round here with tourists. We didn't have enough time to really do this properly, but it was good to walk in a different part of the jungle, and the lake was nice, clear water and much bigger, and we saw a lot of lizards and some small mammals of some kind. We both really rather like Puerto Muldanado, which has a lot of colour and energy, despite the stupefying heat. And a lovely slow ride back from Sandoval, as the sun set and we motored down the obstacle and piranha infested river in the dark. Brilliant.