Peru, part 11
We were up at five this morning and with the aid of our headlamps made our way to the lodge gate where Jose Luis was waiting for us. All six guests and our guides trek to the cock of the rock viewing platform and wait for the stars of the show to arrive. We wait and wait some more. The three guides begin whispering to each other and out of desperation play bird calls on an iPod. The enticing calls wafting out of the electronic device doesn’t impress the local cock of the rock birds as they refuse to make an appearance. Jose Luis had practically guaranteed that the odd-looking birds would be here this morning. Oh well, thank goodness we saw the famous birds yesterday or there would have been some very disappointed folks including me.
We spot some great birds on the walk back to the lodge including the paradise tanager. This small bird sports every color of the rainbow and elicits oohs and ahs from everyone. Nope I wasn’t able to get a picture as the five-inch fowl was always flitting about in the trees. Since we are to be on the road by eight we reluctantly give up our search for birds and return to the lodge.
As we arrive at the dining hall there are two species of monkey in the courtyard, a brown capuchin and her half-grown baby and a white-fronted capuchin. The youngster hangs over the roof edge in order to get a closer look at us while mom keeps a close eye on her baby and his human admirers. After breakfast we find a group of brown capuchin monkeys feeding in the trees near our van. We watch the feeding frenzy for a time before climbing into the vehicle and heading down the road.
It’s hard to imagine that the road could be worse than yesterday but it sure is. It rained here recently and the dirt road is sloppy mud. We thought we saw lots of waterfalls yesterday but it pales in comparison to today. It seems a cascade of water is pouring onto the road every few hundred yards and the edge of the road is crumbling in many places. Paul is sitting on the outside today and finds the sight of mere inches of dirt keeping us from oblivion as nerve-wracking as I did. The road improves as we begin to reach lower altitudes but the heat and humidity is climbing.
We stop several times and walk along the road to do some bird watching and to stretch our legs. The butterflies are abundant and beautiful as they flit among the fauna along the road or rest on the road surface. We see a pair of chestnut-eared aracari (toucans) with their ponderous bills on one of our short road walks. It always amazes me that toucans are able to fly with the burden of such unwieldy beaks. We stop at an overlook to gaze at the wide but shallow looking Madre de Dios River which we will soon be traveling down. Before we reach the river we stop to visit a small farm where among other things they grow coca.
They have various types of fruit trees and bushes and chickens wander the yard. Coca leaves are drying on a large tarp and the family dog is scolded by our host for walking through the cash crop. An orange and white cat lounges in the sunlight watching us as we follow the woman around their self-sufficient operation. The atmosphere here is one of pride and quiet satisfaction.
When we reach the village by the Madre de Dios River we sadly say goodbye to Will and Bekka as they are staying at a different lodge than us. We have enjoyed the company of this young English couple and will miss them. It seems silly that each of us have a large wooden motor boat that seats a dozen people but at least they fill the boat with supplies for the lodges.
We have two men manning the canvas-covered dugout and they will be our crew whenever we are traveling on the river. Our lodge is only twenty minutes down river so Jose Luis has the guys take us up a side channel as we eat our box lunch. The scenery is lovely with rugged cliffs and big rocks jutting along the water’s edge. White winged swallows swoop and dance over the water’s surface and a waterfall plunges several hundred feet down a cliff into the river. We will be on the river six hours tomorrow and if this is a sample of what is in store for us I can’t wait!
When we leave the side channel and start down the Madre de Dios we travel through some rough water but the boat handles things well. The big river is running fast and the water is high but there are shallow spots that our captain knows well. When he shuts the motor off and lets the current take us you can hear the scrape of gravel along the bottom. There are huge piles of drift, big trees mostly, that lay in jumbles throughout the river. Yikes, this isn’t quite as idyllic as our trip down the side channel.
We arrive at the Amazonia Lodge and walk the half mile to the headquarters. A young man with a wheelbarrow passes us in route to the boat to fetch our backpacks. Our room is just that, a large room with twin beds, night stands a table and a couple of chairs. Paul and I had plans of taking a nap but the room is much too hot so we lounge on the veranda and enjoy the hummingbirds eating from the hanging feeders.
There is camera equipment scattered on the tables along with two cameras on tripods sporting some of the biggest lenses I have ever seen. We meet the camera owners who are professional photographers and tour operators. The husband and wife duo are guiding a young couple that happen to be newlyweds. They have chosen a unique way to spend their honeymoon for sure. This foursome is the only other guests at the lodge.
Jose Luis takes us on a long trek in the jungle this afternoon around well-kept trails radiating out from the lodge grounds. We are transfixed by a male coquette hummingbird dancing in swooping arcs over a female perching on a small limb. His mating display is lovely to see. We catch a glimpse of a pair of tyrah, members of the mink family, running on the trail ahead of us. That’s the way it usually is in the jungle, you just catch glimpses of wildlife in the thick vegetation. We meander for two hours in the heat and humidity but the cool birds we find make it worthwhile. The birds we see include barbets, trogons, tiger heron, hoatzin and a lineated woodpecker to name a few. One of the most amazing sights we come across is a column of leaf cutter ants. Every ant is carrying a bit of leaf above their heads as they march in the direction of their colony. There are ant columns coming from different areas of the jungle and merging with the endless line of ants marching beside the trail. There surely are hundreds of thousands of the industrious insects that stretch into the distance.
Paul and I are worn out when we return to the lodge. The heat and humidity weigh on us like a ton of bricks after being in the thin, humid free mountain air. There is a row house with four communal bathrooms on the left side of the building where our room is. As soon as I can gather my towel and essentials I hit the shower. Paul showers the minute I return to the room. It is a gesture of futility as I begin to sweat as soon as I walk outside, oh well; it felt good for a little while.
Jose Luis helps me mark off the birds we saw today before we go to eat supper. After I finish putting an x by today’s birds, Jose Luis thumbs through my bird book for a rough count of the birds we saw the last two days. His tally comes to over one hundred species, not bad at all! Supper is served and we dine on konua soup, marinated minute steak and a side dish of baked, thinly sliced potatoes/carrots. It was delicious. We fall into bed not long after we finish eating.
I wake up this morning with the cold I was afraid I was catching. Paul has had a mild cold the last few days. Phooey. We leave the Amazonia lodge by 7:30 and my hopes for a gorgeous river trip are dampened by light showers and mist. For most of the trip I try to control my billowing, blue poncho that seems determined to become a sail. The captain runs the boat at a steady speed (20 mph?) so during the heavier showers the raindrops sting our faces. We do see a few birds when the rain lets up and the most impressive is the King Vulture. We have now seen the six species of vultures that are in Peru.
Sunshine breaks out a few hours into our trip allowing us to get a clear look at life along the river. I am surprised to see how much human activity there is here. It seems even though Manu is a protected area the natives have the right to log, farm and fish. Also the river is so high that there is no bank showing so the vegetation is thick right by the water’s edge. My hopes of seeing a jaguar or tapir along or in the river plummets because of these two issues. It is obvious that this isn’t going to interfere with seeing birds as they are everywhere.
We arrive an hour earlier to the Manu Wildlife Center, considered one of the world’s top wildlife lodges. The bungalows are built close together and the jungle crowds around the edge of the grounds. It is not as open as the Amazonia lodge was but the rooms are more appealing and we have our own bathroom. No electricity again but that makes for a more authentic experience.
Paul and I opt for a quick nap before we are to meet Jose Luis at three o’clock for a jungle walk. We drift off to sleep and wake to the steady drumbeat of rain on our thatched roof. Neither of us has any intentions of walking in the downpour and we assume our guide will understand our no-show. The rain falls steadily until five and then abruptly comes to an end. Jose Luis appears at our door, urging us to come out to see the resident tapir which has brought along her baby. The staff saved this tapir from drowning in the river when she was a baby a few years ago. The strange creature comes to visit from time to time but seldom brings along her offspring. The reluctant youngster doesn’t follow mom into the midst of the bungalows but stays along the jungles edge, head held high and lifting one foot occasionally, an obvious sign of stress. The little one finally loses its nerve and disappears. Mom however browses through the grounds with her paparazzi in tow until dusk falls. Due to the lateness of the day and overcast skies my photos leave much to be desired and of the few photos I took of the small tapir, none were any good. Rats.
There are only three guests besides us at the lodge and you wonder how they can afford to keep a staff for so few guests. We are here before the high or busy season so hopefully it will be much busier in a couple of weeks. What a gourmet meal they serve us tonight, spinach soup, marinated beef with mashed potatoes and cheesecake for desert. Not only is it delicious but it is beautifully presented. After my lack of appetite and our active days prior to now I have had to tighten my belt up a notch. The way I clean up every morsel of this meal I will probably have to loosen my belt by the time we leave Manu.