Peru, part 12
We are up early and eating breakfast by six this morning. José Luis hands us knee-high rubber boots to wear as the trails to the macaw clay lick will be muddy. We hike well-kept trails through dense jungle at times crossing log bridges that span small ravines. When we arrive at the clay lick the macaws dressed in dazzling feathers are just beginning to arrive. Supposedly they are here to lick mineral from the earth but these two ranchers know that a treat is enticing the gorgeous birds. Someone has dug small trenches into the bank above our head and “salted” it with a type of nut. We don’t care as the sight of a dozen scarlet macaws and a lone blue and yellow macaw eating and squabbling among themselves is worth the minor deceit. I am snapping photos of the colorful band of birds but my camera lens keeps fogging up due to the humidity. I must stick the useless camera back in the case with my packets of moisture absorbent to remedy the situation. Of course some of the best photos opportunities present themselves when this happens.
The macaws soon finish eating the nuts and begin to fly away their long scarlet tails (and one blue tail) streaming out behind them. I assume we will be leaving but Jose Luis tells us there will be more of the colorful birds arriving. As we await the arrival of the macaws, a lovely blue morpho butterfly as big around as a small saucer floats languidly below the raised platform where we are sitting. The blue morpho is my favorite butterfly of the many butterflies that reside in the jungle. A few scarlet macaws begin to straggle in but this time they land on top of the cliff. One of the birds climbs up the trunk of a small tree using his feet along with his beak, something to see in itself.
A flock of eight or so macaws begin to dine on the flat of the cliff and suddenly they explode into the air flying directly towards our viewing platform. The flock circles back to the eating station, land and after a few minutes the startled birds burst into flight. I am pretty sure someone is up there encouraging the birds to take flight. It makes for a dramatic scene and some great shots if you are ready for the action. I can’t say I took any super shots of the birds in flight but at least I did get a couple.
Leaving the macaw show behind, we wind around on various trails through the jungle until I am completely lost. We slog through pools of water and at times the water is close to running over the top of our boots. In one part of the jungle, a troop of spider monkeys are hurling curses in monkey language at some perceived danger. When we reach the monkeys we see a large hawk perching in a tree that is the object of the monkeys fear. The hawk flies away on our approach and the monkeys also take flight across the tree tops. Occasionally, Jose Luis works at trying to call birds into the open in hopes of getting a look at the elusive buggers. I forgot how tough it is to catch even a glimpse of a bird in the dense foliage of a rain forest although we do see a few!
We return to the Manu lodge before lunch and Paul makes a beeline for the hammocks that hang in the spacious confines of the dining hall. I put the macro lens on my camera and wander the grounds, taking an occasional photo of the lovely flowers that are growing on the grounds. The butterflies that grace many of the blooms are too skittish to let me take a close up of them. At lunch Jose Luis introduces us to his brother, also a guide, who has arrived along with two clients. The two brothers work for different tour companies but run into each other on occasion. We tease them a bit asking who the better birder is and both lay claim to the best birder title.
This afternoon we are walking to the tapir lick although Jose Luis does not seem very enthusiastic about the outing. We walk for two hours through some pretty dicey places, more slippery bridges to cross and steep muddy inclines to climb but we arrive at the lick at 4:30. They actually have mattresses with mosquito netting tented over them for us to lie on or even sleep while waiting for tapirs to show up. Six of the seven lodge guests are at the tapir lick waiting patiently on the platform above the muddy pools. The New York couple decides to return to the lodge before it gets dark not wanting to walk the trail after sunset. Paul and I eat our box dinners at 5:30 as dusk begins to fall in the denseness of the jungle. Jose Luis again asks if we are ready to go back to the lodge when we finish eating but Paul and I say we would like to wait awhile.
When the last semblance of light disappears I remember how really dark it is in the jungle. I start feeling claustrophobic due to the combination of heavy air and complete blackness. The denseness of the jungle feels like it is closing in on me. I’m surprised at my discomfort as I generally enjoy being outside at night. I’m also worrying about the slippery spots we must traverse with just the light from our headlamps. I tell Paul I’m ready to go back to the lodge but he would prefer to stay. I say maybe he could stay and come back with Jose’s brother as it appears they are settling in for a while. Jose Luis overhears our conversation and quickly comes to us and asks if we want to leave, I say yes and Paul reluctantly agrees unwilling to impose on the other group.
When we leave the tapir lick, my headlamp seems to have the only strong beam of light among us. Jose Luis has a small flashlight which barely illuminates the ground in front of his feet; Paul’s headlamp is better but still not able to penetrate very far in the gloom. Jose Luis is setting a fast pace but I still try to sweep the sides of the trail with my light in hopes of finding an owl or something of interest. Large bats swoop out of the jungle in front of our lights coming so close sometimes I think they are going to run into us. I spot light a poorwill (nightjar) sitting by the side of the trail his avian eyes shining in the light. A small crested frog draws my attention as we are speed walking and we take time to examine the tiny amphibian. As I search the trees with my headlamp I see a pair of glowing orbs high in a large tree. Paul and I stop and try to figure out what we are looking at. The unidentified creature begins to slither higher into the tree winding its way up and around a small limb. A snake! We call for our disappearing guide to return to identify the reptile if possible. It takes a while for us to show our guide where the snake is but once he finds the serpent he plunges into the jungle to get closer to the subject. I’m not leaving the trail, who knows what is lurking in there! Paul follows our intrepid guide and they spot light the snake with their weak lights. Jose Luis declares that the young reptile is a small tree boa around four feet long. Even after these cool finds our young guide shows no interest in looking for creatures himself as he hurries along the path. His behavior tonight is so unlike the enthusiasm he as shown up to now. It is relatively cool tonight but the humidity is so high our clothes are soaking wet when we reach our bungalow. We light a few candles in the room and then I call first dibs for a much-needed shower.
I can’t believe we are up at 4:30 this morning but Jose Luis wants us to eat breakfast at five so we can be on the river at sunrise. We had a heck of a thunderstorm in the night with plenty of lightning and lots of rain. At breakfast we ask our guide if his brother and clients saw a tapir. It seems they stayed at the lick until nearly midnight but no tapirs came to partake of the minerals. I’m glad we came back when we did!
We are floating down the fast-moving river by six and again my hopes dim that we will see any wildlife along the riverbank. The water is just too swift and high to leave much room for any clear sighting of a jaguar or any mammal. Oh well, seeing wildlife is always a long shot when you are dealing with such a vast landscape. We do find various birds including a few new ones that I can put an x mark next to in my bird book.
Our first stop this morning is at a canopy outlook which is built in the crown of a huge ceiva (sp) tree. Paul counts 230 steps up the metal tower we climb to reach the wooden tree platform. This enormous tree house looks out over the top of the jungle giving us a spectacular 360 view. It is very quiet this morning but we do see a toucan on the horizon and I spot a monkey through my binoculars. A plum-throated cotinga lands in a tree not far from our lofty perch. The cotinga’s plumage is a vivid blue that glows in the early morning light. The cotinga alone is worth the effort it took to get up here.
When our feet are back on the ground, Jose Luis leads us through the rain forest to an oxbow lake. Our boatmen paddle us around the small body of water in a type of wooden catamaran.This place is great as there are tons of birds everywhere and many new species to record in my book tonight! We catch a glimpse of a sloth as it climbs down a tree to avoid being seen by us humans. He belies the notion that a sloth can’t move very fast. We are content to spend much of our time on this peaceful lake in silence as we listen to birds singing accompanied by the quiet swish of the boat paddles.
Everyone is on the lookout for the river otters that live here but we don’t find them in the main body of the lake. Our boatmen decide to take us down a side channel where the otter’s dens are but first they must force the boat by a large tree that has fallen into the channel. It is quite an ordeal as some limbs must be hacked off the tree along with a lot of hard rowing, shoving and grunting.
The men get by the snag and we quietly make our way down the narrow waterway. There are game trails along the bank telling us that indeed the river otter are present but unfortunately we don’t see the sleek creatures. Jose Luis with excitement in his voice points out a razor-billed curassow that looks to have stepped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. We have startled this normally ground dwelling bird so the large dark blue bird has flown into a tree where it is teetering precariously on the small limb it lands on. The comical bird has red legs and a bright red bill with a red hump sitting atop its beak. The red lump is perfectly normal but it won’t win this fowl any beauty contests. Jose Luis tells us that it is rare to see this curassow so all the work the boatmen did in getting us down here was well worth it.
We were late for dinner plus I was overdue for a bathroom! When we walk into the dining hall we are pleasantly surprised to see Will and Bekka sitting at a table. We greet each other warmly and as I continue to the restroom I say over my shoulder that we haven’t seen any jaguars, how about you guys? I am totally unprepared for the answer of “we saw two” that floats after me. I come to a screeching halt and do an about-face. I loudly ask “WHAT DID YOU SAY” as I’m sure they must be pulling my leg. Will has an almost apologetic look on his face when he tells me that they saw a male and female jaguar and to top that off the pair were mating. I reply that I am so happy for them but admit I am jealous too. I go on to the bathroom and when I return Will and Beck have their point and shoot camera out showing the other guests photos of the jaguars. When it is my turn to look at the photos I can’t believe my eyes. The face of one of the gorgeous cats fills the entire camera screen. They have an action shot where the female is snarling and cuffing the male who is recoiling from her aggression. It seems the two cats were so intent on each other that the boats were able to maneuver in close proximity of the jaguars resulting in National Geographic quality photos. Oh I am really envious now but am so glad that our road mates were able to experience the rare sighting of jaguars in the wild.
Tonight as Paul and I are getting ready for bed I tell Paul that I am jungled out. He laughs and says I was just thinking the same thing. Weird. Don’t get me wrong, we have enjoyed all the jungle experiences we have had in the past and this one too. It’s just that the climate is so overwhelming and it is a battle to see most wildlife and most jungles are pretty similar. The one regret I will have is never seeing a jaguar in the wild but we could come back a hundred times and the odds are we still wouldn’t see one of the beautiful creatures.