Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2008 Peru Trip Day 5 (Manu National Park)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008
But Brynne didn't remember about the firefly. She did walk in with one on her shoulder when she returned from the bathroom this morning.
Rob was in tough shape from the allergic reaction. His face was swollen with one eye nearly shut, and his hands and right elbow were swollen. The anti-histamine had helped the itching somewhat, but...
We looked for hummingbirds around the lodge. On the lodge porch were photographs including one of a row of turtles with butterflies flying about and landing on their heads. The butterflies get salt from the turtles' tears.
Golden Tortoise Beetle
At breakfast, a tiny shiny gold beetle was perched on the hot chocolate mix can, a golden tortoise beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata). We also heard about the nightjar that had a comb between its toes to comb out its cheek feathers. Intelligent design or what!?
We left the Amazonia by 7:00 AM, by boat.
Despite rains all night, the river levels were still low.
We headed downstream, with the navigator on the prow of the boat with his pole. We scraped bottom several times.
After 15-20 minutes we hailed a boat going upstream; they were coming for us, but we had a head start on our trip by coming to meet them. The boats were run aground side by side, and we climbed from one into the other. Our first boat headed back to the Amazonia Lodge, and we continued downstream. Our driver/pilot for the next few days would be Rufino, and our navigator Willi.
At one point we got out of the way of two boats coming upstream, only to get stuck on the rocks again.
Rufino and Willi freeing the boat
We rocked dangerously to one side, but if we had tipped, we would have been in no more than a foot of water. However, the Alto Madre de Dios is a fast-moving river with a stony bottom that creates white water.
The pilot had to read the water’s surface to choose the best way to go, yet he was in the back of the boat! He had to look past his gas tank, cargo, passengers, and navigator…
Also, once in a while the engine just stopped, and as we drifted, the pilot would siphon gasoline from a metal barrel into the outboard engine. Then we were on our way again.
Two men hailed us from the shore, and we turned around to run aground near them as one boarded the boat.
Oh, that lever plank is now a gangplank!
Rob knew the young man, who was an employee finishing a visit with a mentor, the man we left behind on the riverbank. The young man was headed to the town of Boca Manu to begin work in the school as a type of counselor to encourage male students not to go carousing with the miners, but to finish school. What a brave soul to be dropped off in the jungle with only a backpack on his back!
At every chance, Willi dipped a sponge in the river and wiped off the mud from the gunwales and floor of the boat.
All this traffic in and out of the boat left muddy footprints! We had noticed that the tourist van drivers also kept their vehicles clean, both inside and out. We did our best to kick off mud from our shoes, but the mud was very sticky.
Rob, Jan, Kirby, and Percy
Tamiko & Brynne
We stopped at a mission village to let off our extra helper.
We made another stop where the passengers were let off on one side of the river, with the opportunity to relieve ourselves if needed, and the boatmen went to the other side of the river to onload or offload a gasoline barrel, or both.
Kirby walking the gangplank
Jan's turn
The river became less shallow, but was full of fallen trees, so that we were dodging tree trunks and branches. Logs and branches stuck out of the water creating fantastic animalistic forms, and you could easily see Loch Ness-type monsters, some of them bobbing!
River monster logs
Brynne and I sat in front today, and we were occasionally splashed as the boat made its way through rapids. But then it began to rain, and we received the brunt of it. We huddled in our rain jackets with a poncho over our legs, but Brynne was getting cold. So she moved to a free seat in the back of the boat. The rain let up as we approached Boca Manu, somewhat near the confluence of the clear Alto Madre de Dios and the muddy Manu River. Boca Manu used to be at the mouth of the Manu River, but the rivers are always changing their courses.
Muddy river running into clear river
Boca Manu
We let off our one passenger at this substantial village. The families that live at the water’s edge have the market on selling souvenirs, but when their homes fall into the river, they have to move to the back of the town, and the next row of houses gets waterfront privileges!
The marina at Boca Manu had shells of boats in different stages of being built.
Boat shells
Narrow prows
The rainy season rivers wash out many trees along the banks, and the trunks float down the river
Floating trees
and then wash up along the shores near the Manu National Park.
Those trees are given to local families who then cut off the roots and cut up the trunk to be used, for one thing, as the basis of a new boat. One of the trees used for canoes/boats is the catahua tree, called the “Naked Tree” because its bark constantly peels away (a preventative measure to stop vines from attaching) to reveal a stunning red trunk. The tree is believed to be sacred and none of the local people will fell one.
Catahua tree
Another species used is the “Holy Tree” or Ceiba/Kapok tree.
Emerging Kapok trees perhaps
We headed back to the Manu River, and started upstream in the muddied waters. Here there were even more trees, logs, and branches in the water, and the boat never went in a straight line as we weaved back and forth. This meant a long haul to get to the Manu National Park checkpoint, and our deadline was 1:00 PM! My watch said 1:05 PM when we finally arrived, but I think we were right on time. It may not have mattered because a) we were on Latino time, and b) the guards at the checkpoint were very happy to see Rob. We had to show our permits, sign in, and use the restrooms.
Rob and Percy signed us up for several events requiring scheduling so that tour groups didn’t overcrowd any one point in the park. We thought we had it made after a 6-hour journey, and could take it easy, but Rob pushed us onward.
It was here that some of us sank into the soft clay stairs which led down to the boat.
Mud steps
We had lunch as the boat continued up the Manu River, and we started seeing more birds and wildlife.
Saw lots more Roadside Hawks, this time along the river; “Riverside” Hawks?! “Wayside” Hawks?! Also, Muscovy Ducks, Orinoco Geese, Neotropic Cormorants and Anhingas, Great Egrets, loads of Snowy Egrets, Fasciated Tiger-Herons, Cocoi Herons, Wood Storks, Pied Lapwings, Collared Plovers, Black Skimmers, Sand-colored Nighthawks; and Ringed, Amazon, and Green Kingfishers. Also Horned Screamers (when you see them up close, they are a scream!). Flying overhead were several types of Vultures and Hawks, Osprey, Black Caracaras, Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns, White-eyed and Dusky-headed Parrots, Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Chestnut-collared and White-collared Swifts, White-banded Swallows; and Russet-backed and Olive/Amazonian Oropendolas.
Because the river is always changing course, pioneer plants populate the eroded banks of the river. Great or wild cane (Gynerium sagittatum) and cecropia trees, followed by tropical cedar and ficus trees.
Great cane and cecropia trees
Great cane and perhaps Kapok trees
Ficus tree
We saw many Speckled or White Caiman, and a few Black Caiman, the largest reptile in the world.
Brynne and I kept smelling a particular zoo smell that we associated with wild cats and were being told we were smelling the wild garlic trees. Ha! So the next time we smelled it, we yelled out, “We smell it!” and were told that we were actually smelling peccaries. Okay, not as exciting as jaguars, but certainly better than wild garlic!
Saw a wasp nest that looked like a giant white boat fender (cylindrical “bumper” hanging over the side of small boats to absorb impact) hanging at the top of a very tall tree.
It started to pour rain again, but this time we were in the back of the boat.
Brynne bundled against the rain
Lots of stories were being told, but we loved the one about the "Giant Hemitriccus" (Hemitriccus is a genus of the pygmy-tyrant birds) that makes a bill-snapping sound. When a tree cracks as it falls, it can be confused with the call of the Giant Hemitriccus. Innocent (as in naive) tourists ask what they eat, and are told they feed mainly on birders and so are never seen as no observer survives! I think Rob then likes to point out “foot prints” of this giant bird to these same tourists. Our group made parallels between the tree falling in the forest making a sound or not, with a "giant hemitriccus" and its call.
Brynne napping
Jan laughing at Brynne
Jan and Tamiko
If we thought we had it made after boating 6 hours to get to Manu National Park, we still had 5 more hours to get to our Tented Camp #3!
Sunset on the Manu River
It was starting to get dark as we approached the clay bank with stairs cut into it. At least it wasn’t a hike to get to our lodging. Brynne and I had to ask a young man to go in our tent and light our candle as we couldn’t see a thing. The screened tents sat up on wood platforms, and had a screen door that locked from the inside. The tent was covered by a thatched roof. We had two beds with mosquito netting and a table with a chair. There was also a bench with a bar over it to hang clothes. We had lots of damp clothes, and nothing ever became really dry in the jungle. The separate toilet/shower building was between our tent and Jan & Kirby’s. Three flush toilets and three showers, but only the first shower had hot water.
This time we did our birding list at 6:30 PM before dinner. Had a great quinoa soup, with tiny “c’s” of quinoa grain in with the vegetables. The super grain of the Andes, this protein-rich grain has all nine amino acids. Had a long conversation with Rob and Percy. Could hear the flute-like calls of a couple different species of Tinamous.
Next: Flora.

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