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Published: June 15th 2009
Looking UpFor those of you who have been following my blog you will notice a large gap. I have decided to start writing about my current travels, but I will fill in the gaps as quickly as I can, so stay tuned and enjoy.
This is the view from among the buttresses of the giant kapok tree - It was an amazing view!
A quick glance through the window revealed a seemingly endless blanket of green where, a few minutes before, there had been huge, snow-capped peaks. Just below us a wide ribbon of muddy orange water sliced through the green in a winding, haphazard manner. I knew the river well, though I had only seen it on maps - It was the Tambopata, one of Peru’s last wild rivers. As we got closer to the ground individual trees became distinguishable in the blanket of green and it hit me for the first time just how massive the forest was! The pilot’s voice crackled on the intercom as he asked the flight attendants to take their seats and then the forest ended abruptly. Huge farms took the place of the seemingly endless canopy and then the runway appeared below us. The wheels hit the ground with a screeching jolt and then we taxied for a few moments and came to
I love this picture. It is a nearly exact reproduction of one I saw in my seventh grade socialstudies textbook that fueled my initial interests in the Amazon - My picture is better though because the man's thumb is bandaged due to a piranha bite!
a stop on the tarmac near the terminal building. I was greeted with a blast of hot, humid air as I stepped out of the plane and walked down the stairs to the sun-scorched pavement. A sign in the terminal welcomed me to Puerto Maldonado.
While I waited for my bag, I talked to a few Canadian tourists that were standing next to me by the luggage carrousel. They were in town for a quick three-day tour at one of the many lodges in the surrounding forest, as were most of the other people standing around me. I was relieved that I had managed to find another way to visit the region. I collected my bags and walked out to find my ride. After a hectic journey on a strange, three-wheeled moto-taxi I found myself standing beneath the thatched roof of Rainforest Expeditions’ Puerto Maldonado office. Carlos, my contact in Puerto Maldonado, handed me my permits, which had taken a lot of work to get, told me which lodge I was going to and when I was leaving. I had about two hours to kill, so I took a seat on a bench and I waited. Above me on
the thatched ceiling of the traditional Amazonian structure that the office was located in was a giant pink-toed tarantula fighting with a few flying insects - It was a small glimpse of things to come.
I was excited. After years of planning, of reading every book on jungle exploration and survival I could get my hands on and even a few short trips into the jungles of Central America for experience I had finally made it to the Amazon Rainforest. Puerto Maldonado, located at the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers, is the gateway to Peru’s southern Amazon. The forest surrounding Puerto Maldonado is considered to be one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world and it is a hot spot for ecotourism in the Amazon - It was exactly the type of forest I had wanted to visit when I started all of my planning so many years ago. Of course, my initial plans had me scouring the unexplored jungle for the lost cities and ancient treasures of lore, but the practicality of that type of expedition didn’t fit into my finances too well - Gran Patiti will have to wait. Instead, I was
The Giant Kapok Tree
This was the amazing tree that served as my favorite place in the forest.
following a lead I had heard about from an American girl I had met in Athens, Greece back in 2007. She had spent months working as a volunteer for the Tambopata Macaw Project and she spoke highly of the experience. Armed with the contact information she had given me I started the process of getting accepted as a volunteer. I was not sure if I even had a chance since I am an engineer, not a biologist, but, after a few e-mails back and forth, I was welcomed into the project.
The permit process required me to get a letter of introduction from one of my university professors written in Spanish - I had been out of school for ten years, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find anybody that remembered me at my school, but it turned out not to be a problem. I attached my resume and a cover letter to the letter of introduction and mailed them to Peru and then I waited. After a few months I had my plane tickets, my permits and all of my jungle necessities - I was ready to go, but I wasn’t so sure that
In the Boat
The long, narrow boats were perfect for river travel. If the driver hit something (small) he had time to pull the motor up out of the water and not damage the prop.
I wanted to. In the months that had passed between getting accepted into the project and actually boarding the plane things had changed drastically at home. Some of the changes were wonderful and others were deeply troubling, but together they made me question whether disappearing for a few months into the vast forests of South America was the best path to follow at the time. I considered all of my options and talked them over with everyone concerned. The big question I had to consider was simple: Should I follow the path that led towards the immediate fulfillment of my long-standing dream of being a jungle ‘explorer’, or should I follow the new path that had unexpectedly appeared before me, which led directly into the mysterious unknown spaces on the map of my life? It was true that the road that led into the forest would eventually rejoin the new path, but it would be a long, difficult journey full of pitfalls and peril. It was a tough decision to make, but in the end I boarded the plane, driven mostly by the fact that I had given my word to the project that I would help them out.
This is the first view I had of the hide at Colpa Hermosa as I came up the Tambopata River to Posada Amazonas Lodge.
I met Yesenia, the project manager and lead guacamayero (macaw researcher) for the Tambopata Macaw Project at Posada Amazonas, just before we left the office. As I boarded the small bus bound for the native community of Infierno, where I was to catch the boat up river, it started to sink in - I was in the Amazon Rainforest! We rattled our way down the muddy, potholed road for nearly half an hour. At times there were small, ramshackle structures lining the road, but mostly it was just large, healthy stands of forest. After about half an hour we stopped in a cloud of orange dust. It looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, but the tourists’ guide told us it was time to gather our things and get off the bus. When the dust settled the river was visible in a small clearing just off of the left side of the road. I walked down the steep, muddy bank of the river and walked across an unsteady gangplank to the long, narrow boat that was tied up in the shade of a large tree. I took a seat beneath the awning on one of the benches that
The insect life along the Tambopata River was varied and easy to see.
ran the full length of the boat on either side. Once everyone was on board the outboard motor started up and we pulled out into the river.
It was still the rainy season in the Amazon Basin, so the river was flowing right up to the trees on both banks and was filled with everything from small branches to entire, leaf-crowned trees that were slowly making their way down to the Amazon River and the distant Atlantic. Our boatman adeptly dodged all of the floating obstacles that presented themselves while we scanned the banks in search of wildlife. I managed to spot a few massive river turtles that were basking in the sun on logs near the shore, one of which had a cloud of large yellow butterflies hovering around it. The guide pointed out a few flying macaws as well, but there was not much else. The banks of the river were covered in thick stands of trees that in places came right down to the river’s edge and in others stood atop sheer riverside bluffs of orange clay. Every now and then a farm or a small settlement broke the canopy as well. After we had been
This is the Amazonian lodge that I called home for about five weeks.
under way for a while, the guide handed everybody little warm packets wrapped in huge green leaves. Inside my leaf I found a delicious rice dish - Lunch was served. It felt a little weird throwing my ‘plate’ into the river when I finished eating, but it was only a leaf after all.
After what must have been an hour we slowed the boat and came to a stop near a small thatched hide on the southern bank of the river. In the trees above the hide there were several large red and green macaws. We watched them for a while as the guide explained about the colpa, or large clay-lick that was just in front of the hide. He mentioned that the hide was part of Posada Amazonas Lodge - I knew I would get well acquainted with that hide in the coming weeks. When the macaws flew away we continued a short distance further up river and stopped at a small wooden staircase that came down the bank out of the forest. The tourists and the guide got off of the boat there and disappeared into the trees. Yesenia and I stayed on board and headed back
Drops of Water
Photography was difficult in the Amazon, but there were ample opportunities to practice.
down river a bit to a steep, muddy beach with several boats tied up together. The beach was known as the staff port and was where all of the supplies for the lodge were brought ashore from the boats. I hoisted my heavy bag onto my shoulders and worked my way up the bank of the river, slipping and sliding as I went. At the top we found a small building and a makeshift soccer field in a small clearing beneath the massive trees. A little further on we came to a huge wooden staircase, which climbed up from the flood plain along the river to terra firma, where the lodge was located, and we started climbing. Once we made it to the top of the stairs it was only a short distance further to the lodge.
I followed Yesenia into the first thatch-roofed building we came to, which were the guides’ quarters. She showed me to a small room, open to the forest on one side, that all of the project participants shared (just me and her at the time) and pointed towards a moldy bed in a dark corner that I could use. To say that my
This is a red and green macaw (Guacamayo).
first impression of the place was less than favorable would be a generous understatement. I was horrified, not because it was rustic, or shared, or even moldy, I had expected all of that, but because it lived up to my expectations. I put my stuff on the bed and then we went on a quick tour of the lodge. She pointed me into the bathrooms, which were better than I had expected with private toilets and private, open air showers with lovely views of the treetops, and then we crossed over a short walkway that led to the ‘tourist section’ of the lodge. There I found the bar, nice seating areas and long jungle hardwood tables. She pointed to a table that had tea and coffee on it and said that it would be available all day every day - Perfect for when the massive rainstorms forced us to stay in the lodge. Then we walked into the kitchen area where she showed me where I could find filtered water and, then, down another walkway where we came to the rustic staff dining room - She explained that we would be eating lunch and dinner with the staff and breakfast
The Approaching Storm.
Being in the forest during storms is a very dangerous thing. This particular storm came in quickly with strong winds and rain. It knocked over several trees, including one at the lodge.
at 4:30 every morning with the tourists. We then went to our office, where she explained a bit about what we would be doing, and then gave me the rest of the day off. I quickly sent some e-mails home telling everyone that I had safely arrived and then I put on my fresh, clean smelling jungle clothes and set off on my first walk in the Amazon.
In the weeks that followed I spent a lot of time with Yesenia learning about the forest surrounding Posada Amazonas and learning about the tasks I would be helping with as a volunteer. I spent a lot of time in the hide at Colpa Hermosa, as the big clay-lick we passed on the river was called, counting macaws and parrots as they fed on the mineral rich clay. During my idle time in the hide (when there were no birds around) I studied a lot and became good at distinguishing the different species by their songs, which was a very important skill to have when walking below the canopy where we could rarely see them. I also spent a lot of time walking with Yesenia when she went out on foraging
A Dusky Titi Monkey
These guys were common and quite vocal. This one was in the trees above the colpa.
walks, which required us to walk slowly looking for parrots and macaws feeding, or on census walks where we recorded every parrot or macaw we found over a ten minute period at pre-designated points along the different trails. We also monitored the birds from the heights of the small platform at the top of the 120-foot tower that rose up above the canopy and at Colpita, which was a small clay-lick that was located in the forest. Those first few weeks were exciting. Every animal we found was a new discovery for me. I had hair-raising encounters with white-lipped peccaries, which are a type of wild pig known for its aggressive behavior, and mystery encounters with large, unknown animals that quickly ran away as we approached. I also found a huge number of snakes, which were the animals I most wanted to see in the forest, and interesting and, at times, terrifying insects.
The first few weeks were also the most difficult for me. My command of the Spanish language was not as good as I had hoped it would be by the time I got there, which made communication with the lodge staff difficult. As a result I
The Amazon Rainforest
Looking into the forest from one of the trails.
spent a lot of time alone in silent contemplation and reading. To make things even worse, I was discouraged from having more than passing contact with the tourists. I also had some difficulty adjusting to my new diet of rice and chicken - Portions were very small and vegetables were rare, so that, coupled with the eight to ten hours I spent in the forest each day, meant that I lost a lot of weight in those first few weeks. I eventually learned that the staff food was essentially the leftovers from the tourist meals - If there were a lot of tourists at the lodge then there was not a lot of food for us. The same night I made that discovery I learned how absolutely ruthless some of the staff I was forced to eat with were - The meal was rice and pork chops, but there was not enough meat to give each of us one piece; the five guys that went in front of me each grabbed two pork chops, leaving none for me or the other people behind me! From that point on I developed the same attitude as them and started taking what I
Give Me a Kiss!
This odd looking plant was fairly common along the trail.
needed instead of what they were offering. I also figured out how to horde food from breakfast, which was served buffet style. I was perpetually hungry, but after that point I was feeling a bit better. My Spanish also got better as the days went by and by the third week I was able to have very broken conversations with the few staff members who were patient enough to listen. Despite all of the little problems, the jungle was always magnificent and all it took was a short walk to erase the trivial problems of life as a third-class citizen at the lodge - I was having a lot of fun!
After the first few weeks of training I started doing tasks on my own. By that time I was well acquainted with most of the trails in the area. With the exception of rainy days, which, at first, happened frequently, I spent every day out in the forest amongst the majestic trees. Each trail had its own character, its own benefits and its own discomforts. The mosquitoes and the unbroken canopy seemed to be the only constant that they all shared. Walking through the trees was a vastly
It was tough getting this guy to stay still long enough to get a picture, but I out waited him.
rewarding experience for me, but the forest carefully guarded its secrets. At times the forest spirits seemed to be angry with me, by preventing me from seeing any of its residents - One such dry spell lasted for more than a week, starting when I tried to catch a large mussurana snake that was peacefully resting on the side of the trail. At other times they seemed happy with me, revealing wonder after wonder. Yesenia told me about the forest spirits one day when we were walking. She said that there were two primary spirits that the locals believed in. One of them was called Chuyanchaqui, who, according to the legends, tended small, natural clearings in the forest called chacras, or Devil’s Gardens in English. Chuyanchaqui, Yesenia told me, would appear to people in the forest as a good friend and would lure the hapless jungle traveler deep into the woods. By the time the person figured out it was a Chuyanchaqui and not their friend it was too late, they were utterly lost in the forest! Apparently the only way to differentiate the Chuyanchaqui from a friend was with its feet - One would be a human foot and
This was the huge (7 feet long) snake that I tried to catch, prompting my interaction with the forest spirits.
the other would be a goat’s foot, or a wooden peg-leg, depending on which story you hear. The other spirit was known as Tunchi. Tunchi sounded like a fierce forest protector. It also seemed like somewhat of a joker, generally only targeting people who were harming the forest - logging, hunting for other than sustenance, mining… - with its full wrath. I imagine it was Tunchi that was messing with me, because it definitely hade a sense of humor!
At first I proceeded on the trails with extreme caution, expecting every bend to reveal a man-eating jaguar or an aggressive bushmaster snake, which was the most feared animal in the forest - Locals called the magnificent snake ‘shushupe’ and just mentioning its name sent horrified tremors through even the most hardened of jungle residents. As time went by I got to know the forest a lot better. Due to all of the reading I had done regarding jungle survival, I was well acquainted with the dangers of the forest, so I knew what to keep a lookout for. Oddly enough, poisonous snakes were very low on the ‘dangers’ list and man-eating jaguars didn’t even make an appearance. The biggest
The fact that they are poisonous was not all that special, sense everything seems to be poisonous down there.
danger was not even due to members of the animal kingdom - Getting lost. I often had to leave the trail to search for foraging birds (or to follow a snake) and it was amazing how quickly the trail disappeared behind me. Less than ten feet off of the trail is all it took to erase all signs of a human presence in the forest - Because of that I never left the trail without first taking a bearing with my compass, it was truly a matter of life and death in the jungle!
Another obvious danger in the jungle came from the plentiful insects and spiders. The vast majority of them were completely harmless and quite interesting, but some of them, including the mosquitoes and biting flies, were potentially deadly and many others came with painful bites. Two creatures stood high above the rest with their dangerous reputations. One was the isula, or bullet ant, which was a massive, black ant, often larger than an inch in length, with giant jaws. The bullet ant was always a danger when walking through the forest, because they were commonly seen walking up and down the same trees and low branches
Mist Over the Canopy
This grainy picture was taken from the top of the tower - The view was a typical one as the sun rose in the morning.
that made good handholds and resting points. Their bite has been described as the most painful (non-life-threatening) bite in the animal kingdom, which apparently feels like you have been shot, thus the name, and is usually accompanied by a twenty-four hour fever - Because of their prevalence, I quickly learned to NEVER touch the trees and branches along the trail without inspecting them first! The other fear-inducing critter was the wandering spider, aka banana spider, which is common and quite deadly if the stories are to be believed - My survival books didn’t list them as deadly, but everyone around me in the jungle said their bite was almost always fatal. The problem with the wandering spiders was that they are very aggressive, very fast and very large! I had many exciting encounters with both critters, including one very stupid one: I was on a night walk with two of my friends searching for a giant spider that a few of the other guides had seen. When we found it we were all blown away by its size - It was larger than a dinner plate. It didn’t have the usual identifying features of the wandering spider and it was
A Three-Toed Sloth
I was in the tower one morning when I saw this guy. At first I thought it was a termite mound, but he eventually moved. He stayed in the same tree for about three weeks, so I saw him many times.
much larger than they usually were, so we had no idea what it was. One of my friends had a good friend who was a spider expert, so we took a series of pictures using our hands to give scale to the spider. Our hands were not really close to the giant arachnid, but they were apparently too close. My friend’s friend replied to the e-mail explaining the level of stupidity that was displayed in the pictures. It was a wandering spider, which, in our area of the Amazon, were notorious for attaining massive sizes, and it was large enough to have leapt on us had it chosen to. We, of course, felt quite foolish, but we had learned something important - The usual identifying features are not always present!
Walking along the emerald tinted trails was always exciting. Just being amongst the massive buttressed bases of the magnificent trees and the thick tangle of lianas in one of the world’s largest and most mysterious forests was enough to make my time there magical, but there was so much more. The potential for finding something amazing existed in every shadow and around every bend in the trail. It was
Sunrise Over the Lake
I managed to go with the tourist to Tres Chimbadas Lake, just across the river.
like a never-ending treasure hunt, one in which the searching was as exciting as the finding. Sometimes a slight noise would betray the existence of an animal just off of the trail. At other times it would be a violent, heart wrenching crashing and rustling of the leaves as the animal ran away. Most of the time, though, the animals just sat quietly in the shadows and let you walk past them - It is impossible to tell how many animals, both big and small, that I was close to, but didn’t see along the trail.
There were three animals that I regularly encountered that had the ability to fill my mind with an instantaneous feeling of malevolent, primordial danger. Of the three only one of them was actually dangerous and, oddly enough, it had the less menacing of all of their ‘warning’ sounds. It was the pig-like white-lipped peccary, which was dangerous due to their large stature and the massive size of its herds. Just imagine walking along the trail alone and suddenly hearing the loud, ‘click’, ‘click’, ‘click’ of their large tusk-like teeth as they ate, or directed at you as a pronounced warning signal. Often by
the time I realized that I was near a large group of the peccaries it was too late and I was already surrounded. Once the peccaries realized that I was there amongst them, they would always let out a collective roar-like squeal, which sounded something like the tortured screams of a thousand banshees coupled with the roar of a tyrannosaurus rex, and then they would start running in which every direction they felt was the safest. Generally that direction was away from me, but when you are in the middle of the herd some of them inevitably run towards you in order to stay with the group. If the herd were large enough, the ground would tremble as they ran. The survival books told me to climb a tree when I encountered the peccaries, but considering the spiky, poisonous-insect infested nature of most of the smaller trees it was something to be avoided if at all possible! I eventually learned how to identify the presence of the peccaries solely by their smell - Of course, despite repeated washings, my trail clothes had taken on a similar, peccary-esque smell, so it wasn’t a foolproof method of identification!
The other two
This bird, who's name escapes me, was perfectly camouflaged and still as can be.
animals fell into the category of terrifying only at the instant they made their presence known. One was the haunting cry of the howler monkey. I absolutely loved hearing the booming roar of the monkeys echoing across the canopy and through the understory. It is a sound that should be associated with a terrifying, man-eating beast. Nearly every morning their haunting call would prompt alarmed questions from the newly arrived groups of tourists, “What on Earth is that?!”, “Is that a jaguar?!” - I could only smile as their guides tried to convince them that the sound came from a monkey! Walking through the forest while they wailed was an exhilarating experience that I enjoyed immensely. However, imagine walking alone along a silent trail amongst the trees. You are on guard but your mind is slightly wandering, imagining the amazing, but ultimately impossible, animal encounters that lay just around the next bend in the trail. Suddenly a blood-curdling roar directly above your head shatters the silence! In the instant it takes you to figure out where the sound is coming from you imagine everything from a herd of jaguars pouncing on you from above to some unknown beast laying in
Wasps are another big danger in the forest, because some are quite poisonous.
wait, ready to devour its next meal. Once you realize that it is your good friend the howler monkey all the terror is instantly gone and you continue walking, enjoying the remnants of a quick adrenaline rush! The third of the ‘terror-inducing’ animals is also the least menacing. It falls into the same category as the howler monkey, but with a slightly more severe shock, because it waits until you are right next to it to let its presence be known! It is the sphinx guan, a large, turkey-like bird that is fairly common. When it gets startled (like when you approach it too closely) it explodes in a rush of heavy wing beats, which sound like the loud growling of a large animal right next to you, as it flies to the safety of the canopy - The shock is short lived, but quite severe!
As I mentioned before, snakes were the animals I most wanted to see the forest and I spent nearly every moment on the trail looking for them. Sometimes there were none to be found. At other times they seemed to litter the trail. In my first week I found three snakes, a beautiful
The Garlic Tree
This tree smelled just like garlic. It tortured me every day, because there was no real garlic to be had.
green swamp snake that puffed up like a cobra, a giant brown rat snake that the cook scared out of the open kitchen and the huge mussurana that prompted the long, Tunchi inspired dry-spell with my animal sightings. Once I started finding the snakes again they appeared in plentiful numbers. I found many whip snakes, a few large black-racer type snakes that disappeared before I could identify them and a lovely Amazonian tree boa that was living in the rafters of the hide at the colpa - The boa was a special encounter, because they are very hard to spot normally; this one spent the whole morning above my head before a bored tourist laid down on the bench to nap and saw it up there! Another snake encounter will stay in my memory forever due to the humorous situation in which we encountered the snake and the mystery surrounding it. It was just after another volunteer named Cesar, from Peru, had started working with us. Yesenia, Cesar and I were going on a long training walk on the trail that led to the mammal colpa, which was a long, remote walk on terra firma. I had already learned that
This is a particularly dangerous situation - The wasps build their nest under the leaf and then you come along with a machete and...
the trail was great for finding animals - Cesar and I had spotted an oddly colored tayra (reddish brown) and the tracks of a few tapirs on a previous walk there. Yesenia was walking in front of us with the machete when she suddenly fell backwards and landed on a big pile of brush in the trail. We initially thought that she had somehow hurt herself, so we rushed to her assistance. In panicked Spanish, which was fairly incomprehensible for me, she made it known that there was a massive snake in the trail (Yesenia, like most of the people in the forest, absolutely hated snakes in any form) - Cesar understood her and pointed the snake out to me. I quickly ran up to the large serpent, which was already moving away from us due to the commotion from Yesenia’s fall. It was about a meter and a half long, but very thick, like a constrictor or a larger viper. It was a beautiful snake with a predominantly chalky yellow color with big, smooth scales, a large, black head and thin, jagged black stripes that ran diagonally across its body. I knew for sure that it was not one
Tres Chimbatas Lake
The small guard shack at the lake. Note the giant anaconda (vine).
of the four dangerous snakes that lived in the area, but none of us had any idea what it was. I followed it into the brush on the side of the trail in hopes that my friend could get his camera out before I lost sight of it. It was moving slowly and would have been easy to get my hands on, but my number one rule with snakes is to never try to catch a snake that I can’t identify - Especially in a place like the Amazon were it is not inconceivable that there might be new species of snakes, venomous or not, still waiting to be discovered. Sadly, the snake disappeared into the densely packed legs of a walking palm tree before Cesar had his camera ready. Later we poured over all of the books and Internet pages we could find for identifying Amazonian snakes and couldn’t find it anywhere! Later I managed to find a picture on the Internet that closely resembled the snake - The caption said that it was a rarely seen snake that didn’t even have a common name, so I still don’t really know what it was. The snake encounter had another
This is me at the hide at Colpita - I spent many wonderful days here.
humorous aspect of it - The story of Yesenia’s method of avoiding the snake (just falling down) quickly spread through the staff at the lodge!
One of my favorite places in the forests around Posada Amazonas was a small seating area near the midpoint of a three-kilometer trail. Getting there required a long slog through sticky mud and a thigh-deep swamp of stagnant, black water. It was not a comfortable walk, but it was one filled with adventure. Though I never encountered an anaconda or a caiman in the murky water, it was the kind of place you would expect them to be - One time while wading through the water I walked into a thorny plant that was submerged, which was a shocking surprise, since it felt a lot like I would imagine a giant snake bite would have felt! Being swampy, there were a lot of animals in the area, including tapir, peccaries and the usual assortment of small mammals such as agoutis, as well as several predators - I saw the tracks of an ocelot on several occasions. As plentiful as the animals were, what made that particular seating area my favorite spot was the giant
These birds traveled in huge flocks and were quite vocal. This is them feeding at the Colpita clay lick. One special person in my life thought they were flowers!
kapok tree that lived there. Also known as a ceiba, the kapok tree can live for a very long time, attaining a massive size with a huge buttressed base to support its enormity. The giant kapok tree at Posada was truly massive. Its buttresses, which spanned more than forty feet at their widest point, were large enough to hide in. Its trunk rose up with a slight lean to the high canopy. Several dark brown lines rose up to a huge termite mound that was located about a third of the way up the trunk and, on the sunny side, moss and ferns grew in huge numbers. The view up towards the canopy from amongst the buttresses was a particularly impressive one. Despite the rigid schedule of our data collecting walks, I always managed to spend a few moments with the tree and I often walked out there after my day of work just to sit and reflect on the forest. Of course, the clouds of mosquitoes tended to cut my idle time there a little short.
As the weeks went by I learned a lot about the birds I was studying and quickly gained a newfound interest in
When the birds get startled at the clay-lick they all fly away in one big explosion of color - This one was at Colpita.
them. When I arrived on the Tambopata River I didn’t have any great interest in birds, outside of the strong love I have for all of the animals in the world. My love of birds was strong in the sense that I knew the forest would be boring place that felt dead if it weren’t for their beautiful songs - I guess that I just took them for granted. Spending time around the naturalists and biologists that have devoted their lives to the study of these wonderful birds opened my eyes to the amazing diversity among the different species of birds that call the Earth home. Listening to their enthusiastic descriptions of the mysterious calls that we heard on a daily basis helped fuel my new interest and before long I was able to tell the difference between the festive cat-calls of the screaming pia and the haunting, lonely song of the tinamu. Also, the stunningly colorful shows put on by the parrots and macaws as they swarmed around the colpas most mornings filled my mind with a strong sense of wonder that was on par with the amazing clouds of monarch butterflies I witnessed in Mexico and the auroras
A Silver-billed Tanager
This was a common, but beautiful bird around the colpas.
that danced over the Antarctic winter and even the bioluminescence of the ‘comet’ dolphins that lit up the bow of the Europa during the dark, nighttime watches in the Southern Ocean. After several weeks of living life in a thousand shades of green my love of the forest has only grown stronger. For the first time in my travels I am not a tourist or a traveler, at least not primarily. Now I am a scientific researcher, an investigador, or, in local lingo, now I am a Guacamayero!
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