Tambopata, Day One

We were up early to leave for the bird blind at 5:30AM.  We woke up and shined our flashlights through our mosquito nets onto the floor to make sure there were no ants or spiders or scorpions awaiting an inadvertent misstep.  It was still dark outside while we dressed, but the day was already starting to brighten.  We met Leon and the others at the boat.  We motored upriver 20 minutes to an anchored, floating bird blind.  It was a big one-room cabin floating on the water with windows open towards the bank 50 feet away across the water.  Leon (our guide), Sheri and I were dropped off, and the boat headed back to the lodge.

It was silent until 6:30AM, when the birds started arriving.  It got very noisy as there were at least 100 birds in the trees above the far banks.  It was very busy as the birds moved from tree to tree.  Suddenly, the macaws were startled and they flew away.  There were still parrots and parakeets that slowly  descended lower and lower in the trees.  Finally, the birds landed in the clay, and started eating the dirt–the clay has some mineral  they don’t normally get in their diet.  At 7:30, the birds were startled and they all flew away.  Now there were NO birds in the bank across from the bird blind (and we weren’t going to leave until 8:30 or 9AM); silence permeated the jungle in stark contrast to what we had heard before.  We could hear birds upriver and downriver, but we were stranded in our little room.

We unpacked a breakfast that the lodge had pre-made for us.  The cold pancakes with a hint of orange were really good.  There were also hard boiled eggs, fruit, tea, and sandwiches.  Bees started showing up attracted by the food.  After sitting in relative silence for half an hour the macaws came back at 8AM.  They were vibrant reds and blues and yellows against the green canopy of the jungle.  Finally, they also alighted on the clay riverbank. It was an amazing sight as they intermixed with more parrots and parakeets feeding on the clay.  As we watched, we also saw a Laughing Falcon, a toucan, and numerous other types of birds.

Finally at 8:45 the boat came back.  It took us five minutes downstream where we would have a morning hike back to the lodge.  We headed off on the path.  Leon took us off-trail to stalk some wild pigs and monkeys.  We saw a large wild boar with big tusks cross the pass far ahead of us.  We were doubtful as Leon told us to set down our packs as we stalked them, “they’re agressive, and it’s better in case we need to run away from them”.  Leon had a machete, and we had cameras.  Something was wrong with this picture.  We got closer to the boars, and they ran away scared–too bad :)

We passed by a leaf covered with small red bugs.  We asked Leon what kind of bugs they were.  He answered, “They are B-U-G-S… Bugs.”  Sheri and I looked at each other and almost broke out laughing.  Well… that’s really useful. We realized yet again that we were on a Disneyland ride, Leon’s English was good as long as he stayed on script, but don’t ask any questions or you’ll probably get no response to your question :)

Ultimately, after looking for some monkeys, we realized that we were lost–LOST IN THE JUNGLE.  We had been off the trail for a while, and Leon was needing to constantly use the machete to keep forward progress.  We had to balance beam our way across two logs to cross two separate streams.  We we came to a third stream (without a log nearby), and after Leon tried to cut down a tree to make another bridge, he gave up and headed in a new direction.  We kept changing direction, trying to find a real path or at least the river, but had no success.  After an hour of searching, in the mud and occasional rain, we finally made it to a trail.  After starting in one direction, he then turned us around as he realized the right direction.  At noon we finally made it back to the lodge; our 2 hour trip took more than 3 hours.  We were exhausted.  We showered and rested before lunch.

We had lunch in the lodge, and there were only three of us there to eat.  It was beef in an Asian style sauce with fried sweet potatoes.  It was very good after our tiring morning hike.  We let Leon pick what our next activity was going to be–going to a small town in the afternoon.  We went back and relaxed in our cabana.

At 3:30, Leon came by to take us to the village.  A light drizzle was happening, and we had hoped that he was going to cancel the afternoon outing.  We dressed and rushed down to the boat.  It was an hour downriver to the small village.  We exited the boat and immediately 10 kids met us (we were the novelty for the day).  We climbed a long set of stairs up the embankment to the community.  The village was merely about twenty buildings surrounding a big field, a big soccer field.  Leon toured us around telling us about the 200 people that lived here.  The community looked like it was mainly comprised of kids, and he confirmed that having big families was very common.  We visited the school where the children were taught Spanish, Esau (local language) and some English.  We saw an animal jawbone in the mud as we wondered around the community.  The tourists were a big attraction for the day.  It was interesting to see more solar panels (for their lights and radios) in yet another part of the country; it’s amazing how many solar panels we saw in our Peruvian travels.  They showed us some handmade jewelry, mainly made out of seeds and pigs teeth.  We bought a necklace and then left.

It was dark on our return trip.  The boatmen shone lights on the banks as we passed.  We saw the glowing eyes of several caiman lurking in the murky waters.  Fishing bats erratically flew past our boat.  We saw two tapirs swimming at the river’s edge, and then they rushed out of the water and into the brush.  We continued to see more families of copibaris (the world’s largest rodent); there are lots at the end of the rainy season, not so many after the jaguar and anaconda have their way during the dry season.  Leon said he saw an ocelot, but no one else saw it, as he stopped the boat and scanned the bank with his flashlight.

We got back to the lodge, and it was still only the two of us.  We had a chicken and potatoes for dinner.  We then headed to bed early, since we would be getting up early again tomorrow for a lake tour–leaving at 5AM :(