Mind your huevos, watch out for flying fish

Trip Start May 05, 2009
Trip End Sep 03, 2009

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Flag of Peru  , Loreto,
Friday, June 19, 2009

My excursion left from Lagunas, which lies at the edge of the Pacaya-Samiria reserve.  The reserve is a protected portion of the Amazon rainforest, about 7700 square miles in area, situated in north-eastern Peru just south of the Amazon river.  The interior can only be visited with a guide registered with the Peruvian government.
    After we gathered up all our supplies, equipment, and food, we headed down the muddy road toward our entry point.  The heavy rains from the days before made for some tough going and a couple close calls where the three-wheeled motorcycle-turned-pickup truck nearly flipped.  I was in charge of keeping our eggs from breaking (our food for the coming days) while the driver charged through trenches and potholes.  It was a bit like a cartoon as I bounced around the moto-pickup, one moment banging my head on the roof, the next trying to safely land the airborne eggs back in the bucket without any breakage.  I am happy to report there was only one yolky casualty by the time we arrived!  
    At the ranger station, we loaded up all our gear into a canoe and set off into the jungle.  The majority of this trip was actually spent on the river, which is currently at the highest level it has ever been.  The river is fed by rain and melting ice in the Andes mountains.  Much of the areas that used to be land are now covered by water.  
    Immediately upon floating away from the dock, I was struck by the density of trees and plant life.  I hope the photos can convey a fraction of the natural beauty that completely engulf the senses.  As we rowed down the slow moving river, every once in a while the guide would stop us suddenly and get very quiet, turn his head a bit, and focus on something off in the trees.  After a minute he would look back at me then point at whatever he saw, which of course I could not see.  I would dart my eyes around, turn my hands over and whisper "Que vees?" (What do you see?).  I did not have the keen "jungle eye" that my guide did, so whenever he pointed something out it always took me a little time to find it, but it was always rewarding when I did.  While the jungle does have a lot of animals, they are naturally timid around humans, so they are not just parading in front of you.  We were lucky enough to see lots of monkeys playing in the trees, but they were incredibly hard to photograph!  I got a couple shots, but none very close.  I've captioned all the pictures, so I won't go into detail about all the animals, but briefly, during the day we saw: a tarantula, lots of monkeys of different varieties, turtles, aquatic lizard, many beautiful birds, pirahnas, sloths (called Perezosos in Spanish, which means 'lazy'!), pink and gray river dolphins, a centipede and a small anaconda (maybe 4 feet).
    At night we stayed in very basic ranger stations which are tended to by guides and people who work for the reserve.  Some were just wood platforms with a thatched roof, where we would sleep under mosquito nets.  The guide cooked some pretty tasty meals for us with fish that we caught and the supplies that we brought along, usually some combination of bread, eggs, tomatoes, onions and fried yucca or potato.
    As the sun started going down, the stars began to dot the night sky.  Once darkness had fully set in, the infinite constellations captivated my imagination above, while the croaking frogs and chirping insects and the strange sounds of unseen nocturnal creatures immersed my senses from all directions.  My favorite part of the trip was our late night canoe trips, aka the crocodile hunt!  There is a very eerie feeling floating off into the darkness with just a flashlight.  At night, there are 'flying' fish that jump out of the water in schools.  The sudden splashing, breaking the calm of the river, is startling enough, but occasionally the fish would also leap into the canoe and start flopping around trying to escape!  Little vampire bats also fly in schools, buzzing past your ears flapping their wings.  As the canoe quietly glided through the water, the suspense of spotting a crocodile and the strange patterns of animal and insect noises emerging from dark unknown places gave me the feeling of being the next victim in a bad horror movie.  A low hanging branch brushed my shoulder and I jumped, giving my fearless guide a bit of a laugh...
    Eventually I settled down a bit, and got used to the sights and sounds of being on the river at night... which is good because it took us two nights to finally spot a crocodile.  The bigger crocodiles are best avoided for obvious reasons, but the smaller ones are apparently not as dangerous, at least that's what my guide seems to think.  After endless searching, we saw the red glowing eyes of a young crocodile in poking out of the water among some tangled plants and trees.  My guide reached back for the spear, and two competing thoughts played ping-pong in my mind:
    1. He's going to use the wooden end of the spear to move the brush away and get a better look.... or
    2. No way... he's actually going to spear that poor creature.  That can't be legal, this is a protected natural reserve!
    As he tilted his arm back and launched the spear into the darkness, I had my answer.  At once exhilirated and a bit shocked at what he had done, my heart was racing.  With the crocodile thrashing about in the water, the guide slowly drew the spear toward the boat, removed the spear from the beast's hind leg, and brought the croc in for his photo session (see pics).
    So far, I think the jungle excursion has been the highlight of my travels in South America.  The only downside was the hundreds of insect bites from the endless supply of blood-thirsty mosquitoes (seemingly unfazed by repellant) and other nasties that have probably not been identified by scientists yet.

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