Jungle Boogie

Trip Start Jul 18, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Well we got back from safely from the Amazon Jungle late yesterday evening without any major events.  In fact the scariest part of the entire five days was definitely the bus ride back, and that´s saying something given all the dangerous and poisonous creepy crawlies we encountered (see below!).  The part of the Amazonian jungle that we went to is called the Manu national park and is a vast area of lowland eastern Peru (20,000 sq km or according to the blurb ´about the size of Wales´).  It was designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1977 and a World Natural Heritage Site in 1987 and so hasn´t suffered from damage by logging etc that other Amazonian areas have.  The park is divided into three zones: the largest sector, to the west, is the zona natural comprising is essentially closed to unauthorized visitors.  There are indigenous groups in this area that have had little or no contact with the outside world and they don´t want any either (they´re known to have killed researchers and tourists that have strayed too far into their hood!).  The second sector is the experimental zone where controlled research and tourism activities are permitted while the third sector is known as the cultural zone and this is where we were headed (by the way the tour company we used was SAS travel and are well respected).  That´s not to say that the cultural zone isn´t remote or uninteresting.  In fact after the crowds of tourists and tour groups in and around Machu Picchu it was a relief that very few tourists seem that interested going into the jungle which means that you feel a bit less sheepish.  The first day of the trip brought us by bus into the park itself and then on the second day we left the bus for a boat and started criusing down the Madre de Dio or Mother of God river.  This was really fantastic as you get to go deep into the jungle very quickly.  Travelling by boat is also alot easier on the stomach than the bouncing on the bus!  We stopped off to refuel at a village called Boca Manu where there was an intense football match being held between rival villages.  In terms of culture this was definitely the highlight of the trip so far as it seems that all the towns and cities that we´ve visited are either really touristic or really grim so it was great to see a remote village getting on really well with life without having to lose themselves completely to tourism.  It was just great to have a look around and see what the locals were getting up to on a Sunday afternoon.  One thing that I thought was brilliant was that they were knocking fruit (maybe Papaya) off the trees and frying it on the sidelines for the kids and players, the Amazonian equvalent of orange segments!  In case you´re interested the game ended one all, a result that didn´t seem to please either side!

Over the next day we travelled further down the river and went to see the Macaw Lick.  This is where all the parrots and macaws come from a wide radius to take advantage of the minerals in the ground.  These birds eat some toxic fruit as part of their diet and use the salt lick to ease their aching stomachs (a bit like Alca Seltzer for birds!).  Up until this point we had been spotting and identifying birds here and there as we zoomed by in the boat but the numbers, diversity and colours of the birds at the salt lick was really fantastic.  By the way our guide (Michel) was brilliant and had a scope and tripod focused in on everything in seconds and then pointed out the species in the taxonomic book.  That night we went to see the Mammal Lick which is the same idea but is visited by Tapirs and other mammals.  Unfortunately none of them showed up for us which was a bit of a disappointment but was more than compensated for by the night time walk back to the lodge where there were all sorts of really poisonous insects and spiders.  Most of the spiders are fairly relaxed, even the huge ones, but its the bullet ants that you really have to watch out for.  These guys are solitary ants, around an inch long, and have one of the most painfull stings of all.  The other thing is that they are everywhere...at one point Eilis pointed out to Michel that there was one on his leg!   Even he was a bit freaked out by this as he has had the dubious pleasure of being stung by one before.  After all that excitment we really didn´t need to encounter a rainbow boa (around 1.5 meters long!) on the way back to the lodge but as with most of the large animals in the jungle he was very relaxed and just made his way slowly back into his hole in the wall.  The next morning at 5am we went to the oxbow lake to see the giant river otters.  These guys are great fun and come right up to the boat honking and hollering to tell you to piss off and let them eat their fish in peace (at least that was my translation).  We also saw more birds including Hoatzins which made me quite excited as I´ve only ever heard about them in books on the evolution of birds (they´re a bit a living fossil as the chicks have teeth!).  We also got to see howler monkeys but you tend to hear them more than see them as they make some racket!
After all that its actually really nice to be back in civilization (the jungle is a nice place to visit but not to stay!).  I hope all is going well there with everyone and I´ll be back on Tuesday which I´m strangely looking forward too.
Talk soon,

Ps I screwed up with the e mail alerts for a few of the blogs so if you think you´ve missed any and feel like reading them just check the list  
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