Cusco to Tambopata Research Center

Trip Start Oct 25, 2013
Trip End Nov 25, 2013

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Flag of Peru  , Lima Region,
Friday, November 22, 2013

We left Cusco by plane on Monday and arrived in Puerto Maldonado around noon, and were shocked by the change in temperature and humidity of this jungle town. After a bus ride to the dock we got on motorised long-tail motor launch a "bote" for our two and half hour trip up the river to the Refugio Amazonas. Along the way we happened upon a capybara, the largest rodent in the world. They are about the size of a pig, chubby, can weigh 80 kg and have a face only its mother could love!

The Refugio Amazona lodge is one of the triad run by the same company. It is extremely commodious with en suite bathroom, hot showers, buffet meals, electricity part of the day and Internet. Brown agouti, the size of a small chubby dog roam around the lodge. The main lodge is open to the air, huge, with loft areas for lectures. That night we went out on a night excursion with a guide Uriel looking for caiman, a small fresh water crocodile. Our guides found a few using a flash light that reflects light back out of their eyes; some were in the water and some were on land but soon hustled into the water. Also spotted were paca that are a spotted rodent in the agouti family, apparently very good eating. While it was interesting to find the caiman, it was beautiful out on the silvery water lit by a full moon, cool and bugless except for fireflies in the trees. Back on shore we saw glow worms and a scary looking, but harmless, "tailless scorpions" that use their pincers to catch their prey.

The next morning we were up at five for a walk, returning at ten. We saw brazil nut trees that have nuts the size of a softball, hard shelled with 18-24 brazil nuts inside. It was not the season for them at present, but when it is, you must wear a hard hat as a hard nut falling from 60 meters can do some damage! The local people collect them for sale in the markets.

We were lucky to see all sorts of birds: the white necked puff bird, the olive oropendula, macaws. We were fortunate to see a small troop of saddle backed tamarin monkey feeding on yellow fruit, reaching and spitting out the large pit. We walked down to a small lake, climbed into a boat and were paddled around looking at hoatzin, a very prehistoric bird with the digestive system of a cow, that eats leaves but does not process them well, so they have the nickname of "stinky turkey" and are not good eating.

We left the lodge around eleven and set off in the rain in a smaller long tailed "bote" with a driver, navigator and our guide Uriel for the Tambopata Research Centre. On the way we saw a group of red howler monkeys and a couple of capybaras strolling the shore. We stopped at a large clay lick and watched red and green macaws and scarlet macaws. The Tambopata river is fast flowing and full of rocks, sandbanks and submerged trees so the native expert was helpful in spotting the hazards and getting us through safely in this four hour trip.

Walking in from the dock we found a small group of capuchin monkeys and once at the lodge a few wild pigs or peccaries could be heard snoring and rattling their tusks. And then a group of about twenty squirrel monkeys swung their way through the bush bordering the lodge, a few with babies on their backs. It was a "monkey day" for sure!

The Tambopata Research Center has been in operation since the early nineties. It was begun as a research centre to study a macaw population that is healthy and not endangered so that this information can be applied to the more endangered species of the area. Macaws normally only allow two out of four chicks to fledge. From the research they have done, it seems the parents decide which will be starved or kicked out. The scientists in the early days took these rejected ones and hand raised them. These birds, nicknamed the "chicos" continue to live around the lodge but have mated with wild birds. They seem pretty normal so it is unclear why they were chosen to be culled. The project is supported by Texas State University and there are about six field workers living at the lodge to conduct data collection. Planned for this year, is a study to supplement the chicks with sodium to see if this improves their survival.

The plan was to head out this morning very early to go to the largest clay lick in the world. However, it has been raining hard all day so there is no point as the birds will not go to the clay lick in the rain. The animals, too take shelter do they are not visible. So like the animals, the humans stayed indoors. Not a bad way to relax, talking with very interesting people. We did go to the clay lick however no birds had come out from the rain. The river had swollen probably 3 meters, was very fast with trees, logs and debris flowing down making navigation a challenge. No animals today.

But we were up at 4 am for our last day. We headed to the clay lick and were lucky to see hundreds of parrots, probably twenty blue and yellow macaws, a few red and green macaws and the occasional scarlet. They move as a group, for protection, the little parrots in first to feed on the clay and then the larger ones staying only very briefly. Something will spook them and they take off together, then roost until the perceived danger has gone and then they return to feed.

The clay is an important part of a parrot's diet. It is extremely high in sodium, teaspoon for teaspoon, containing almost as much as table salt. It also contains anti toxins that neutralize the toxins taken in from fruit. Because of this, the parrots and macaws are driven to go to the clay daily and must visit after two or three days, or become ill. We were told that for the first thirty days the chicks are solely fed clay by their parents so it must have additional nutritive properties as well.

Back for breakfast we had a group of spider monkeys swing their way past the dining room. We headed out after breakfast for a walk through the mud in our rubber boots and came upon a small group of spider monkeys and then later red howlers. A later walk showed us the final monkey on the check list: the dusky titi. Uriel, our guide, having grown up in the jungle knows everything about the animals and plants. He spoke about an infusion of one leaf called the para para, like the "blue pill" he said. Para para means " raising up" so you get the idea!

Today, up early for our four hour ride to Puerto Maldonado. This town in just down the river from the village of Inferno, and was hellishly hot and humid. It is a lumber depot and transport center to the Brazil. The Transoceanic highway, newly opened, leads all the way to San Paulo. Mid afternoon we got on the plane for Lima. So humid and hot was the air, as we climbed into the plane fog was pouring out of the air conditioners on the plane! Lima struck me as being so very modern and slick after all the places we have seen.

And so this ends my journey. We are home tomorrow to Canada. Over and out.
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Marilyn on

Fascinating journey. Thanks for sharing. Safe home.

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