Day 8 – On the River – First Day of Jungle 101
My notes from the bumpy ride to Nauta are almost indecipherable but the sluggish waters of the Maranon are more accommodating this morning as I jot down reminders through my half-open eyes. It is 5:30 am! I am up and ready for my first cruise in the skiff. Coffee, crackers and fruit were to be had on the top deck. Breakfast will follow my first foray on the Amazon.
It becomes obvious that Jungle 101 will have a large segment of the curriculum dedicated to birds. They are diverse. I knew that, but in truth I am not a birder and I am not a morning person but nonetheless I am here and so are the birds and I am up, so why not?
As we pull away from the Delfin, there is a soft breeze in part created by the forward motion of the skiff as it moves from the white waters of the main channel into the creek we are following. It is very hot already. The vegetation is thick and full of plants I cannot name. They grow right up to and into the black tannin laden waters of Nauta Creek.
A Black Caracara, a Ring-necked Hawk, Egrets and what will become known as the illusive Kingfisher ( **!*!!) come into view as we move deeper into the channel. It has only been minutes, but already I have the start of my Amazon blurry bird collection. Maybe my scorecard will improve as my eyes get used to being open.
We wander lazily, trying to connect with the reality of the Amazon river system. A green Iguana
is stretching out on a limb high in the canopy. I hear an “ooh” and an “aah” escaping from lips. “Where is it ?,Can you see it?, Did you get it?” Whispers. In an amazingly short time, an hour and a half has whisked by and Juan Luis says its time to head back for breakfast.
Surprise! Breakfast is a feast. Enough for a village. There is everything you can imagine including plates of fresh fruits and juices to accompany traditional western breakfast fare. The staff takes their jobs seriously and serve us with elegance and a camaraderie that says they enjoy their work. The dining room is sized perfectly for our group of eight. And as I am to learn later in the trip, there are twenty pairs of curtains changed on a regular basis to match the placements and table décor. Yes, you read that correctly. Indeed, the outside world and the inside world are very different.
Amazon Clown Tree Frog
Well fortified, we head into the jungle for a hike. The vegetation is even more lush up close and it is a marvel that Miguel, the local guide, is able to find a Red Poisonous Dart Frog, an Amazon Clown Tree Frog and Least Tree Frog. Apparently there are over 1000 types of frogs in the Amazon. I could be here a long time.
Miguel knows the forest and knees on the earth holding the tail of a Red–tailed Boa while hacking away at its earthen hole with a machete. This critter will not escape! In the end, Miguel wins and as he holds it by its tail, it contracts its body, and squirms with fangs flashing. We observe.
Termite nests infest the trees. Juan Luis points out how the locals use the dung based outer coating as a natural insecticide. Nobody, including me, steps up to try. For me it’s “Deep Woods Off” with 30% deet… well, it just sounds more medicinal.
A horn-backed centipede makes its way along a leaf as we follow one another on the narrow spongy trail. It is soft under foot. Steps are almost silent.
Back at the landing, some local people have set up a display of their crafts. Beautiful wooden trays, bracelets and necklaces are laid out for our perusal and purchase. We distribute the first of the packages that we brought with us. They contain useful but hard to purchase things like toothpaste and soap and fun things for the kids.
This first opportunity to meet some of the people who live here, is mind expanding. They appear to have nothing, but I think they really may have everything. They are friendly, accommodating, and appreciative. I can’t help but wonder what they thought of us — loud, lacking in knowledge of their world, brandishing expensive cameras and leaving a few sols along with our footprints. Humm. Makes one think.
I am also stuck by the simplicity of life in the midst of such a complex eco system.( No wonder the early explorers were always getting lost.) I am confronted with huge contrasts. I am grappling with the complexity to find the simplicity. I am engaged in a crash course to find new understanding.
We retrace our steps to the water and head back to the Delfin. We pass a group of men with their wooden boats pulled ashore. One is holding aloft a Mata Mata Turtle. It is a large blackish-brown specimen with tubercles on its back, a long neck and a triangular head. It looks like a piece of bark. Something prehistoric. Apparently, it likes the shallows where it can rest and capture fish using an unusual suction like mechanism for drawing them into its mouth. Gulp!
Out on the main channel of the Maranon, we see that the Delfin has been repositioned. We follow a second and a third muddy stream.
Local fishermen work their nets from their low riding wooden boats with shallow drafts. They manoeuver their craft with leaf shaped paddles or small gas engines fitted with a six to seven foot shaft and small propeller. Their filamentous nets are sometimes heavy with golden catfish. The facial expressions of the fishermen make it clear that disentangling these beasts is not easy and can lead to being pricked by their long “whiskers”. Catfish are big here! There are over 1300 species in the Amazon but this one in particularly ugly and probably someone’s dinner!
My collection of blurry bird pictures grows as hawks soar overhead and more Kingfishers flash past. The current is swift. The boat moves, the birds move. Even the trees appear to “walk” when they send roots towards the earth which offers support at each step.
Back on board, it is time for lunch but it seems like it should be supper. Getting up happened a long time ago. The heat of the day is upon us and I now, really appreciate this “over the top” vessel because, I confess… my cabin has air conditioning! Yes!
From the comfort of our cabin, Carol and I watch a little girl on shore playing like all children do. She is captivated by a plastic bag that is carried on the breeze like a balloon. As it deflates, she pulls it over her head as we watch. Out-loud and in unison we yell “Don’t put it on your head!” Thankfully there were no ill effects.
The Delfin is nosed ashore with its bow deep in the grasses. We are tied off to the trees. The village that we are near is small. The houses have flat board walls, square windows and metal roofs. This type of roof is seen as an extravagance here and may indicate that some outside support has come to the community. Laundry hangs on everything. I can’t help wonder how long it will take to dry in this humidity.
By late afternoon, the temperature has dropped infinitesimally but we enthusiastically climb into the skiff. The hunt is on for pink dolphins! They surface nearby but only enough to leave their characteristic footprints on the water. Pictures? Maybe later.
We meander to the end of the creek and watch a rainbow. On the way back, we rendezvous with a research team that is releasing five hundred one-year-old turtles back into the wild. Handfuls of them! This is way cool.
I admit, I whispered encouragement as I dumped them over the side. “ You can do this!. Swim! Swim! Swim!” , I said. Admittedly, many will not survive. But some will!
Sardine like fish are jumping. One lands in the boat and disappears into the dungeon below the floorboards to be retrieved when we reach the Delfin.
Swoop! There go the Kingfishers again crisscrossing the waterway. Click! Click! Click! Monkeys can be heard in the jungle. Jungle potatoes, cassava, grow on the higher banks of the river. Yellow beaked Ica Terns line up on the branches and squawk overhead. High above, I can see a paper wasp nest hanging in a tree. Bromeliads with bright red flowers grow high in the canopy. The riverbanks, and the twists and turns, remind me of kayaking on the Otonabee, a river close to my home. There are moments to take “Freeman” shots of the water coming over off the bow waves and moments to savor the stillness under the overhanging trees. A red-breasted something zooms by. There are parrots overhead and an incoming egret!
Back on board, a refreshing shower, a cool pisco sour, a steak dinner and then I watch the locals gather around a campfire. It’s time to turn in. After all it is 8:30! What an amazing day.
PHOTO Credit for image of the author. E. Sayers