Day 11 – Travelling the Rio Ucayali
An orange ball is rising above the jungle as I move the sliding door to my cabin and let in a blast of hot humid air. My camera has spent the night on a deck chair covered by a towel and is ready for action. The air is alive with the sound of parakeets. As I watch the river, I realize that the things that went bump in the night were logs and assorted other debris that is flowing down stream. The river is rising and the forest is being flushed.
In the skiff we head up the Bellusa Cano in search of caiman. We are silent but the motor provides a background low decibel “ohm” interrupted by the intermittent sounds of more parakeets and gaggle of white-throated toucans.
We work our way under the overhanging canopy seeing night monkeys ,
long nosed bats, and a voluminous number of birds including the kingfisher who continues to tantalize us with his speed as he crisscrosses the river in front of us. A high-flying Jabiru stork crosses the mouth of Bellusa Cano as we head back for breakfast.
By nine I am drawing and watching for dolphins from the comfort of my room. Its good to be on board for a while as Montezuma’s revenge has finally caught up with me. Others have been struggling all week. I’m hoping that Carol’s fast acting Imodium will do the trick.
Late morning finds us on the top deck watching for dolphins and listening to Juan Luis talk about native plants. One, which I think he called Cocana, belongs to the wild tomato family and is used as an insect repellant. Its leaves are used to kill fleas and on snakebites. (That’s versatile!) Another, called “Jungle chocolate” is dried and pulverized to create a cacao-like powder. Later we will taste this in the form of ice cream.
On board the Delfin I,we continue to journey upstream past Requena. It’s a city of 70,000 that hugs the shoreline. The river is the only highway to this land locked place. We pass a large lumber mill. When the river is high, locals capture huge logs that are floating downstream and either float them to the sawmill or use them to produce charcoal. This community has amenities like a school, a hospital and electricity created by a generator. Rice is grown on the low-lying riverbanks. Its production is labour intensive and yet it sells for 60 cents a kilogram!
In the late afternoon we load into the skiff to explore the Dorado River. It is obvious that the wet season changes the shape of the landscape as we watch chunks of sandy bank crumple into the water. What is lost on one side of the river is gained on the opposite shore.
Palla palms grow close to the water’s edge. There are over 1.8 billion of them in the Amazon basin. Their fronds are used to thatch roofs and build room dividers and sunscreens. The roofs need to be replaced every 5-10 years depending on the weather and the skills of the workmen.* Today, tin roofs, and plastic sheets are replacing the thatch traditionally used to fend off the rain.
We move up the Dorado in search of Sloth. We find more red bromeliads, people fishing, and the ubiquitous black-ringed hawk. Every once in awhile we would approach a village positioned close to the river but on high enough ground to escape flooding. In one case, Vultures sat, waiting, above a community fish holding pen. Villagers empty their daily catches into this community space. It’s a prickly business and by the look of things a family business. A man swims in a floating cage throwing dead fish over the side. Others straddle their boat to protect their feet from the trashing beasts and wear socks like gloves to decrease the amount of damage to their hands. The fishermen smile and work and generously allow us to photograph them.
We are not doing well in our search for Caiman or Sloths but at the end of a narrowing channel, a Hoisin sits high on a branch. It is an odd looking bird. His startling headdress and brightly coloured plumage make him unique. The blue patches around his eyes are set off by his brown and tan plumage. Unique! Beautiful! ….And not only that he is sitting still!
With the eye of a hawk himself, Juan Luis spots a three-toed sloth high up in the canopy. He’s hanging there like a piece of laundry. The leaves of a paper tree obscure much of his body and as we watch he slowly moves his head and gradually moves to a more sitting-like position. How he holds his weight is a mystery to me. This animal is a study in slow motion. He eats and creeps his days away, moving up and down the length of the tree trunk. Once on the ground, he defecates and starts the return trip up another and perhaps more leafy tree.
By the time we reach the junction of the Dorado and the Ucayali it is dusk. We don our life jackets and Juan Luis connects a floodlight to the bow of the boat. We travel slowly in the dark looking for the red eyes of Caimans, watching fishing bats scoot by in front of our craft and listening to a choir of frogs. They only sing after dark.
The sky moves through a range of blues and oranges. Despite the low light, a night heron and a boat heron are identifiable. And then it is black and still in the jungle. We search by moonlight and the stars.
Reference:* Earth2mother website.