Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Amazon

After saying goodbye to Luke and Maca in Cusco, Nellie and I took an overnight bus to the small city of Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon. We thought of the Amazon as Brazilian, but it actually starts in the lush rainforest of Peru to the east of the Andes. The city of Peurto Maldonado was buzzing with gold miners, but several national parks just outside of the city hold some of the most well-preserved rainforest in the world.

We spent three nights on Lake Sandoval, which is an oxbow lake (i.e. used to be part of a river) with bath-warm water. We were paired with a nice French couple, and had an amazing guide named Freddy who was roughly our age. He had grown up in a small village in the forest, and knew an incredible amount about the plants and animals of the region. And we had a good time playing cards with him in the evenings. Our routine was to canoe around the lake from dawn until mid-morning, then to take a short hike in the forest in the afternoon, and finally to canoe again at dusk.

Was it the classic Amazon rainforest that I had imagined and read about? Mostly yes. It felt less remote than I had imagined, and was sometimes a lighter shade of green. But the wildlife and the forest did not disappoint. We saw raucous troops of monkeys (four species), giant river otters, caimans, and even a tarantula. And I have never seen trees so large. The vines were as big as the trees in our forests. Hopefully the pictures below will do it justice!

PS - after we came out of the jungle we stayed at a lodge with four rehabilitated howler monkeys. They were really cute :)

Lago Sandoval at dawn. Oddly enough, it reminded us of Big Wolf Lake in the Adirondacks (where Nellie's family has a camp).
We saw many Huatzins, which are bizarre, rather ugly birds that are related to the dinasaurs.
We did a lot of paddling around the lake. Note the classic jungle tree towering above the rest of the canopy.
We saw a troop of squirrel monkeys early on our first morning. It was so cool to see monkeys in the wild. They were small (squirrel-sized), but there were probably twenty-five in the troop. They traversed the bushes and trees on the lakeshore furiously searching for food. We saw one stuffing its face with a gushy worm. And they were surprisingly reckless as they lept between branches kamikaze-style.
Later that afternoon we saw a troop of capuchin monkeys. They were substantially larger than the squirrels, and looked strikingly human when they ate. They would use both hands to peel a piece of fruit, take a few bites, and then throw the rest to the ground. The whole troop was really quite loud as they crashed about in the canopy. 
The trees in the forest were HUGE!
Freddy and I climbing vines around the trunk of another enormous tree.
A "Strangler Vine" killing a full-grown palm tree. Freddy said it would take about fifteen years for the vine to kill the palm. Such mean plants! Wild stuff.
The branch to the left is actually a parasite/vine, not a real branch (zoom in to see).  It was the size of a medium-sized maple, and had vines dangling all the way to the ground.
Swinging Tarzan-style.
The lake at sunset. Just like Big Wolf!
We saw Green Parrots and Blue-and-Yellow Macaws. The macaws were bright and beautiful.
A Saddleback Tamarin with its baby clinging to its back (zoom in). The monkey troops were really curious and would come directly above us. It was awesome to see them up close.
A tarantula. Gross.
A Boa Constrictor! (it was a small one)
And a Caiman. So I guess it was a bit different from Big Wolf Lake. After sunset we would paddle around and shine flashlights at the shore, and their eyes would glow red in the light. They were everywhere, and they looked really really evil. And Freddy said that he had seen them gobble up reckless squirrel monkeys that fell into the lake.
Freddy explaining a tree that had been twisted by a vine.
A baby pineapple. I had no idea that this was where they came from!
Monkey Pile at the lodge after we had left the jungle. Baby monkey, teenage monkey, and papa monkey.
A few minutes after this photo was taken the larger monkey and the dog began a prolonged play-fight. It ended with the monkey riding the dog's back, pulling its ears and tormenting it. Monkeys clearly win.
Naptime :)


  1. Am reading the Excellent Adventure from the start -- it's just as much fun as it was when it first arrived! Just saw the monkey pile -- on Nellie in the hammock -- way to go, Nell!!