I gave much thought to the best possible division to my tales about the Amazon expedition and finally decided that it could be divided into nature watch and village visits. Although, that would leave out the part in the boat, which quite enjoyable in itself. But none of these parts are actually separable, we will see how that goes! I am skipping the day we spent sight -seeing in Lima, Peru. However, that is where we met all the people of our group and the expedition leader: Dennis Osorio Magada.
Taking the 2.1/2 hr flight from Lima to Iquitos we landed at the port of our adventure around 7 pm in the evening. While there were mosquitoes, they did not swarm as I had imagined that they would. We were taken to the bus, after positively IDing that our bag(s) had made it. Here Dennis introduced us to our first Naturalist guide: Segundo (second, in Spanish). Dennis said that while he, being Andean in origin may be reserved and introverted, the people of the rainforest do not stop talking once they start. Segundo had grown up at one of the villages in the Amazon basin and welcomed us with his mischievous, hearty laugh and started telling us about the life of the people in Iquitos. Now, a medium sized city. With many motokars (25000 or something) which are basically half motorbike ( Honda is quite popular) and half rickshaw attached (welded; may seat about 2-3, on its own two wheels). There are tiny cars that are cabs and there was a lot of activity on the streets and Segundo said, “It is Saturday, the day for barbecuing. The people of Iquitos like to party on Saturdays after working all week”. It certainly seemed festive, or maybe it was just the eyes that were looking at them, that were!
He asked if we were prepared for the mosquitoes, and while I hate to labeled as fussy or delicate, mosquitoes are my sworn enemies. I immediately put on a full sleeved shirt, and was hardly seen without long pants long sleeves at any time during the trip. We reached La Estrella after an entertaining ride through the city, Segundo was already our friend.
The first look at La Estrella Amazonica took my breath away, it is a cute boat, in person too! On the amazon it is also the newest, not even a year old. We were shown our cabins and found them to be quite luxurious, complete with a pair of bathrobes and writing desk. The bathroom was also of decent size, with a nice shower. Huge bed, at least queen size, probably King. We did have one of the largest rooms at the lower deck. Sliding glass doors led a small balcony with two wicker chairs. Perfect for an evening after dinner, we decided.
Dinner was served at around 7:30 with a welcome drink Pisco Sour- the official drink of Peru. I loved it. Dinner was great, with fish, chicken, rice and fresh salad, unfortunately, it being a 7 day cruise, and all meals being excellent ( and different) I cannot recall any of the dishes specific to days. I will try and list a few in the end, but for a meal, I just enjoyed it and did not take pictures. Ha ha.
Next day was a late morning at 7:30, and we left for our first skiff ride to explore the river edges. Starting with swallows sitting still very close quarters, it was a beautiful ride. I think the first bird we spotted was the drab water tyrant. Our group had a very knowledgeable guest lecturer as well as some seasoned birders. Ed Smith, the guest lecturer is built and maintains the Amazonian exhibit at the Smithsonian zoo. The combined excitement of the naturalist guides, Dennis and Ed was enough to inspire me! Ed was pointing out the trees and everyone kept a look out for birds and other wildlife.
Following lunch and a power nap ( at which time we are assured that all wildlife also naps) we were out again on our skiffs for the evening ride. Other than the day of village visits ( we had two) this was how the day was divided. With live South American music for about 45 min most evenings, as the bonus. If I start about that here, it will not do justice to the title, so I will save that for an appropriate post.
In our trips on the skiff we travelled about 180 miles in and around the Pacaya Samiria reserve for the latter part of the week ( Tuesday to Thursday).
It rarely rained, and even if it did it did not stall our progress directly. We put on our jackets or the ponchos kept on the skiff for that purpose.
Traversing the rivers several families of grey and pink ( not visibly, at some times, but they have a flatter dorsal fin and are larger, so easy enough to tell apart) dolphins. We even spotted a few from our balcony, when we were anchored close to a village.
The most frequently seen hawks were the black collared, roadside and plumbeous hawks. I saw the black collared hawks more from the skiffs and the other two from the boat itself. Caciques, oropendolas (russet backed) were seen building their awesome nests, often sharing trees, with the caciques using the lower branches and the oropendolas the higher ones. The call of the male oropendolas are truly out of this world ( or at least from underneath water), I would love a wind chime or an alarm clock, maybe even a phone ring, that made that sound. Maybe then I will have either one of those in my house ( I do have alarm clocks, I just never use the alarm). White eared jacamars appeared to me to be quite different from the rufus breasted ones we had seen in Trinidad and Tobago, but a very appropriate name.
The distinctive birds of the Amazon, the horned screamer and the hoatzin were nice enough to pose for several decent shots and lengthy observations. The horned screamer is locally called the donkey bird, because of its call. The horn is quite small. We saw a group of about 8-10 of them the horned screamers at the reserve. The macaws on the other hand, were not that nice to us ( or I believe to anyone). I was lucky to see the scarlet ones at quite a distance, but quite clearly. But I only saw the back of the blue and yellow ones. Flocks of parakeets and parrots were common, I saw the orange cheeked clearly, but the rest were silhouettes.
Johnny was very excited to see some tanagers: masked crimson tanager and cream colored woodpeckers. He said the tanager was his favorite, since he was literally jumping, I would not have guessed otherwise. I honestly don’t think I have met someone with such an honest, open and heart warming smile ever before in my life.
Dennis spotted a lettered aracari and a plum throated cotinga ( among other things, included a southern caracara which is not supposed to be seen in those parts).
I was most pleased and for the lack of a better word ( although, I think this one is good enough): enchanted with the tiny monkeys. These were the squirrel monkeys, we saw both common and bolivian, they often run around together in groups. One of them was quite enchanted himself with our laser pointer’s light and came out to the edge to examine it. Lost interest pretty quickly though! They are kept as pets and I would want one! The other monkeys we saw were saddle backed tamarins with a couple of babies in the group and howler monkeys. The howlers were very far and only Segundo knows how he spotted them. They were literally blobs. Even more amazing is spotting the three-toed sloths from miles away, these are very well camouflaged and don’t even move that much. Although, we saw about 3 or 4 and it must have been their time of the week, because two of them were moving!! ( they get down to poop once in a week, otherwise stay true to their name on top of one, looking almost exactly the branch- I need to recall the name of the tree).
On the last day we saw the tiniest monkey of all monkeys in the world: the pygmy marmoset. This one was heard by our skiff driver, and we almost missed it except a helpful village lady confirmed Jhon’s hearing and we turned around and looked some more. He/ she cooperated and really, birder I maybe, but if there were monkeyers, I would immediately enroll. Despite the bad reputations Indian monkeys have!! I mean, they only steal and bite, really.
As for other mammals, there was a small group of tiny bats: long nosed bats, superbly camouflaged by the bark of the tree they chose, close to the water surface. I may be wrong, but I think they fish( let me confirm that). They were also really cute ( and I use that word with a grain of salt in case of animals, in general, all animals are cute, but this is mainly for readers who will relate to the word more! ha ha).
We saw some lizards, these are harder to see, and I spotted one but couldn’t point its location in amongst all the water plants that all looked alike and had no gaps! It had a red back and a green tail, was literally on the surface of the water amongst the hyacinth leaves. The caiman lizard was much more people friendly. I am waiting on Ed’s reply on the final ‘rare’ lizard sighting, a green one with a very long tale. We also saw green iguana and tree iguanas. They are so beautiful ( again, try not be too anthropomorphic). Jhon spotted “something” : a tiger rat snake sitting inside its hole, on a tall tree, while driving his skiff. Yes, you get the picture.
One of the days was the ‘night tour’. Where we got to find our own frog and Segundo caught a caiman, right off the water edge. Apparently they can only bite sideways and don’t as long as there is a light shining on their eyes. I am not a croc’er’ and will never be. Nor a snake catcher, unfortunately. Neither a fisherwoman. On one of our skiff trips we went fishing for piranhas. And yes, if you have read about Piranha fishing on the internet, you know it is complicated. However, I think the most complicated part is choosing the right spot and then knowing that thrashing around with a stick can attract them. For the spot, Segundo picked one and we hacked down some undergrowth and settled on muddier and slower moving waters ( most of the amazon and tributaries are muddy, so I don’t know how he picked the spot, frankly). The least complex were the fishing rods, which were basically sticks with a hook attached. The bait was beef and a lot of people in my boat caught red bellied piranhas. My twin: Cathy, caught the biggest one, and my husband even caught one. That almost mangled another group member ( who I shall not name in case she has forgotten this). I caught nothing, only fed them my bait. However, I did eat one. I liked them and no I did not eat the head ( and I will refrain from why that is something to mention at all, because there is no scientific backing and as I said, I did NOT eat it anyway).
Ed’s plants are something I really spaced out on. Except getting that the epiphyte group of plants that grow on trees but do not take anything from them except a traction point. That too only because I had heard of them before and seen them in Trinidad. We did see some orchids in bloom ( they are many orchids that are epiphytes) and many of the Bromiliad family. I do remember Kapok and Tripalaris trees as well. I think if there is one (MORE) reason I want to go back, it is to actually familiarize myself with plants enough to not call them ‘green trees’. This was a joke between the naturalists: ‘oh ( Johnny OR Segundo) !! he is looking for green trees!’
I have not got to the tierra firme walk,
on Friday. Another post then..
A list of all flora and fauna seen is not within the scope of this post. However, I should mention that Roy, one of our experienced ( and not Peruvian) birders saw the Forest Falcon: which was a life bird for him. If I hadn’t seen them in Trinidad, most birds were life birds for me.