Amazon rainforest expedition – beyond the rangers outpost
Visiting the most biologically diverse area on the planet, a reserved zone inside the Amazon Rainforest, Manu National Park. Manu national park is over 1.5 Million Hectares in area. Over 800 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, 100 species of bats, 13 species of monkeys, and 12 species of reptiles! In the last 10 years alone, 1147 species of plants have been found, with the number left to find thought to be way over this figure. The park is divided into three zones. The Exclusive zone which can only be entered by professional biologists with a special permit, and the Reserved Zone which can be entered by tourists, but only with an organised tour guide and permit. There are buffer areas around the park, referred to as the Cultural Zone, although there is no official protection for this area. Many operators will try to take you on an Amazon tour, which is only the cultural zone, and not protected in any way.
Over 800 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, 100 species of bats, 13 species of monkeys, and 12 species of reptiles!
The expedition began from Cusco, in Peru. We were picked up by our guide and began a long, 72-hour journey by car, boat and foot to reach the heart of the jungle. Between Cusco, and Manu National Park, lay one of the most formidable mountain ranges in the world, the Andes! Our long driver took us up, through, over and then down the Andes mountain chain. The scenery change was dramatic. In the morning we were in the highlands. No trees, only short stout grass, yellow from the lack of water. The soil was harsh, and nutrient-less.
As the altitude decreased, plant life grew more frequent, until we emerged into the borderlands of the jungle itself, enveloped in cloud and mist. Tree’s grew higher and higher as we descended further and deeper into the Jungle. This area is aptly named, the Cloud Forest.
Many species of birds thrive in the Cloud Forest. Peru’s ‘Cock of the Rock’ national bird lives here but are rare to see even with their bright red colour! We saw one though, hidden between the branches, but I was not able to take a picture. A secret, elusive bird.
we emerged into the borderlands of the jungle itself, enveloped in cloud and mist.
Our drive continued downwards, on a spiraling gravel road. Barely worth the name of ‘road’, it resembled more, a wider than normal goat-track. The journey was bumpy and rough, but I was secretly happy that large ground-hogging roads had not yet completely ruined, what was becoming more and more of a jungle wonderland. After a long day of driving, we stopped in the small village of Pilcopata, where we stayed our first night and fell asleep to the loud chorus of insects and bird life while firmly hidden inside our mosquito nets.
Throughout the next day, the journey continued. We arrived at the mighty Amazon River tributary, the Rio Alto Madre de Dios. There, we boarded a river canoe (with engine!) and began the long journey downriver, and then upriver on the Rio Madre de Dio. At one stage, our canoe got caught in the current of two joining rivers and the boat went into the rapids sideways! A big wave of water crashed over the canoe, soaking everyone and everything inside. My passport got soaked, and to this day I have a large water-stain across my visa for the U.S.A. I’m not looking forward to the next time I travel there, its going to cause problems I know! Five hours later, we stopped at the Government checkpoint of Limonal-Manu for them to check our Permits for entering the Reserved Zone (our guide had organized these for us). From then onwards the scenery and wildlife became ever-more dense, and wild.
For the rest of the day, we gazed upon the shorelines of the forest passing us by. We began to see more and more wildlife. Monkeys swinging through trees, Caymans basking on the shores, turtles swimming through the water, and parrots flying overhead. We even saw two separate Jaguars, prowling the shorelines and enjoyed the close encounter with such rare and magnificent animals.
Late afternoon, we arrived at Casa Matsiguenka Lodge, looked after by indigenous Machiguenga, original caretakers of the Manu wilderness. The huts are built on land that has long belonged to the Machiguenga. All water is sourced from the river, toilets are naturally disposing, and air conditioning consists of bug-screen wire in the top of the hut that allows cool air to blow through. That night, we went for a night-walk, looking for nocturnal snakes and spiders. Shining his headlamp, our guide lifted a leaf and pointed to an ant over an inch long. The creatures are known as bullet Ants because of the pain when they bite you! While pointing at the ant with one hand, another Bullet Ant crawled along the stem of the plant, and was just about to jump onto his hand that was holding the leaf when I pushed him away! He thanked me very honestly!
The next day, deep in the heart of the Reserved Zone we were enveloped in the majestic beauty of the Jungle. We hiked among the wilderness and saw many different kinds of animals; such as tapir, collared peccaries, monkeys, coati; birds such as eagles, parrots, toucans, medicinal plants, flowers, and the giant trees of the jungle.
When we arrived back at Casa Matsiguenka Lodge, I was full of energy and respect for the forest. I decided that instead of the relative safety of the wooden hut, I wanted to sleep together with nature in the forest! So with our guide, we walked into the jungle and found two trees’s to hang up the Hammock that I had brought with me.
In the evening, we talked with the native Matchiguenga and heard from them, their stories. They told of one particular story when at night, they heard voices in the forest. They did not understand the language, and they shouted out to the voices in the dark. All went silent, then war cries came from the forest and they saw wild-men running towards them with spears and arrows! The Machiguengas raced down to the river, and sped away quickly in their canoes. Apparently, they stayed away from their homes for weeks afterwards, fearing that the wild men of the uncontacted tribes were waiting for them. The uncontacted tribes refuse contact with the outside world. Those that do come into contact normally become sick and die; as the centuries of isolation have means their immune systems have no resistance to our germs and viruses! After hearing these stories, and others about snakes seeking the warmth of other bodies for prey during the night, I left the hammock hanging in the virgin forest and snuck away quietly to the death-proof hut!
Early the next morning, we arose before sunrise and travelled downriver, then hiked through the forest towards Cocha Salvador. We boarded a small wooden canoe and began paddling out into the elongated lake.
We were searching for the endangered and famous, Giant Otters. Up to 1.7 meters long, they are the kings of the water, though only 5000 remain worldwide due to poaching. The sun rose slowly behind the giant trees of the forest and burnt away the morning mist that had settled over the lake. The chorus of bird song to greet the sunrise was amazing. After a few hours, we spotted a family of 4 Giant Otters and watched them in their morning feeding routine.
The government only allows stays of 3 days in the Reserved Zone, and our time was up. We travelled downriver, gazing at the wildlife on the way, and even saw two more Jaguars! We stopped at the Checkpoint, signed out, and continued to Boca Manu. Imagine an Amazon River settlement in the middle of the forest, and you’ve just seen Boca Manu!
We stayed the night at Yanyacu Lodge, where large numbers of hummingbirds feed from the local trees. Have you ever tried to take a picture of a hummingbird, mid-flight? Not an easy task! The ‘caretaker’ of Yanyacu was blind drunk when we arrived, and when our guide walked up to greet him the man leaned forwards a little too far and fell flat on his face, where afterwards he was contempt to stay! Homemade alcohol is a big problem out here, apparently!
The next day, we took the boat upriver to Atalaya Port, and then returned to Cusco after another long car ride. An unforgettable journey! Time taken – 7 days, 6 nights! Cost – 900 USD Where? Manu National Park, normally accessed from Cusco, Peru. More information on this trip can be found here – http://www.bioandeanexpeditions.com/en/manu-jungle-tours/jungletour/manu-reserved-zone-7d6n.perutrek