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Peru - Manu Biosphere Trip

PERU | Tuesday, 21 October 2008 | Views [2432] | Comments [1]

Day 1 Cusco to Pilcopata

Having had a briefing the previous night at the Agency Office we were waiting outside McDonalds on the Plaza de Armas for the bus to turn up. 2 of our fellow travellers happened to be staying in the same hostel (Hostal Resbalosa if anyone fancies trying it).

The 2 French guys were Noelle and Bautiste, landscape designers from Bretagne. They had 7 months in S America. We also has Katie and Kerry from the UK on a 6-8 week trip and Lilia and Tim, 2 Russian New Yorkers on holidays. Oh and an Israeli called Ben. A little more about him later.

So into the minibus and on with the show. We had been warned about the length of the bus ride the first day to take us to the river, but I dont think anyone had expected to hit the thin winding dusty gravel road and the sheer 1500m drops for at least a few hours. The dust began less than an hour after leaving Cusco. Our first stop ( for brekkie) was in a tiny village with lots of bustling ladies in their picturesque bowler hats and colourful carrying cloths.

A note on Peruvian women. They are incredubly hardy people, and you curiously seem to see them everywhere, digging up the road with a pickaxe, walking the donkey to the field, or selling the home grown produce at the side of the road. (Or offering "massage - good price") Always active and purposeful, and productive, and always with their carrying cloth containing anything from fruit to live chickens to the babby. You dont see the fellas around that much to be honest. Great history in their faces but it looks like a very tough life.

Anyway, we had some warmed up slurpy fruit thing which Claire was not a fan of and got back in the van for more dangerous road action. Looking down a massive 1000m sheer drop when the driver is overtaking a huge truck full of the aforementioned charachters standing in the back is certainly an interesting early morning experience.

Next stop was a few reconstructed pre-inca tombs in the high mountain side. The landscape had chaged to barren mountain puna. And we got the impression we were only really stopping to give us a rest rather than appreciate the wonders of the the tombs. They were nice enough. Just. Cold too!

At about 3800m, and after about 5 hours zigzagging we actually entered the Manu National Park and stretched the legs again. Manu National Park is a Biosphere Reserve split into three zones. The National Park which is in total conservation (access by express premission only to biologists and anthropologists), the cultural zone, in which subsistence hunting and farming is allowed and the reserved zone which you can only access for ecotourism with one of a few agencies. The whole park is about the size of switzerland, with about 90% with no access. They say its the biggest tract of true amazon basin rainforest which is properly protected.  Neither of us could wait to see some of the wildlife they spoke about. Tapirs and Caypybara, Jaguars and Cayman etc etc.

We then started to descend through the cloud forest and into the jungle. Crazy roads, landslide ridden and crossed by multiple rivers and waterfalls. All the while the green of the jungle got thicker with the air and the heat and humidity started to rise. Stopped in a few places to spot some birds, Oropendola in their pendulum nests and the grandly titled “Andean Cock-of-the-Rock” with their mating antics. Never had too much interest in ornithology though have to say.

The journey continued to Pilcopata, a little trading village close to the river and our movement onto boat. After 11 hours in the bus we looked forward to being anywhere except for a bus! Basic lodging and a lovely meal, and meeting the other group we would be travelling broadly along the same lines of us. I was curious to see what this group of Israelis would be like, never having met any before. We sat strategically in order to engage them in witty banter, but they spoke Hebrew across us and told us that they dont like mixing with foreigners. Ah well. Our group was very pleasant and good craic. Shalom.

Day 2 Pilcopata to Boca Manu

We had a room beside Ben, who insisted on being the single person with the loudest disgusting habits I have ever known. He hocked up and farted at a ferocious rate and it got pretty disturbing at one point in the night. Thankfully he joined his Israeli buddies therefter phew!

We got up just after dawn for a stroll along the nearby river and started to see a little more in terms of nature, mostly flora - mimosas, sensitive ferns which furl up at the touch, pinapples, cotton and also a coca plantation. Then finally into the boat a long single outboard motor affair with a spare motor up front, a roof and curiously, a number of what were clearly coach seats in a previous life as our seats. Very comfy. The Rio Alto Madre de Dios is a fast river which after about 5 hours downstream merges with the Manu River. Spotted a few more birds herons, monogomous macau, cormorants, vultures and egrets. Ornithology skills improving.

As a break we had a slightly pathetic stop in a little village called Diamante in the cultural zone. We passed around a bowl of a very bitter beerish drink called chicha de jora, which in bygone times used to be masticated by the ladies of the village before fermentation later. This is no longer practised in Diamante but it kinda tasted like a few aged peruvian women had been adding something.

Onwards to the confluence of the two rivers, Boca Manu town, only reachable by river. It´s a fairly ramshackle collection of wooden buildings with a football pitch and an airstrip and only has electricity between 6pm and 9pm. We visited the local ship-wrights who build the type of boat we were travelling in (and sell for about $3000, amking about one a month). They get the cedar wood by waiting all day and night at the start of the rainy season in a process that is so competitive it has to be regulated by the park rangers, who dont seem to get any sleep throughout. Logging is banned so obviously the size, shape and type of drift wood dictates the boats they can build.

Interestingly in order to become a guide in Manu, you first must have been a park ramger, which seems to be a good way to blend conservation with tourism. We also met our guide for the remainder if the trip in Boca Manu. Once again we had an impressive name: Saturnino! The town also has a river front provisions store / bar with a great view of sunset. Very rustic jungle style lodging on a hotel (0 star) totally on a raised platform with mossie nets over the bed. I loved the locking system which was a hole in the wire net beside the door handle so you could open it from the outside. Managed a quick charge of the gadgets in the allotted time and off to sleep.

A storm hit the town at about 5am, i could feel wind and rain coming in a hole in the wire window - I looked out the hole and could see torches and people running about between the flashes of lightning. I wondered if I should hunt out my torch and run around too, but decided curling up again would be better.

Day 3 Boca Manu to Oturanga lodge

It turned out that the runnings around were by Jaime, the first guide, Saturnino and the russians who had holes in their roofs and had to make adjustments os they could stay dry. At about 10am we were met by our boat with new trippers - Annie and Adam from Seattle who had decided to fly in from Cusco. We set off up the Manu river, and into the reserved zone and headed towards the ranger station where we had to sign in and the rangers checked the boat and weighed some bags to check that no litter would be left.

We immediately noticed the difference ater we left the station: endangered black caiman, sidenecked turtles, squirrel and red howler monkeys. A brown agouti swam across the path of the boat (looks a bit like a cross between a rat and a guneau pig). All manner of birds - Muscovy ducks, turkey, black and yellow headed vultures, sand coloured night hawks all asleep in a row on a branch of driftwood. Lots of driftwood! The captain had a hard time navigating the shallows and the wooden obstacles but we made it through fine. Horned Screamers who I thought were hilarous with their honking. Ornithology improved to a level I never thought possible or necessary.

Curiously all the americans / russians all got off at one lodge while the europeans went 45 mins further upriver to another. Aha we had the pleasure of Israeli company! Arrived at dusk at our fabulous but basic jungle lodge, with seperate wooden huts for rooms, all  connected by raised platforms and lit by candles.

A few minutes break and then off for a night walk with Saturnino whose knwledge of the jungle an everything in it or connected to it was turning out to be encyclopaedic. On our walk we very soon encountered an uncommon cat eyed snake which Kerry found highly comforting, having quizzed Saturnino to within an inch of his life on the likelihood of meeting a snake in addition to the necessary actions were we to do so. Saturnino was great, jumping into thickets and catching and picking up every single creepy or ribbity or indescribable thing we came across. We saw a tree frog, a smokey jungle frog, massive one inch long bullet ants,also known as 24 hours ants due to the duration of the massive discomfort should one be bitten!!, massive wolf spiders, milipedes, jumping spiders, a tiny almost translucent glass frog, a leaf mimicking something or other and last but not least we rudely interupted a black scoprion devouring is cockroach dinner. I wont go into al the things we heard but did not see. Incredible in about an hour and no more than 10 minutes from our lodge. Extra DEET and wrapping up in mosquite detterent blankie tonight!

Day 4 Around reserved zone

Given my desire to see some of the bigger mammals, I asked Saturnino when would be the best chance and he suggested going down with the boat at 5am to collect the others. Dawn is a good time apparantley. So another very early start, unfortunatey completely fruitless as it was compltely foogy, visibility less tan 2m. How captain Ahab managed to not impale the boat on a floating Mahogany tree I do not know. We picked everyone up, headed back to the lodge and then had another slighly uncomfortable visit to a local village. This time to see them make fire by the spinning stick and friction method and look at hteir handiwork made of treeback and suchlike. We didnt really want to be there and they didnt really want us their either and everyone knew it. We left. Prefer seeing the animals than meeting the poeple to be honest, at least in the context of an organised tour.

Our pre lunch actiivity was a three hour trek through the jungle with territorial wooley monkeys throwing foliage at us to get us "off our land", which we obliged and a ton of other wildlife, culminating in a group of white collared peccary crossing our path. They´re kind of like wild boar but with a  kind of spiky hairstyle all along their backs and heads.

After lunch we took the boat a few minutes to the Slavador oxbow lake, where we were to ge on a catameran to try and see the highly endangered giant otter. Now when I hear the word catameran I think of Monaco, beautiful people and Philip Green. This was not like that at all. Three wooden benches and 2 wooden bows, both of which could fit a paddler. We were lucky in seeing a group of otters hunting, playing and relaxing very soon. I suspect that the Philip Green style boat may have scared them off. Happy to get off after 90 minutes as the heat was becoming unbearable.

We had anoter night walk whuch was a little more uneeventful except for finding a False Scorpion which is absolutely terrifying, arachnid but neither spider nor scorpion about the size of your head! Then Saturnino asked us all to be quiet while we waited on the beach. He removed his trouser legs and ran off into the darkness, coming back about 10 minutes later witha 2 foot long white caiman in his hand. What a guy! I declined to hold it up and get the obligatory photo. What a wimp, but no regrets - happy to touch rather han restrict the airflow so it remains docile.

That evening we played some cards with the Russians. Really glad to have learnt how to play "Durak" the Russian game again. The aim is not to win, but not to lose. The loser is the Durak, or idiot. I love it - very Russian. We were then joined by the others and reverted to a very funny game of charades before dinner, and sitting up late with the French and English folks drinking rum and sangria.

Day 5 Reserved Zone to Boca Manu

The Russians had a plane to catch back to Cusco so we set out early again with breakfast on the boat. Up until now we had been given a fabulous plateful of food, passed up from the back for lunch and this was the first brekkie. It was a little more akward than usual to pass up and eat the slightly bizzare but ultimately satisactory bowl of hot apple and banana soup, followed by mix your own coffee or tea. A quiet trip, as we had seen most of the wildlife before and were in snoozy mood. When its hot and you´re on a boat its a pretty soporiphic sensation.

We got off at the ranger station and we bade farewell to the Russians who truly were on the way home with a flight to Cusco and then flights to Lima and then New York the following day. The remainder of the group had a final trek around the lodge seeing some more of the secondary rainforest and swamp. Not quite as eventful but very enjoyable nontheless. Back on the boat to Boca Manu and who was at the bar, only the Russians. Their flight had been cancelled due to maintenance (!!) So they joined us to wander over to a nearby lak for a spot of pirhanna fishing. The plan was to get on board another catameran and drop lines, a la Bulloch Harbour, but when we got there we discovered that the recent storm had blown a tree over and destroyed the catameran. Ever the dutiful guide / entertainer (although its clear he loves it!) Saturnino promptly stripped off and dived into to do some handfishing. Did I mention this is in a lake with a large poulation of Pirhanna!! of course he managed to catch one (Yellow finned in case you wondered which type). Bautiste also managed to catch one from the shore while Tim and I only managed to throw our hooks into the tree and lose our bait.

We spent a great evening in the bar playing drinking games, "drink while you think" triumphing over "fizz buzz" given the difficulty deciding on which language to count in.They had tame parrots which would sit on you and then defecate on you if they really liked you and as 9pm came and the electricity went we had great craic waiting to see who would jump and scream next as a cigarette length grasshopper decided to make friends. No storms tonight. And a lie-in!

Day 6 Boca Manu to Icantforthelifeofmeremeberthenameoftheplace

Slightly more lesiurely start as the boat took the Russians down  to the airstrip for their (fingers crossed) flight. Their first of three that day. Ouch. We sat about the bar waiting for the boat. What  looked like a sack of potatoes suddenly jumped into life as Claire sat beside it.It was a actually chicken. It finally arrived and we prepared to get on when ... consternation!

A lady was shouting and people were running around. I asked what was going on. The chicken had escaped!! We had to find it. That was lunch. So 8 more helpers joined the throong and eventually it was foind under a nreaby house. Crisis averted .

Another pretty long and uneventful journey, upstream this time but very relaxing all the same. Stopped for petrol at a riverside station. Lets just say it didnt have an M&S simply food attached to it - they pump straight from the barrel using gravity rather than pressure. Played 20 questions for hours to kill the time with the English girls and even had to get out to push the boat against the current once or twice. Arrived at twilight at the final lodge, this time we had the luxury of an en-suite cold shower! The guides made a nice gesture of busting open their finest carton of wine in the evening after dinner and we said our farewells to those we wouldnt see again. Heavy rain all night. Ben back at his old tricks.

Day 7 Back to Cusco

20 minutes in the baot back to Atalya in the morning, returning to where we had gotten on in the first place. The bus was packed and we were ready for the bumpety bump back home. Tanksfully I discovered Solitaire on my iPod which kepy me going for a while before moving onto 20 questions with the driver while we were in the front seats. Claire very nearly got us with Inka Kola. We all got out whenever there was something tough to cross and while the guys looked at some birds or something I stayed to watch the driver get over a particularly challenging and recent landslide. It took about 5 attempts and he needed to do some emergency repairs to his front wing afterwards. It really is dangerous driving around here. But the lorries seem to be the ones that plummet to certain death most. Not minibuses, or so says the minibus driver! Back to Cusco for the highly anticipated first warm shower in a week and some beer that at least might be a bit cold! The whole remaining crew (Annie, Adam, Noelle, Bautiste, Katie and Kerry plus us 2) went out for a nice if overpriced pizza and then had farewell drink overlooking the Plaza de Armas. What a great week!

The French guys were leaving for Maccu Picchu at 7am the following morning and although they were going the same way we decided to build in a rest day. Not least because our banks had all decided to decline ATM withdrawals and that needed sorting before anything else. That and the disgusting pile of damp clothes we had acquired in the last week.

Tags: amazon, boat, jungle, trekking, wildlife




Great to hear from you again, Eoghan. you should take up writing as a career!! Blogs are great. You seem to be having great adventures. Are you getting our messages?

  Jack Oct 25, 2008 7:54 PM

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