Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Overdue blog – Part 1 (Amazonian lowlands)

I really should have written this quite a while ago, but somehow life always ended up intervening. Many things have happened in the past two weeks, some good, some rather bothersome, but overall they have been two joyful weeks to be a part of.
After I last posted, we spent a great night in Lima, eating a delivered pizza from Pizza Hut, a slice of heaven, or eight slices you could say. Chris Nunes, the third member of our intrepid group, arrived at about 1am in the dorm room that we were staying in, and after groggy greetings we all went back to the land of sleep. That following morning we got on another bus, this time headed to Tingo Maria, a 12 hour ride. Our goal was to get to Pucallpa, an Amazonian city in east-central Peru, and from there go to progressively smaller towns until we were in the wilderness. After spending a night in Tingo, being unable to take an overnight bus to Pucallpa as the road is unsafe, we headed east into the true lowlands, out of sight of the Andes for the first time since I have been in the country.
Pucallpa was a fairly nice city, with fleets of mototaxis outnumbering real cars. Mototaxis, for those of you who don’t know, are small three wheeled contraptions that are basically the front half of a motorcycle with a bench seat in the back over two wheels that complement the front wheel of the motorcycle, and a roof. They travel slowly, and you get dirt blown in your eyes, but it is an enjoyable ride nonetheless. Their most redeeming quality is the price, a 10-15 minute ride tends to cost about a buck.
After asking our mototaxi driver for a hotel with internet, we arrived at La Suite de Petita’s Inn, a nice little place with included breakfast, and wifi that worked intermittently in the rooms. The next day we checked out travel options to our next destination, a small down called Contamana, and ended up flying out in a small six seater airplane for $50 each, after indulging in ice cream, wifi, and air conditioning in the surprisingly modern airport. Chris and Andrew did rock-paper-scissors to determine who got to ride up front with the pilot, somehow I failed to be in the game, but ah well, and Chris won. Lucky devil. It was an awesome experience flying in this little plane, and I no longer consider commercial airline flights real flying. It was about a 30m ride across rivers and pristine forest, as opposed to the other way of getting to Contamana, a 6h+ boat ride, and that would be a fast boat!
Once in Contamana we bought supplies for our upcoming trek, the aforementioned barbet hike, and managed to hire a boat to go down the river just as the light was fading, to Pampa Hermosa, the place where one makes arrangements for guides and boats to get to the Cordillera Azul where the Scarlet-banded Barbet makes its home. Going down the river as the sun was setting was spectacular, and birds abounded. Some of the more interesting ones included a large flock of Canary-winged Parakeets, over 75 each of Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Green Oropendolas, and a few Chestnut-fronted Macaws. After 90 minutes in a “peque peque” pronounced peki-peki, which is just a dugout canoe with a small motor on the back, we arrived at the boat landing for Pampa Hermosa, where there were surprisingly two mototaxis, one of which took us through the gathering dusk for about 30 minutes on a rutted logging road to the town. It being a small town, the taxi driver knew the people that we wanted to talk to about guiding, and he took us right to their house. A knock on the door brought out a shirtless man who we had interrupted from watching his soap opera, but after asking about the barbet, we were invited inside their house. What happened after that was kind of a pow-wow, we all stood around and talked prices and logistics and how many people we would need to help clear the trails, and whether we needed porters, etc etc, and after coming to decisions about all that, an unexpected question was broached. “So you have permission from the park people, right?” Apparently, unbeknownst to us, you have to get permission from the organization that regulates entry to the Parque Nacional Cordillera Azul. We said no, and not thinking it a big deal, set up our tents on their floor, and went to sleep.
When we awoke the next morning, our future guides, Carlos and Arnoldo Ruiz, said that we needed to get permission to be able to go, that there is a checkpoint on the river and nobody is allowed in without the right papers. The organization, CIMA, had a representative in town, so after talking to him, we found out that we needed to go back to Contamana to ask. Chris decided to stay and go birding, and Andrew and I went back, in a more primitive peque peque that took three hours, being upstream and with a weaker motor. More good birds on the way back, Pied Lapwing, Muscovy Duck, Red-and-white Spinetail, and Pied Water-Tyrant to name a few.
After getting back in Contamana we went to the CIMA office, where we were told that we would have to officially submit a written proposal, and it needed to be notarized and faxed to the main office. After going to a notary across the street, we managed to get this proposal for entry written, in Spanish, and get it faxed off to the boss in another town. We were told that by 5pm that day we would hear what we needed to do to be able to go. Already getting pretty pissed and fed up with bureaucracy, we got a hotel room in town, knowing that we couldn’t get back to Pampa Hermosa that day. Of course, Chris was still there, and given the fact that he doesn’t speak that much Spanish, I’m sure it was quite an experience. We managed to call and speak with Chris and tell him what was up, and that we would call back again after we knew what was going on with the permits.
Come five o’clock we went back to the office, and were told what we had to do. It was ridiculous. We had to go to LIMA, and give them 22 days notice before we would be in the park, and we had to have something from Colorado College explaining what we would be doing there, because we had decided to put down that we were all from Colorado College to simplify things. Our chances at seeing the barbet before the rainy season began were out the window. We called Chris and gave him the sorry news, and made arrangements for him to come back the next day.
While in Contamana we had heard from the locals about a macaw clay lick, a place where macaws come to line their stomachs with clay to absorb the toxins in the seeds that they eat, and so Andrew and I decided to investigate the following morning while Chris was coming back by boat.
We ended up taking a mototaxi for a few kilometers, walking for a few, and then repeating that, and ended up only getting about 2/3 of the way to the forest that the lick is actually in, but by lucky change we got a ride back to town by the very people that take tourists to the clay lick. So for the following day we arranged to be picked up at 0430 to go see this spectacle. Chris nor Andrew had ever been to a lick before, and I had only seen parrots and parakeets in Ecuador, no real macaws. Chris arrived back safely that afternoon, and after food and sleep, we were up at 0430, and back in a mototaxi. About an hour later we got to the end of the road, and started hiking. At the beginning it was a nice trail, but as we kept going the trail got more primitive, and then became a streambed, which was slightly treacherous. Nobody got hurt, but Andrew fell and got the battery for his recorder wet, which was almost disastrous. After 90 minutes of walking we made it to the small hide across the stream from this clay bank, and started to wait. It was about 7am, and the guide said that they get there at about 8. It was pretty slow just sitting there, so we played some chess on my iPod, one of the best apps I have, and waited some more. The macaws slowly started to trickle into the trees above the lick, and at first we were excited to see about 12 of them, then 30, then 50, and then it was just deafening. Almost exactly at eight the noise maxed out and all of the birds descended on the clay bank. It was a chaotic swirl of red green and blue, as over 100 Red-and-Green Macaws swarmed over the clay, fighting over the best areas, and generally squabbling. We watched in awe for over an hour, taking hundreds of photos, and this was something that you didn’t need a telephoto lens for. Chris has the new Nikon mid-level SLR, and one of its nice features is HD video, and he got some great footage of the birds feeding on the clay.
After feasting our eyes on this colorful phenomenon, we slowly worked our way back towards the road, through an incredibly unbirdy forest, the most dead for birds forest that any of us has ever been in in the Amazon, and Andrew has spent over 4 months in the Amazon. A few nice birds showed themselves, Short-billed Honeycreeper, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, and flyover Jabirus and King Vulture, but mainly it was just eerily quiet.
After a long ride back to town we made arrangements to fly back to Pucallpa the following morning, having spent enough time in Contamana already. The following morning when we got to the airline company that we had made “reservations” at on the previous night, we were notified that there was no plane that day. We went to the other company in town, and their morning plane was, of course, full. So we waited until the afternoon, and at about 1:30pm we finally got back in the air to Pucallpa. Andrew beat me in rock-paper-scissors. Maybe someday I will get to ride in the front.
Back in Pucallpa we went to the same hotel, and had some great internet and some not so great Chinese food. Our last place to visit in this part of Peru is a lagoon just 10k from Pucallpa called Yarinacocha, a nice place with some very cool birds. We got up at dawn again, and back in a mototaxi, headed to Yarinacocha. Upon arrival the local boat owners started clamoring for our business, and picking a boat that looked nice, we headed out across the oxbow lake to the good forest on the other side. The main target bird here is called Black-tailed Antbird, a rare and local antbird, and Yarinacocha is one of the best places to get it. We ended up with over a dozen, so much for rare and local. We also found a Red-and-white Spinetail nest with two parents in attendance, over 10 Purus Jacamars, Slender-billed Xenops, Hooded Tanagers, Pied Water-Tyrants, Cinereous Becard, and many more birds as part of a few nice flocks.
We returned to Pucallpa, bought bus tickets to Huanuco, our destination the next day, and had another nice afternoon of internet and rest.

To be continued in Part 2 (Bosque Unchog and the north)

1 comment:

Liam said...

loved the line... incredibly unbirdy forest