Nine days in the Amazon rainforest was an experience beyond words. It was like living out an episode of Planet Earth. Every day we saw something spectacular and unique, and literally every time we went out to explore the forest we encountered a new astounding animal.
Manu National Park is an extremely protected reserve in the Amazon basin, so in order to arrive to the jungle we had to travel by bus for 2 days before we switched our mode of transportation to boat. Day 1 of our trip was predominated by the death defying bus ride which skirted the edge of crumbling thousand foot cliffs. The road was entirely dirt and prone to landslides in the rainy season.
Luckily we booked our trip right as the rainy season was ending so we had a rain free drive, but the remnants of numerous landslides were clearly visible as we hugged the side of the mountain hoping this wouldn’t be our end.
Despite the fear inducing drive, on day 1 we got our first glimpse of wild monkeys jumping in the trees of the jungle. We also saw a monkey chained up at the police station outside of the jungle. I guess someone had illegally taken him from the jungle and they were going to return him soon.
Another highlight of day 1 was seeing the amazingly unique bird, The Cock of the Rock. These male birds reside in a specific area of the jungle where they “own” a branch. Every day they return to their branch to clean their area and practice their dances which they will use to woo the ladies.
We stayed in 5 different lodges during our 9 day trip. They were all pretty basic and most without hot or clean water, but they were suitable for our stay in the jungle. The humidity and mosquitoes were rampant at each location but that is the price you must pay for the the impressive sights and sounds of the jungle. One major luxury of our trip was that we had a cook who came with our group and cooked 3 meals a day for us. The food was wonderful, some of the best we have had.
On Day 2 we headed further into the jungle by bus and stopped at a coca plantation as well as an orchid garden (those pictures to follow in another post). We reached the rivers edge and got to say goodbye to the bus (thankfully) and began the trip by boat.
That afternoon we went for our first walk in the jungle. It was truly an amazing experience. The plant life of the jungle was exquisite with huge trees with large buttresses and vines climbing every which way. Although the animals couldn’t always be seen, there wasn’t a moment in which they weren’t heard. We took numerous hikes through the jungle each day.
We saw 10 different types of monkeys on our trip. Spider monkeys were the most fun to watch as they traveled in huge groups and were extremely active, jumping from branch to branch. We saw and heard Howler monkeys who made deep bellowing call to keep others out of their territory. We even got a quick glimpse of an Emperor Tamarin monkey, one with a large white mustache. He was too quick for pictures, but cool to see nonetheless.
Birds were abundant in the jungle and we saw some of the most beautiful birds we have every seen. It makes me think that it could be worthwhile to be a birdwatcher.
On two morning in the jungle, we woke up early (4:30am) to go to two different parrot and macaw clay-licks. The macaws have to enhance their regular diet of seeds and fruits with some minerals, and they can find the supplements that they need in they clay at these licks. The macaws go daily, not only to eat the clay, but also to socialize. The first clay-lick we went to was frequented by smaller parrots. It was incredible to see them flying too and fro together in packs and hear their gorgeous calls resonating through the air.
We also went to another clay-lick where the large Red and Green macaws meet as well as the smaller blue headed parrots and various parakeetes. These birds share the lick but arrive at differnt times. At about 6:30 in the morning we began to hear the parrots arriving. They were very actively flying all around the area from tree to tree and singing loudly to one another.
After about an hour the parrots left and the Red and Green macaws began arriving. These birds are enormous and look like a flying rainbow. They were less active in that they didn’t fly or chirp as much, but they were mesmerizing to watch.
During our trip we saw not only these parrots, but we also got to get a glimpse of the Blue and Yellow macaw flying through the air and the endangered Scarlet macaw eating seeds in the treetops. Every time we saw macaws it was an extraordinary experience…just how they fly is impressive and their colors shine beautifully in the sun. It is also neat that macaws are very loyal and always fly in pairs…it is extremely rare to see a solitary macaw.
Although we didn’t get pictures of all the birds we saw and heard, here are some of the highlights.
A toucan, one of Bonnie’s favorites…
Pre-historic looking birds called Hoatzin…
A black collared hawk…
A green parrot…
Here is us doing some bird-watching…
On one of the jungle walks that we took, we got to see wild peccaries, or pigs. And more than see them (our glimpse of the peccaries was brief as they fled from us) we could hear them and smell them! There were more than 150 pigs in the group that we encountered, and our guide told us that had we not been in an inhabited area of the jungle where people hunt the pigs for food, they could have easily attacked us. The sounds that they made were unsettling as they chomped their long canine teeth together and snorted loudly. They emitted an foul odor as a warning to us to not come closer. We chased the pigs for about 20 minutes, getting a glimpse here and there.
For the first few days of our trip we were in the Amazon rainforest, but in an area that was more inhabited by people. Because of this, there were fewer animals, but you could have fooled us with all we saw those first few days. However, once we entered Manu reserve the animals sprang into even more action and we saw things we never thought we would see.
As our boat navigated the Manu river, we saw numerous caiman sunning themselves by the waters edge. We saw numerous white caiman on the river and one huge, 9 foot long, black caiman slithering back into the water. The white caiman can be up to a 6 feet long, but the black caiman can get as big as 16 feet in length.
When we went to an ox boe lake later during the trip we saw numerous black caiman eyes lurking in the water. We even got a close up view of one that came near to the dock.
In that same river live an family of endangered giant river otters. We woke up early one morning to paddle a catamaran out on the lake (yes, right by the caiman) looking for otters in action. We missed the otters in the morning but went out again in the afternoon and got to see the entire family of 8 frolicking and fishing in the lake. They swam so majestically and made an adorable squeak as they called to one another.
Another incredible hightlight of the trip was getting a chance to see a three toed sloth. We again took a catamaran, this time on a different lake, and without expectation spied a sloth slowly making his way down an tree.
We saw many remarkable insects, reptiles, and amphibians on our trip, most of which came out in the night time. One of the highlights was getting a long look at the poison dart frog, poison enough to kill 1,000 men. Here are some other crawlers we saw…
One early morning we saw a family of Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, hanging out by the river.
We even go to see the rarely seen and endangered Tapir, a large animal similar to a pig yet related to horses and rhinoceroses. Their noses look something like a small elephant’s trunk. This one was a baby (only 3 months old) and was someone’s pet.
The sights of Manu were not limited to just the animals. The scenery was gorgeous the entire time. The jungles were incredible, the views from the boat breathtaking, and even on that first fear-inducing bus ride the cloud forest was lovely.
We saw some of the best sunrises and sunsets we’ve witnessed in a long time, perhaps because we were up well before dawn every morning, but it was worth it.
The last night of the trip we climbed up to a tremendous tree house tower that overlooked the jungle. It was an awesome view and we watched the sunset over the canopy below us. A peaceful end to an incredible trip.
From the jungle of Peru, we headed home and on the way back toward the ancient cities of the Incas, we were granted this amazing view of the mountains. What an amazing country!