Monday, February 2, 2009

Tambopata, a Shelter of Extraordinary Natural Riches

It was about noon when three friends of mine and I landed in Puerto Maldonado in September 2008. The plan was to stay 3 days at a Jungle lodge located within the Tambopata National Reserve, one of the world’s most virgin forests that shelters a large variety of plants, animals and human beings which has not yet been touched by modern life. Its diversity is due to its three different ecological systems: the Andean eastern watershed, the Amazon plains and the pampas.

As soon as we walked out of the airplane, we could feel the high humidity levels. At the airport, our tour guide, named Jhin, was waiting for us to take us to the lodge’s administrative office in order to leave unnecessary luggage, sign some papers and meet the rest of the group. A father and son from the United States joint our party of four. During the one and a half hour drive to the port, Jhin explained to us the different ways of burning trees for reforestation purposes which we saw along the way while enjoying some banana chips and Brazilian nuts. At the port, we took a boat ride along the Tambopata River and ate a Peruvian version of Chinese rice folded in banana tree leaves, very good! Once we arrived at the other end, we walked a short trail before reaching the Jungle lodge.

When we went to our rooms, we were greatly surprised to see that there were only three walls in each room which allows you to have a much closer contact with nature. Just an hour later, we started our first hike for two hours until we reached the Sachavacayoc Oxbow Lake. We paddled around the lake in a catamaran, searching for a resident family of herons, giant river otters and caimans. Back at the lodge, we all went to get a well deserve cold shower and were back at the dining area to eat and learn from our first nightly lecture prepared by the lodge staff which covered conservation threats, opportunities and projects in the Tambopata National Reserve. After dinner, we explored the river's edge, scanning the shores with headlamps and flashlights to catch the red gleams of reflection from caiman eyes. Most of these mammals are active at night but rarely seen; we were lucky to spot a small caiman. On the way back to the lodge as well as in every trail, Jhin pointed out with his flashlight tress, frogs, monkeys and birds whose shapes and sounds are as bizarre as their natural histories.

After having breakfast at dawn, which is when parrots are most active, the group was ready and eager to visit a parakeet and macaw clay lick. We were able to see them descending to ingest the clay on a bank from a blind located a few meters away from the clay lick. On the way back to the lodge, we stopped at a 25 meter scaffolding canopy tower which has been built upon high ground, therefore increasing our horizon of the continuing primary forest extending out towards the Tambopata National Reserve. After lunch, we took a short trail and a boat for five minutes downriver where a farm and ethno botanical garden lies. It is owned and managed by charismatic Don Manuel from the neighboring community of Condenado. He grows a variety of popular and unknown Amazon crops; Jhin pointed out each fruit type as we walked around the farm. Tasting sugar cane reminded me of my best childhood memories. Returning to the other side of the Tambopata River, we made out a group of capybaras resting on the shore. Thanks to Jhin and the boat driver, we got a very close view of them. Our greater surprise was to find at our point of debarkation one capybara which had been wounded by a jaguar a few days ago.
Later in the afternoon and after a twenty-minute walk, we reached a peccary clay lick to watch wild pigs which can show up in herds of five to twenty individuals to eat clay according to Jhin. You can also see jaguars in this area. Unfortunately, we did not see either wild pigs or jaguars that day.

The last morning day, we all got ready to return to Puerto Maldonado’s river port. As we were enjoying the spectacular Amazon landscapes and amazing sky colors, Jhin called our attention to see a group of pink dolphins going down river. What a wonderful experience!

Sofia Arce

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