Tuesday, July 15th, 2003

Manu Rainforest, Peru

This guy wandered into our camp one night in the jungle... Apparently the Vatican has classified them as FISH so that people can eat them during lent. They are definately not a fish! More like a giant gerbil!

Spent eight days in Manu, a rainforest with the highest level of biodiversity in the world ... river rides, mountain biking, trails and lots of wildlife.


Arriving back from Manu we can definitely understand how people live in the jungle... there's so much food medicine, clothes etc lying around... pretty much anything you need is right there... food, spices, cotton - which comes from this massive tree that grows these coconut looking fruit things that, when ready, explode with a gunshot bang into three pieces and a big ball of cotton floats away... you can get anything... from garlic to jungle viagra to shelter and jungle women. There is even a chocolate tree!


We had three guides: Alberto, a knowledgeable and personable guy, jungle girl, who ran around in a skimpy tank-top and shorts, and Oliver. Oliver is the perfect jungle guide… tall, long hair, big toothy grin, thin but muscular with a necklace avec jaguar tooth around his neck. His home is deep in the Manu jungle (although he is originally from Italy), just before the reserve zone where you’re not allowed to build anything to keep it as pristine as possible. He was funny and personable and very knowledgeable about the jungle. You would ask him one tiny question and he would go off on a huge story. Very interesting. He walks through the jungle, night and day, in bare feet… "sometimes thee ants bite miy feets but i dont care". He was talking about bullet ants, which we saw, and that when they bite you it hurts as much as a snake bite and the pain lasts for 6 hours! yikes! Tony did this for awhile because he had no sandals and we were going through the river... its not bad feeling the mud squish between your feet, but we’re always wondering what’s living down there that’s just been waiting for a bare city-boy foot to come into their swamp. Oliver walks around with a light wicker medicine bag all the time with heaps and heaps of coca leaves and this type of ash from a herb that helps the coca absorb (also tastes absolutely wretched and makes your mouth numb). Anyways, enough about him...


Manu is spectacular. Drove into Manu from Cusco in a big truck. It was neat to see the change from Andean mountains to the jungle....warmed up quite a bit too and the diversity of plants and birds was amazing! After going down through the cloud forest we stayed at San Pedro lodge, which was complete with outdoor showers and bathrooms... very nice.


The second day we took the bikes from the high jungle into the low jungle… about 2 hours in the very hot sun. The mountain bikes were sorta sketchy, depending on the one you got but it was still super fun. Saw lots of butterflies spiraling around as we were biking. Tony liked to go faster than most on the bikes, and at one point this nice British guy - Sindee - decided to go fast as well and he ended up in front of me for awhile... he hit a rock and he and his bike went over the side down a cliff but he managed to grab some plants on the side and Tony got him to drop the bike (he was all concerned about the bikes well being, because it wasn’t his, despite the fact he was hanging off a cliff)…pulled him up, then Tony verrry slowly and carefully climbed down to where the bike tire had snagged an edge and pulled it up. While he was down there, Alberto caught up and I stuck my head above the cliff - "hola!"... Anyways, that was my little bit of adventure for the day.


Continued on through the local villages to the Cosnipata river where we went river rafting... lots of fun! The river here is gorgeous, with rapids (only class 2 and 3), massive trees and waterfalls aplenty spouting out of the rock on the sides of the river. Continued down into the Madre de Dios - mother of god - which is just awesome... clear water... caimans (like little alligators) swimming around. Oliver swims with them. Different kinds of birds everywhere… many different colours and shapes... lots of parrots, tucans (a lot smaller than I thought they were…used to toucan Sam who looks as big as the kids in the commercials. Hehe), macaws (our favourites), tons of hawks and vultures. The river keeps going into the Manu River, which we spent a lot of time in too (in a river boat for speed) which eventually flows into the Amazon River and then into the Atlantic Ocean. We split into small groups, and we got Oliver as our guide, which was awesome. Also saw turtles and giant otters.


Saw lots of monkeys! Of the 13 species of primates in Manu we saw 7!!! hehe, loved it. Brown capuchins, a red howler, a huge flock of very cute squirrel monkeys (aka telus monkeys), saddle back tamarins, and rare emperor tamarins. The Emperor Tamarins were sitting in the bushes at the side of the lake we were on and were eating the fruit from the bushes. Super cute small primates! They look like little old men cause they have these long white mustaches. hehe Squirrel monkeys are smaller than I thought they were. Saw a huge group of them swarming the trees, and looking down on us. Was awesome! Didn’t see a jaguar unfortunately, but all the monkeys made up for it hehe :)


At one point we were eating dinner at night in a mosquito shelter and someone saw some capybaras outside…the worlds largest rodent (just like a guinea-pig but comes up to your waist, probably as big as a dog, fattish). Everyone flooded outside with their flashlights shining them on the capybaras that stood there caught in the light. One big one and two little ones. Tony decided to be sneaky and circled around while everyone else was making noise and shining on them. He got within 3 meters and decided that was close enough and he’d had his close up look, so he stood up expecting them to run off. Nope. The big one starts towards Tony, and he starts thinking ... mother protecting kids... shit.. those are some bloody big teeth… Tony backs off slowly... if it works for bears, probably good for giant guinea-pigs right? It kept coming. Tony shined his flashlight into its eyes. Keeps coming. Tony starts moving backwards faster while it follows him... Got to the door and into the lodge. shut the door... Announce that the thing is right outside the door and Oliver jumps up, opens the door "ahhh i think is smelling dinner no?" and gives it a bread bun... yeah that’s bad... one of my complaints to the company afterwards, but then again unlike other wild animals these things seem a bit less likely to get aggressive if you don’t feed them. Opened the door and it came inside! It wasn’t fed anymore so it left...


An interesting tidbit of information we learned from V’s dad: the people in Venezuela are very fond of eating capybara (apparently very tasty low fat meat ... great replacement for beef ecologically too but doubt it’ll catch on). After the conquest caught on there and Roman Catholicism caught on, the people were supposed to observe lent - 40 days without meat. But the people rallied and asked the Vatican to make an exception... the Vatican officially made capybara equivalent to fish! Ridiculous no? And they still eat them during lent up to this day. Apparently a lent without capybara is like a Thanksgiving without turkey. Sheesh! Interesting.




Went for night and day hikes through the forest, saw lots of animals... including a big tapir rooting around in a wallow at night. We were being silent for about half an hour after that to see if more would come, broken once by the sound of someone farting followed by inevitable muffled giggles. On one of our walks we saw a tree called a walking tree which has roots that sorta stick out and make it look like its wearing a skirt. These roots extend towards the sunlight and those not in the sun die off so over time the tree moves. Very cool.


Saw a macaw lick from a floating catamaran with a palm townhouse on the top with peek holes... That was neat, seeing all the parrots and macaws come to the clay. So many of them and so many nice colors. Watched them for a couple hours. Also visited a remote native group who spoke an interesting sounding language… That was interesting...


Camped on a beach a couple nights, very nice. Our last night we were still very deep in the jungle and we had just made a fire on the beach when we looked over towards the river and our boat was on fire!! Holy! People started running from all directions with whatever bucket like object they could find to try to put it out. We could here the staff yelling, move the other boat away! There was frantic panic and thoughts of “we’re gonna be stuck here”, but the fire got put out eventually with very minimal damage thank goodness. The first thing that came out of Tony's mouth was, do you have a camera?? hehehe, great. Didn’t, though it would’ve been a great picture. hehe The boat was still floating in the end and we managed to make it back so that was good. We think it started cause some of the cooking gas leaked in the boat and when our cook went to light the stove the boat went up in flames.


There were two points of extreme unpleasantness... one day it actually rained, and despite what we thought, it gets COLD in the jungle when it rains. The three of us froze for a few hours down the river being at the front of the boat... very not fun! Also the ride back home included a 7 hour boat ride (not bad at all) followed immediately by a 16 hour truck ride home breathing in narsty diesel fumes, absolutely packed with people... Tony didn’t sleep at all, and arrived in Cusco sick with fever which climbed slowly through the day till he made himself get up, take doxycyclene, tylenol, water and soup... after which it quickly dropped back to normal thank god.


In Manu there aren’t really many mosquitoes, although for the few that exist there are massive ones that bite through jeans. But there are many little black flies... sand flies I think... that carry that nasty lip-dissolving parasite. Those things leave a bite much bigger than them, often with a drop of dried blood left in the middle. We’ve got hundreds of bites. Back in Cusco Tony noticed what looked like a mole, but it wasn’t there before and was red all around... so he prodded and scratched it and when he saw that it was removable, tore it off, at which point he saw that this mole had madly moving legs… a tick :P V got one too, in the back of her thigh, so we went to the guides to see what to do. Ever heard of putting head and shoulders on a tick to make it loosen its pinchers? Not sure if that worked. We went back later and asked about diseases and they laughed... think we’re a little paranoid, but then we don’t know the area well. Apparently they get dozens and rip them off and never had a problem. Oliver also told us not to take larium (anti-malarial drug) as its bad for your liver and there is no malaria mosquito in Manu. But we’re keeping it up just in case.


Anyways, we’ve probably missed out lots as the last week has felt like a good month!


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