We woke up to our earliest alarm yet. 4:30 seemed to come even sooner than we had thought, but we were excited to get started on our excursion. Today we would be heading to the swamp to look for macaws.
It was still very dark out when we walked along the path to the lake. The sound of howler monkeys began as a distant sound and now it was practically all you could hear. The deep below coming from up in the trees was just about the loudest noise I had heard an animal make, and our guide informed us that we are probably close enough to see him. We pointed our flashlights up into the trees and after a minute or two of searching, sure enough we had found him. It was crazy to think that this tiny little monkey, not much bigger than a house cat, was making all this noise. It was so cool to see him in action, it was something I had never seen before. The male howler monkeys sound can travel for up to 2km and they use this performance to inform other howlers that this is their territory. Usually you either see them or hear them, but rarely both. Just another reason to get up early around here!
The real reason we were up so early was to see the macaws. Macaws are a type of large parrot that are famous for their brightly colored plumage. I’m sure most people have seen them as pets, but in the wild they are truly extraordinary. They have a diet mainly focused on leaves, which means that they need to “detox” regularly. They have two options when it comes to detoxing their body, they can either use clay licks, which are formed on the banks of the rivers, or they can use dying palm trees that are plentiful in the swamps of this area. By ingesting these two substances, it makes their stomachs feel much better. It’s funny because I’m sure most people would think that humans were the only animals to do these types of detoxes.
We slowly paddled to the other edge of the lake and quietly stepped out of the canoe to begin walking through the jungle. We had to be extra quiet here because the macaws are easily startled. We saw a few flying overhead, and then we saw a whole flock of them perched on a palm tree. The smaller red and green macaws were in the greatest numbers, but occasionally the much larger blue and yellow macaws would come to crash the party. These birds were twice the size of their red and green counterparts so once they arrived, a lot of the red and green macaws would move to another tree. It was so cool to see these animals in their natural habitat. They were surprisingly good climbers for not having hands, and they used their curved beak almost like a grappling hook to swing from one part of the tree to another. There were little holes in the trees they could climb up easily. Some of the holes were so large that the birds could actually crawl inside the tree and pick at it from the inside.
So many of these animals were so cool to experience, but they were just too far away to get a good picture. I decided not to worry about it and just enjoy the moment. Early morning in the jungle was such a magical time, but it only lasted about an hour or two. It was not even 8 in the morning yet and already the sun was becoming very intense. We got in our canoe and began to paddle back to our lodge. Occasionally on the lake you will hear a giant splash that sounds as loud as a gunshot. Your first instinct is to think caiman, but in fact this giant splash comes from a fish. The Arapaima is the largest freshwater fish in the world and it can grow up to 15 feet long. It is very common to see the splashing of these fish, but it is rare to actually see them. On the side of the boat I saw a slow swimming, red fish about 7 feet long. I pointed it out to our guides and they leaned over the boat to see it, excitedly. I think that showed what a rare sight it was to see them swimming close to the surface like this.
The staff at the lodge were some of the best people we had met on the entire trip. They were so kind, friendly and took great pride in their work. Our main guide, for example, would spend hours a day showing us around the jungle and then during his break he would walk around looking for birds. We couldn’t believe that! During the hottest part of the day, when everyone else was resting he would basically go do his job but for fun. The other guide, Simon, spoke very little English but you could tell he was a funny character. He paddled us around the lake in a canoe all day, making jokes pretty much the entire time. The chefs were also incredible, quickly adapting to my dietary preferences even though I’m sure it must have been hard at times for them to make what was essentially a salad seem interesting for 10 meals in a row. They even found out that my stomach was still a little bit sensitive from Machu Picchu and they made me milder meals like soup and rice that were easy to eat. They didn’t speak English but I tried to find out ways to different ways to compliment the meals in my very limited Spanish.
The other guests were awesome too. There were two other couples there at the same time as us. One couple was from the U.K and they were on holiday for two weeks to explore the country. The other couple was from Peru, and this was their break from the daily grind of Lima. We got to know them during the down time and later on we would be going on one last night excursion, all together. The other two couples hadn’t yet seen the otters, and were eager to look for the family on the other side of the lake. One by one, we packed into the tiny canoe and set out on an adventure. Our tour guide pulled off his binoculars and in his best David Caruso, said “Otter Hunters”. Seems like a pretty good plot for a T.V show.
We pulled up to the other side of the lake where the otter family had been know to nest and we saw the whole family splashing and playing and fishing. It was so cool to see the whole family at once. It was like a sitcom and there was never a dull moment. One otter would find a fish and try to eat it in peace, then the other otter would try to steal it only to be chased away by the older sibling and then a group of them would get together to gang up on the one with the fish. We sat in our canoe at a respectable distance away to not interfere with them. We were more than close enough to observe all of their behaviors and hear their many different calls. Eventually, the sun would start to set and the otters would need to find their secret burrows.
As it got dark, we paddled around the lake, trying to find some birds walking along the water’s edge. I was having a lot of fun because I learned that I could attract bugs with my flashlight and I was beginning to lure in a large group of bats around the canoe. If a bat was coming straight towards us, I could point the flashlight directly at him and he would follow the stream of insects to get to me. People in the canoe began freaking out because I was having bats fly right over our head, but later we all laughed about it.
We met a friendly caiman close to the water edge that was slowly moving along. Simon stopped the boat and started saying “coco. Coco, coco, coco” I was wondering if this was the Spanish word for caiman or something, but our guide informed me that this was just the name he had given this particular caiman. All of the other boat drivers knew coco. She was famous around the lake because she hung out in one particular spot and would actually love following people around. Like a puppy dog, coco followed our canoe and Simon would crinkle his water bottle to attract the Caiman even more. This was incredible to see a reptile acting so affectionately towards people, and I don’t think I will forget this.
During dinner that night, we were all still laughing from the boat ride. The energy felt like the last day of camp. We had made so many friends and memories and we would be sad to leave them behind but we were just having too much fun to think about it too much. Our tour guide asked me if I got to see all the animals I wanted to. “Yes, except for one.” I said, slightly disappointed “I really wanted to see a tree frog”. I had seen a ton of tree frogs during our trip to Costa Rica, but they were a lot scarcer here, particularly during the dry season. Less then 5 minutes after making that statement, I returned to my room to find a very frightened girlfriend, a cockroach and a tree frog in our room. I was so excited about the tree frog, but first I needed to address the cockroach. I don’t believe in killing any animals (with the exception of insects that attack me) so removing insects from my room has always been interesting. Cockroaches are also one of my least favorite animals. Something about them creeps me out, but I still don’t impose harm onto them and try to remove them as painlessly as possible. I took a paper towel and grabbed the cockroach and then it began vibrating, so I freaked out and threw everything out the door.
Next was the fun part, I had to help the tree frog get out of our room. We think he came in to hang out in the shower because it was nice and damp in there. These animals are a lot skinnier than they look once they stretch their legs out, and because you’re supposed to wet your hands first to not upset their delicate skin, it was actually harder to grab him than you might think. Eventually I brought him out where the rest of the camp was waiting patiently to see. Before I let him go, I decided to just hold him in a flat palm and see where he wanted to go. He turned, looked at me and then jumped right onto my face. Because they are used to jumping around the canopy, these animals are so nimble and they have sticky feet that allow them to hold on to just about anything. When I turned back around to show everyone, he jumped from my face onto my girlfriend’s leg. Everyone was laughing and this was a great way to end our last full day on a high note.
We slept well that night even after the cockroach incident. We were however a little bit sad that we would have to leave the next day.