Blog entry for Manu - May 15, 16, 17
Up at 0445 to pack up and leave for Manu park. The Pantiacolla van arrived promptly at 05:30, we picked up two more couples and then we were off! One of the couples, Ann Marie and Marco, were from Malta, and the other couple, Guthrie and Natalie were from Durban, South Africa! As well, we had Ciro, the cook, our guide Reva, and Freddie, the guide for the three day tour the Maltese couple had booked.
It took awhile to get out of the city, and we stopped at a suburb famous for its bread- in fact the many bread shops there supplied all of the Cuzco area, and even Lima! Then it was up, up, up to cross the Andes. Our first stop was at 3700 meters at the Lupucos (?) Funerary Towers, of the Nina Marca people, a pre-Inca culture that came from the Lake Titicaca area. These tombs contained the mummies of the important elders. Most faced West - the drier side - the better to preserve the bodies. And naturally, all the bodies were dried in the fetal position which was the custom, so they could be reborn at a later time.
FuneraryTowers at Lupacos
Then it was down, down, down, to Paucartambo by the River of the same name, for breakfast and a town tour. They actually had and excellent modern museum with artifacts from the surrounding area.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about this town is each year from July 15-19 they celebrate the Virgen del Carmen, an event that sells out all the hotels a year in advance. Twenty teams of dancers participate in this fiesta that dates back to the Spanish conquest of the area. Most astounding are the masks and costumes they wear, which the museum displayed grandly. Many beaded and richly decorated affairs - and each group represented various aspects of the society- bread making, bull fighting, hospital workers and the ill, the slaves the Spanish imported, and so on. They were beautiful, and each had historic significance. This Catholic festival was imposed by the Church and Spanish on the local people. The people accepted it, but made it their own, with many of the dance group's dances, costumes and masks parodying and satirizing the Spanish and their subjugation of the locals!
Paucartambo Dancer Costume
When we left this town the road became a dirt road, narrow, bumpy, and winding up to the entrance to Manu Park - the usual Peruvian road really! There we had a walkabout and a large lunch at 3550 meters.
Manu Park Boundary
Down again, past many mini slides and small washouts on steep cliffs to stop at a Cock of the Rock lek. This proved very fruitful - we saw many males flying about or lounging - we had seen a female and juvenile earlier, but of course, none were at the lek today as it is not mating season. Even so, the males gather there daily to practice their calls and dance moves ,and clean their branch perch, all to be prepared in case a female shows up!
Female Cock of the Rock
Juvenile Cock of the Rock
Male Cock of the Rock
Male Cock of the Rock 2
From the lek, we walked to Paradise lodge, our first stop for the night. It wasn't far, but it was great to get out and walk. The lodge was quite decent, our own bathroom and hot shower. Dinner was lovely - fresh river fish and the excellent soup Peruvians usually serve as the first course - we even were able to buy a beer! Natalie, from South Africa, had been suffering with a bit of a stomach bug since she and Guthrie had done the Inca Trail. It was a 4 day hike, that they completed the evening immediately before starting this adventure. We all had a lively discussion about world politics. Then it was off to bed, as the lights go out at 9pm when the generator is shut down!
We slept like logs till 0500 or so, and were up at 0600 for hot showers and breakfast at 06:30. From the balcony of the dining area we watched a plethora of different hummers - violet fronted brilliants, little wood nymphs, yellow booted racquet tails. And across the river we saw a band of wooly monkeys frolicking in the trees. After breakfast we started our journey on foot to bird watch a bit, then the van picked us up to take us on down the road. It runs alongside the Manu Park boundary in the area that is called the Cultural zone. This is where people can still own land, log, farm, or raise animals. We made three stops along the way to Atalaya where we would start our boat journey into Manu Park proper. We visited a property with beautiful gardens - ginger and basil and fruits - but most interesting was of course the coca plants which are legal in Peru.
Riva and Coca Plant
Our next stop was a "supposed" animal rescue place, which we learned was basically a tourist trap according to our guide.
Black Spider Monkey
Rick and Friend
Guthrie and Black Spider Monkey
They had several monkeys and some peccaries, and even a boa, but it was somewhat sad to see the baby monkeys. One glommed onto Karen and had to be forcibly removed later - the poor thing screamed and screamed and tried to crawl back up - it was heart wrenching.
Karen and baby Howler
Natalie and Capuchin
Sharing the Road
Our last stop was an orchid garden that was lush and gorgeous, in a very rustic way. The stops were also a great relief from the hours of bumping along a scary dirt road ever winding deeper into the jungle!
Jungle Orchid 2
Bugs on a leaf
Atalaya - Freddie's home town, was a bustling port town. We picked up last minute supplies (a six pack of Dorado Cusquena for Rick and Karen), said goodbye to the Maltese couple who were doing the 3 day tour with Freddie, and then we were off on the motorized canoe down the Upper Madre de Dios River. This canoe was piloted by a Machiguenga native and his helper, held an extra motor, and stowed all our luggage and supplies under tarps.
The Magnificent River Craft
On the Rio
True to our luck, it was cloudy, and eventually rainy! Still, our cook Ciro rustled up a great lunch on the boat. We wore our coats and hats (Karen actually wore here smart wool toque for the first time in Peru, in the jungle for heavens sake) and pulled a plastic tarp around us to keep relatively warm and dry! The cold, wet weather is rare for the jungle. It only occurs 2-3 times a year, and lasts for about a week. It was a long trip to Boca Manu where we stopped to contact the Pantiacolla office for the last time and get anything else we needed.
Boca Manu General Store
Baby Emperor Tamarin
The river is powerful, fast, and muddy, and teeming with life. We saw a myriad of birds and some black and white cayman species. It's hard to describe how this all felt. Kind of like we were going back in time. Most places seem to run on generators, and our stops for the night at Reva's lodge was no different. His rooms had private showers and bathrooms - these were cabins all on blocks above the muddy ground. This year he had to move all his lodge buildings further inland on his 60 hectares as the river had carved, and was still carving, away his riverfront! This was a costly venture for him. We had a lovely cold beer before dinner and Ciro managed a hearty dinner again chopping and cooking often with only his headlamp. These guys are amazing. The jungle gets dark earlier than Lima or Cuzco - around 6pm really, and if you are walking in the forest it is even earlier! Lights out at 9 of course, as we were leaving by 05:30 the next day for our long boat ride to Casa Machiguenga Lodge!
Riva's Hummingbird Lodge
Our sleep was a little fitful as we were worried we wouldn't wake in time. At one point we were awakened by an alarm sound - but it was only some jungle insect that sounded remarkably like a distant gentle alarm. We were in the boat between 0530-0545 and off up the river back to Boca Manu, turn right and there we were on the Manu River, and very soon we were truly in the protected area. Another half an hour and we stopped to register at the ranger station.
Manu Park Ranger Station
There is no commercial activity allowed in the park reserved zone, but tourists and scientists are allowed to stay at the few lodges that exist - no camping anymore. It is forbidden by the Peruvian government to have any contact with the "uncontacted natives." Reva, our guide, explained the difficulties with this policy. The "uncontacteds" have been increasingly coming closer and closer to the river communities and indicating they want machetes,cooking pots and utensils, and even clothes. The government is worried about the spread of disease to them but have not tried to vaccinate the tribes. Reva states many of the river community people, like the Machiguenga, can communicate somewhat with the tribes but the government hasn't tried to enlist their help as they want to keep the people in their pristine primitive state. But it sounds as if some of the primitive tribes want to advance - it is a troubling situation at best with no clear cut solutions. In the recent past, one of the Machiguenga people was murdered when he tried to harvest his food. Uncontacteds were camped on his farmland and as they had found the crop, they believed it was theirs to defend. In the past few weeks, this happened again. So far, there has not been out and out war between the Machiguenga people and these nomads, but the day may come.
The ride upriver was very long, but we saw amazing amounts of birds and lots of cayman - the weather was still iffy and a little rainy but warmer with very brief sun breaks. No self respecting jaguar could be found roaming the muddy banks in such inclement weather. In total we travelled at least 8 hours - we saw a very large black cayman, other smaller white and black by cayman, and even a large, dead one.
Yellow necked turtles abounded, as did wood storks, all types of egrets, macaws, herons -tiger and cocoi, swallows, kingbirds, skimmers and terns, Hawks and even a swallow-tailed kite.
Wood Storks on the Beach
We finally stopped before 2pm, and walked overland to Cocha Salvador where we would be going to see the otters the next morning. We hiked alongside the lake for awhile and saw long-nosed bats and some toucans, and monkeys of course. Then it was off again towards Machiguenga Lodge on the river, where we would be staying two nights. On the way we saw great examples of the Strangling Fig tree- one which had completely destroyed its host tree and one still in the process. Fascinating.
This jungle is totally alien to us. It looks like a mix of the planet landscapes depicted in the movies Avatar and Jurassic park. It is dark and mysterious and full of bird and insect sounds and mammalian rustlings. The paths are thick with mud and roots and we are very thankful for the gum boots we have been loaned for the journey. While the accommodations are albeit, rustic - thatched roofs, wooden structures with half walls and screening the rest of the way, single beds with mosquito netting, a separate hut with actual flush toilets and cold showers, and only candle light in our rooms.......well, it is astounding they have accomplished this much in such a remote, pristine wilderness. One wonders what the future will bring to this place. Money always talks and there is money to be made off the tourists for sure.
There were many groups here for the night. We managed to grab a cold shower before dinner and did a little night walk after dinner and then early to bed as we were off to see the giant otters early in the morning.