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Peru : Arequipa to Chivay vicuñas and volcanoes

Tuesday 21st August – Arequipa to Chivay

Now, we woke in a little trepidation given that our Lima contact had clearly forgotten to book half our holiday, but our UK contact had clearly sorted it because our coach to Chivay came to pick us up promptly at 8.00 AM. We collected from a few other hotels (inc M). Our guide was a local Indian with some strong views on social justice (though he was still a pleasant man). The coach stopped briefly at a coca outlet and he recommended buying coca leaves to chew to help with the altitude. Steve bought a smallish bag and off we started chewing. Half way up the altiplano we moved to sucking sweets. A bit further and, trust me, we were SO sick of coca I don’t think we’ll ever touch it again. Yes, I know it’s seen as a local natural cure for altitude sickness but, YUK. As a side note, as we went up I got a headache (not uncommon for me) so I thought, aspirin and took one. A bit further up and headache still annoying, so, fine, lets add a paracetamol (again not abnormal). At the top (the Mirador as I’ll mention later)- penny drops. I’ve got altitude sickness- reach for the Diamox Pills. OH YES, they work. Forget the natural remedy and go straight for the pharma next time.
Anyhow, back to the trip. We headed out of Arequipa past increasingly less posh houses. When I commented on the tax situation of houses, our guide explained that many of the people where local Indians coming from the harder life of the altiplano as largish family groups and would work over many years to earn enough to buy each part of the house- e.g., work for 6 months to buy bricks for the lower floor and erect it, work 6 months to buy the roof and so on. He was also immensely proud of the fact that in the last earthquake some dozens of people in Lima died and not a single person in Arequipa died or was seriously injured due to better construction.

We headed pretty quickly out of Arequipa and up, up to the Altiplano, which is sparsely populated with just, isolated farms and tiny hamlets. We passed a few things on the way up, including a truck half way down a hill (it had clearly fallen off the road but everyone was OK), a deep depression in the hillside (guide said it was from an volcano eruption), several glaciers, some very empty desert-style areas, a few greenish valleys, some mining factories. Pretty much the whole time we could see snow-tipped volcanoes, either El Misti, Chachani, Pichupichu or Sabanaya. After a while we reached a higher plain with an amazing view of Misti. This is the Pampas Cañahuas (3500 m/11,482 Ft), Reserve and we were lucky to spot quite a number of wild vicuñas (on both sides). The vicuna were within a few paces of us and we stopped to look properly. The guide said we were lucky to see so many and so close, including a male with his harem and a few young ones.

Vicuna, Alpaca and Llama
There are four types of camelids in South America/ Peru: Alpaca, llama, vicuña, guanaco. They originated in North America about 40mill years ago before moving to South America 3mill years ago. They became extinct in North America in the last Ice Age.
The alpaca (vicugna pacos) is a domesticated version of the vicuna, bred for its soft wool (it is too slender for a beast of burden) and food (alpaca steak is lovely). Alpaca wool is soft with a variety of natural colours (the Peruvians say 52) that is made into textiles. They are herd animals, kept 3,500-5,100m above sea level on the Altiplano. Each group has an alpha male with several females and young. The male will warn against attack and kick if needed. The rock art in the Mollepunko caves shows domesticated alpaca at a date of 4000 BC and they figure on Moche pottery. Originally it was believed that the alpaca’s ancestor was a llama, but DNA shows vicuna is the correct choice. Like their camel cousins, all the Andean camelids spit. Basically this is a projectile air and saliva (with occasional grassy stomach content included). They generally aim at other alpaca, llamas etc. All the camelids in Peru can cross breed and produce fertile offspring- an alpaca-llama cross is a huarizo (soft wool & gentle).
The vicuña (vicugna vicugna) is a wild camelid living in the high Andes. It is the ancestor of the alpaca and its wool is highly prized and very expensive. Not much is made as the animals have to be rounded up from the wild (because of its value the government has an annual round up to prevent poaching). Both in modern times and under Inca law the vicuna is a protected species (only Inca royalty was allowed to wear vicuna clothing). Until recently it was endangered (by the mid 70s only a few thousand remained, though numbers have recovered since). Most vicuna live in Peru in the Altiplano (3,200-5000m) where their thick warm fleece prevents them from freezing at night. It is the national animal of Peru, and you see it depicted everywhere. Like alpacas they live in family groups- male, harem and young and are somewhat territorial.
The guanaco (lama guanicoe) is of the llama family and lives wild in the Altiplano. It is generally brownish with a grey face. The name derives from Quechua wanaku/ huanaco and the young are called chulengo. They live in family herds- male, females and young. Groups of 10-50 young male herd together. They live as high, if not higher, than alpaca and vicuna and are adapted to the low oxygen at these extreme altitudes with a blood rich in haemoglobin. A teaspoon of guanaco blood contains 4x more haemoglobin than humans (so, about 68 million cells). Their wool is as prized as vicuna, but hard to acquire.
Finally, the llama, domesticated over 6000 years ago, possibly from the guanaco. They are the largest of the four camelids and used as pack animals (carrying 1/3 of body weight), food and for their soft wool. They live in herds. Llamas are often seen as pets as they are relatively intelligent and can learn simple commands. The name llama is a native name (young are cria).
Shortly after this some strange geological formations, the road split between the road to Puno and the road to Chivay. We kept left towards Chivay and very shortly after stopped at a small café (Viscachani) and roadside market. We had an anise tea and wandered the market. I thought about the toilets until I went into them and then I thought again. Instead we walked to the nearby Andean lake, part frozen and were lucky to spot two black Puno ibises popping out of the rushes. Then, much to our guide’s annoyance, two people went on a stroll and were late back.
So, off again, and past the high Andean Altiplano farms. Even at this height people lived, adapting to the altitude, raising mainly llama and alpaca herds along with small crop outputs. Many had artificial or enlarged natural, ponds in front with geese and duck. We had seen a small gauge railway running alongside us for some time and I asked about it. Apparently a railway for people was built between Arequipa and Cusco long ago, but it was so expensive (and not much quicker than road) that hardly anyone used it. We passed the abandoned station not long after. However, as mining in the area took off, the mining companies decided to take over the track for the ore, so it was still in sporadic use. We passed one of the mining villages en route (it was so high and such a long way that most miners lived there for several months so as to acclimatise to the altitude in order to work).
Finally we reached the Mirador de los Volcanoes. This was the highest point of our journey (even in Peru) at nearly 5,000m (4890m/ 15,748’). There are over 80 volcanoes from the Quarternary Era. The view of all the volcanoes was stunning. We saw Ubinas, Mismi, Misti,
Chachani, Sabancaya (very active) and Ampata. There were apacheta towers everywhere (see my section on Paracas to explain apacheta). Steve with his massive lungs went jumping over the low walls up to a small hut (amusingly some one else from the coach tried to copy him and fell almost flat on his face). There was a small handicraft market (again) and a traditionally dressed lady with her llama pet (I assume to collect money for her photo).
And now it was slowly down, down. This side of the mountain we came across llama and alpaca herds (with their herd dogs). Each herd was marked by the owner by ear-piercing a coloured tassel on each animal. They were free to roam (a bit like our system of common land) wherever, but the guide said they generally wandered home towards the evenings.
He told us little about the road we were travelling on. Originally it was an Incan track used by the runners- these were teenage boys (around 12-18 years old) who would take messages by relay from/ to parts of the Inca Empire. They had to be fit and able to run at altitude, so were often chosen from the local peoples. Tambos (rest houses) were built a day’s journey apart and stocked with food. In this way up to 400km could be covered in a day. It was considered an honour to be a runner and they were well paid (in kind and prestige). Most runners were retired at around 18. The Inca were keen on road building in order to establish a good communication network throughout their empire. By the end of the empire they had over 16,000 km of stone roads and suspension rope bridges up to 100m spanning the deepest of gorges. One such bridge, built in 1350 lasted until 1890!

Into Chivay
We went around a corner and finally saw Chivay town far below us. Chivay (3,600m/ 11,811’) is pretty much the town in the centre of the Canyon. We snaked down to the town, stopping at the Main Plaza. Another traditional lady with her llama pet posed for photos as did a lady with a chained
vulture (our guide got cross at this as this vulture is endangered- he asked us not to pay her to try to dissuade her from the trade). The driver (local to Chivay) met his little daughter and amazingly managed the tight corners without touching once. We parked at the edge of town and walked down an uninteresting lane with high stone walls, to a large restaurant with the most amazing buffet. Alpaca everything (roast, grilled, casserole, spit-roast, fried....) and delicious puddings.

After a time relaxing after lunch, the guide offered a complimentary tour of pre-Inca/ Inca Chivay. Most of us agreed, but one couple wanted to go to the hotel, so we dropped them off, then went to the nearby town of Yanque where there was a beautiful church with mountain views behind before we came back to the coach park at the edge of town.

Ancient Chivay
We set off walking down a dusty path at the edge of town, and quickly turned a corner to see an amazing vista of the river (Rio Colca), canyon walls, terraces (pre Inca and Inca) and greenery. The path got thinner as we headed away from Chivay into the hills. After 10 mins of walking we reached the Inca wall (complete with built-in stepping stones to walk up it) and road. Set on top was the pre-Inca reservoir/irrigation system. Over the water basin we walked to the top of a hill with a view of the terraces all around us. Our guide showed us the lower pre-Inca terraces with the Inca ones above, including their field labs (circular depressions for crop growing surrounded by banks of terraces on the perimeter designed to create a mini-climate. We crossed the Inca bridge to see one of their colpas- hollowed-out depressions in vertical rock where food could be stored and kept cool using a) shade b) the updraught of cool air. Coming back we met a local with his donkey troupe carrying firewood back to Chivay.
We walked back and our guide said would we like a trip to the Caldera (Hot Springs) Thermal Baths. Sounded lovely and relaxing, so we all agreed. A quick drive up the mountains brought us to a modern complex of several heated swimming pools. Each pool was set to a different temperature by a careful use of the cold and hot springs. We paid for towels and headed down to the end pool, a pleasant 35°. It had seats all around the edge so we could sit neck deep and admire the amazing canyon around us. After 40 mins we were wrinkled prunes, so we headed back to the coach, which took us to our hotel on the outskirts of town. It was such a steep cobbled entrance the coach reversed up! The hotel had amazing views and a whole-glass
restaurant (and oddly a French speaking concierge). Our room, in the courtyard below was large and comfy with fab views from the sofa. Our guide recommended a restaurant in town and organised a taxi to take us (sunset).
Although it looked uninteresting outside the food was excellent (fresh fish and alpaca) and the show was the best we saw in Peru. The local musicians explained every tune they played and the instruments they were using, including a ancient quena. Then the dancers again explained (in English) the meaning behind the dances. The dances were, at times, quite suggestive like when the lady danced over the prone man!! We definitely saw the Diablada dance (from Puno), where the man wears a devil suit and mask.
Peruvian Dances
The Wititi is an Aymara (not Quecha) dance originating from the Altiplano/ Lake Titicaca area (with links to Tiahuanaco culture- the dance means shining warrior conquers the dark). The Collawas group/ tribe/ culture who moved to Chivay/ Colca brought the dance with them c1500BC. Later it was used to celebrate the alliance between Mayta Capac and Princess Mama Yacchi of the Collawas Union. This dance is a sort of romantic warrior dance similar to a Harvest Festival. It can be inside or outside and lasts as long as people dance. Men wear military costumes of straw monera (helmet), shirt, Llicllas (loaded blankets), unko (military Inca dress) or polleras skirt (the Spanish banned the unko) and chumpe (girdle). The women wear traditional dress (often with sweets in the apron) with huatos coloured braids and a black hat with different details depending on their collawa (e.g. White straw hat= snow) and coloured llama threads. The dance involves a honda/ huaraca weapon, which fires fruit. Hence the use of a hard straw hat! The Kashua (an outdoor communal dance) and the Huayno (a couples dance) are the most common. The Llamerada dance imitates a llama’s walk. Llipi-puli and Choq’elas are vicuna hunting dances. The Huaconda or Wanka dance is also well-known. The Karabotas- a brave rider with whips, broad hat, earflaps, chullo, alpaca/ vicuna poncho, dagger, and spurs leaps to music- probably dates to the rebellion of Tupac Amaru. Finally the Tinku, a kicking, circling dance.
The dancers were very keen that we get involved and Steve was quickly chosen to join in, given a traditional lady’s skirt and hat. He really enjoyed it and ended up doing a sort of conga. What with the wine (Tacama Gran Tinto- a Malbec/ Tannat/ Petit Verdot blend which was a deep crimson and smelt of blackberry, liquorice, cherry and at 12.5% strong for the altitude) and the coca leaves and the altitude and the long day (not to mention the 5 am get up tomorrow) we decided to call it a day at 10.30pm!

Inca Life
Beyond the royal/noble life, most Inca were farmers. A breakfast of chicha (corn beer) would precede working the land until lunch. Then a lunch on corn with chili and herbs, or potato soup, of cornmeal bread, or if lucky stewed guinea pig. They made their own clothes from cotton or alpaca/ llama wool. If you were gifted, you may be trained as an artisan (craft or record keeping) and live a more comfortable life. An intelligent boy might become a yanacona and used as a page for the nobles or in priests. They would make contacts and could rise high. Finally, the most beautiful 10-year girls might be chosen to be “Maidens”. After studying religion they were put into noble or royal households as maids. Occasionally they were sacrificed and buried in mountains.

Posted by PetersF 17:13 Archived in Peru Tagged animals volcano peru arequipa vicuna llama camel chivay Comments (0)

Peru : Colca Canyon condors

Wednesday 22nd August – Colca Canyon

We used our alarms to wake us, as there was NO WAY we’d naturally wake at 5 am. Breakfast (in the dark, but filling) at 5.30am and collection by bus at 6am. We passed the interesting street statuary (larger than life brightly coloured dancers) and collected the other people, before setting off for the road up to the Canyon.
We stopped in the main Plaza de Armas at Yanque to watch the local women dance in their traditional clothes a sort of twirling dance called the Hillori. Our guide said it is performed every morning. Now it is said to be a celebration of Quecha peoples over their Spanish conquerors, but it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see it as a pre-Spanish dance of celebration to the sunrise (in keeping with native sun worship). Our guide told us the “history” of the dance- When the Spanish took this valley they wanted the people to adopt Christian beliefs, but the people were not very enthusiastic. So, the Spanish took all the men away to work the mines, locking them in each night. The women in the village had Spanish soldiers billeted nearby. This way the tribe would die out. However, the men knew better. They had a way out, so they dressed as women and snuck back to the village en masse one night. Lo and behold nine months later came a population explosion. The Spanish had no idea what had happened and the women used their beliefs against them, claiming they were virgin births!
As we drove along our guide told us about the history and customs of the area.
Originally, in pre-Inca times, there were the Hill People and the Valley People. Although originally of the same tribe, they had developed their own cultures over time and their interactions weren’t always harmonious. They bound their infants heads different (back to front or on two sides- later both banned by the Spanish), have different agriculture (terraces with crops, mainly corn and potatoes or Andean plateau livestock hill farming). I would imagine this is a folk recall of the Amyara and Quecha tribes moving north from the altiplano into the colca valleys. Archaeological and linguistic evidence shows this double immigration.
The local Quecha (pre-Inca) in the valleys had already an extensive terracing system, which was added to by the conquering Inca. As we drove I wondered why all the small fields had low stone walls topped with cacti. It was to deter donkeys from entering the field and hoovering up the crops. Apparently if your donkey entered a field the owner could take the donkey until you repaid him. If you refused the donkey went to “donkey jail” until you paid bail (which pretty much everyone did!). We drove along the winding banks of Rio Colca to the village of Maca, which had a very pretty little church (the 17th century Barogue Iglesia de Santa Ana) and courtyard. We stopped for toilets, church visit, stroll because we’d be too early for the condors otherwise.
Then after 20 mins we carried on up the road, over the river to a tunnel through the rock. The story went that if you could hold your breath all the way through you could have a wish (I didn’t manage). The Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon and home to a stunning array of wildlife. A bit further up, passing terraces and small ponds all the way, we arrived at the Mirador Cruz del Condor (a 2 hour trip in total). Quite amazing! At first we perched by a wooden barrier close to a small statue, looking down/across the canyon and two brownish juveniles crossed several times. We moved a bit right and the two adults took off, sometimes flying solely, sometimes as a pair and sometimes the whole family group. At one point all four swooped overhead only a few metres above us.
Brilliant! It was quite busy, but there was plenty of space for everyone. When our guide came back he told us we’d been REALLY lucky seeing so many and so close. It was now nearly lunch (we could not believe how long we’d been there) and we headed back down the same road, stopping briefly for some panoramic shots. Then we went back to the same buffet restaurant as yesterday.
I was keen to try some local fruit, so tried the chirioya (custard apple) which is native to the Andean highlands. Its sort of heart shaped and custardy-creamy and tastes like banana meets strawberry. Another local fruit was the Aguaymento (Peruvian cherry or pysalis), which we already knew.
Then we headed to the coach station. Unfortunately, this is where the Lima guy’s negligence really hit us as the luxury coach we should have been booked on was full, so we were on a rickety “extra” coach for an unpleasant journey to Puno (should have got a refund, but didn’t). We went back the same way as we came up to where the road split to Puno, then headed through the Altiplano towards the large lakes outside Puno (we got off for a leg stretch), through the modern town of Juliaca (dusk) and finally to the bus station at Puno where our efficient lady guide met us and (thank goodness for efficiency) told us she had sorted everything out properly for us. A taxi drove us from the station to our hotel in central Puno. Neither of us was hungry (and we didn’t need the free air!) so we took the lift to our room (good, a bit corporate) and slept.

Colca Canyon- Cultures
The local people come from the Collawa/ Collagua and Cabana Cultures and it was they who started cultivating the valley sides with terraces. Interestingly the Collawas are Aymara speaking (coming from Lake Titicaca) while the Cabanas are Quecha speaking (coming from, probably, the Wari culture). They cropped potato, quinoa and maize. Either they or the Inca carved small colca (granaries of mud and stone) into cliffs or canyon walls. There are still pre-Inca hanging tombs in the area. The Inca arrived at 1320 AD and the Colca area (Caylloma) joined the empire. The Spanish, under Gonzalo Pizarro arrived in 1540 and took the valley, In 1570 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo ordered the people
to abandon their villages and move to centrally located Spanish pueblo (a clear attempt to control the population). Missionaries arrived in 1565 and built the first chapel in 1569. The first road was not built until 1940!
Colca Canyon- Geography
The Canyon, at 4,160m, is over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and probably the deepest in the world. The river starts at Condoramo Crucero Alto (High Condor Cross) in the Andes, through Colca Canyon, over Majes Plain and to the Pacific. Chivay, elevation 3650m is at the mid point. Above Chivay is livestock farming (mainly alpaca and llama), below is terracing. The area is home to the Andean Condor (Vultur Gryphus), Giant Colibri hummingbird, Andean Goose, Caracara, Chilean flamingo as well as the vizcacha (a rabbit sized chinchilla relative), the zorrino (skunk family), deer, fox and vicuna.

Posted by PetersF 19:55 Archived in Peru Tagged animals birds peru church colca inca mama chivay yanque Comments (0)

Peru : Lake Titicaca and Puno

Thursday 23rd August - Lake Titicaca

We woke at a sensible time and wandered (by foot from the 2nd floor) to the open breakfast area. Our efficient guide picked us up exactly on time and we drove to the edge of Puno docks on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3822m above sea level, then walked to the boats. There were MASSES of them, all moored side by side and we had to clamber over several to reach the outermost one. Once there we chose indoor seats (rather than the top, open-air floor (after all it doesn’t take much to burn at this elevation). A supply of free tea was offered (anise for me, mint for Steve), before we took off onto the Lake. We gently motored through the little part (not unlike the Petit Lac part of Lac Leman) through reed banks until we arrived at the floating Uros Islands. We could see their wonderful yellow reed boats for some distance. Our boat guide explained that he went to different islands each day to give opportunities for all (as we left “our” island later we saw a larger island with a huge fish logo on a wooden sign). Each boat has a different prow (look at the chicken head and carp heads below). He told us there were functional boats and ceremonial boats e.g. for marriages, with a second floor with its canopy. The Uros use the totora (bullrushes) growing along the lake edge, dried out, to make their reed boats (balsas mats). We disembarked (an odd feeling as we were walking purely on reeds) through the reed entrance arch to the central fire/ cooking area. The islands huts are in a circle around the perimeter of the island, all facing inward. The local islanders explained how they built the islands each year with fresh reeds to form a floating whole, how the children take themselves to school by boat to Puno once they reached 7 or so, how they fished and ate. He had a helpful model showing the islands superstructure. Apparently if someone annoyed the village, during the night the others would take a huge saw (he showed us) and saw their part of the island off, leaving it to float away. The islands are not, in any case, fixed and their location can vary daily. At the small stalls on the islands we bought a Viracocha statue.
Lake Titicaca has 42 (currently) floating reed island. These man-made islands have been lived on by a tribe (non-Inca) who depend totally on the lake for survival. They seem to have lived this way for thousands of years, maybe as a way to escape control by any particular group- if someone tried you would simply slip away quietly overnight. Some larger islands still retain their defensive reed watchtowers.

The Uru (Uros) are pre-Inca people living on Lake Titicaca. They float between Bolivia and Peru, not really belonging to either. There are three main groups- Uru-Chipayas, Uru-Muratos (Peru side) and Uru-Iruitos (Bolivia side). There was a Uro or Pukina language, but it is not spoken nowadays due to their intermarriage with Aymara speakers whose language they have adopted (c1500AD). They say they have black blood because they do not feel the cold or altitude. They believe they “own” the lake and retain many old customs (though not religion). A second name (for themselves) is Lupihaques or Sons of Sun.
How to build an island. An island can house 2 to 10 families depending on its size. A new island is made by driving a stick into the lake and attaching ropes to it, then attaching it to the dense roots that the totora develop. These interweave to form a natural layer called Khili (1-2m thick) that support the islands. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top every 3 or so months. The islands last about thirty years. Each step on an island sinks about 2-4". As the reeds dry,
they break up which allows moisture to get in. This rots the reed, and a new layer has to be added. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands.
The Uros islands, 3810 m above sea level are 5 km from Puno port. Of around 2,000 Uros only a few hundred still live on and maintain the islands; most have moved to the mainland. The Uros bury their dead on the mainland in special cemeteries. They use motor boats when needed and have solar panels to run TVs and radios. The largest island has a radio station. The larger islands hold primary schools before going to Puno for secondary schools.
Food is cooked with fires placed on piles of stones. To relieve themselves, tiny 'outhouse' islands are near the main islands. The ground root absorbs the waste. The Uros' diet and medicine revolves around the same totora reeds used to construct the islands. When a reed is pulled, the white bottom (chullo) is eaten for iodine to prevent goitre. A reed can be wrapped around a cut and it’s believed it will relieve pain. The chullo can help with heat, being cool to the touch on the forehead. They also make a reed flower hot drink.
The islanders fish for native ispi, carachi, catfish and for introduced trout and kingfish, as well as hunting birds such as gulls, ducks and flamingo. On larger islands they have a few cows. Like the Chinese, some used cormorants to fish. The Puno ibis is domesticated for laying eggs.
After a while the guide pulled us back to the boat and we slowly motored through the remaining Uros islands until we got to open water when we motored across to Isla Taquile. The high sided island looked like a green jewel in the azure lake waters. We landed at the dock on the southwest side and walked up a moderately steep path, past the cultivated fields. Our guide (whose girlfriend came from the island and said he was a “lowland” despite being Puno born and bred) asked us not to give the children sweets (no dentist on the island) or take photos (they had religious/ cultural dislike). At the top of the paved path we went through an ornate arch into the one and only town. The view was lovely and the Plaza a pleasant place to catch our breath. Then we walked across the top of the island before cutting off right down some rocks to an outdoor restaurant with stunning views across Lake Titicaca. The seafood, paella style, was delic & our other guests (many students) good company. Our guide came back with the island’s mayor who talked about many of the island’s unique customs. An interesting one was that the ladies started their lives with plain, but full and thick black skirts and for each significant event in their lives they added a coloured skirt on top. Hence an older lady might be wearing 5 or more thick, coloured skirts. Another custom was to do with hair. Ladies would rarely cut their hair, so it would become very long. When married, after some years, she would cut her hair and turn it into a belt/sash for her husband. Then it would grow again and if they were still together years later she would cut it again and make him a warm hat. The more hats/ belts the more prestige of a loving wife! The mayor himself was elected by all the population and would hold the position for a year, then have to stand down. They felt the system worked really well.
We rested, took photos of the azure sea and cerulean sky before heading back down the road through an arch and down steeply to the dock on the other side of the island. Then a quick motor back to Puno docks where we were collected by taxi and returned to the hotel. As it was still light we went for a quick stroll through Puno, up to their main church, San Pedro (often called the American Sistine Chapel due to its lovely paintings, but then lots of other church claim this too!). Finally back to the hotel and S pegged out in bed whilst I grabbed a warm club sandwich first.
Puno and Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca (and Puno) holds a special place in Andean and Incan mythology. Most creation legends have Lake Titicaca as the birthplace of man, and certainly of Manco Capac. A variety of gods, depending on the tribe, live in or under the Lake. Inti, the Inca Sun God, lives there. It is regarded as the naval of the world.
Puno/ Lake Titicaca is 3,822m high which mans its cold at night and hot in the day. The UV is strong and should be respected. In 1668 Viceroy de Lemos made Puno the provincial capital (as Paucarcolla).

Posted by PetersF 20:12 Archived in Peru Tagged animals boats peru lake titicaca puno uros taquile Comments (0)

Peru : Into the Amazon

Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

Tuesday 28th August – Into the Rainforest

posadas-amazonas-peru_48872868112_o.jpg We had a leisurely early morning and even a chance to have a dawn walk to the plaza (very pretty, and quiet) before the taxi took us to the airport. Originally the plane was supposed to leave mid morning but it was delayed for ages (apparently there had been a problem at Lima) and very little information was forthcoming. Finally it came and we got onboard (it had already got a full complement from Lima, but about 2/3 of them got off at Cusco). The mountains around Cusco are quite high, so the plane’s runway was quite short and the plane needed height quickly. Hence our lady pilot had to taxi full throttle, then VERY QUICKLY fly it up and up. Quite an interesting take-off. Kudos to the pilots who do this every day. As it was a clear day we had a brilliant view over the mountains and could see many Inca (and pre-Inca) sites below us as we climbed. It was not a long flight before we started to descend over the Amazon.
We could see the Amazon and its tributaries below us as we headed towards Puerto Maldonado. When we landed we immediately noticed the lower altitude (breathing was SO easy) and the, as we walked across the runway tarmac, the heat and humidity. A rep (Ines) from the lodge met us and a minibus drove us to their waiting lodge in Puerto Maldonado to wait for the people on the next plane. It was an open air hut with quite a bit of wildlife around, including several Woolly monkeys who came in and said hello to us (the lodge people there said they were wild, but they weren’t really, as they came and sat on our laps).
Woolly Monkey
The Woolly is an unusually furry medium sized monkey with a long, strong prehensile tail perfect to balance and grip onto branches. It gets its name from its soft, thick, curly fur brown (black/ grey). They live in large groups (troops), which split to smaller groups to forage for food. They mainly eat fruit, but also will eat nuts, seeds, leaves, flowers, nectar, insects, small rodents and even reptiles. As a larger primate its main predators are birds of prey, eagles, ocelots and jaguars main predators. Due to deforestation, it is considered vulnerable extinction.
Some people put their essentials in a smaller backpack, and left their large ones at the lodge, but we hadn’t been warned about this and had no smaller backpacks to use, so tough.

At last the last people arrived and the bus was loaded to drive us to the river. The bus left Puerto Maldonado almost immediately and drove down increasingly small and dusty tracks (I had a huge hornet buzzing in my window, which was sort-of annoying but also meant I kept looking outside and saw loads of birds). En route we were given snacks- plantain crisps and dried banana slices. The roads (ahem) looked like they often flooded and the bridges (ahem) were 2-plank contraptions that needed careful manoeuvring by the bus to cross (2 tyres each plank) as we headed to a small pontoon on the river. Once there we got on board a motor launch/canoe (life jackets obligatory) to go down the river. Our baggage made its own way! The trip down the river (Madre de Dios/ Tambopata) was brilliant- not too fast to look at the riverbanks for life. The river edges were surprisingly sandy, with parrots and macaws around. We came across a few locals, mainly finishing their fishing (for...I wonder?). We had another snack as we cruised (a sort of sticky rice dish wrapped in a banana leaf). The boat trip took about 45 mins, so we arrived at early dusk and walked up a steep, sandy path towards the lodge. Amazingly as we walked two troops of monkeys (some Spider Monkeys and Golden Lion Tamarins) went past us.
spider-monkeys_48876482388_o.jpgspider-monkeys-tambopata-peru_48876480428_o.jpgSpider Monkey
The Spider Monkey is a small monkey (2 foot minus a long tail) that lives high in the rainforest canopy. It eats fruit, seeds and leaves. This monkey likes to hang upside down using its powerful tail to hold branches.
Golden Lion Tamarin
The colourful Tamarin is another small monkey (a 1 foot body + a 1 foot tail) and is an omnivore, eating fruits, insects, spiders and lizards. It is closely related to marmosets (Pygmy Marmoset).
We even spotted a sloth (and we never thought we would, given their lack of movement and near-perfect camouflage). The sloth group is divided in Three-toed and Two-toed varieties. Sloths live in the rainforest canopy, rarely if ever coming to the ground (although they can walk and swim).
They eat fruit, leaves and small insects from the branches that they hang upside down in using their long arms and hooked claws. A sloth rarely moves far, staying up to 20% of its life in a single tree. Sloths sleep 15-18 hours each day and are active for only brief periods. They descend every 8 or so days to defecate in the soil. The sloth gets its distinctive colour from the commensal algae that co-exists in its fur. The outer (guard) hairs are stiff and lie over soft underfur, which has no medulla and instead has microscopic cracks for the algae to inhabit. A moth also lives in the fur and lays eggs in the dung. Very young or old sloths have no algae. Oddly sloths have no appendix, gall bladder or abdominal ceacum.

The Lodge itself is in a clearing and we were taken to the Welcome area (like a covered verandah with free filtered water, small gift shop and some amazing skulls). We sat on the comfy settees drinking a welcome fruit cocktail whilst our bags moved themselves to our rooms. Then we had a brief introduction to the lodge (its ethos of ecotourism, its shared community management) before going to find our rooms, which were along one of the radiating raised walkways. Because of the clearing it was still fairly light and we could see out of the fourth “wall” (aka The Jungle) of our room. The rooms have three wood sides, one side open to the jungle with a hammock, a cloth “door” and a shower area (again open to the Amazon). We immediately spotted a leaf green katydid (looking very much like a leaf) sitting sunning him/herself by our hammock. He/She was completely unfazed by us and left when IT wanted to. Steve went to have a wash and shouted in surprise- a poison-dart frog was sitting in our basin plughole looking at us! It quickly left when the water touched it (not on purpose- we’d have liked to see it more). OK, perhaps not a total surprise in the jungle. Then I went to lift the toilet lid- a huge Monkey frog (aka Tree Frog) was sitting IN the toilet basin looking at me, with absolutely NO intention of leaving. Now, I believe that these frogs skins have psychotropic / hallucinogenic properties, so it didn’t seem like a good idea to touch it! Steve went to fetch the management and two turned up with the most ENORMOUS gloves (up to their armpits) and a bag to move it – I think we made the right call! Apparently this is NOT common, but obviously we knew no better then! I guess it was lucky the rooms were still on power (electric power is turned off for rooms at 10pm and only the main lodge stays on the generator (which is why you can charge up devices and use the internet there only).
Monkey Frog
The monkey frog is named because it frequently lives in trees and is a strong climber. It is a nocturnal hunter and can be heard calling loudly at night. The larger females make their nests out of leaves overhanging water, so when the eggs hatch the tadpoles fall into the water. The skin of a monkey frog secretes a milky fluid from its skin to protect it from snakes. The peptides in it include dermorphin- 30x stronger than morphine, but non-addictive. The Amazonian tribes use it in rituals.
Hyloxalus Poison Dart Frog
One of the oldest of this large group of poisonous frogs. Its feet discs are slightly adhesive.
Puerto Maldonado is the main city of the Department of Madre de Dios and the starting point for jungle trips. We made sure we had our Yellow Fever Vaccination Cards because we’d been told that local officials can ask for it even though not officially needed (or even try to give you a vaccination!).
Rainforest Expeditions Posada Amazonas is the closest lodge to town (45 mins by boat from Infierno) and only a short, sandy walk from the river. It belongs to the local Infierno community, the indigeneous Ese-Eje. The Tambopata Reserve is a communal reserve with rights for the local tribal communities. They manage it with a company and together keep ecotourism 'green' and sustainable.
Posada Amazonas Activities
●Canopy Tower – a 30 m scaffolding canopy tower, which gives spectacular views of vast expanses of forest and Tambopata River.
●Lake - Paddle Tres Chimbadas on a catamaran, looking for the resident Giant River Otter family and wildlife- hoatzin, caiman or horned screamers
●Cultural Activities – Visit an ethnobotanical trail.
We were properly hungry now and as dinner was a communal affair at a set time we headed to the main dining-bar-lounge area. Dinner was not ready so we ordered a jungle cocktail (of fruits I’d never heard of). Then dinner was ready, so we all lined up and helped ourselves- Peruvian buffet style. Nice wholesome food- nothing special but tasty and filling. The Lodge gave a self service 3 course meal every day of soup, hors d’oeuvre, salad, hot main course and pudding. Coffee, tea, fruit juice and filtered water was always available. Whilst we were eating Ines outlined our next day (if we wanted) to us, an Australian couple and an American couple (who all turned out to be lovely). A 5am get-up was planned (Steve said no way, he wasn’t going to; me- I said I WAS going, come what may) to get to Tres Chimbades oxbow lake, at dawn and watch the wildlife awake. Then a stroll back to the river looking at the jungle flora and fauna. We’d then return to the lodge for breakfast and have some rest time (they don’t know me- I don’t do rest time) before having a walk through the midday Amazon to the canopy tower and the clay lick. After lunch we would have our own time until mid afternoon when a Medicine Trail trip was proposed. Then it would be dinner and a night walk. This is what we call a FULL day. Of course, I agreed to the whole lot. Steve started bending, everyone else (except 1 lady) was up for it too.

After dinner we headed back to bed. The kerosene lamps were lit now (they get blown out at 10pm so the jungle can sleep too). Just as we walked into
the bathroom area yet ANOTHER frog wandered along our shelves! (The irony is that this is ALL the frogs we, or any of our group, saw in our whole
time in the Amazon- in the wild jungle:0 in our room:3). The mosquito nets were ready, there were hot water bottles (yes, go figure) in our beds and it was so dark we fell asleep quite quickly.

Peruvian Society under Spain
In Peru (as in most Spanish colonies) a class system was very evident.
At the top were Peninsulares – noble residents of Peru, born in Spain, white
Below them Criollos (Creoles) – locally born residents of Peru, mostly Spanish or white origin, not less than 1/8 Spanish
Below the Mezitsos – people of mixed descent less than 1/8 Spanish origin
Near the bottom Amerindians
At the lowest rung of all- African Slaves

These are large birds with bright yellow tails but plain bodies. They are colonial breeders, with each colony producing long woven basket-like nests in close trees. They can mimic other birds and tend to be a bit musty smelling. They eat anything.
Mealy Parrot
These parrots are one of the largest parrots. They get their name from the whitish flour or meal on their backs and neck.

Posted by PetersF 19:41 Archived in Peru Tagged animals birds monkeys rainforest peru amazon cusco puerto_maldonado Comments (0)

Peru : Tambopata rainforest

Tambopata river, Tres Chimbades lake

Wednesday 29th August – Rainforest

Ines knocked on our “door” at 4.30ish and we both got up (as I knew Steve would when he thought about it), got dressed, grabbed a coffee and some fruit, before heading down with the others to the river. The boat took up further up the river for about half an hour (still in the dark) to a sandy beach and some rickety steps to walk up. Once there paddle around the lake in a catamaran, searching for the resident family of nine giant river otters and lakeside wildlife such as caiman, hoatzin and horned screamers. The lake provides wonderful opportunities to photograph majestic trees, water reflections and animal life.

The path led almost at once into the forest and our guide and another guide pointed out things on the way. It was just beginning to light up as we arrived at the Tres Chimbades oxbow lake and boarded our catamaran. We sat down on benches and were punted off through the reeds and into the main lake. As the dawn light grew we could see the mist rising on the warmer water and the Red-bellied Macaws and Cocoi herons sitting high up in the trees on the lake side.
Cocoi Heron / White-Necked Heron
The Cocoi Heron (Ardea cocoi) is a large 4ft wading bird. It spends much of the day wading in shallow water at the edges of rivers and oxbow lakes. Patiently waiting for fish, frogs, and small animals, the Cocoi Heron catches them with a swift strike of its heavy, dagger-like bill. It is easily recognised with its white body and black cap. Only Black Caimans, Anacondas, and cat species will eat them. Its name comes from the Tupi language, meaning “hopping bird”. It used to be a White-necked until an African species was given the same name.
The Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is visible at most oxbow lakes and rivers. This large, long- tailed bird needs open areas of water to fish in. The Anhinga is easily recognised by its thin neck, sharp, needle-like bill, and long tail. It shares the same habitats as the similarly shaped Neotropic Cormorant but has a longer tail and pointed bill. Anhingas are excellent swimmers and paddle the water surface with webbed feet searching for fish. After seeing a meal, they catch their prey with a stab of their sharp beak. They spend the rest of their time with wings partly open as they perch on branches or snags that stick out of the water. Like the Cocoi its name is a Tupi one, meaning Snake Bird. Surprisingly Anhinga do not have waterproof feathers, though this may help them swim below water. They fly frequently and are very visible in flight.

I saw a faint movement in the water and yes, it was a Black Caiman sliding in. As we punted further through the reeds I saw a pretty yellow Great Kiskadee flitting in front of us, then we spotted a colourful Amazon Kingfisher just above our heads, getting ready to dive.
Amazon Kingfisher
This Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona) often perches over the river or lake keeping its eyes open for fish or crustaceans. When it spots one it dives in to pierce it with its dagger-like beak. Its shape is so beautifully aerodynamic that it was used as the model for Japan’s high speed trains!

By now the mist had almost evaporated, leaving a crystal clear air. At the lake side, not 1, not 2 or 3 but dozens of red-eyed, crested Hoatzin birds. I’d been really hoping to see these odd, unique birds.
The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is the weirdest bird in the world. Quite a large bird it lives in groups around the edge of Amazonian lakes, nibbling the vegetation. We didn’t bother them, but a caiman did finally cause them to flap off. They do not like to fly because they have small, weak breast muscles (unlike normal birds). It has no close relative and no-one really knows their heritage, although fossils suggest an African origin, so maybe it floated across the Atlantic. Certainly it is an ancient bird. Uniquely they are born with claws at the end of their wings. This may be an adaptation to prevent them falling into the water when they leave their clayside nests. It is the only herbivorous bird in the world. It eats young leaves and has crop bacteria to help digest the leaves (like cows). This is the reason for its other name, Stink bird, which comes from the fermenting taking place in their crop. Their name means “pheasant” and they make grunting noises as they sit and eat.

Caimans are crocodilians related to alligators. There are four species in the area, but we saw the largest, the 15ft Black Caiman. An ancient species, their name comes from the extinct Carib language word for crocodile. They eat whatever is easy to catch, generally fish and large insects, though the largest will attack birds and otters. An ancient Peruvian caiman (extinct) grew to 40ft. After hatching the young are carried by the mother’s mouth to the water.
As we quietly punted round we saw first the snout, then the studded back of a large Black Caiman. Then, look, I spotted colourful Yellow-ridged and White-throated Toucans in a tree overlooking the lake end. One of the guides was very taken with my telephoto and took quite a few photos with it!

Toucans are medium sized birds with huge bills (giving them the nickname ‘flying banana’). They glide between the crowns of rainforest trees and add colour to the canopy with striking plumage black, white, red, blue and yellow. Quite a number live in the Peruvian rainforest, including Channel-billed, Yellow-Ridged and White-throated Toucans, Chestnut-eared, Curl-crested and Lettered Aracari, and smaller Emerald and Golden- collared Toucanets. Toucans eat fruit, insects and eggs. They are quite clever and can learn tricks and mimic other animals. Like many other animals of the rainforest their name is Tupi. They don’t often fly and have quite small wings. Of course their distinguishing feature is their huge bills, sometimes accounting for over half their length. Despite this their beaks are light as they are made of bone struts filled with spongy keratin. This probably helps keep them cool. Their beaks have forward serrations, which suggests they evolved originally to catch fish, though their diet now is main fruit (which they can get with little effort due to the beak length). Their grey tongues are frayed to improve their taste sense. Another unique aspect of toucans is their tail- the 3 rear vertebrae are fused and attached to the spine with a ball and socket joint, allowing them to move their tails forward to touch their heads.

Ines thought it was a bit early for the otters to show, although she thought she’d spotted a den, so we went piranha fishing (Golden Piranha). Steve didn’t catch anything, but several people did- goodness, those teeth up close. We threw them back, of course.
Piranha (piraña)
This is a South American omnivorous fish, famous for its sharp teeth and voracious appetite. It is related to the omnivorous Pacu (family Serrasalminae). Piranha have super-sharp triangular teeth in both jaws which interlock so it can puncture and tear flesh. They both predate and scavenge and are important to the ecology of the Amazon. As it is the Amazon the number of species is still unknown; maybe up to 60. Research suggests that the school hunting technique of piranha may have evolved from co-operative schooling as a defence from predators (especially dolphin). Piranha will eat almost anything; some species are more carnivorous, others tend towards herbivorous meals.
Other Amazon Fish
Although we did not see these in the Amazon the huge Pirarucu (aka Paiche or Arapaima) was undoubtedly below us at some stage. It is the world’s largest freshwater fish, growing up to 10feet. An air breather (it needs to surface every 15 mins to gulp air) it is a carnivorous catfish. It maybe the world’s most ancient fish, dating to at least 200 million years (Jurassic). Its Tupi name means red fish.
Another fish we must have passed over is the Tambaqui. This large fish eats only fruit and seeds, despite being a close relative to the pirana. They play an important role in spreading seeds through the forest as they only digest the fruit.
A well-known fish is a catfish, the Candiru (Pencil catfish). Supposedly it swims up your urine stream, thinking it is a fish gills and lodges itself in your genitals using head spines, In reality it finds its victims using sight and the physics of fluid dynamics makes it impossible to swim up a stream of urine. It will feed off the host’s blood, mucus or scale mites for a few minutes before dropping off, leaving the host unharmed. It is a Tupi name meaning transparent.
Lastly the Electric Eel, which is a fish, not an eel. It can grow 8ft long and deliver a charge of 600 volts to stun its prey. The male makes a saliva nest for the eggs.

Interestingly the lake has two sides- it (as does most of the land here) belongs to the local tribe- one side has been licensed for agriculture (if they want), but the other side must be left to the jungle. As it happened the “agriculture” side mainly consisted of palms and banana trees, so it was not cropped like we understand although they did collect and sell the palm nuts and bananas. The sunrise red had turned to golden dawn light and
suddenly we heard screeches and calls- it was the very rare Giant River Otters.
Giant River Otter
The giant otter is the largest of the Mustelidae family (which include weasels, otters and ferrets). It reaches a length of 5 foot by eating 3kg of catfish and pirana every day. There are only 5,000 left in the wild- this covers the whole of the Amazon, making us very lucky indeed. The giant otter lives in extended family groups of 3-20 and each is uniquely identifiable by its throat patch. Their various calls all have meaning, whether to warn or alarm.
We were really lucky as it was a family group with the parents teaching the three cubs to swim and fish (apparently otter cubs are not especially keen on swimming and need a lot of instruction), so they were out and about a lot. We got really close and could see and hear them for quite a long time. Our guide said it was unusual to get so close and many sites I’ve read agree. After 20/30 minutes looking at the otters they all vanished, and we saw why- a large Caiman was stalking in the rushes. It was about 7- 8 am (we hadn’t put watches on) and the sun was definitely up, so we punted back to shore and began a slower walk through the forest, looking at detail in forest fauna and flora. Among other things we saw

  • a strangler fig
  • coca trees
  • a variety of palms
  • some unusual nests/cocoons on the forest floor
  • long lines of green leaf-cutter ants
  • a palm tree with a bulge.

I was interested in the symbiosis between a nest of red ants and certain trees- a tree would harbour a red ant nest and in return the red ants would kill any sapling that grew too close. When we were nearly back to the river a guide pointed out a furry mass that turned out to be a hundred furry caterpillars all joined in a huge ball on a tree. Some cats came to say goodbye as we got back on board to return for breakfast at the lodge. On our way we came across more monkeys.
from left- mass of caterpillars, arboreal termite nest, capirona tree, brazil nut tree

The Brazil-nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is common in the Amazon. It rises high above the canopy, reaching up to 40m. Yellow flowers grow on it, which eventually turn into large fruits, containing between 1 and 2 dozen seeds. Nuts are contained in large woody rounded pods that break open when they fall on the forest floor. Unusually for the forest it does not have buttress roots, relying instead on surface and underground roots. The Capirona is a hardwood tree that grows over 100ft high, well above the canopy. Its rough bark peels easily leaving a smooth surface that epiphytes cannot colonise, leaving the tree free.
from left latex tree, cercropia, ficus on a palm, army ants

The Latex or Para Rubber Tree is common in the Amazon and grows up to 150 feet high. It can be harvested by scoring it and allowing the rubber latex to drip out and be collected. The Cercropia is the most abundant Amazon tree. It is quick to exploit any gap in the forest cover and is a common sloth tree as the leaves are very tender. To protect itself it hosts Stinging Ants (Azteca) in its hollow trunk, rather than using phytotoxins (hence the sloths preference). The Ficus, one of many species of fig has a smooth mottled trunk with lichens. The bark can be soaked to produce a worm killing tea. This is why many rainforest animals scratch and eat the bark.

Brown and White Capuchin Monkeys
These smallish monkeys live close to each other and often forage alongside Squirrel Monkeys (which is why we saw them both). They eat anything, fruit, nuts, lizards, insects, eggs, etc. Their name is due to their resemblance to the robes worn by capuchin monks. They are tool users- to break palm nuts they put them in the sun to dry for 2 days, then crack them open using a hammer and anvil stone.
Squirrel Monkey
These smallish monkeys have distinctive faces (Totenkopfaffen or deaths-head in German). They live in very large groups with a hierarchy- some females have a pseudo-penis to display dominance over smaller monkeys. Unlike other New World monkeys they do not have a prehensile tail. Their society gives them the ability to post sentries and they are rarely caught by predators. The females typically have colour vision, but males do not.
We went back to our rooms to have brief rest (well, sleep in Steve’s case and probably others) before a second mid-morning rainforest walk. Almost as soon as we left the lodge clearing, a large troop of Dusky Titi monkeys came to say hello, including one with a small baby attached. Ines took the camera from me to take a better picture! The monkeys hung around for quite a while before leaving.
Dusky Titi Monkey
These cute monkeys rarely go to the ground, spending most of their life in the trees and vines. Unlike most primates, they mate for life and form strong attachments to their family. They eat less meat than most monkeys. They rarely stay close to other monkeys, as they tend to be attacked- Capuchins have been seen killing them. Ines pointed out various things on our way to the canopy tower, including a Wandering Fig (look at the pictures for a clue to its name) and a Potoo bird.
Potoo Bird
A difficult bird to see as it sleeps in the day and eats at night. During daylight it sits totally still against tree trunks, virtually invisible to the eye. It has a small beak but a huge mouth for catching night time insects. It does not make a nest but lays a single egg in a tree nook. The story is that it’s sad call is because its spirit has been separated from its lover, the moon.

We saw a gecko, some unusual insects and various nests and cocoons before we arrived at the canopy tower. It was a long way up and quite wobbly, which I don’t like, but I’m glad I got to the top because the view over the rainforest and river was spectacular. We saw a variety of birds flying, mainly over the river- apparently one was a Bat Falcon, but too far for us to see properly.
Gecko, fungi, beetle nests
Bat Falcon
The Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) is a small, colourful falcon found along tropical rivers at the edge of rainforests. It hunts across rivers and small birds adapted to the forest understory therefore rarely fly across the Tambopata and tend to become isolated the same species that reside in the forests on the opposite bank. The Bat Falcon is named after its favourite prey. Like other raptors it has a notch on its beak, designed to sever its prey’s verterbrae. Then back down and along towards a clay lick. We saw several different trees and plants, all of interest to the locals, such as the brazil-nut tree, cocoa palm, cohune palm, ceibo tree. Then, just as we headed towards the clay lick Ines told us to stop and be quiet as there was a mass of macaws in the trees ahead. We saw Blue and Yellow Macaws, Scarlet Macaws and the less common Chestnut-fronted Macaws.

Macaws, like most Psittacidae, nest only in dead palm trees. They are clever, about the level of a 3/4 year old human and live to about 70. Blue and Yellow and Scarlet Macaws are named for their predominant colours. Oddly the Chestnut-fronted was named in the lab for an obvious colour, which is not at all obvious in the field! It’s smaller and less intelligent than the Scarlet and Blue and Yellow. All the Macaws come to clay licks to supplement their diet. If lucky, the less common Red and Green Macaws visit too.
In the hide at the clay lick the macaws resolutely stayed away- using the binoculars I’m fairly sure we spotted why. A yellow hide with brown-black rosettes... a jaguar! A long way away, but definitely there. No wonder the birds were in the trees! Ines said the jaguar would probably stay there until it caught something so it was unlikely we’d see any wildlife as it would be in hiding (very sensible!).
Big Cats
The Jaguar (Panthera onca) is quite widespread in the Amazon. It is closely related to the Snow Leopard. It does not mind water and will happily jump in to take its prey, mainly capybara, tapir and peccaries. It has 3/4 rosettes arranged around a smaller central spot. Its Tupi name, yaguara, means beast. Other big cats we could have spotted were the Ocelot, so called for the ocelli (white spots) on its ears and the Jaguarundi, the smallest of the three and a puma’s relative.
Accordingly, we headed back to the lodge for lunch and a rest. Steve had a good sleep after lunch and I lay in the hammock watching the birds in the trees.
Heliconia flowers
By mid afternoon everyone was up again and rested, so we took the boat further upstream again to the local medicine man’s forest area. Now, TBH, I hadn’t been sold on this visit to begin with, but it was much more interesting than I had thought. The medicine man was very clear and explained his craft and the local fauna so well.
Some interesting things were:
1. a bitter, fizzy twig (I had to spit)
2. quite a few impotence cures
3. local Viagra (maca root)
4. a stop by the medicine huts to “try” some medicine, most of which seem to heave been preserved in amazingly strong alcohol
from top left clockwise: oje tree, sanipanga,cat’s claw, kapok tree
Some medicinal plants we saw-
Oje: the bark produces a milky white latex that fights rheumatism, toothache, snakebite, anaemia and fever.
Cat’s Claw (Una de Gato): a sharp vines with spikes like a cat’s claw. The bark is used for ulcers, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, tumours, AIDS.
Kapok: this grows to 200 feet. Its also called Sumaumeria or telephone tree (it used to be used as a drum). The fruit capsules contain over 100 seeds surrounded by kapok, a fluffy waterproof fibre that we use as a stuffing. It can treat conjunctivitis.
Cordoncillo: anaesthetic (we chewed this leaf and ended up with a numb tongue) Shapumvilla: stops bleeding
Wasai/ Huasai: kidneys, malaria, jaundice, diabetes
Pusangade venado: luck
Tawari tree: the bark cures infections and inflammation and may help cancer.
Sodo plant: addiction cure
Pusangade Motelo: anxiety
Cola de Raton: digestif
Canelilla: fertility treatment
Sangre de Grado: antiseptic, contraceptive
Copaiba: the resin is anti fungal and used for acne
Cedar: fever, cough, gangrene
Lipstick Tree: OK not a medicine, but still used!
Then, as it was dusk, we cruised back to the lodge. Due to the time we began to see a variety of animals along the bank, including an agouti and (noise only) some peccaries. Dinner, our favourite, quinoa led to an interesting cross-continent discussion as it turned out we all had a different name for this legume! Our American acquaintances were very keen to develop a holistic practise and had been fascinated by the medicines we saw and planned a further visit. Ines suggested a night walk, and a few of us went back to fetch our head- torches. And... ANOTHER poison dart frog was hopping around our room!
The walk was OK, but so many other people had the same idea as us that most interesting fauna had long gone due to the noise. However, we did see a HUGE black spider (I had no idea what it was and had no intention of getting close- Steve swears it was a Wandering Spider and I said it better not
wander anywhere near me).
Wandering Spiders
This spider species (Phoneutria) looks large and intimidating. A Wandering Spider will actively search for prey (wandering) rather than lying in wait at a web. The infamous Brazilian Wandering Spider (notorious for having the most toxic spider venom in world- even more than the Black Widow) does not live in Peru, but two closely related species do. They are aggressive predators that feed on small mammals, lizards, frogs and large insects- they are all poisonous!
We also saw quite a few evening/ night insects including stick insects. We came across some leaf cutter ants being very busy with their leaves, and some HUGE black ants that S was very interested in, until Ines suggested he move back a bit. It turned out that they were bullet ants- they give the most painful bite it is possible to have (on a scale of 1-10, they would be 12). They are one of the largest ants in the world and use powerful jaws to dismember prey to feed their larva (the adults eat nectar).
To say the least we were exhausted, so a quick fruit (and alcohol) cocktail and an early night all round.
A few Amazonian foods we tried
- quinoa (we know this well)
- camu camu (a bit sour, like a lime and with 40% more vitamin C)
- tumbo (banaa passion fruit) looks like a fat banana, but its tart. You don’t eat it raw so we had it in ice cream.
- aguaje (moriche palm fruit) firm yellow pulp, very nice.
- cocona (amazon tomato) but actually citrus. Yellowy, like a pepper. Used for salads.

leafcutter ants
The next morning, up early, we were lucky to see a Spix Guan and some large Morphos.
Spix Guan
Spix’s Guan (Penelope jacquacu) is an arboreal bird, turkey size and shape. Like most of the Cracidae family Spix’s Guan makes a rattling noise with its wings (which we heard). It’s named for Johan Baptist Ritter von Spix who discovered it.
Morpho Butterfly
This butterfly, which has over 400 varieties in Peru, is named after Aphrodite (Venus), although its name means change. The shiny blue wings are caused by iridescence, the scales deflect rather than absorb light. Their properties are being studied as an anti- counterfeit device. Underneath their brownish colour is a camouflage. They feed on rotting fruit and prefer to stay near water. They have the larges wing to body ratio of any butterfly.

Posted by PetersF 19:48 Archived in Peru Tagged animals birds rainforest peru monkey amazon tambopata tres_chimbades Comments (0)

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