Thursday 16 June 2016

Peruvian Amazon Madre de Dios, Tambopata National Park introduction

I'm going to make a pictorial record of my trip to the Peruvian Amazon on this blog, as an aid to writing poems, so this is an introduction. I went to the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon basin and stayed in two lodges. The first, Refugio Amazonas, is in the buffer zone of the Tambopata National Park, in the deep Amazon basin, climax rainforest but not totally pristine as there are goldminers here and there along the riverbank, mango farmers, and a couple of other small lodges. Access to Refugio ecotourism lodge is 4 hours by river, after a stupendous flight from Lima via Cuzco, over the Andes then the meandering Tambopata River and its oxbows, to the world capital of biodiversity: Puerto Maldonado, a jungle town.

I was looking down onto the vast coils of the serpent of Amazonian myth, fallen from the sky. I mentioned the sky-river to our expert guide Berli, of Amahuaca heritage, and he told me there is a scientifically acknowledged river in the sky, that the clouds above these waterways hold more water than the rivers themselves. It was along the meanders in this photo that we were carried, in a small powered longboat from the indigenous port of Infierno, 20 miles upstream from Puerto Maldonado, along the Tambopata, upstream towards the Purna foothills. Those boat journeys, down the centre of the river where it is cool with the breeze and mosquito free, were exhilarating, with Berli and other guides spotting caiman, capybara, turtles, monkeys, herons, vultures, and much more, along the banks, through their binoculars. Brian, my husband, who accompanied me, took these photos of the spectacled caiman with his Lumix camera bought specially for the trip. Butterflies and flies drink its tears and the caiman tolerates them though gets nothing from them.

We stopped at the buffer zone National Park guard checkpoint, and it was there that I got bitten by dozens of sandflies, having foolishly just worn a sleeveless tee shirt. Those bites still itch and scar my upper arms two weeks later! From then on I buttoned up in Nosilife mossie proof shirts and trousers from neck to ankle, the ankles tightly sealed with drawstrings. As there is the risk of Leishmaniasis at the deeper lodge 4 hours further upriver, Tambopata Research Centre (the only one in the Park and the remotest lodge in Amazonia!), and this nasty disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, it was essential to keep bites to a minimum.

One tenth of the scientists who work at this centre longterm contract the disease for which there is no prevention, only an unpleasant lengthy cure by intravenous antimony. It is impressive that despite this the scientists continue to do their crucial work, specifically with macaws, but also making a census of the wildlife left in pristine climax forest. At the buffer zone station their main task is to make a census of arthropods and insects there, and take DNA samples of each sub-species. New species are being discovered daily, so this is a herculean task.