Tag Archives: Amazon Research Centre

Sad farewells

Boys with Nikki.

Somewhere on the deep, dark expanses of the Amazon tonight floats a hat that has seen the Pyramids, the little enamelled kingfisher bought in the Lake District glinting gently in the moonlight.

Our day started with a wistful goodbye to the wonderful Nikki from Melbourne who has been our companion for the last few days. And then we were off downriver. The Amazon jungle put on a final display of hawks, herons and butterflies as the river gradually widened out in front of us. We saw more and more people as we approached the lower Lodge; although it says something about our last few days when seeing two locals fishing from a canoe feels like a crowd.

Last photo at the Research Centre.

After lunch at the Lodge we set off again, this time for Iquitos. The event which will ever-after be known as “the hat tragedy” occurred just as we turned onto the Amazon proper and went up to full speed. The wind whipped around us and in a flash Declan’s hat disappeared behind us. He was, understandably, very upset: “That hat represents so many memories!” Dec was right, in a world where our possessions are what we have in our backpack the boys’ hats have been a constant companion, the stains and scratches reminders of visits and experiences. We’re all a bit bereft to have lost one.

The last photo of Dec's hat.

Anyway, we were moving at speed and soon arrived in the turmoil of Iquitos. After the calm of the upper Amazon, Iquitos was like being hit in the face with a hot, damp, ugly, noisy brick. It was frankly a relief to get to the airport and catch our plane back to Lima.

We had a wonderful time in the Amazon and, although I’m looking forward to cooler, drier weather and warm showers, we’ll miss the place.

Our Amazon adventure may be over; but, somewhere out on that amazing river, Declan’s hat ventures on.

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Dugouts, blow-guns and tarantulas

My dugout canoe.

I awoke this morning and set out in a dugout canoe to silently glide over the river-waters in search of wildlife. I did end up seeing a dolphin and a great troupe of squirrel-monkeys, but really the thrill for me was paddling the dugout. It’s remarkably responsive and easy to steer, but the hand-carved paddle, in a shape with looks just like a spade from a pack of cards, is amazingly heavy.

This morning we continued the theme of handmade things by making our own blow-pipes (or maybe blow-guns, there’s continuing discussion as to what is the correct term). They were made using a variety of palms and bit of tree that we gathered at the end of a machete from the surrounding jungle. We whittled the palms into shape, used a hot iron to ream out the bore, carved a mouth-piece and made darts. The end result was shorter than real ones would have been, but otherwise completely authentic. Well that’s not quite right, a truly well-made blow-pipe would have involved splitting the reed in two and smoothing a bore before binding the two halves back together – but that would have required days of skilled work. And we had neither days not that skilled work.

Target practice with the guns.

The end result shoots remarkably well and the boys were soon making mincemeat out of a target. As an interesting piece of trivia: apparently the natives used to walk about chewing peppers, the hot breath making it easier to get the required force to send a dart 50-100 metres.

Tarantula.

After lunch we set out way upriver in the motor-boat. We covered enough distance that the river was seriously narrowing with the jungle edging closer and closer on the sides and then turned off the motor and drifted back downstream. The silence proved to be a great way to see a wide variety of birds including the impressive blue and yellow macaw with its distinctive long tail. Though, the most exciting things was seeing an enormous tarantula – no one was willing to put their hand in the photo for scale, so take my word for it, it’s big.

It was a great final day in the jungle – leaving us with only one unanswered question: how on earth do we get handmade blow-guns back through customs?

Five lessons from the jungle

Pirhana.

1. If you venture into thick jungle and the guy wielding the machete is a foot shorter than you, you are going to bump your head a lot.

We set out at crack of dawn to explore the grid system around the Research Centre in search of interesting things. There are rough paths following the grid so the walking was tough but OK. Then we went off into the pristine jungle to search for a particular palm that Christian could use to teach the boys how to make a blow-dart gun. We had thought our walk through the Valley of the Poison-dart Frogs was tough going, but this was real jungle.

Piranha dinner.

2. David Attenborough has superhero powers.

In all the wandering about and looking for animals we’ve done in the last few days, actual sightings have been few and far between. The problem is that this is roughly pristine jungle and so the animals are spread out. A fellow-traveller who had been to Borneo tells us you go out and trip over animals there because the logging has forced them all into a small area. The Mr Attenborough setting out and within seconds talking in hushed tones within feet of interesting things is, in our experience, either special effects or, as stated, superhero powers. As he’s one of my heroes, I’m going with the later.

Fungi.

3. If you want to spot things in the jungle, don’t ask the guy with one eye.

There are so many layers to the jungle that real depth perception is crucial to spotting things. Jennifer was seeing stuff and vainly trying to point it out to me. Unless it moved I had no hope.

4. The dangerous things are not always obvious

We went fishing for piranha again this afternoon and caught several – three different species in fact. They do have vicious teeth but are nothing like as dangerous as advertised. In fact the thing that has really captured our imagination is a particular fungus. this little beauty falls on its victim and then grows to take control of the victim’s nervous system, sending them slowly insane. Eventually the victim finds a high spot and dies, the fungus spores and the cycle continues. The only saving grace is that the victims are always wasps – at least as far as anyone knows.

5. People like lists

There are definitely a group of our fellow-travellers that are trying to tick off a list of having seen as many animals as possible. We’ve discovered that’s simply not us. Most of a year of travelling has made us very copacetic – we’re pretty much happy just to be here, seeing some cool stuff is a bonus rather than an end in itself. Which means we are not getting up at 5am to tramp through the jungle again tomorrow.

Gone fishin’ for piranha

Frog in the dark.

Last night we went out spotlighting again and tracked down tree frogs in full mating call. Huge, big things with balloon-like throats making deep croaking sounds. Apparently the frog that can keep up the croaking longest gets to mate.

Then this morning we moved from our residence of the last four nights 15km further up-stream to the Amazon Research Centre. The ARC sits in a reserve where there are no nearby villages and no hunting allowed. It has a higher level of biodiversity than most other places around and is surrounded by jungle demarcated by a careful grid system to keep track of and study the local fauna.

Cal reading Dickens as we motor upriver.

As we motored upriver, Callum did his best imitation of a Nineteenth Century British explorer: lying back and reading Dickens. He did deign to raise his head and look at the especially interesting birds we saw, but I kept expecting him to snap his fingers and ask for a G&T to ease the journey.

Dec meets his dinner.

This afternoon, we went fishing for piranha. We were on a clear mission: this was not generic fishing, we wanted piranha. So we motored down to a spot when a tributary meets our river, moored and settled into some fishing using some basic poles. It took a little while until our first bite and then Declan landed a small piranha. I thought his face would split, the grin was that big. Not long after he caught a catfish. Then we moved to the other side of the river and Callum landed a decent-sized barracuda. Over the course of three hours the boys had gone through, perhaps, ten hookfuls of bait; I managed two changes of bait, the fish were so uninterested in me they couldn’t even be bothered stealing my bait. I eventually managed to catch a fish on the quick catch-and-release program – I hooked it but it wriggled off the hook before reaching the boat.

Then Declan hooked a bigger catfish, a major battle ensued with Christian, our guide, shouting “Play it, play it.” while Declan struggled to keep the fish on the line. The end result didn’t really show how tricky the fish was to bring in given a basic pole and line, but we all felt satisfied that this was a fish worth eating.

We had Declan’s catfish for dinner tonight. And it was good.