I have only been in Peru for a couple of weeks but time tends to slow here in the most curiously enjoyable way. Upon first arriving, I was stationed in the ARC Amazon headquarters in Puerto Maldonado on the Tambopata River. This is “base camp” so to speak and is the only place to get supplies, have your laundry properly cleaned, get a bit of wifi and a cold beer, which is what I am availing myself of now, sitting in my favorite bar, enjoying a cold Pilsen Callao and typing directly into my blog via my iPhone – modern technology contrasted against the backdrop of rustic Peru*.
In fact, Puerto Maldonado, in the region of Madre de Dios, is officially recognized as the biodiversity capitol of the world and they have the chops to prove it. Located near the city center, an 8-story, aquamarine, cinderblock structure, fondly referred to as el Obelisco (the Obelisk), offers panoramic views of the city and lush, dense jungle beyond. Managing the precarious climb up some rather questionable stairs to the top, visitors are greeted by sun-bleached posters at every level that attempt to describe a few of the notable gems the region is home to. Brief but educational blurbs highlight local favorites such as los lobos del rio (giant river otters), árboles de castaña (Brazil nut trees), and the agutí (agouti), one of the only animals with jaws powerful enough to crack open the outer shell of the castaña pod. Albeit a crude collection of graphics, it is testament to the fact that Madre de Dios is indeed one of the most unique places on earth.
It seems a lifetime ago that I first climbed those stairs to the viewing deck of the Obelisk, but in fact it was only 15 days ago. Since then I have been deep in the Amazon, off the grid and suffered a long, bumpy, dirty, car ride from Puerto Maldonado to Lucerna and additional 20 minute boat ride up the Las Piedras river to the heart of ARC Amazon’s Concession called LPAC. Host to a small group of scientists, researchers, nature enthusiasts and now me, LPAC will serve as both my home and office for the next 7 weeks.
Merely a few days and yet so much has happened; enough to fill pages of blog entries already.
Where do I begin?
I will start with my most impressionable memory; that of my first morning waking up in the jungle. Imagine for a moment, being free of electricity, wifi and all associated electronic devices. No phone, no work emails, no conference calls. You are completely unburdened by modernity and mercifully devoid of the woeful news from the outside world. All you have is what fit into a 40-gallon dry bag and small backpack. You will wear the same clothes today as you wore yesterday and you may or may not shower – its all the same in the jungle.
Just shy of 5:00am, the first glow of morning sun starts to illuminate the sky. Creeping up slowly, it warms your face, your eyelids and the platform where your humble, wooden-plank bunkbed sits enshrouded by mosquito netting. The netting creates a filmy, ethereal veil through which you see directly into the jungle and it’s in this moment, you realize you slept all night in the middle of the Amazon “protected” by a mere 2 millimeters of woven nylon.
And then come the sounds. I will apologize now for my inability to properly capture and describe the amazing sounds of the jungle; I hazard there are few authors who can. But suffice it to say, the jungle is absolutely saturated with sounds! Rivaling any urban city in both volume and relentlessness, the jungle is a cacophony of every manner of chirp, cheep, whistle, peep, croak, cry, caw, howl, rustle, crunch, crash, buzz and growl; noises you’ve never heard before and most “virgin jungle ears” grapple to make sense of.
There are birds that sound like monkeys and monkeys that sound like birds, there are the crashing of palm leaves falling down through the canopy with such violence, you’d swear entire trees were toppling over and at night the ceaseless hum of the cicadas, crickets and frogs can be so impressively loud one can hardly talk over the “white noise” of it all.
The Oropendola, a bird who’s call sounds like a synthesized imitation of a pebble plopped into a pond is one of my favorites. The Screaming Piha (unfairly named in my opinion), has a lovely song that consists of an ascending 3-note scale, terminated by a “cat-call” whistle so perfectly toned, you’d swear it was generated by a human taking a leisurely stroll through the jungle! There is the Toucan’s shrill, but recognizable call and of course, the parrots and macaws who’s “voices” are so comically unrefined in contrast to their gorgeous plumage, you can’t help but wonder if they lost some sort of bet a very long time ago.
I had heard of the resident Howler monkey; a species of primate that lives among the trees in Las Piedras and portions of land beyond, but no one had prepared me for their sound. Its an eerie, disturbing, haunting, long-winded wail that ends in a guttural “whoo, whoo, whoo” and has the power to echo for miles through the jungle. That first morning, waking up to this forlorn howl, I recall being totally confused. Sounding more akin to wind being forced through poorly installed weather stripping during a storm, the noise was so creepy, so utterly foreign it seemed impossible that it could be created by an animal. But each morning the howl of this monkey resonated through the trees like clockwork. Oddly out of place and yet not. Crazy things are alive in the jungle, imbedded deep within the wilds of this place there are species we've even yet to discover. The Howler Monkey is merely one of the residents.
So many new discoveries, so many amazing adventures and pages upon pages of journal entries to describe. But it will have to wait. Tomorrow, I head back into the jungle. Again, I will again endure the bumpy, iron-red dust road to Lucerna, river ride and haul up the hill to get there. Once more I will join my team and continue my work there and I’ll be smiling the entire way.
Turns out, I miss my Howler alarm clock.
*as noted in my previous blog; turns out "directly typing into one's blog from an iPhone" is a massive fail. But, blog I did, post I did. Just a "posted-dated post".