Amazon Adventures, Day 6 – Down Rivers; Through Rainforests!
by Stephanie Lavey -- March 9th, 2011
Another 5:30 AM wake up and early breakfast preceded a journey down the river. We will soon enter the Manu branch of the Amazon River.
The Manu is three times longer than the Madre de Dios River, but slower because the Madre de Dios is steep and straight, and very destructive when water levels are high.
Both rivers are bordered by patches of primary and secondary growth forest. One of the tell-tale signs of a secondary (successional) forest is the overwhelming presence of tesaria. It is a pioneer plant on the coasts of newly exposed land, and on sand bars. Other signs of secondary succession are fig trees, bamboo, cane, and cecropia trees. These trees often grow in dense patches due to dispersions by tree-dwelling bat and birds. Primary growth has more well-established, slower growing trees, like palms, heliconius, and hardwoods. The age differences between the forests are determined by the color of the trees, the biodiversity, and the density of the canopy.
We passed river-dwelling communities, many which are occupied by former slaves of explorers who came to South America during the rubber boom of the late 19th century. Others are displaced people from the highlands who have come to the lowlands seeking wealth. We stopped at a little town called Boca Manu to refuel, and then turned the boat upstream. Later, we will go back downstream towards Puerto Maldonado.
We had many sightings today, including the ring kingfisher (largest kingfisher in the Amazon), oropendolas, a flock of night hawks, scarlet and emerald macaws flying in pairs, snowy egrets, and cow birds. We also saw turtles sunning themselves on logs, and Kapok trees, which is the tallest tree genus in the Amazon, and have spiritual significance to many tribes.
We arrived at Cocha Salvador at 4 PM. After unpacking we took a hike in the dense rainforest, noticing the difference in the flora and fauna between the highlands, cloud forest, subtropical forest, and finally, the rainforest. We hiked to El Salvador lake, which is an oxbow lake and boasts four types of piranhas; red, black, silver, and yellow.
The flora and fauna were amazing; epiphytes, bromeliads growing on high branches, philodendrons (dangling roots) from high branches, cacao trees (the tribal people did not make chocolate but used the cacao fruits for a number of purposes), a spiked palm (the spikes helped protect against ancient megafauna), two giant river otters in their den, two or three caiman, nighthawks in a flock, jumping fish, a family of black spider monkeys swinging between the trees, white-fronted capuchin monkeys, bullet ants, and a lovely Urania moth. We even saw the footprint of a human (from the native people, known among locals as “los desnudos”, or, “the nakeds”). Most tall trees have buttress roots, including an enormous 150+ year old fig tree. We also saw more enormous insects including grasshoppers, spiders, and caterpillars.
We settled in for the night after another great 3-course meal. The skies were clear tonight allowing for some stargazing. Tonight we are staying in rustic lodging with very basic amenities, including river water in the showers and toilets. We are covered in DEET, but it is not helping combat the hungry mosquitoes. We have a big day of hiking and exploring the rainforest tomorrow!