Mata Mata turtle

The abundant wildlife is not at all habituated, save some of the individuals at rehabilitation centers. We did visit a small, somewhat informal, rehabilitation center in one of the communities as well as the larger Dallas World Aquarium Amazon Rescue Center in Iquitos. Many birds were easier to approach if we respected their comfort zone.

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Butterflies "mud puddling"

This is how cashews grow- the nut is in the dark stem

Tree frog.

Tarantula in the rainforest

The brown and black sections of the river system indicate the places we went.

Sunset over the rainforest

The color change on the vegetation shows to high water mark

Black vulture

In August of 2017, we traveled to Peru to spend about eight days on an expedition to explore part of the Amazon and its tributaries. The Amazon is the world’s largest river if you consider the volume of water that flows down to the Atlantic. In a year the Amazon flow is about 2 followed by 15 zeros, gallons. Compare that to the Mississippi which delivers about 5 to 10% as much into the Gulf of Mexico. We found the color of the water to be very interesting. The large tributaries as well as the Amazon proper were a muddy chocolate brown because of the silt stirred up by the flowing water over the mud base. The smaller tributaries that feed to larger ones have their headwaters in the thick rainforest and are more “blackwater.” That coloration comes from the tannins in the vegetation that falls into the river. They also tend to have more sandy bottoms.

Capuchin monkeys (Rehab  animals)

Hoatzin

Red howler monkey

Capped heron

Traveling to the Amazon does require some preparation, though we did not have the massive number of insects (can you say mosquitos) we anticipated. Our preparation included a series of inoculations (yellow fever shots and typhoid pills) plus anti-malaria medicine that we started a couple of days before and took for four weeks after.

Our expedition was with Lindblad/National Geographic on the Delfin II and it was absolutely wonderful. Water on board was treated; however, we used bottled water for drinking and tooth brushing. All meals were provided by the exceptional staff of the Delfin II or in nice restaurants in Lima before and after the expedition and in Iquitos at the beginning of our rainforest adventures.

While this was an opportunity for us to learn about and experience the rainforest and the people who live there, it is also a way for the people to make money. For examples: Villages are paid by Lindblad/National Geographic for tourist visits where community members teach about their culture and traditions. The villagers who helped direct the skiffs through shallow waters earned money. Also, villagers who built walkways through the forest or railings on the sides of the river banks were paid. Tours do not necessarily visit the same villages every week, providing income to a larger number of communities. Lindblad/National Geographic always has a charity it supports. Money donated to the Lindblad Foundation/National Geographic Fund during these excursions is channeled through the local nonprofit Minga Peru. Grants focus on education (like classes on birth control, sex education for women, leadership, crafts) and business opportunities in forestry and fish farming. Roughly three times per week, multiple times a day, a radio soap opera dramatizes the life-changing opportunities and educates over 200,000 rainforest people. Often the broadcasts are sent over loudspeakers in communities where the people do not have their own radios.

 

Blue and yellow macaws on a foggy morning

Green iguana

Upper Amazon

Harpy eagle, a rare treat to see

Generally, people think of the rainforest as a jungle. Although we did see plenty of thick forest there were many open areas. Mixed in with that were some places that had been cleared for farming.

Jabiru storks

Three toed sloth

Rufescent tiger hern

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Millipede

Capybara

The Amazon Basin covers around 2.2 million square miles; a little less than a fifth of this is in Peru. There are more than 430 species of mammals, mostly bats and rodents, and about 1300 species of birds, counting for one third of the bird species on the planet. There are about 420 species of reptiles and 420 species of amphibians. Insects, however, take the prize with an estimated 2.5 million species. More are discovered regularly. Plants, not to be outdone, come in at around 40,000 species. With those numbers, it’s easy to see why a photo trip there can yield many hundreds of images of nature and wildlife alone.

To get to the Amazon we flew from the U.S. to Lima and then on to Iquitos, the largest city in the Amazon Basin with a population nearing 400,000. That’s quite a city given that it is totally landlocked. Flights typically come from Lima but cargo is limited and expensive. The main supply route is up the Amazon from the Atlantic on barges, a distance of 2500 miles.

Yellow headed caracara

We also spent time in some of the communities along the river visiting with the indigenous people living there.

Amazon kingfisher

The rain forest is a grocery store and a pharmacy. If you know the plants and can hunt or fish, you can survive. Fresh fruits are available throughout the year, typically with new varieties maturing about every three months. This was a special part of our experience as we enjoyed many varieties new to us as well as familiar ones.

Rather than a wet season and a dry season, the rainforest is characterized by a high water season and a low water season. (A rainforest is wet all the time.) High water season (December to May) coincides with snow melt in the Andes and heavier rain fall in the lower elevations. Low water season (June to November) is a time of lower rainfall and little snowmelt. The difference in water level from one to the other is profound. In the high water season the rivers can be thirty feet higher than low water season. The major rivers can be ¾ of a mile wide but when they are at their crest they spill over their banks and flood hundreds of square miles of the surrounding area. The vegetation has evolved to be able to thrive even when the land is flooded for 3 months a year.

Horned screamer

Pink toed tarantula visiting us on the boat

Pink river dolphin

White winged swallow

Caiman, natural habitat and rehab animals

The peaks of the Andes on the flight from Lima to Iquitos

The Rio Nanay on the final approach to Iquitos. Rio Nanay is a tributary following directly into the Amazon

Map template courtesy of National Geographic and Lindblad