Into The Wild

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Image by: Katherine Griffiths Photography

Hundreds of dragonflies dart haphazardly around me, fracturing the silvery pink light. They snatch at small clouds of gnats and unsuspecting mosquitoes as afternoon turns to evening. The humidity slowly drops. Standing in the ‘open window’ that is my bedroom wall, I witness the sounds of larger forest life quieten and the smaller insect world increase in crescendo.

I can hear distant laughter and the tinkling of glasses. The sweat on my arms and face dries as the air cools. It’s now the twilight. The dragonflies feed with less abandonment, the forest with her large palm fronds and the vines near to me, morph into one giant silhouette against a now blue-black night sky. The last of the light disappears and standing in the dark I reflect on what an amazing place I’ve landed in.

I’m in Tambopata National Park in the South East of Peru with the award-winning ecotourism outfit – Rainforest Expeditions. I’m here to experience the Amazon, to search for the elusive Jaguar, Anacondas, the very rare Giant River Otter and the Harpy Eagle. These four species are considered, by my guide Aldo, as the top four endangered predatory creatures in the area.

Squinting at the glow of my watch I realise I’ve almost missed sundowners at the lodge bar. With the smell of dinner in the air I grab a torch, stroll the walkways to the main hub of ‘Refugio’ (the lodge) and find some of the guides and other guests already at the bar, tucking into Pisco Sours and discussing the coming days’ activities.

Refugio Lodge
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

 

Lodge walkways.
Image by Kate Walker

The perfect spot to while away the afternoon hours…
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

His incredible ear for faun calls and eye for the tiniest of movements sees me witnessing Saddle-back Tamarinds for the first time, different species of Tucan, teasing Chicken Tarantulas out of their ground burrows (this is not for the faint-hearted) and learning about the stranger of beasts (Screaming Pijas and Hoatzins to name a couple) in this huge conservation area.  We pass Walking Trees, Strangler Figs and Kapoks – the incredible and majestic trees that inspired James Cameron in the making of the film ‘Avatar’.Life, in this part of the world, is at its busiest early in the day; I’m up each day at around 06:00am to the awakening calls of Howler Monkeys and within the hour, walking the forest trails with a belly full of breakfast and in the footsteps of Aldo.

Chicken tarantula
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

Tambopata NP really is a special place. It has one of very few Macaw research/conservation and protection centres in all of South America and along with Colombia it is ranked the top spot for bird watching in South America.

Tambopata lies within the larger region of Madre de Dios (Mother of God) where 52 per cent of the forests are protected by the government. Of the 120 ‘world climates’, 80 can be found in this setting and wider Peru. This nook in the world is all about halting development and promoting conservation – it’s fantastic to see.

One of many forest trails..
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

Perched silently in a hide overlooking the clicks, I watched vibrant yellow, red and blue Scarlet Macaws socialise and parakeets group together in their tens. Bird enthusiasts can sit glued to telescopes and high-tech binoculars for hours, so if you’re all about the avian world – this is the place to be.Traipsing the forest trails and crushing dry vegetation underfoot is not conducive to glimpsing some of the more shy fauna in the region. So this is where the Clay Licks come in handy. A Clay Lick is an area, usually on the edges of a riverbank, where creatures great and small gather around exposed soil and eat the nutrient-rich clay to assist in their digestion of fruits and other vegetation. Some also believe it’s a place where Tambopata’s 1,800 species of bird come to socialise. And, Tambopata is home to the largest ‘Clay Lick’ in the world.

All you need it a cold beer and a spot to perch.
Image by Kate Walker

Afternoons saw me scaling canopy towers allowing a peak at the expanse of green I’d been moving under for days. By night there’s the opportunity to go Caiman spotting – these creatures that grow up to two meters long are far more active at night. And if the reptiles are proving difficult to hunt out then a boat ride with your head hung over the side is just as good – the stars and clarity of night sky in this corner of the planet is incredible.

Fading light on a sandy bank.
Image by Kate Walker

Sadly, I never got to see any of the mentioned top predators but I saw a huge array of other wonderful species and I’m far richer for the exposure. Refugio’s guides and staff make the experience; the lodge is an oasis of comforts in what is a wild, remote part of the world.

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Hello Lapa…

Taking the corner at what was probably close to 60km/hr, our lunatic bus driver managed to just keep all four wheels on the ground. With windows wide open and winds whipping our hair straight back Kathy and I were in hysterical laughter. And we were the lucky ones – seated. Others, standing, grasped at anything within reach (often each other). The pay-your-money-to-the -woman-in-the-corner had a vice-like grip on her turnstile and anyone preparing to dismount stood wedged in anticipation of coming to a screaming halt. What the..? Where’s Keanu Reeves when you need him?!

For the last 30 minutes our bus had be crawling in terrible traffic and the driver must have spotted a gap. There was no question he wasn’t going to take it. Holy cow – Lonely Planet’s description of Rio’s bus drivers being “raving maniacs” is spot on. Many of them open the doors and continue to drive slowly along the side of the pavement while one is required to simply take a leap of faith. Then, there’s no waiting for formalities, asking directions or closing the purse strings. The bus is off and more often than not folk are hurled through the turnstile and near-trussed up alongside all those others lucky enough to make it on board.

Still giggling, some 15 minutes later, and having spotted the right signs; Kathy and I made the undignified leap off our wild Friday night ride and onto the streets of Lapa. What a fabulous place.

Without a map or any previous knowledge of the area we simply walked. People were out and about in their hundreds and the numbers continued to grow with each passing hour.  Pavement bars sprung up, roller doors opened to reveal samba clubs within, Capoeira ensembles appeared under walkways and in amongst market vendors – the place was pulsing. With crowds swelling so to was the number of pick pockets. Kathy was frisked three times but was quick enough to confront the culprit. No loss of belongings.

Sitting in one of the largest outdoor bar crowds I’ve seen in a long time, we sipped Caipirinhas, picked at olives, Brazilian salami, pão (bread) and people watched the hours away. Music pulsed from all surrounding bars, parking lots, street set-ups and windows. What mayhem, but it felt real. Young and old danced singularly as well as together, cachaça (a high-proof sugar cane spirit, pronounced ka-sha-sah) bottles appeared and shots sold for silly money.

Exhausted, Kathy and I decided to make this an explorative night. We’d come back to Lapa and get fully involved. But for now, weaving through throngs of locals and tourists alike, we needed to spot a bus and prepare for the light-speed ride home.