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Trip Report Peru: Kaleidoscope of Colors. Amazon Cruise, Machu Picchu, Jungle Lodges

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Pink dolphins surface above the currents; Blue and Gold Macaws soar at sunrise; Machu Picchu is cloaked in emerald; copper coated howler monkeys observe from the treetops; Blue Morpho butterflies flit in the sunlight; Red and Green Macaws cling to clay licks; multi-colored kites dance high above Cuzco; Quechuas in their traditional brilliant red garments; and rows of vibrant textiles neatly folded in the market. A kaleidoscope!

Hopes of seeing pink dolphins and macaws brought me to Peru. I thought I’d locate someplace along a river where I could gaze up to see the macaws flocking to the clay banks and then glance down to see the pink dolphins swimming by. A plane ticket, the right river, a little head bobbing, and I’d have it. Wrong!

The pink dolphins live in the rivers north of Iquitos and rapids deter them from heading south to places like Tambopata where Red and Green Macaws frequent the clay licks. In between the pink dolphins and the clay licking macaws is a span of around 1000 miles…and Machu Picchu. Now there’s an itinerary!

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    So I sent out several inquiries on how to incorporate dolphins, Machu Picchu, and macaws into an under-3-week trip. George Ledvina from Green Tracks replied with the itinerary here. I researched and tweaked what Green Tracks had suggested, emailing like mad, creating spreadsheets and coordinating flights, at one point telling George adios--until I came to my senses and realized George had nailed it on the first take.

    2012 19-day Itinerary
    Aug 3 Depart O’Hare to Miami to Lima on LAN.

    Aug 4 Arrive Iquitos midday and transfer to Victoria Regia Hotel.

    Aug 5- morning of Aug 11 Amazon Boat trip in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve (pink dolphins) on the Ayapua.


    Aug 11 Iquitos city tour o/nt Victoria Regia Hotel.

    Aug 12 Transfer to airport. Fly to Cuzco. Cuzco city tour. O/nt Casa Andina Koricancha.

    Aug 13 Depart Cuzco with driver and guide for Sacred Valley Tour, o/nt Pakaritampu Hotel in Ollantaytambo.

    Aug 14 Vistadome Train to Aguas Calientes with guide. Bus to Machu Picchu with guide. Morning guided tour of Machu Picchu. Guide departs after lunch. Machu Picchu (no guide) in afternoon. Bus to Aguas Calientes and o/nt El Mapi.

    Aug 15 To Machu Picchu by bus (no guide). Take bus back down to Aguas Calientes in time for late afternoon Vistadome train to Poroy, picked transferred to Cuzco. O/nt Casa Andina Koricancha.


    Aug 16 Transfer to airport. Fly to Puerto Maldonado. Day trip to Reserva Amazonica for canopy walk (not normally included). Afternoon motorized dugout canoe to Heath River Wildlife Center in Tambopata. O/nt Heath River Wildlife Center.

    Aug 17 Morning boat to clay lick for parrots and macaws. Variety of guided jungle activities in afternoon/evening. O/nt Heath River Wildlife Center.

    Aug 18 Optional second morning boat trip to clay lick for parrots and macaws, or other jungle activity. Variety of guided jungle activities in afternoon/evening. O/nt Heath River Wildlife Center.

    Aug 19 Morning motorized canoe transfer and walk to Sandoval Lake in Tambopata. Afternoon canoe outing. O/nt Sandoval Lake Lodge.

    Aug 20 Morning, afternoon, evening guided jungle activities. O/nt Sandoval Lake Lodge.

    Aug 21 Morning canoe outing, then motorized canoe trip to Puerto Maldonado, transfer to airport.
    Fly to Lima for night flight to Miami.

    Aug 22 Arrive Miami, connect to O’Hare.

    This same report, illustrated with photos, is linked here:
    http://safaritalk.net/topic/9397-peru-kaleidoscope-of-colors-amazon-cruise-machu-picchu-jungle-lodges/

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    Why August?
    1. Aug-Sept are the best times to see the macaws at clay licks. Fruit is scarcer then, forcing the birds to eat fruit containing toxins. The clay counteracts the toxins so the birds try to make a trip to the clay lick at least 2-3 times per week.

    Their behavior is more predictable in the dry season when they can be counted on to arrive en masse in the morning (barring storms or lurking predators). In the wet season the birds straggle in between morning and midday perhaps in a flock or singly.

    2. Odds are good for good weather in Machu Picchu in August. The guides I spoke with said their favorite times for Machu Picchu were late April-May or Oct-Nov because the crowds were down but the weather was still decent. The brilliant green surrounding the city is present throughout the year, including drier times. I was told that the Inca Trail may not be as verdant and lush in the dry season, though.

    Weather links:

    http://www.holidaycheck.com/climate-wetter_Aguas+Calientes+Machu+Picchu+Pueblo-ebene_oid-id_29788.html

    http://www.weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-precipitation-Rainfall,machupicchu,Peru

    http://www.meoweather.com/history/Peru/na/-13.1583333/-72.5313889/Machupicchu.html

    Bono went in February and it rained. My guide told me, “Bono had to see Machu Picchu in a rain poncho.” During my two days of perfect weather at Machu Picchu I was feeling rather smug that my rain jacket was securely stowed, unlike Bono’s.

    3. The jungle north of Iquitos, including the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve has pros and cons to any season. In August, you can do more walking through areas where water has receded, which appealed to me. But the monkeys, sloths, and other canopy dwellers are harder to see because low water levels can add 20 additional feet between the canopy where the animals and the river where you are.

    After my time in the jungle on foot and by boat, I think the boat time was more productive wildlife-wise than the foot time. First, boats are less intrusive from the animal’s viewpoint, so the animals are less likely to flee. Second, you have a greater field of vision along an open river/tributary than in the thick vegetation of the jungle. Third, unless you have only a couple of people on the jungle walk, it is tough for people near the end of the line to glimpse the same fleeting animals as those in the front of the line.

    From Nov-May, more time is spent viewing by boat than on foot, which I think would increase the overall sightings. Still, it is highly worthwhile to spend some time actually walking through the jungle, especially the night walks.

    There are huge flocks of cormorants and great white egrets along the shores in the dry season (Aug). Watching these birds take flight as the boat approached and then advance up river in massive flocks to alight along the shore, only to repeat as we again drew close was a magical show and a real highlight of the whole Peru trip.

    I had done a jungle boat trip on the Agua Rico in Ecuador in December once and there was almost nothing to see looking out from the boat. Such a contrast to the ever present flocks in August. (bird list at end)

    The pink dolphins will more likely be in the main river than in the tributaries in August because the water level gets too low for dolphins in the tributaries during dry season.

    The stationary lodges along the tributaries would be a good place for pink dolphins in the wet season (Nov-May) because the water is high enough for the dolphins to swim in there. But for my August trip George advised that the boat, which is mobile, would be superior to a stationary lodge for dolphins. I agree.

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    Options studied/considered but not chosen for this trip:

    Miles from Rainforest Cruises was very helpful and prompt with all responses to my questions. His was the only other company that responded to me. The cruise he offered had not met the minimum required participants and therefore was not guaranteed to go when I needed to make a commitment.

    I investigated Muyuna Lodge, which looked intriguing and had a private guide option. Booking through Rainforest Cruises was the same price as going direct with Muyuna. Green Tracks did not work with Muyana.

    Those in Peru that I asked about Muyuna gave the lodge positive feedback. (If you check out Muyana’s detailed and very intriguing itineraries you may see a tiger watching activity. I think there was a lapse in translation.) I opted for the boat to better my chances at dolphins and believe I chose wisely, especially in August.

    I thought about Pacaya Samiria Lodge, rather than the boat. When we passed the lodge on the Marañón River, I was surprised how far away from the heart of the reserve it was. It is in the “buffer zone,” which was a long ways from Ranger Stations 1 and 2 WITHIN the reserve.

    Those I questioned about the various “Swim with Pink Dolphins” Lodges in Peru were skeptical of the claims that dolphins were actually drawn to any particular lodge with any predictability. My time on the river watching dolphins, and waiting for hours/days without seeing dolphins, makes me skeptical too. Furthermore, I was cautioned that some of the owners/”researchers” of the dolphin encounter lodges were charlatans and not really researchers.

    I did not include Manu because I felt it deserved more time than I could devote to it on this trip if I was going to do the cruise and Machu Picchu. I also thought the best option for macaws on a clay lick would be Heath River rather than the Manu clay lick or any other clay lick.

    I’d still like to visit Manu, but Heath River offers an ideal setup to see macaws: easy/quick to get there & very close views from a comfortable hide/blind (with ensuite Western toilet) for a limited number of guests.

    One knowledgeable individual shared this about Heath River vs. Manu: “Everyone thinks Manu is by far the best for wildlife and Heath River is not as pristine and has less wildlife. At one time, Manu was the only wildlife game around and that is where the reputation for wildlife came from. But Heath Wildlife Center has enjoyed protection for many years now and the species are rejuvenating. Heath is improving, while Manu is deteriorating from encroachment and hunting in the area. Heath has less human activity nearby and actually has slightly better wildlife than Manu now. There are about two primate species that can possibly be seen in Manu that cannot be seen in Heath.”

    Both a tour operator and some tourists I spoke with said that the drive over the Andes to get to Manu was something that should not be missed. I’d be interested in the comparison of Heath River and Manu from others who have visited both.
    Eventually, I hope to be able to chime in on the difference.

    I noted that the International Expeditions Pacaya Samiria Amazon cruise emphasized that they are the “only company that will take you to Ranger Station 2.” When we cruised past Ranger Station 2, I asked how IE could make that claim. The answer was that IE is the only company that goes TO Ranger Station 2 (and I think IE goes INTO the station). We technically did not go TO Station 2; we motored BEYOND it. We did go into Ranger Station 1 and got to bury some Sidenecked turtle eggs with the rangers.

    We saw the IE boat docked and it looked very nice. Everyone I talked to had nice things to say about IE, me too from my one trip with them. The cost of the IE Amazon boat trip was almost exactly the same as my entire itinerary, but I also had Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Tambopata, in addition to the Pacaya Samiria/Amazon cruise.

    Natural Habitat (great company, I’ve done 3 trips with them) just came out with a Pacaya Samiria/Amazon cruise for max 28 (vs. Green Tracks max 18 and we were 8), almost 2x the cost of my Iquitos trip/cruise. Looks similar.

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    Why use Green Tracks instead of making my own arrangements?
    First, the Ayapua was rented out by Green Tracks and only their clients were on that particular cruise, so the boat trip and Green Tracks were one in the same for the boat.

    Second, I was not comfortable doing the Inca culture-Machu Picchu part of the trip all alone, without some direction and guidance. Green Tracks offered a guided trip on the way to Machu Picchu , including a morning visit, and then left me on my own after that--a nice combo. Pricing was similar to what another solo traveler paid with a local guide the previous year.

    Third, the Tambopata portion of the trip had published rates and Green Tracks charged those rates. So no financial advantage of going direct there. Green Tracks also was able to get a guarantee that I could book the Tambopata dates I wanted even though no one else had signed up yet, but I would not have to pay for a very costly private trip if there were no other takers. There ended up being other takers.

    Green Tracks was very helpful and completely accessible throughout all stages of the trip and smoothed out some rough edges that I don’t think would have ended up as smooth without their expertise and connections.

    Whenever a concern arose, it was comforting to dial their number and have George answer—not a machine with a return call days later. Emails were responded to within a day, often within an hour or so.

    The planning, the trip itself, and the post-trip went great with Green Tracks and I’ll use Green Tracks again.

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    Clothes
    For daylight excursions in the motorboats/motorized canoes, sandals, short sleeves, and shorts were fine. For any excursions (land or water) at night, long sleeves, long pants, and closed shoes are needed to protect against mosquitoes.

    Daytime land excursions required closed shoes and long pants, but with adequate insect repellent on the arms, short sleeves were ok.

    The people who wore Permethrin treated clothing to deter mosquitoes seemed to have fewer bites than the rest of us. One person brought gaiters. Tucking pant legs into socks was encouraged on walks. Flashlight/torches were a must for the night walks. I frequently tied a wet bandana around my neck for the walks in the heat and humidity. Of course wear a wide brimmed hat. I wore boots on all walks, but sturdy tennis shoes would be fine.

    Rubber boots were provided on the jungle cruise boat (Ayapua) and would be a good idea in the wet season. None of us wore them or needed them.

    Cuzco was 40 F in early mornings and toward evening. I liked the extra warmth of rain pants and two pullovers while touring the Cuzco environs in the early eve or the Sacred Valley for the first couple of hours in the morning.

    But Machu Picchu is a few thousand feet lower and therefore warmer than Cuzco. I did wear a wool hat for my 6 am arrival, but used just one pullover and most of the time I was in shirt sleeves.

    I found my many-pocketed safari vest to be helpful in Machu Picchu so that I didn’t have to take my backpack. Rules have tightened to allow one normal sized backpack into Machu Picchu and nothing else for those not arriving by Inca Trail. A foldup rain poncho in case of showers. I wore my boots with good ankle support and needed that support. Of course, a hat for sun and plenty of water.

    I was surprised at the heavy attire I witnessed at Machu Picchu. There seemed to be a widespread misconception among many visitors that you’d freeze in Machu Picchu without heavy clothes, even in August. They must have cooked in heavy tights and sweaters, even saw a wool overcoat! There is a coat check at the entrance to MP, along with bathrooms—the only ones.

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    Cameras and Photos
    For most nature trips I’ve always felt my high end, IS, 20-24 x optical zoom (no interchangeable lenses) cameras were entirely adequate. The challenges posed by the jungle made me wish at times I had one of those newer 30-40 x optical zooms and a digital SLR that had faster reaction time and let in more light.

    Plugs for recharging were readily available everywhere I stayed.

    A typical visitor can get gorgeous, classic Machu Picchu shots even with midday crowds, no problem, because most shots are from a distance where people become indistinguishable. (Non-pro speaking here.)

    Early morning and late afternoon there are far fewer people. I encountered some pro photographers who said they were skipping Machu Picchu altogether because they’d have to compete with photos taken from helicopters in HD that were spliced together.

    Cuszo’s Plaza de Armas photos had the best light in afternoon for outside Cathedral shots. I went back in the early morning and while there were no people around to interfere with pictures, but the light was inferior. To photograph the plaza’s flowing fountain, a night time visited is needed—at least it was during my visit.

    For the ruins around Cuzco, late afternoon (in August) was nice light. Much beyond 4:30 pm in August and the sun was too low for nice photos of ruins. Don’t know about morning light for the ruins.

    I toted my monopod all over and rarely used it. The walks and boat/canoe activities were not conducive to a monopod, nor were the locations and behaviors of the animals. I used the monopod two times from the deck of the big boat on the jungle cruise. Just placing the camera on the boat railing was a good substitute for the monopod. I decided not to haul the monopod around Machu Picchu.

    In the hide/blind for the macaws and parrots at Tambopata, a monopod or tripod just does not work. Even a pair of very serious photographers I met in the hide said they couldn’t use their tripods or monopods based on the slant/construction of the hide’s roof. You can rest the camera on a ledge in the hide and a beanbag would be helpful. I did not have a beanbag so I partially inflated my neck- and back-support airplane blowup pillows and wrapped a jacket around them. The serious photographers told me that the previous days they had been in the hide/blind, the river current was so strong that resting the camera on the ledge produced blurry results. Once the wind/current quieted, then resting the camera on the ledge worked well.

    For the night walks especially, make sure you are familiar with your macro feature and flash used in combination. Also make sure the bill of your hat doesn’t protrude so it interferes with the flash. I couldn’t understand why my flash wouldn’t work for me but it worked fine when I handed my camera to Trip Leader, Bill. Well, Bill wasn’t wearing my rigid-billed hat.

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    Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima
    Very early arrivals seem to be common. Mine was 4:30 am with a 6 hour layover. There is an airport hotel within walking distance.

    The seats in the airport allow you to lie down and stretch out, very comfortable. It was a little chilly in the airport, especially while sleeping. My wool hat helped. It is not uncommon to see wool hats on people in the airport.

    The Britt Airport shop had big variety of chocolate covered nuts and coffee beans to sample. I sampled liberally during my numerous layovers to the tune of “breakfast” and then bought my favorites for gifts before leaving. Manned money changing booths and an ATM are readily available for all flights, even domestic.

    I had become enamored with tres leches cake (three milk cake) during my visit, so to console myself upon departure I indulged in the dessert, which was available at several locations throughout the airport, though I sampled only one.

    (to be continued)

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    ...........123456789.............ITINERARY OF THE PINK DOLPHIN

    The Ayapua
    This is the boat I was on for the jungle/Amazon cruise in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. It can take up to 18 guests. When it’s full, they double up on the naturalists to reduce the group size. We were 8. What a treat to see the jungle and riverbanks from this 100+ year old restored German-made boat from the rubber industry heydays. Not just a boat, it’s floating history! Very fancy, plenty of room to relax, and watch for birds or dolphins. It has a beautiful dining room with a Victrola and A/C. A most comfortable way to travel!

    In fact the Ayapua starred with Klaus Kinski in the 1982 Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo. Mick Jagger was given first shot at the role but had to decline due to scheduling.

    It has spacious cabins where you control the A/C and a private bathroom with regular toilets, a wash basin, and shower. There was no hot water per se, but the first two minutes of trickle in the afternoon was solar heated within the pipes. The weather was hot enough in August that room temp water was ok for a shower, and I admit I am a cold water wimp.

    Food on the Ayapua was great and we had freshly squeezed juices from produce grown in staff member, Judy’s garden. Yellow tomato was a favorite juice and so was Chicha Morada, made from purple corn. Wine was served with each evening meal. Peruvian cuisine included Ceviche, catfish, piranha (a little bony but tasty), Oscar (caught by Judy and her fishing pole) and camoté (sweet potato). One of the cruisers was moved to near tears when Chef Ruth allowed her into the kitchen to help with a doce de leite type dessert and then shared the recipe with her.

    I had seen itineraries for other boats which had specifically listed dolphin watching for several hours a day, usually mid-morning. I asked about a schedule for the Ayapua to compare dolphin opportunities and to see what time activities started in the morning. When the day’s start time is a civilized hour, the trip is probably not one for me because usually animal activity begins earlier than a civilized hour. George of Green Tracks told me there was no stated schedule because the Ayapua activities vary with the season, water level, and what is happening day to day. He assured me we’d be up early and spend lots of time out there looking for wildlife; and we did. Moreover, when we were not out on an early adventure, there was stuff to see right off the boat deck, such as a misty sunrise, pink dolphins feeding, or flocks of high flying macaws heading out for the day.

    As for the dolphin watching hours, technically you could list every moment on the boat when there was sufficient daylight to see when and you weren’t asleep or in the bathroom. It was always dolphin watching because they could be anywhere at any time—or nowhere to be seen. Upon boarding I overheard one cruiser ask what the odds of seeing pink dolphins would be. One hundred percent was the response. It proved accurate. Odds of pictures are far less. I managed a couple lucky snaps of pink shapes.

    Activities were optional and catered to a variety of interests and levels of enthusiasm for the jungle. One of our cruisers, who had a delightful demeanor but was no ornithologist, stated upon arrival in Iquitos that she was not going to get up early to “go look at some bird.” Fortunately she did not have to, but the rest of us could depart at daybreak.

    The boat does actually cruise The Mighty Amazon briefly, not just rivers in the Amazon Basin. We walked on a picturesque island formed at the confluence of three rivers--Amazon, Marañón, Ucayaly—which is the start of the buffer zone of the Pacaya Samiria Reserve. I was impressed that when we returned to the motorboat after that little island stroll, each group of cruisers, unbeknownst to the other, had its own litter bag, filled with garbage. Great minds think and act alike.

    Nightly onboard scheduled lectures: There were none. At least not officially. But on the upper deck in the evening Bill Lamar recounted past adventures and tales of the Amazon that we enjoyed with our Pisco Sours. It was a lecture series of sorts. Pisco Sours are the Peruvian cocktail made with raw egg whites and lime juice. I was too chicken (pardon the pun) to consume raw eggs so I had my Pisco alcohol in tonic with lime. Everybody else braved the raw eggs and had real Pisco Sours--at times many, many of them--and did fine. Well known and respected herpetologist, Dr. Bill Lamar, was a tremendous resource on the trip and a real hoot, whether in the field, at the lunch table, or on the lecture circuit at the bar on the top deck.

    Ayapua esprit de corps: The staff, crew, captain, and naturalists did an outstanding job of accommodating our diverse group, which resulted in each of us having wonderful memories of a successful adventure.

    Our group had individuals aged 21 to 60 who…had just spent a week birding in Ecuador, would never wake up early to look at a bird, had owned a snake zoo, were on a mission to spread their loved one’s ashes, were talked into going by a friend, were hoping to see pink dolphins, were on a journey of personal self-renewal, had dreamed of visiting the Amazon jungle for a lifetime, were most comfortable on a Caribbean beach, were veteran nature travelers, had never taken a trip like this in their life, loved to fish, hated to fish, preferred kitchen to jungle, owned a vineyard, enjoyed their libations, had a total bar bill of $6, had invested in a new camera for this trip, forgot the memory card for their point-and-shoot camera and it was no big deal, liked to sleep late after a late night on the top deck, did tai chi before dawn and couldn’t wait to get out there.

    The fact that we all had a great trip is a tribute to each staff member whose unique talents contributed to the shared sense of adventure and camaraderie.

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    Aug 4
    Arrival Iquitos at 12:30 pm. After the 20-minute airport transfer to the Victoria Regia Hotel and a little freshening up, three cruisers that arrived with me and I took Guide Joel out to lunch at Dawn of the Amazon, on the riverfront. A delicious choice. Evening free. Iquitos is a known party town and a couple people went out that night to verify the claim. They had fun.

    Aug 5
    Morning was a good time to walk around the city before the heat. Ok to walk toward the river, about 8 blocks away. Walking in the other direction from the hotel was discouraged. I saved in depth exploration for my post-cruise city tour, escorted by Joel.

    In the lobby I chatted with two guests who had returned from Blue Morpho Lodge and Anaconda Lodge in the jungle. I am glad I did not exuberantly inquire if they had spotted butterflies and snakes at their respective lodges and instead just posed the open-ended, “Did you enjoy your stay?” These were not Lepidoptera and Reptile lodges, but instead were Ayahuasca (hallucinogenic plant) Retreat Centers.

    The Blue Morpho guest was on a repeat visit and liked the stay. The Anaconda guy was leaving a week early and heading home to a doctor.

    The locals I spoke with warned about the dangers of taking ayahuasca from incompetent providers, which was a growing segment in the market. In general they had neutral to very positive things to say about doing Ayahuasca, based on their own experiences.

    My itinerary had no Ayahusaca scheduled but I was hoping for a Blue Morpho or Anaconda. I got my wish.

    At 11:30 am five of us departed the hotel for the airport in a private air-conditioned minibus to pick up our remaining three cruisers, arriving from Australia. While waiting at the airport, Naturalist Extraordinaire Victor asked if we’d like to look at birds. Two of us jumped at the offer.

    Our airport bird highlight was about 15 minutes of close views of a male Thick-billed Euphonia and his girlfriends. Even got pictures. About 12:30, eight cruisers, Herpetologist/Host Bill Lamar, Naturalist Victor, Bill’s companion/co-worker Judy, and Scott, who was highly entertaining but only along for the road trip, departed for the 2-hour ride to Nauta, where the Ayapua was docked.

    Lunch on the boat upon arrival and then we were motoring down the Nauta in high spirits by 3 pm. That afternoon I saw a couple of dolphin silhouettes arcing on the river’s surface in the distance.

    5:30 -7:45 pm was our first excursion--a boat ride in the Nauto Cano tributary where we saw one black and many spectacled caiman by spotlight and enjoyed watching the stick-like Potoo.

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    Aug 6
    Our boat started moving upriver at 5:00 am and our small motorboat excursion lasted 6:30 – 8:00 am near the village of San Isidro where we observed several vultures on a bloated caiman carcass.

    A more uplifting sight was mother Three-toed Sloth cuddling her baby in a Cecropia tree.

    We encountered a fisherman who told us that he had caught an Anaconda in his fishing net the day before and invited us to take a look. He had it in a wooden box. We also had the privilege of meeting his family and saw his home. He’ll be getting some family photos, taken by several of us, to be delivered when the Ayapua returns.

    When I asked, through an interpreter, what he planned to do with the snake, the reply was that he would let it go, as the snakes are not eaten. The release would be either that day in a day or the next day, in case another boat of visitors would like to see the snake, a timetable that would be ok for the snake. I was told the snake finder was tipped for services, which he deserved.

    Midday, I spied my first pink dolphin!

    A motorboat wildlife viewing trip from 4-6 pm produced a pair of Capped Herons, my favorite South American bird, several macaws, and a couple of busy but elusive Squirrel Monkeys.

    Due to the low water it took until 8 pm that night to reach Ranger Station 1 of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. We tied up at the station for the night.

    Aug 7
    I enjoyed some pre-dawn tai chi on the deck and watched the sun come up. We motored along until 8:30 am when we reached the trailhead for a leisurely walk of 2.5 hours. Naturalist Victor had grown up in the jungle and was intimately familiar with all its plants, roots, and fruits--from strangler figs to cat’s claw. He explained how his family had used the jungle as their medicine chest, pointing out the various medicinal plants as we walked. A highlight of the walk was a tree rat--a little beady-eyed, striped-headed guy--peeking out of a knothole in a tree.

    We saw a couple more pink dolphins during our daytime cruising, and several surrounded the boat as we got ready for our afternoon boat excursion.

    3:30-6:45 pm we saw Squirrel Monkeys in trees along the shore and watched a small Spectacled Caiman suffer the continued annoyance bees landing on its eyelids, which barely protruded from the water. Then we fished for piranha in two locations. While fishing, we heard a splash mid-river and Victor explained it was one of the largest fresh water fish, the Arapaima Gigas, locally known as the Paiche. The low water level meant reduced oxygen levels and the giant fish were surfacing for air. It was especially exciting to see this rarely observed fish because the reserve was created in part as a sanctuary for the Paiche. We spent an hour watching a couple of Paiche, momentarily surface and gasp for air, trying to snap a photo of the unusual occurrence. A quick glimpse of howlers rounded out the excursion.

    8:30-10:45 pm we did a night walk and saw: a Gray Four-eyed Opossum; several frogs, including the whimsical Clown Frog; a Prehensile-tailed Porcupine, and loads of spiders and arthropods.

    to be continued

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    Oh, the strong stuff! Gracias!


    Aug 8
    We passed beyond Ranger Station 2.

    6:30 – 8:30 am morning walk with a highlight of a Blue Crowned Trogan.

    9:30- 11:45 am Another motorboat excursion where we found a small troop of howlers with several visible. A mother and baby howler were observing us observing them. Simply enchanting! Near the howlers were blue and gold macaws.

    By 4 pm we were back at Ranger Station 1 and ready for another motor boat excursion past the biggest flocks yet of cormorants and great white egrets. Time for more piranha fishing while a Bluish-fronted Jacamar watched from the underbrush. Then we motored to San Martin Lake to enjoy an exquisite sun set.

    8:00-9:30 pm was a night walk that just two of us went on with Bill Lamar. We had a Common Opossum run across the path, practically over our feet within minutes of starting the walk and then it perched in a tree looking down upon us from a tree when we returned. We got to see another Clown Frog. But that was about all, prompting Bill to declare that our walk had been the slowest he had been on in 20 years. There was a reason for that. The past rainy season had been particularly wet and water levels had hit 100 year highs, flooding well into the jungle and clearing out a lot of species that reside on the jungle floor. They had not returned yet.


    Aug 9
    We awoke, moored at Ranger Station 1. From sunrise until 8:00 am I could see pink dolphins feeding in the waterway that connects the Marañon River and San Martin Lake. This region offered a transition between the faster flowing river and the stiller lake water. Transition habitats are often fertile areas. Fish like them and dolphins like the fish. Sightings were at a distance and brief, although there were dolphins that thrashed on the surface for several seconds at a time at unpredictable spots. Not conducive to photography but good for binocs. My guess was between 4 and 6 pink dolphins accounted for 75 to 100 appearances of some body part of a dolphin. A thrilling early morn!

    8:00-8:45 am we visited Ranger Station 1 and got to assist in burying Sideneck and Yellow Spotted Sideneck turtle eggs. How exciting, since the reserve was created in part as a sanctuary for these turtles.

    Shortly after leaving the ranger station a Sideneck turtle dashed (yes dashed) down the bank into the water as we passed. I hoped we had not disturbed any egg laying. We continued back down the river toward civilization. From 11:00 to 12:30 we visited a village and were graciously invited into several homes.

    At 4pm those who wished to go for a swim could do so in an area known as the Tiger River. I remained on board the Ayapua, but those in the water could claim they swam with river dolphins because some gray dolphins came by to check out the commotion. The dolphins were within 20 feet of the swimmers and at least one photo from one camera captured all swimmers and a dorsal fin!

    8-9:30 pm we did a night boat trip on the Nahuapa Tributary and saw a Giant Cane Toad, Gallant Frog, Kinkajou, Boat-billed Heron, and the star of the evening: the deadly Fer-de-lance!

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    Aug 10
    Our last morning walk from 8:30-11:30 provided three Scarlet Macaws and a diminutive Whip snake.

    A final activity took us to the confluence of the Amazon, the Ucayaly River and the Marañón River. One of our cruisers had brought her mother’s ashes in a small decorative urn to cast into these waters. We held a simple ceremony on the small motorboat, all holding hands, as naturalist Victor (a man of many talents) said some impromptu and moving words. It was quite touching. There even were some gray dolphins and a pink one visible for a few moments.

    Then things turned a little humorous. The high humidity prevented the ashes from sprinkling out and into the currents. Instead, they clumped together in the lovely urn which had to be banged a few times against the boat, breaking the mood of solemn silence and causing some giggles.

    Our giggles turned to laughter when we learned that it was not only Mother, who had always dreamed of visiting the Amazon, whose ashes filled the urn. Father’s ashes were in there too. Although Father had absolutely no desire to become one in spirit with the mighty river, years ago the ashes of both her parents had been mixed. So if Mom was Amazon bound, Dad was too. As a compromise, there were still some of their mixed ashes back home on dry land.

    This thoughtful and witty lady also provided the quote of the trip.

    Our first night on the boat she was unable to sleep, so she informed us that for Night #2 she’d be taking an Ambien and warned about any potential odd behavior she might exhibit. Apparently the last time she took Ambien she unknowingly performed some late night grooming and plucking. She recounted, “I got up the next morning, looked in the mirror, and had no g0dd@mN eyebrows.”


    Fortunately all eyebrows remained accounted for on this cruise.

    Aug 10
    A final breakfast on board and a 2-hour road trip by private air-conditioned mini-bus back to Iquitos, in time for the Iquitos city tour with Joel, on foot and by mototaxi. The Australian family was not feeling well, so it was just Joel and me.

    The floating city of Belen and food markets were particularly interesting. I asked to visit Casa Morey, a rubber boom period mansion and hotel that would pair nicely from a historical perspective with the restored rubber boat, The Ayapua. The Casa Morey lobby was exquisite.

    When I asked why there was so much painting going on around the city, Joel explained that the annual Amazonas Wonder of the World Festival was going to be held that night. That prompted my request to Scott at the Green Tracks Iquito office, who arranged for Jonathon (the motorboat driver/spotter from the Ayapua) and Priscilla (Judy’s sister) to be my escorts for wandering around the late night Iquitos Amazon party.

    I was impressed how I was able to partake in this unique and lively annual event with the last minute assistance of Green Tracks.

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    .................. ............MACHU PICCHU & ENVIRONS ROCK

    Aug 5
    Farewell all too soon to Joel. Fly LAN 8:15-9:55am breakfast flight Iquitos-Lima; then LAN 11:44 am -1:05 pm lunch flight Lima-Cuzco (11,050 feet).

    Hello to Irwin, airport transfer man, and driver José-Luis. Check in to Hotel Casa Andina Koricancha, a convenient 12 minute safe and easy walk to Plaza de Armas, the scenic town square. Then hello to Humberto, my guide. By 2:15 pm Humberto, José-Luis and I were off. A few of the highlights of our many stops included:

    - Plaza de Armas and the many magnificent treasures in the Cathedral (no photography allowed inside). A beautiful portrait by Quechuan painter Marcos Zapata of the Last Supper showed a guinea pig as the main dish and portrayed Pizarro, the Spanish conqueror of Peru, as Judas. Brilliant.

    - About a 20-30 minute drive into the hills above Cusco are several ruins including Sacsayhuaman (12,140 feet) pronounced sexy woman. At 3:45 pm the light was perfect and a small alpaca herd passed in the foreground. Higher at 13,600 feet was Puca Pucara, the Red Fort Incan ruins, with a donkey grazing in front.

    - Adorning the rooftops of many houses were attractive good luck and religious ornaments, which merited photos.

    - Since it was Sunday in August, families were flying kites near the White Christ Statue above Cusco. The number of colorful kites was a sight in itself. What an uplifting and colorful, family friendly panorama.

    For anyone wishing to linger at the historic places that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cuzco or to set up shots for the best photographic light at each site, a 2:15-6:30-ish tour like mine is insufficient. For anyone wanting a quick overview, like me, it was perfect.

    A couple blocks from Hotel Casa Andina Koricancha I walked safely to/from Deva Restaurant on cobblestoned lit sidewalks for my dinner about 7:30 pm. Deva specializes in cuisine from Cuzco.

    When roasted guinea pig was served to a neighboring table, the waiter paused to give me a look at the traditional dish. There were complimentary samples of chicha de jora, a local corn beer and maiz cancha cusco, a snack similar to popcorn. I had k'apchi de zetas, a stew of mushrooms, green beans, potatoes, and rice. The congenial waitress turned each course into a highly entertaining, informative, and delicious gastronomy lesson.

    Combating altitude sickness in Cuzco (11,050 feet): Right off the plane, I bought those coca candies that are sold all over and started sucking on them. The coca tea at every hotel is a pleasant tasting prevention and I was told to take it 3 times per day.

    And I brought drugs—Acetazolamide. When I awoke with a terrible headache in the middle of the night in Cuzco, I was glad I could pop one altitude sickness pill and drift back to sleep, pain-free, in 30 minutes. Never needed another, but it was comforting to know I had a stash.

    For anyone really worried about altitude sickness, visiting the ruins above Cuzco, which means ascending from Cuzco’s approximately 11,050 feet to nearly 14,000 feet, might not be wise. It also might help to leave Cuzco immediately after de-planing for the cities enroute to Machu Picchu, such as Pisac (10,500 ft and 20 miles from Cuzco) or Ollantaytambo (9,160 ft and 60 miles from Cuzco).

    When I first started investigating, I thought one stayed in Cuzco to acclimate to the altitude in anticipation of climbing higher yet to Machu Picchu. Since Machu Picchu is at a lower altitude of only 8,000 feet, vs. Cuzco’s 11,000+ feet, that reasoning was wrong. In fact, 8,000 feet is not supposed to give most people trouble. Some itineraries place Cuzco sites at the end, saving the highest altitude for last, which makes sense from an altitude acclimating standpoint. But after seeing Ollantaytambo and especially Machu Picchu, the Cuzco ruins may be anti-climactic.

    to be continued

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    Helicopters taking pictures of Machu Picchu. That would have killed the atmosphere. And even if you are a non-pro photographer, you know 1000 times more than anyone in this house. Point, shoot, pray, delete.

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    You should be getting more kudos on this report! Very useful details.

    Deciding where and when to see "the Amazon" is a tough one. Sounds like you did your research well.

    Elsewhere I have seen this comment that the floods caused some critters to clear out and not return. I suspect that this may become the new "explanation" to visitors disappointed with wildlife spotting.

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    I think the flooding explanation is an accurate one for the time I went (Aug 2012). There was still great birdlife and some monkeys. Floods were at 100 year highs months earlier.

    Point, shoot, pray, delete. Didn't Julia Roberts star in something like that? Point, shoot, pray, delete is a great sequel and maybe I can star in that one. We'll have to get started on our own line of handbags for a merchandise tie-in.


    Aug 13
    8:00 am departure by vehicle from Cuzco for The Sacred Valley Tour. I asked around about why this valley was sacred and got a somewhat cynical answer: It is so named for marketing purposes. Every valley was actually sacred to the Incas. Marketing or not, it is an interesting and scenic route, including the second most visited site in Peru. A few of my Sacred Valley highlights include:

    - Sanctuario Animal de Cochahuasi- A privately run sanctuary in conjunction with Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Lima for recovered abused and black market animals.

    They have a puma that had spent her life in a drugged induced state so nightclubbers could pet her. She will remain undersized for life. It was nice to see her snoozing contentedly in the morning’s first rays. They are introducing pumas born in captivity back into the wild.

    There are two Andean Condors that flap around and with enough room to spread their wings and fly a short ways. A one eyed alpaca was very friendly. A tortoise lumbered around.

    In addition to the rescued species leading a better life, I enjoyed meeting a friendly domestic Peruvian Hairless Dog. A fascinating breed and friendly fellow. Worth a stop and a donation. Not stated on the itinerary but Humberto figured I’d enjoy it and he was right.

    - Awanakancha-The entire life cycle of the beautiful traditional Peruvian textiles can be found here, from roaming, wool-producing llamas and alpacas that are eager to be hand fed, to a fascinating wool dying demo, to weavers creating textile art, to samples of the various types weaves, to the finished product for sale.

    - Sharp-eyed Humberto spotted a couple of wild Chinchillas sunning on a distant rooftop and I got some shots before they scampered off. A nice surprise.

    - Urubamba River aka Vilcanota River aka Wilcamayu River. It flows past Machu Picchu.

    - Pisac—the Official Start of the Sacred Valley boasts a huge, colorful market place. Arrival at 10:30 am.

    - Lunch at the picturesque Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay Hotel at 11:30 am. We chose a spot outside under an umbrella. Mmm. Mmm. Nice grounds for stretching your legs.

    - Not specifically mentioned on the official itinerary, but a favorite of my whole day was a stop to observe beer making, do some sampling, and play a traditional Cuzco drinking game.

    This visit was a wonderful mix of culture, art, ingenuity, and humor. Such accolades for beer and enthusiasm for a drinking game in the presence of these world renowned historical sites indicate I probably should have just worn a cheesehead throughout the whole Sacred Valley tour. But I found the entire brewing process to be fascinating, the strawberry beer to be tasty, and the traditional golden frog and desk drawer drinking game to be very clever.

    Drawing on skills acquired during his days of misspent youth, Humberto exhibited mastery of the drinking game by tossing gold coins at an open-mouthed gold frog, perched on a small desk. The goal is to throw the coin into the frog’s mouth or have it fall into one of the many drawers for points. The ultimate objective is to score the most points to win free beer from your drinking buddies.

    I even snapped one of my favorite photos here—multi-colored corn before it became beer. As a bonus, there was guinea pig barn.

    - Ollantaytambo, the second most visited site in Peru, and a charming town as well, it is usually considered the end of the Sacred Valley. Arrival at 2 pm. Spent about 2 hours climbing and exploring the massive structure with Humberto.

    Arrival at 4 pm to the impressive Pakaritampu Hotel with its expansive gardens and lawn. A group of birders staying there was going nuts with all the avian activity on the grounds and they shared some of their excitement/sightings with me. (bird list at end of report)

    One of the most interesting sights in the town of Ollantaytambo were water channels created by the Incas, still in use today. The walk from Pakaritampu Hotel to the water channels and main square was about 10 minutes on narrow cobblestone and gravel paths, very safe with lots of visitors around even at night.

    Humberto suggested dinner at the Blue Puppy, also a 10-minute walk from the hotel. The famous Peruvian dish Lomos Saltadis came in several versions, including falafel, a tasty way to cap off the Sacred Valley. During dinner Humberto and I discussed the race for guides and porters to Machu Picchu along the same Inca Trail that visitors spend 4 days hiking. The winning time was about 4 hours. A decade ago Humberto clocked in at 6 hours. Not bad!

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    Aug 14
    At 6 am Humberto and I and my luggage left Pakaritampu and took a mototaxi to the Ollantaytambo train station about 3 minutes away, which could easily be walked. Boarded the 7:05 am Vistadome train, about $15 USD more than regular train, and worth it IMO for a first time round-trip visit.

    Nice little breakfast served on board. Beautiful route along the Vilcanota river, have your camera ready. Humberto pointed out an original Incan bridge, still used today, but with fortifications. He pointed out some Torrent Ducks and I saw two White-capped Dippers. Arrived 8:30 am in Aguas Calientes (6,700 ft) and de-trained.

    Met a porter from my Aguas Calientes hotel, El Mapi, and handed over everything, except what I was carrying with me to Machu Picchu, a tad disconcerting to me, but the typical procedure.

    Crossed the street to where the Machu Picchu shuttle buses run continuously with no more than five minutes between buses, no scheduled departures. Thirty minute bus ride to the top.

    I made a final ladies room stop outside the Machu Picchu entrance, at a cost 1 sol, exact change appreciated, (no loos after entering) and joined Humberto in the line. We entered the gate and walked a few hundred yards. About 9:45 am, had my first views of Machu Picchu!

    We descended to explore the buildings, walkways, plazas, and rooms during our morning together. No guidebook could have offered the personalized expertise and enthusiasm of Humberto in his knowledge of culture and architecture.

    Humberto made sure I knew the path to the Sun Gate and Inca Bridge, pointing out which way to go in preparation of the next day on my own.

    We had a buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge, which was very good quality, but the chaotic and deafening atmosphere posed a challenge to diners as well as to a determined group of talented musicians performing in front of the hot dog rotisserie.

    The lunch was part of my package and it made sense to stop midday for a hearty meal. But I noted a far calmer, less crowded café across the way that might be a better bet, as well as less expensive. As a former high school cafeteria monitor, I have a high threshold for “chaotic and deafening,” but this definitely was.

    A sad farewell to Humberto about 2:00 pm. My independent exploration of Machu Picchu commenced.

    I devoted the afternoon to trying to find the herd of 13 resident llamas in attractive poses in front of ruins, terraces, or mountains. The llamas were not shy about claiming the right of way on the cobblestone paths, pushing past visitors. Some enjoyed attention and petting. I watched one steal a banana from an unsuspecting visitor.

    At 4:15 pm I was all Machu Picchu-ed out for the day and took the 30-minute bus back down to Aguas Calientes, then walked 10 minutes through the main plaza to El Mapi Hotel to check in and grab my belongings that had been handed off when the train had arrived in Aguas Calientes.

    Inkaterra’s El Mapi,“designed to cater to budget-minded travelers,” and to be ecologically friendly, opened 1 April 2012. It was about $200/night less than Inkaterra’s Pueblo Hotel. I thought El Mapi was very fancy and extremely nice, serving delicious, several-course meals and a complimentary welcome Pisco Sour or lemonade at the classy bar.

    It has hot springs on the premises, and terrycloth robes for “spring wear.” (I passed on each). Though described as budget, the cost is a couple hundred US dollars.

    El Mapi is even more conveniently located for the bus and the train station than its well-known sister hotel, Inkaterra Pueblo, and there’s less uphill walking required.

    Another bonus is that El Mapi guests are invited to ascend several blocks to visit the Pueblo Hotel and enjoy the vast gardens, orchids, and jungle riverfront, which attract hummingbirds and other species. So El Mapi guests don’t miss out on these magnificent grounds, they’re just not out your door.

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    Aug 15
    El Mapi starts serving a breakfast buffet at 4:00 am. I ate, and at 5:00 am handed off my luggage to the front desk to be stored and then transferred to the train station 30 minutes before my afternoon departure train, where I’d retrieve my things once again.

    The streets were well lit on the way to the bus, no flashlight needed. I was in the bus line at 5:10 am. There were hundreds of people ahead of me. I made it onto the 3rd or 4th bus that morning. No waiting in between buses; it was one after the next at that early hour. Entered the Machu Picchu gate at 6:15 am. The sun appeared about 8:00 am after the heavy cloud cover disappeared.

    I traded the pursuit of llamas for the Sun Gate and Inca Bridge, each marked on the pathways, and there are numerous English speaking guides to help with directions.

    At 11:15 am I said adios to Machu Picchu and took the bus back to Aguas Calientes to search out the calienta agua that is known for. At the end of the steep hill that is the main street, probably 6 blocks, are the hot springs. Several people were relaxing in various little pools but I just looked.

    Back down to the grounds of Inkaterra’s Pueblo Hotel (sister hotel of El Mapi), where I sat and watched hummingbirds, found one orchid (not orchid season in Aug) and walked along the river for what seemed like a mile, admiring the plant life.

    Lots of red Kantuta blooms, the national flower of Peru. I paid the colorful markets at the train station a visit and took pictures.

    At 3:40 the luggage was transferred from the El Mapi Hotel to the train station and then attended by an El Mapi staff member for 30 minutes before the 4:22 pm train. I retrieved my bag and boarded the Vistadome train to Poroy, the nearest stop to Cuzco.

    A nice little dinner on the train was followed by costumed porters dancing to drums, plus a fashion show of really beautiful and exquisite alpaca clothing for sale. Many sales were made. A very fun and festive ride; then it got dark and most of us were out, drained from our active day.

    Poroy is the final stop—the Cuzco stop—at 8:00 pm where Irwin and José-Luis were there to transfer me back to Casa Andina Koricancha Hotel.

    I talked to numerous people whose MP visits took a variety of forms: mid-morning arrival, pre-sunrise arrival, just one afternoon, a single full day visit, two days with one day climbing one of the peaks, one day primarily devoted to climbing a peak—no matter what, everybody was happy with their visit.

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    IN THE JUNGLE, ON THE RIVER, AT THE LAKE, TO THE CLAY LICK--TAMBOPATA

    Aug 16
    Fly LAN 7:40 am-8:35 am Cuzco-Puerto Maldonado with breakfast. One hour delay due to weather. Airport ground transfer to Inkaterra’s office to organize bags, drop off big items, change clothes, and sip an exceptionally refreshing welcome drink. Then a 30-minute boat transfer on the Madre de Dios River to Reserva Amazonica Lodge for our escorted canopy walk, arriving 11:00 am.

    This canopy walk is not normally part of the itinerary and even mixes and matches the companies Inkaterra and InkaNatura. Mine was an odd situation due to incorrect flights booked by other guests that resulted in three of us getting to do this walk.

    Even without odd things by other people, you could schedule one night at Reserva Amazonica Lodge where Mick Jagger once rented out the whole place for his family. It is right on the way to Heath River Wildlife Center. If you had a whole day, you could do the canopy walk at prime time--early morning and/or late afternoon. There is plenty to enjoy on the grounds too, such as agoutis (attractive rodents) and bird life, or take a boat trip.

    I was pleased when this canopy walk got added unexpectedly through the help of Green Tracks just weeks before departure because, despite all the cool things in my trip, it had lacked a canopy walk.

    Elzabet, the Reserva naturalist, guided us on our trail/canopy walk, from 11:20 am-12:40 pm. After some Russet-backed Oropendulas on their nests, we encountered five busy Saddleback Tamarins at close range.

    We climbed up numerous flights of wooden stairs with railings to reach the rope bridge walkways. Proceeding one at a time on the swaying rope bridges, we traversed all seven of them. There was a little bounciness, but nothing scary. We saw one lizard and a Squirrel Cuckoo in the canopy. Not much going on midday, but the canopy walk was interesting and fun.

    Back on solid ground, we saw a White-fronted Toucan and watched some agoutis that hung around the Brazil nut cracking station. Great views of these normally shy rodents!

    After lunch, it was time to leave Reserva Amazonica and board IncaNatura’s motorized dugout canoe with the other guests, who had just arrived from the airport, and continue 4.5 hours on the river trip to Heath River Wildlife Center.

    We met Oscar, our InkaNatura guide, one of the finest guides/naturalists I’ve had anywhere. Skimmers were out and about early in the trip on the Madre de Dios River. No need to look for pink dolphins, as none reside in the rivers in this part of Peru.

    There was a Bolivian border stop that two of us also used as a bathroom stop. Passport stamping was optional. No visas required. HRWC is actually in Bolivia.

    After about 2.5 hours, we turned onto Heath River. When it got dark, Oscar and a crew member spotlighted a few caiman and two families of capybaras darting from the bank into the thicket.

    We arrived at Heath River Wildlife Center about 7:15 pm. No electricity in the rooms, just candles. Lighters are used, not matches, so I needed lighter lessons. I had never “flicked a Bic” before. (Remember that ad?) Such a sheltered life.

    Another lesson to be learned is to keep all luggage zipped to deter insects from taking refuge inside. Even unzipped bumbags/fanny packs/ditty bags/waist bags were inviting to cucaracha residents who had inhabited the general region long before touristas came calling. I was fortunate to have a small room-toad who enjoyed basking in candle light. S/he liked to be talked to but tolerated no physical contact.

    Mosquito netting over the bed offered a formidable barrier between any and all the jungle inhabitants and us human visitors.

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    Aug 17
    Our first outing was the big attraction of Heath—the macaw and parrot clay lick. Depart lodge 5:40 am, 10-minute motorized dugout canoe trip, arrive at hide/blind at 5:55 am to find several parrots and one pair of Red and Green Macaws on the trees above the clay lick. Then wait. There is a western toilet behind a closed door in the hide/blind to make the wait more comfortable.

    7:00 am in come the parrots! Amazon Mealy, Yellow crowned, Blue headed, and Chestnut Fronted Macaws. 7:12 all parrots fly off. Whoosh! Next round is the Peach-fronted parrots, but they sneak into the bushy parts of the bluff and are not easily viewed.

    At 7:30 am a dozen or so Red and Green Macaws alight in the trees along the bank. At 8:03 the macaws all take to the clay cliffs. For 11 minutes they put on a tremendous bird show, and then they all fly off at 8:14, leaving the clay lick barren. But what a show it was! There were seven guests in the hide/blind and we all were thrilled with our morning. Back to the lodge for breakfast.

    10:00-11:30 am was a jungle walk for 5 participants. A Bluish-fronted Jacamar was the highlight. (bird list at end of report)

    3:30-7:15 pm Took the motorized canoe, walked in the jungle, then took a paddle canoe for a beautiful and peaceful river excursion, seeing Tiger Herons, a Cocoi Heron, Donacobius, and Gray Brocket Deer.

    At night we walked back through the jungle to find rain frogs and spiders.

    8:45-10:15 pm Night walk with 4 participants to a small clay lick pit. A tapir was enjoying the muddy clay when we arrived and remained undisturbed for 30 minutes of quiet viewing. A record viewing time for Oscar! And of course for us. Photos taken when the spotlight was not right on the tapir turned out best for me.

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    Aug 18
    It was only me going to the clay lick on Morning #2. Boat Captain Jesus took me while the other guests all went to climb the tower. If there had been a Harpy Eagle nest in view from the tower, I might have climbed too. There was not. I asked.

    Unlike the Reserva Amazonica canopy walk, that was not scary and most anyone could do it, the tower was more challenging. It was straight up and climbers wore a safety harness. Good arm strength as well as leg strength was needed (per the climbers’ accounts) to get to the top. I talked with a retired couple that arrived the day before I left that had come to HRWC primarily to do the tower climb.

    The second parrot and macaw clay lick with the whole hide/blind for just Captain Jesus and me went like this:

    5:58-6:20 The first round of parrots plus the Chestnut-fronted Macaws flew in, appearing only minutes after our arrival. Something spooked them briefly, but they all returned at 6:22 and stayed until 6:35.

    Motion in the thicker brush was the result of the sneaky Peach Fronted Parrots and a few birds were visible.

    Not a single macaw in sight until 8:05. Then a few started to fly into the tree tops, and many more followed. At 8:20 and then again 8:35 two motorized canoes with fishermen came by, which frightened the macaws off of their trees, but they came back and at 8:40 the first macaws were on the clay banks.

    They stayed until 8:50 and then scattered, only to do a loop and immediately return, remaining until 9:00 am. Then in a flash they flew off.

    When counting, we came up with about 100 parrots and 60 macaws. Even if you don’t really care for birds, this is a colorful spectacle! Truly a unique world class phenomena!

    The bird behavior these two days differed slightly but was typical of what to expect. They could be counted on to arrive in the morning during the dry months, about June-Oct, barring storms or lurking predators. Once they leave en masse (and don’t just loop around) the flocks do not return again later in the day.

    In the wet months, the birds are less predictable and might arrive in a flock or as individuals anytime between morning and afternoon.

    I asked why the birds came to the same spot all the time when there were many open, unobstructed clay cliffs in the area. The answer was that these are social creatures that like to congregate so picking the same place means they’ll all be together.

    It is the same reason the birds still come to the clay lick in the wet season when the toxin removal qualities of the clay are not a necessity because there is a greater variety of non-toxic fruit for the birds. They just like to get together at a common, well-known spot.

    If you did a private trip on your own schedule, you stay longer and have more visits to the clay lick. It would be fascinating to watch a week’s worth of flocks on the clay lick.

    10:00 – 11:30 am walk for 5 participants produced a nice view of a Howler and a sounder of White Lipped Peccaries crossing our path. Oscar explained that peccaries are a good indication of a pristine habitat because when people are around they hunt and kill the tasty peccaries, reducing their numbers and making the peccaries fearful of being anywhere near human scent or activity.

    3:30 – 7:15 pm - about a 2.5 mile walk out of the jungle and into the savanna-like pampas and up into a tree house to watch the Blue and Gold Macaws return to their roosts for the night. Then a 2.5 mile night jungle walk back. We saw Squirrel Monkeys and a distant Spider Monkey (our only one) and flushed several Wild Turkeys.

    The butterflies sunning themselves on the river banks in front of the lodge were captivating and competed for my time lounging in the hammocks. The grounds, atmosphere, comfortable tents & main lodge, good food, and attentive staff made Heath River Wildlife Center an outstanding jungle retreat.

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    Aug 19
    A very early 5:20 am departure, which is typical. When it became light, some Skimmers were visible. At 10:50 am we arrived at Sandoval Lake.

    We were now down to 3 participants, and we began the 2-mile, hike to the lodge. We spotted a White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird enroute. Boarded a paddle canoe for the 45 minute trip on the lake to the lodge and docked at 12:30 pm, where we were greeted by the ever present and every changing arrangement of Sidenecked Turtles sunning on a nearby log.

    4:30 -7:30 pm paddle canoe for 3 participants-First Hoatzin sightings of many. I always wanted to see one and Sandoval Lake is Hoatzin Central! One Capuchin monkey and many Squirrel Monkeys. Black Caiman heads spotlighted in the dark made for ominous photos.

    The Hoatzin
    This odd bird is the sole member of its Order: Opisthocomiformes, Family: Opisthocomidae, Genus: Opisthocomus, and Species: Hoatzin. It has more than one stomach, vaguely similar to a cow. It stinks with reptilian odor. It lives near water, but is not a water bird. The chicks have two claws on the end of their wings, probably to assist in gripping branches. They make grunting and growling sounds. Despite their many quirks and oddities, Hoatzins are attractive and have found success in their niche. Kinda like Tom Cruise.

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    Aug 20
    5:30 - 7:15 am On our canoe trip the 3 of us saw Squirrel Monkeys, Red Squirrels, and Caiman.

    10:00-11:00 am walk-And then there was one, just me. The other couple departed after one night, which is an option. Oscar found me Night Monkeys high in the canopy, visible only by their white eyelids. Oscar snapped a photo to help me locate them. They were that obscure and Oscar was that good.


    4:30 - 6:45 pm Oscar paddled us to a tower along the shoreline that we climbed for better views of a troop of Squirrel Monkeys quickly passing by in the trees.

    After dark we sought out some tarantulas—the Chicken (Eating) Tarantula and the Pink Toed Tarantula. Tarantulas were scarce because it was mating season and the males were on the prowl for females or perhaps dead from fighting their rivals.

    Aug 21
    5:30 – 7:40 am Oscar and I joined another group and canoed across the lake. On foot we looked for Blue and Gold Macaws perched on palm trees in the morning light. We found about 10 and a howler.

    Our return to the lodge was a 45 minute walk where we spied a Titi Monkey, the seventh monkey species seen this trip. A family of Scarlet Macaws in a distant tree was our last sighting.

    9:00 am canoe departure, followed by the 2-mile walk to the motorized canoe, a 30 minute river trip, then a transport van to InkaNatura’s office. The big sign in front of the office had several Giant Otters on it, which only added insult to the injury of the Giant Otter statue on the night in my Sandoval Lodge room, and Giant Otter drink coasters in the dining lounge--all constant reminders that Giant Otters are a frequent enough sighting at Sandoval to merit mascot status. But they had disappeared during my Sandoval stay.

    Wilburt, the Sandoval Lodge bartender, has several of his own creations on the drink menu. After a few of his works of art, the hammocks in the lobby are even more inviting. The lodge setup is similar to spacious office cubicles, where the wall between rooms is open at the top. It can get a little loud, but everybody is pooped by 10 pm and in bed. End rooms, where you have only one neighbor are # 9 (near the kitchen, but there’s not a lot of kitchen noise, I had 9) and #1 (even better than 9) & #10 (on the end near the main lobby) and #25 (best).

    Even with AWOL otters, Sandoval Lodge and the surroundings were great.

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    Brazil Nut Fact. It takes between 40 to maybe 100+ years for a Brazil Nut tree to mature to the point of producing nuts. That’s too long for Brazil Nuts grown on a plantation to turn a profit. So the only place to get Brazil Nuts is if the Brazil Nut tree is left to grow in the jungle.

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    ..............................THE METAMORPHOSIS OF CANOPY GIRL
    Watching the change in demeanor of those aboard the Ayapua as the trip progressed was intriguing. The tension, stress, and insomnia melted away as we left civilization behind and headed upriver. But nobody on the boat transformed to the degree of Canopy Girl, a fellow traveler to Heath River.

    I first encountered this very pretty young lady and her fiancé at the Inkaterra Office, prior to our Heath River adventure. In our get acquainted conversation she stated that she was on her first trip and that she had found Machu Picchu to be ok, but had preferred the pre-departure Atlanta airport hotel. She was thrilled, though, with the 5-star Miraflores Hotel in Lima, and with the shopping opportunities.

    When I mentioned my main interest in Heath River was the macaws, she asked, “The what?” “Parrots,” I replied, using a more familiar bird name.

    Our first activity together was the jungle canopy walk. She wore a smart pair of wool trousers bought at one of the local markets, a spaghetti strap tank top, and sandals. The guides insisted on a footwear change, and that required twenty minutes of searching for luggage and unpacking a pair of tennis shoes.

    Finally three of us set off with our guide on the trail to the overhead canopy walkways.

    The prospect of bugs or bug bites was a major concern to Canopy Girl, who asked many worst-case scenario questions and engaged in a good deal of swatting imaginary insects, complete with sound effects.

    Suddenly we encountered some Saddleback Tamarins. Canopy Girl was captivated and watched them intently until they slipped away into the jungle, all the while slapping at anything that might be crawling up her spaghetti straps.

    At last we reached the stairs to the canopy walkway and ascended. After traversing three of the seven bridges, we paused on a platform to look around. Canopy Girl commented on the beauty and peacefulness, and then inquired, “Where is the canopy?” We explained we were in it. “Then WHAT IS the canopy?” she pursued.

    Our guide further explained the animal and birdlife found in the treetops. A smile formed on Canopy Girl’s lips, “I thought we were going on a dumb little ride to look at the rooftop of a hut.” That was her concept of “canopy” and it explained her attire. What explained her complete misconception was that her fiancé had done all the planning and booking of the trip. Just weeks before departure, this canopy tour had been added, which Fiancé had mentioned, but without clarification or explanation.

    We all had a laugh and now you know how Canopy Girl acquired her name.

    Through our walks and boat excursions Canopy Girl was intrigued by the jungle. “It’s magical!” she exclaimed. For better views of the skittish peccaries, she willingly squatted in the dirt to remain hidden from their view. The bird activity at the clay lick delighted her and she correctly distinguished the macaws from the parrots.

    She speculated about a return to Peru and wondered how to secure Oscar again for their guide. But before heading into the wilderness again, she vowed to get binoculars and “an expedition shirt like you all have,” referring to the quick-dry, neutral-colored, vented, collared shirts.

    Her bed broke down a couple of nights in a row. Kaboom! We could hear it several tents away. No injuries and no harm done. She recounted her mishap the next morning with wit. No Princess and the Pea drama from Canopy Girl.

    One night at dinner there was no ice and as a result, some grumbles arose from the table. “What? No White Russians!?” “I think there are some issues here.” That sort of thing.

    Canopy Girl squelched the complaints: “I know what the issues are. We are out here in the middle of nowhere. It’s amazing what they are able to feed us, much less provide ice. We’ll survive.” You go, Canopy Girl!

    The night of our tapir viewing it had rained a little bit earlier, making the wooden bridge over the tapir clay pit somewhat slippery. As we took leave of the tapir in the dark, one member of our group slipped. He was the tall, lanky, super-fit-mountain-man-guy, who never bragged about his exploits, but it had come out casually in conversation that he regularly took to the Alpine wilderness for hundreds of miles of solo hiking, snow camping, rock climbing, trail blazing, river forging, canyon crossing, buffalo hauling, wolverine wrangling, and similar pursuits.

    After he slipped, Mountain Man’s momentum sent him sliding to the edge of the bridge and a 20-foot drop. Canopy Girl, who was walking next to him at the time, sprung into action and was down on all fours, grabbing Mountain Man and hoisting him away from the edge.

    I suspect Mountain Man would have regained control of the situation and not plummeted off the bridge, even without help. (For anyone fearing that tapir viewing at Hearth River is life threatening or that this is an inherently dangerous place, that’s not the case by any means. It was just an unpredictable loss of footing.) Still, I give Canopy Girl credit for completing the final stage of her metamorphosis that night.

    For a full-fledged metamorphosis, some adventure, or a chance to experience a rainbow of natural wonders and culture, consider Peru!

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    The Bird List:
    Amazon kingfisher
    Anhinga
    Bank swallow
    Bearded Mountaineer
    Black caracara
    Black crowned night heron
    Black fronted nunbird
    Black Skimmer
    Black tailed tityra
    Black tailed trogon
    Black vulture
    Blue and gold macaw
    Blue gray tanager
    Blue headed parrot
    Bluish fronted Jacamar
    Boat billed heron
    Brown chested martin
    Canary winged parakeet
    Capped heron
    Chestnut bellied seedeater
    Chestnut eared aracari
    Chestnut fronted macaw
    Cobalt winged parakeet
    Collared plover
    Common potoo
    Crimson crested woodpecker
    Cuvier’s Toucan
    Donacobius
    Dusky capped flycatcher
    Dusky headed parakeet
    Fork tailed palm swift
    Gray breasted martin
    Great black hawk
    Great egret
    Greater ani
    Greater kiskadee
    Green and white hummingbird
    Green back trogon
    Green Ibis
    Green kingfisher
    Hoatzin
    Horned screamer
    Ladder tailed nightjar
    Large billed tern
    Lesser kiskadee
    Lesser yellow headed vulture
    Lettered aracari
    Limpkins, which were supposed to be in Brazil
    Lineated woodpecker
    Little hermit
    Masked crimson tanager
    Masked tityra
    Mealy Amazon parrot
    Muscovy duck
    Northern jacana
    Olivaceous cormorant
    Orange winged amazon
    Orange winged parrot
    Oriole Blackbird
    Pauraque
    Peach fronted parrot
    Pied lapwing
    Plumbeous kite
    Plumbious antbird
    Pygmy kingfisher
    Red and Green macaws
    Red bellied macaw
    Ringed kingfisher
    Roadside hawk
    Rock pigeon
    Rufescent tiger heron
    Rufous collared sparrow
    Russet backed oropendola
    Sand colored red night hawk
    Scarlet macaw
    Shiny cowbird
    Short tailed parrot
    Short tailed swift
    Silver beaked tanager
    Slate colored hawk
    Snail kite
    Snowy egret
    Social flycatcher
    Southern martin
    Southern rough winged swallow
    Spot breasted woodpecker
    Striated heron
    Swallow wing puffbird
    Thickbilled euphonia
    Tropical kingbird
    Tui parakeet
    Turkey vulture
    White bellied hummingbird
    White eyed parakeet
    White fronted jacamar
    White necked Jacobin
    White necked/cocoi heron
    White tailed trogon
    White winged swallow
    White winged swallow
    Wild Turkey
    Yellow bellied dacnis
    Yellow billed tern
    Yellow browed sparrow
    Yellow headed caracara
    Yellow hooded blackbird
    Yellow rumped cacique
    Yellow tufted woodpecker
    .............................................THE END

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    I hope this question makes sense. Is the route from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate the same route as the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu? I don't remember running into anyone coming from Machu Picchu.

    I will also google this question.

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    Could be rain or during an eclipse the Sun Gate route reverts to the opposite, I believe, which means the toilet swirls in reverse.

    I'm hoping the above statement makes it into the Fodors Guide to Peru or South America.

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    What a treat, Lynn! You got me to Africa (& onto Fodors, for which I will be forever grateful,) & now we want to go to the Amazon and once again you've blazed the trail!

    This report will form the basis of much research and planning as I decide what I can manage; as always many thanks for taking the time and being so thorough. Haven't looked at your pictures yet; I'm sure they're great.

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    Lynn, I missed this wonderful report when you first posted, it seems. As usual, it's a doozy. Your sense of humor always shines through--and of course your bird lists are to die for. I'll go to safaritalk to view your pics.

    Where to next?

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    Lynn,

    Woweee. I feel so fortunate to have found this incredibly well done report. I finally have a few miles saved up and am trying to figure out where we can go for our 30th.
    Course, I don't want to look at no stinkin birds..... although, you do make it sound very appealing.
    Well done.

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    Thank you Leely and Cybor.

    Funny you mention "stinkin" birds because the rare and genetically unique Hoatzin, frequently found at Sandoval Lake, is often referred to as a "Stink Bird" due to its unpleasant smell. There, I believe I have just done a marvelous job of selling you on a 30th Anniversary Trip to Sandoval. ;)

    Good luck in finding a spot to celebrate 30 years together.

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    Just found your report...re.Manu vs others areas of the Amazon, we spent a week in Manu with Pantiacolla tours. The ride into Manu was absolutely terrifying and the road frequently washes out. I was so relieved we only had to do that bus ride and flew back to Cusco on the return.

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    Interesting cjon. What time of year did you go? I've had numerous people from agents to tourists say the drive over the mountains is a highlight of the whole trip. Terrifying never entered into it. Thanks for the comment.

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    As always, a wonderful report. Thanks. (We did swim with the pink dolphins in the Amazon in Brazil at a spot they visit everyday. Probably bad that they return in search of tourists who feed them fish.)

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