Tambopata Research Center: Befriending macaws, burning my boyfriend, and running around the lodge

Puerto Maldonado Travel Blog

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Family of capybaras

On the 7-hour marathon boat ride upstream and deeper into the Amazon to the Tambopata Research Center (TRC), we saw a family of capybaras.  I hate to be a ditz about nature but these rat pigs are really cute.  They have these little ears that kind of flutter like wings and they look kind of like big beavers.  There was a mom and dad and about 4 kids walking / sinking in the muddy river bank.  They were snacking on grasses and not afraid of our motorized canoe at all.  I wanted to take one home or eat one, because apparently there are quite tasty! 

 

During the rather uneventful boat ride, we also saw flying ospreys and orinoco geese, which are normally found in Venezuela.

Family of capybaras going for a dip
  It was pretty cool to be zooming about the river and it was so isolated that I felt like I was in a Discovery channel nature program.   

 

The next day, we woke up at 4:30 am (apparently animals are not lazy bums like humans) to visit the macaw clay lick just up the river.  The dawn viewing was incredible. Hundreds of up to 10-12 species of macaws, parrots, and parakeets (all part of the same family) come to a clay face in the mountain to lick / eat the clay which helps them digest the fruit and seeds they eat. The licking itself isn't that spectacular (you can't get too close and they just hug the wall, with their backs to you, and literally lick the clay.

Family of capybaras going for a dip
But the whole process is amazing. We got to our posts around 4:45 in the morning (the sky was already lit with the pre-sunset light) and waited as hundreds maybe thousands of birds came flying into the surrounding trees, either in pairs or larger groups, calling out to each other. One can only imagine what they were saying if one spoke macaw...probably, "Good morning" or "Buenos dias" being that they are Latin American birds, "Crazy storm last night, huh?" When they are thoroughly satisfied that the coast is clear, a few of them (every species does their own check) will fly cautiously to the clay lick and start a'licking. Then more will follow until the whole rock face looks like a colored mosaic. Any threat of a predator will send the whole lot screaming back to the surrounding trees. Some birds fly in from 60 miles away..must be some good clay! The birds don't spend much time licking (they have such birdlike appetites!) and by 6 am, most have fled the scene. 

 

The TRC also helps to breed macaws and releases them into the wild.

Family of capybaras
  These macaws called "Chicos" are not really hard core wild because they always come back at breakfast to steal breakfast foods.  They were very cheeky and cool.  One bit me, but I guess I deserved it after all my pictures and attempts to be friends.

 

A word about the jungle...everyone seems to have something to say.  At any given time, especially in the evenings and early morning, the jungle is lit up in a raucous orchestra.  You can hear birds squawking, insects buzzing, and monkeys complaining.  The male howler monkeys mark their territories with a loud howl that can be heard miles of away and which sounds like the engines of a 747.  It's odd.  On a hike we saw a beautiful toucan and a beautiful black and white bird which sounds like a tuba bomb and can actually kill a viper.  Rad!  In the yungle, you really are a visitor in other creatures' homes.

You looking at me?
 

 

While surrounded by such unadulterated wildlife and flora, I couldn't help but observe the parallels between our "savior" role as conservationists, as if we "know better" than nature itself.  Even in our attempts to save endangered species, we have imposed our value judgments in respect to which species are worth saving over others.  If we were to apply that same relationship one level higher, why could humans not be influenced by a "higher being."  The rational mind argues for and against this higher level whether it be deities or extraterrestrials, depending on semantics.  Just as few humans devote any time thinking of these philosophical possibilities, perhaps, other animals do the same.  Most ants in the colony keep their heads down absorbed in their cotidian lives and respective worlds but maybe, just maybe, some are also thinking about these things.

Group of butterflies on the bank
  I think animated films like A Bug's Life and Antz are interesting thought pieces wrapped up in impressive animation.  In any case, communing with nature can leave indelible marks on you, and not just mosquito bite scars.

 

Speaking of mind-numbing...that night was New Year's Eve.  Peruvians have funny traditions including:

* Wearing yellow for good luck; red for good luck in love

* Putting lentils in your pocket or wallet for prosperity

* Creating a big effigy of a man, representing bad experiences or luck, to burn at midnight.  As I returned from a night hike, Sophie came running excitedly towards me that she had found a new boyfriend for me.  As I approached the dining room, Caroline was waiting to point out my new boyfriend, the effigy to be burnt.

Group of butterflies after Sophie disturbed them

* Putting rice in your champagne class and then throwing the rice on your head after you drink the champagne at midnight for good luck in marriage in the coming year (I probably shouldn't have done this one)

* And my favorite: running around the outside of the lodge with your suitcase or backpack to ensure you'll go traveling in the coming year.  It is a big lodge.  I started out strong, sprinting and yelling along the way but finished quite weakly.

 

There were only about 8 guests in this lodge including us, and the researchers who lived there also celebrated with us.  The lodge staff was so welcoming and familial.  It was a great intimate gathering with lots of dancing to what seemed like one long similar song.  There was a super hot researcher from Lima that looked like Jake Gyllenhall and danced like an aphrodisiac.

Our boat
   Man, Latin Americans are born to dance and are able to lead women too!  I made several covert attempts to take his picture in my secretive ways of taking pictures of friends. 

 

On my very serious comments on the feedback sheet, I wrote: 

 

Highlights: New Year's Eve party, friendly staff that welcomes you like family, really knowledgeable and uncannily attractive researcher/field leader from Lima.

 

Low Points: Too many mosquitos, not enough yaguars, uncannily attractive researcher not into me.

 

It was definitely good times.  The next day, we did very little and headed to the third lodge, the one in the middle: Rios Amazonas.

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Family of capybaras
Family of capybaras
Family of capybaras going for a dip
Family of capybaras going for a dip
Family of capybaras going for a dip
Family of capybaras going for a dip
Family of capybaras
Family of capybaras
You looking at me?
You looking at me?
Group of butterflies on the bank
Group of butterflies on the bank
Group of butterflies after Sophie …
Group of butterflies after Sophie…
Our boat
Our boat
Butterfly kisses on my toes
Butterfly kisses on my toes
Butterfly kisses on my leg
Butterfly kisses on my leg
Macaw clay lick pre-breakfast time
Macaw clay lick pre-breakfast time
Blue and yellow macaws (through th…
Blue and yellow macaws (through t…
Scarlet and blue and yellow macaws
Scarlet and blue and yellow macaws
Some parrots below
Some parrots below
Parrots
Parrots
Much easier to spot macaws
Much easier to spot macaws
Yellow-bellied parrot
Yellow-bellied parrot
Monkeys in the tree near our lodge…
Monkeys in the tree near our lodg…
Scarlet macaw eating banana...I th…
Scarlet macaw eating banana...I t…
Perched above
Perched above
Take my banana!
Take my banana!
We are friends.
We are friends.
After several attempts, I get to t…
After several attempts, I get to …
Another friend!
Another friend!
How close can I get?
How close can I get?
Thats pretty close!
That's pretty close!
Chicos are thirsty after stealing …
Chicos are thirsty after stealing…
We are NOT friends!  Aracinto bite…
We are NOT friends! Aracinto bit…
Wolf spider (does not glow, that i…
Wolf spider (does not glow, that …
Me and Sophie wrapped up in a tree
Me and Sophie wrapped up in a tree
Trail
Trail
In the middle of a hollow tree
In the middle of a hollow tree
Moneky outside my room (its in th…
Moneky outside my room (it's in t…
My room
My room
Sunset
Sunset
Humungous cane toad
Humungous cane toad
Owl butterfly hanging upside down …
Owl butterfly hanging upside down…
Me and my boyfriend, the effigy to…
Me and my boyfriend, the effigy t…
New Year Eves dinner
New Year Eve's dinner
Adrian, the super hot researcher
Adrian, the super hot researcher
Avi, aka Snoop Dogg.  I took this …
Avi, aka Snoop Dogg. I took this…
Champagne with rice
Champagne with rice
Burning boyfriend
Burning boyfriend
Pouring the rice in my hair.  At l…
Pouring the rice in my hair. At …
Rice in hair post-drinking.  I kno…
Rice in hair post-drinking. I kn…
Loaded up (with backpacks and alco…
Loaded up (with backpacks and alc…
Its never good when your guide ta…
It's never good when your guide t…
Dancing to the same 3 songs!
Dancing to the same 3 songs!
Humungous cockroach (its about 6 …
Humungous cockroach (it's about 6…
Mattias the macaw on the wooden be…
Mattias the macaw on the wooden b…
The lodge
The lodge
Puerto Maldonado
photo by: halilee