Thinking of going to Peru? Congratulations on picking one of the most exciting and interesting destinations on the planet! But where to go? Most people put Machu Picchu at the top of their bucket Peru list and with good reason; it's probably the most intact, scenic, and accessible of Incan sites. It's also easy to include a tour or two of Lima, a trip to Paracas, and a visit to the Nazca area but what about the other side of the mountains?
(Borrowing from a J&B whisky commercial from the 1990s…)
Tradition says: "A tree must begin its life from the forest floor".
Tradition says: "A tree shall form a relatively cylindrical trunk".
Tradition says: "A tree shalt not kill another tree".
Well, strangler fig trees clearly did not receive these edicts...or perhaps they did, and decided "To Hell with tradition!" - much to the delight of aficionados of bizarre, spectacular tropical nature of the floral kind.
Ficus ypsilophlebia, a spectacular and emblematic strangler fig species of the Amazon rainforest (Photo: Varun Swamy)
The jungle! According to popular culture, tropical rainforests are deep, dark woods that hide countless perils. Enter at your own risk and expect deadly snakes, spiders, and other ferocious creatures at every turn! While such frightening descriptions are an easy means of formulating fiction, such tall tales about Amazonia are only encountered in the realm of books and movies. The truth about this famous rainforest is that it's actually much safer than most cities, and animals of all sizes are a lot more afraid of people than they are of them. But, that said, can you really travel to the Peruvian Amazon alone?
I distinctly remember the first time I accidentally stabbed my hand on the spine of an Astrocaryum palm, and thinking to myself, "Why on Earth does this plant possess such horrendously vicious spines?!" Surely it can’t be for protection – even the largest Amazonian rainforest animal, the tapir, is nowhere near large or strong enough to knock over a tree, as African elephants are known to do. The leaf bases of young Astrocaryum palms resemble a medieval torture instrument, covered in shiny black dagger-like protrusions often more than a foot in length, with wide bases terminating in an exceedingly sharp tip – so sharp that you may not even realize that you’ve been stabbed by one until you notice the blood dripping from the puncture wound…or, to add insult to injury, when you notice the spine dangling hideously from your arm.
The biodynamic rainforests where our lodges are located are intact, healthy, and full of life. Since they are situated in protected areas of the Tambopata Reserve, wildlife flourishes in the forests that surround our lodges. However, to be truly sustainable, we need to do more than promote, showcase, and protect biodiversity, especially during these critical times of climate change. At Rainforest Expeditions, we are serious about being sustainable and this is why we have partnered with the Regenera organization to become carbon neutral.
Mention the words "Amazon rainforest" to the layperson, and it is likely that the first creatures that spring to their minds are jaguars, caimans, giant river otters, spider monkeys or scarlet macaws….large, colorful, striking animals, some easily sighted and others far more elusive. Other folk might associate the rainforest with the ubiquitous "bugs" that it teems with – hundreds of thousands of species of myriad forms and adaptations, with a sizeable fraction still unknown to science and waiting to be discovered.
But to me (and others of a more botanically inclined ilk), the Amazon rainforest is defined by its charismatic megaflora: the trees that form its canopy and the very basis of the ecosystem, allowing for the existence of the staggering diversity of other life forms.
Charismatic megaflora of Tambopata: Top left - Ceiba pentandra (Kapok tree), Top right - Bertholettia excelsa (Brazilnut tree), Bottom left - Sloanea obtusifolia, Bottom right - Buchenavia grandis and her beauteous buttresses. (Photos: Varun Swamy)
This weekend, Rainforest Expeditions is participating in a global event along with thousands of other people. Known as the "Gobal Big Day", this is the day of the year that probably sees more people watching birds than any other. At least that's one of the main goals of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the organization behind this major birding event.
There are literally hundreds of bird species waiting to be seen in Tambopata, Peru. Of those, many are common and easy to see, others hide in the forest, and a fair number are rare and little known birds of Amazonian rainforest habitats. For the serious birder, there are also a suite of bird species easier to see in Tambopata than other places. Such birds are often referred to as "target" species and the following are best looked for at the Tambopata Research Center (TRC):
With gusting winds and a sharp plunge in temperature, the first friaje of 2017 arrived earlier this week in Puerto Maldonado, signaling the official transition from wet to dry weather in Tambopata and across the Madre de Dios basin. Rainforest denizens definitely took note, for the wet-to-dry season transition also signals a pronounced shift in their day-to-day lives – a switch from "boom" to "bust" times.