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?
The rainforests of Tambopata, Peru harbor more bird species than most places on this planet. With that in mind, it's always a challenge to say which species are the most colorful, which ten birds are the most common, and which birds happen to be the oddest ones in the jungle. Since we have more than 600 species to choose from, there's a lot of rare and bizarre to birds we could talk about. However, today, we might as well begin the conversation with five exotic and bizarre species found on the trails of Posada Amazonas.
Literally hundreds of bird species live in the rich rainforest habitats of south-eastern Peru. However, the irony of that avian abundance is that many of those bird species are naturally rare and/or just hard to see. Our canopy towers and trained guides help in seeing more birds but the places where we look for them also play important roles.
I hear birds calling back and forth. Some chirp timidly, others caw obnoxiously, while occasionally I’ll hear a terrifying screech, only to figure out that was also a bird. Tree branches fall, monkeys bicker, insects buzz all at the same time. Its loud, but I’ll take it any day over the noises of a busy city.
Its really not that much quieter than Lima, especially in the morning, but its far more pleasant to listen to. Trying to distinguish who’s saying what is initially overwhelming, but when I listen closely, I realize how harmoniously the creatures calls come together. Its as if the all the plants species of the forest along with her animals are in collaboration, functioning exactly as they should be. If I concentrate and sit quietly, I can listen in on a conversation between two birds. On a walk today, I heard a rain shower five minutes before it arrived. The sound of the raindrops hitting the leaves became louder as the downpour approached giving me just enough time to find an umbrella tree to stand under while the worst of it passed.
I’ve always had a keen sense of smell, but try to suppress it in the city since the scents of food, diesel fuel, and urine do not appeal to me. I had almost forgotten that to truly experience an odor you must use more than your nose. It involves breathing through your mouth and using your sense of taste. You must then allow the odor to infiltrate your entire chest cavity and head until it brings back a memory or creates a new one. Locals from Tambopata can smell Howler Monkeys from two miles away. I’m not that good yet, but can appreciate the fresh air, jungle fruits and nuts, flowers, leaves, even dirt.
There’s another sense. I’m not talking about that creepy movie with that little kid who hangs out with dead people. Its the same full body sensation you get when you first fall in love, or in like with someone. When I hike in the forest, no matter how hot it is, or whether its raining and I’m soaking wet, my energy increases and I could hike for hours. Worries cross through my mind for no more than a minute before I’m distracted by a jumble of vines, trees and plants competing with each other for sunlight. They wrap around each other, always moving upward in a beautiful chaos until they explode through the canopy spreading their branches in every direction to celebrate their triumph. My worries are forgotten and I realize I’ve been studying the forest for what feels like hours, but maybe was only seconds. This sense is timeless and unquantifiable. Its the same as falling in love, only this time I’ve fallen in love with a place.
Things aren't always as they seem in the jungle. As the sun was setting and we were heading back to the Tambopata Research Center, Chris Johns made a very cool spot. At first it appeared as if two ants were stuck together on a branch...but upon closer inspection we realized that we were dealing with an ant-mimicking spider feasting on its ant prey.
Lucas Bustamante recently visited our lodges in Tambopata, Peru for a few weeks and took these incredible photos of Amazon rainforest wildlife.
For most people seeking a secluded part of the Amazon to spend their time, there are few places better than the Tambopata Research Center. And our team did stop at the TRC, but only to briefly charge up our electrical equipment before heading out…further and further on the rivers until we found ourselves deep in the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, which is one of the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon, and therefore one of the most remote places on Earth.