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Manu Peru Highlights

September 25, 2011


By Birtan Collier

The Peruvian Amazon makes up about a third of the country’s land area and is as rich and untamed as the rest of the Amazon in neighboring Brazil and Ecuador.

The Peruvian government has been vigorous in its efforts to protect the nature and the native peoples of this region and as a result, the Amazonian Peru has some of the most pristine primary rainforests of the world.

Although logging, mining, ranching and agriculture compete with these preservation efforts, much of the biodiversity of this region’s nature is still protected and vibrant.

Our destination is the Manu National Park in the southern Amazon, which along with Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park forms a vast sanctuary enormously rich in wilderness. Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve is over four and a half million acres sustaining an entire ecosystem and hosting the most diverse flora and fauna in the world. Thanks to this rich nature,

Peru ranks near the top in world’s lists of mammals, amphibians, fresh-water fish, insects, butterflies and plant life. It has 1,800 species of birds, 1,000 of them in Manu. Thus the Manu sanctuary allows a person to experience a true Amazonian wilderness in its forest trails, forest canopy, tranquil lakes, rivers, clay licks, bamboo trails, clearings and gardens.

We start our journey in Lima and, after an evening arrival from Miami, rest overnight and catch a morning LAN flight to Cuzco and Puerto Maldonado. Puerto Maldonado is a city in southeastern Peru in the Amazon basin near the convergence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers. It is the capital city of the Madre de Dios region, established in 1912.

With a population of 52,000, this quaint city has as its main economic activities logging, gold-mining, Brazil nut-growing, cattle-ranching and ecotourism. Since gasoline is very expensive, motorcycles and three-wheeled motorcars are very popular here. Because of its proximity to the Manu National Park, Puerto Maldonado is our launching point for Manu.

After several van rides and river crossings, we reach the dockside of the Madre de Dios River in the small village of Atalaya, where we board a long wooden motorized canoe fitted with comfortable seats for 12, a roof for protection against the strong sun, and enough space for our luggage. Since

Manu has no roads, motorboats are the primary means of transport and in fact our lodge, the Manu Wildlife Center, on the banks of the Madre de Dios, is only reachable by boat after a three-hour ride from Atalaya. Along the way, we see wood storks, yellow-billed terns, cocoi herons, ringed kingfishers, black caracaras, plumbeous kites, black skimmers and neotrophic cormorants. Flocks of scarlet macaws and parrots fly over our heads.

The Manu Wildlife Center (MWC) is privately owned by Manu Expeditions and the Peru Verde Conservation Group, a nonprofit organization involved in rainforest-conservation projects. MWC is a rainforest reserve that forms part of the Manu Biosphere Reserve and is in the Cultural Reserve Zone for the indigenous Amazonian tribes.

The infamous rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald opened Manu to the outside world in 1893 through his discovery of the watershed divide that carries his name. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. For five nights we stay at the MWC’s bungalows built with local wood, bamboo and palm fronds in the same style as the local Machiguenga communities. The bungalows are raised on stilts as the river floods every 3-4 years.

They are connected to each other and the main house of the lodge by gravel walkways. All rooms are screened and all beds are furnished with mosquito-netting and comfortable mattresses. All rooms also have bedside tables with windows facing the rainforest and garden. Although furnished with private toilets and showers and hot (gas) and cold water, the bungalows do not have electricity. So come 5:30 p.m., it is pitch dark and we put on our head lamps, pull out our flashlights and light up the candles the management supplied us.

The lodge is strategically located in an area of the forest with the highest diversity of habitats, which has more species of animals, birds, reptiles and insects than elsewhere in Manu. Our five-day stay at MWC, which includes many forest walks, catamaran and boat rides to clay licks, and climbing two-canopy towers, just to name a few of our activities, is a testament to this Amazonian Garden of Eden. In addition to being a refuge for animals and birds,

Manu is a refuge to many native tribes including Machiguenga, Piro, Mascho Piro and Yaminahua. Some of these natives are so elusive that no one knows how many of them there are. During the entire day, we are serenaded by the bubbly syllables and high-pitched squeal of the russet-backed oropendulas with their pendulum nests hanging from a tall seiba tree in the middle of our bungalows. Our first morning starts with a 4:45 a.m. wake-up and a 5 a.m. departure by boat to the

Blanquillo clay lick where we witness a most beautiful spectacle of brightly colored macaws and parrots. Perched on the vertical walls of the river bank to eat clay are flocks of red-and-green, scarlet, blue-and-yellow and chestnut-fronted Macaws, and hundreds of blue-headed, yellow-crowned and mealy parrots. It is believed that the birds eat enormous amounts of clay to help absorb and neutralize the toxins from the unripe fruits they feed on, especially in the dry season when food is not plentiful. We stay and watch this phenomenal display of color for several hours while having our breakfast before returning by boat to MWC for lunch.

Several afternoon walks in the forest trails of Manu treat us to common squirrel, brown capuchin, white-fronted capuchin, red howler and black spider monkeys and saddleback tamarins, always first heard by breaking branches and falling leaves as they acrobatically swing from tree to tree. Another ever-present resident of the forest trails is the screaming piha – a small bird the size of a starling, with a unique high scream, heard loud and clear throughout the forest.

Scanning the forest floor, we are rewarded with a group of 15 roaming pale-winged trumpeters searching for a meal of insects and reptiles. There are many 5 and 5:30 a.m. mornings at MWC, which are very rewarding. One such morning, we climb the 120 circular steps up a huge kapok tree to a canopy tower, where we hear the early chorus of birds and are surrounded by sweat bees. Collared, blue-crowned, black-tailed trogons, white-throated toucans, curl-crested aracari, yellow-tufted woodpecker, and golden-green, cream-colored and crimson-crested woodpeckers are but a few of the birds sighted by us, which make the up-and-down climb and the battle with sweat bees well worth our while.

Another highlight is a catamaran – which is a large plank of wood resting on two narrow hulls – to one of the oxbow lakes, Cocha Blanco. From the comfort of our fold-out chairs, we see horned screamers, wattled jacanas, red-capped cardinals, Cruvier’s toucans, Amazon kingfishers, black-capped donacobius and the strange-looking hoatzins with blue faces and punk-hair crests.

Another resident of the oxbow lakes are the giant otters living in family groups. Families of eight capybaras, the world’s largest rodent, were seen along the banks of the Madre

Read more here: Continued..Comstory »


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