The Flat Battery Conundrum – (guest author – Daniël Cloete)

My husband wanted to give his thoughts on the matter…

The Adventurous Miss Chrissie's Misadventures

IMG_3553 All of us enjoying the sunset next to Tambopata River. From left to right: two tourist ladies who’s names I can’t remember, Anouk, Marco, Kevin and Chrissie and I sitting at the back)

Life has this ingenious way of occasionally presenting the most rewarding experiences from something that can initially seem quite negative. Chrissie, Kevin, Anouk and I took the opportunity to go up to Colpa Chuncho on the 18th of September so that we could hopefully experience the mass gathering of parrots and macaws at the colpa (or clay lick) the next morning. On the afternoon that we arrived we took a walk with Marco, our guide, and two Explorer’s Inn guests so that Kevin and Anouk could make use of the opportunity of being at Colpa Chuncho to place a camera trap in the dry riverbed. Before coming, we heard many accounts of encounters with big mammals such…

View original post 956 more words

Advertisements

The Flat Battery Conundrum – (guest author – Daniël Cloete)

IMG_3553

All of us enjoying the sunset next to Tambopata River. From left to right: two tourist ladies who’s names I can’t remember, Anouk, Marco, Kevin and Chrissie and I sitting at the back)

Life has this ingenious way of occasionally presenting the most rewarding experiences from something that can initially seem quite negative. Chrissie, Kevin, Anouk and I took the opportunity to go up to Colpa Chuncho on the 18th of September so that we could hopefully experience the mass gathering of parrots and macaws at the colpa (or clay lick) the next morning. On the afternoon that we arrived we took a walk with Marco, our guide, and two Explorer’s Inn guests so that Kevin and Anouk could make use of the opportunity of being at Colpa Chuncho to place a camera trap in the dry riverbed. Before coming, we heard many accounts of encounters with big mammals such as Jaguar and Tapir on the Colpa Chuncho trip and we were hoping to get some nice footage of these animals on the camera trap.

Kevin and Anouk setting a camera trap on the dry river bed, while Chrissie and I "supervise" proceedings.

Kevin and Anouk setting a camera trap on the dry river bed, while Chrissie and I “supervise” proceedings.

Later in the afternoon, we took a walk down to the river to do some birding. As we reached the river, Chrissie bemoaned the fact that her camera’s battery was almost flat but decided not to go back to camp to get a replacement as light was fading fast. Anouk got quite giddy with excitement as she belonged to the school of thought that having a flat battery is a sure sign that you will surely see something amazing. We (that is to say – mostly Anouk) thus excitedly took off on our walk with a bolstered hope that we are now well on our way to seeing something worth writing home about.

Within a 100m or so a Nightjar, possibly a Ladder-tailed Nightjar, shot up just a meter or two in front of us and ducked into the scrub to our left. As Kevin and Anouk moved further down the beach, Chrissie and I decided to investigate where the Nightjar went with the hope of getting a better view. As I managed to get a glance of the Nightjar before it took off again, I also heard a rustling in the scrub a couple of meters to the left and it sounded like something quite large. I called Chrissie to come and take a look and we started to move through a gap in the scrub but only managed to see the movement of a biggish branch as whatever made the noise moved away. Chrissie and I left to catch up with Kevin and Anouk further down the beach just as they were trying to get a better view of a beautiful little red bird, which we later managed to identify as a male Vermilion Flycatcher. Chrissie got a little bit bored, as the rest of us were still desperately trying to get a clearer view of the Vermilion Flycatcher, and she decided to take a few slow shutter artistic shots of the river with the last of her battery power. If only she knew what her next potential subject was going to be…

The illusive Vermillion Flycatcher

The illusive Vermillion Flycatcher

The next moment Kevin said, with a presumably straight face and in a very calm voice (which up to this point we only associated with his teasing dry sense of humour), “There is a Jaguar”. Anouk, which is usually at the receiving end of his humour immediately reprimanded him for talking nonsense. While pointing in its direction, Kevin intently replied in a semi-hysterical tone of voice “I swear to God there is a Jaguar”! It was then that Anouk and I also spotted the beautiful beast calmly looking at us.

The river Chrissie so painstakingly tried to capture on her camera...if only she knew.

The river Chrissie so painstakingly tried to capture on her camera…if only she knew.

Kevin and I both hissed at Chrissie to stop taking pictures of the river and to come take a look at the Jaguar before it ran away. Initially she was ignoring us as she was at this stage a bit fed-up of taking ID photos of inconspicuous LBJs (Little Brown Jobbies as we say in South Africa for inconspicuous little birds that are hard to identify) with her super-zoom camera. After a couple more unmanly screeches at her, she finally turned around and saw the Jaguar and, as it was destined to be, her camera promptly shut down.

Anouk managed to get a shot in with her camera, but with the light being poor and her shaking nervously, she only managed to take this blurred image which is of course much better than Chrissie’s last photo of the river which could also have been of the Jaguar. With the Jaguar not moving away and just calmly sizing us up, Anouk huddling up to Kevin and became a bit concerned. She started to assess her chances of survival with a couple of pertinent questions along the lines of: “Are we safe here!” and “Can Jaguars swim”! After about half a minute the Jaguar moved back into the scrub and we thought it was gone, but as we moved forward to get a better look, we saw that it was still looking at us and (from Anouk’s concerned perspective) we had another sizing up from him for about a minute before the Jaguar disappeared. It was only then that we discovered that the Jaguar vanished from us (of course) at the EXACT same spot where earlier Chrissie and I were exploring to see what cute fluffy animal we might happen to see…

Unmistakably a jaguar! the blur only adding to the drama of the moment.

Unmistakably a jaguar! the blur only adding to the drama of the moment.

After making our way back to the camp (just about walking in the river and constantly looking behind us), we felt kind of bad, but still excitedly shared our memorable experience with Marco and the guests that did not accompany us on our little birding walk.

So, now the conundrum remains… is it necessarily a bad thing when your camera battery runs out of power at a seemingly inopportune moment? A further thought along the same line is that in this day and age of easily accessible digital photography how many times do we actually take the time to just appreciate the magnificent scenes and subjects that we have the opportunity to encounter without urgently trying to capture some sort of fixed impression of it through a viewfinder? I’ll leave you with these life important questions and hope that you will also soon have the opportunity to see something as magnificent – unexpectedly and preferably whilst on foot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Colpa Chuncho

Red and Green Macaws

Red and Green Macaws

One of the tourist activities offered here in the Tambopata Nature Reserve is the chance to camp at Colpa Chuncho, one of the bigger macaw and parrot clay licks in the area.  Daniël, Anouk, Kevin and I jumped on the boat with two German tourists; one of which didn’t hide the fact that she had a serious case of khaki fever for Marco, the guide for this particular expedition.  Pedro, the multi-talented and master of all, accompanied us as cook and to help set up camp.

On the way to Colpa Chuncho

On the way to Colpa Chuncho

Upriver the forest and river changes from sandy beaches and murky brown water to dense stands of Cecropia trees, dark water and rocky beaches.  It took us four hours to reach the campsite where Pedro and the boat driver raked away the leaves and expertly erected the tents, complete with drainage channels to prevent water from entering the tent.  The toilet is a hole in the ground with a makeshift seat placed over it, the only privacy a plastic sheet covering one side.

Our home for the evening.

Our home for the evening.

The luxurious toilet in the forest.

The luxurious toilet in the forest.

That afternoon we went for a forest walk to explore the area.  Throughout the walk, poor Marco had to discreetly discourage the advances of the German tourist – who was substantially older than he is; it was hilarious to watch his discomfort as he tried to be polite while he covertly showed his distress whenever she wasn’t looking.  Thankfully, there was a lot to see, including several mammal prints, some belonging to a jaguar.  Later, by chance, we managed to acquaint ourselves a little more with the likely owner of these prints (more on this later).

Daniël walking on the pebble beach next to the Tambopata River

Daniël walking on the pebble beach next to the Tambopata River

The following morning we went to visit the Colpa – a long stretch of steep mud bank where birds and mammals come to eat clay.  It was amazing to see the massive flock of over 500, if not more, noisy macaws and parrots gathered on the trees around the clay lick.  Any disturbance triggered a chain reaction whereby all 500+ birds will scatter into the air, accompanied by a cacophony of sound, only to eventually treacle back to their chosen vantage points when the threat is over.

A pandemonium of Mealy parrots

A pandemonium of Mealy parrots

One such disturbance was an unidentified raptor that managed to capture a parrot in mid-flight.  While the raptor was tearing away pieces of flesh from the now deceased parrot, the rest of the birds circled ominously around the tree where it was eating, making every effort to chase away the intruder with their incessant noise and mock mobbings.  It finally decided to leave – I suspect it was hoping to preserve its acute sense of hearing for another day – allowing the mob to settle down once more.

Parrots restlessly circling a tree where a raptor is devouring one of their mates. If you look closely, you will see the raptor in the tree

Parrots restlessly circling a tree where a raptor is devouring one of their mates. If you look closely, you will see the raptor in the tree

The parrots eventually gave up and left whilst it took the macaws the better part of the morning to finally feel comfortable enough to come down and eat some of the clay.  The bright colours of the feathers against the reddish orange clay makes for beautiful photos causing the big group of tourist (including yours truly) to click away frantically in order to capture every moment.  This natural spectacle is something to behold and highly recommended even to those with no interest in birds.

Colpa Chuncho clay lick

Colpa Chuncho clay lick

While on the way back to Explorer’s Inn, as I drifted to sleep on the gently rocking boat, I could see it playing repeatedly in my minds’ eye, the image of a moving mass of vibrant colours forever etched into my memory.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jungle Zoo Madness part 3 of 3: El Diablo Macaw!

Wowwee the macaw (photo taken by Declan Burley)

Wowwee in all her splendour (photo taken by Declan Burley)

So far my so called “pet” experience in the jungle has been interesting, you can almost say pleasant.  But the critter that really emphasises the hazards of having a “tame” jungle animal around is Wowwee aka El Diablo Macaw!  This beautiful Scarlet Macaw was one of three rescued macaws.  Unfortunately, the other two died from predation, which left only Wowwee.  I guess the loss of the other two and the result of being the only Macaw has left her in a traumatised state.  This is putting it rather mildly… if I have to be brutally honest about it, I will say that she is an unstable psychopath who finds joy in eliciting tangible fear in others.  She conjurers up images of her dinosaur ancestors as she stalks the grounds of the lodge, as if she owns the place, and over the years, she has developed many OCD tendencies.

One such tendency, is her daily ritual of perusing the kitchen, starting from one corner, shuffling her way across the beams, climbing down the one pole, hopping across the floor, ending on top of the back door from where she would appear to oversee all cooking activities quite critically. The kitchen also seems to be the only neutral ground at the lodge where she will not attack you for no apparent reason.  Well, at least so we thought… Poor Kevin was minding his own business and earlier even gave her some water to drink out of a cup, when she suddenly attacked his big toe.  She clamped down on his unfortunate toe and didn’t even let go when Kevin threw himself on the floor and proceeded to kick the crazy bird out of sheer desperation and out of fear of having his toe decapitated by the flesh-loving maniac with feathers.  Thankfully, both Kevin and Wowwee walked away unharmed from this incident, unless you count post-traumatic stress disorder as a possible side-effect, which is what Kevin seems to be suffering from whenever he hears a macaw call or the flapping of wings.

Wowwee the macaw (photo taken by Declan Burley)

Wowwee… this looks says it all! (photo taken by Declan Burley)

Outside ‘neutral grounds’ she is in full control of the amount of interaction that she might have with you.  These interactions are not the most welcoming, as it will mostly consist of her perched on a chair or railing, sharpening her beak while staring at you with her head turned to the side.  But Wowwee doesn’t hate everyone.  Sometimes she finds an unsuspecting man that has enough qualities that suits her needs, and then promptly falls in-love with him.  She will follow him like a love-sick puppy and become very possessive over him.  Regrettably people don’t tend to stay very long here at Explorer’s Inn which has resulted in several heartbreaks for her and which only seem to add to her already unstable traumatised state.  Broken hearted, she will destroy anything remotely associated with her lost love.  After Gabrielle left – resulting in a major heartbreak – she somehow got into the office, where he used to spend most of his time, and launched into a destructive frenzy of unadulterated abandon.  His sandals were ripped to shreds, papers were scattered everywhere and the mosquito panels were pocked full of Wowwee-sized holes.  After her tirade, she positioned herself in one of these holes, with her head and neck dangling out on the outside of the office.  There she stayed, eyes closed in mourning, possibly contemplating her actions, until she finally left later that evening.

Her next victim was Levi – a very sweet cook with a delicate manner and a quick smile.  She fell in love in a heartbeat, poor thing.  Levi will scratch her belly while she would play-bite his hand like a kitten – a complete personality change.  When we play volleyball, she becomes very jealous, especially if you go too close to Levi.  For some reason, my husband Daniël is not tolerated at all.  Maybe it is something to do with Daniël telling Wowwee to her face that he is NOT HER FRIEND.  Daniël will be playing in Levi’s team, totally engrossed in the game, when Wowwee would suddenly dive-bomb Daniël for no reason other than her jealous dislike of him.  She has done this to me a few times as well.  Believe me, it’s very scary to see a giant bird, claws ready to gouge your eyes out, flying at full speed towards your head, only changing direction at the last possible moment.  All you can do is duck or dive out of the way while you hear a swoosh and feel a gust of wind over your head.

Sadly, for Wowwee, Levi left.  Somehow, she could sense that he was not returning.  The following morning she ripped out a piece of bathroom wall in the dining room.  Now the question is, who will be her next victim…

The photos in this post were taken by Declan Burley.  Please visit his Flicker website at http://flickrock.com/declan_burley as well as the website of the amazing project he is working on currently http://www.unchartedamazon.com/

 

Jungle Zoo Madness part 2 of 3: Mutualism

Pietie the bat hanging under the bunk bed. (photo taken by Declan Burley)

Petie the bat hanging under the bunk bed. (photo taken by Declan Burley)

Luckily, not all uninvited animal guests have such an unsavoury effect on our lives like the rat infestation we had to endure. In the RN bungalow, we have a pair of very effective pest control assistants; Petie the bat and Denzel the mouse opossum. Petie first arrived on the scene during Declan’s (resident naturist and avid documentary maker) stay here at Explorer’s Inn.  For some or other reason Petie – as Declan fondly named him – decided that sleeping underneath the top bunk right above Declan’s head is the perfect spot for him.  Maybe Declan had just the right amount of unwashed body surface and thus exuded the perfect combination of pleasurable body odours highly conducive to peaceful bat sleep… who knows?  Declan initially had no problem with this arrangement until he sort-of got fed up with waking up every morning with poo on his face.  The fleas probably didn’t add to the comfort either.  Poor Petie was banished to the underside of Declan’s bed where he is now staying in relative comfort in exchange for ridding the RN bungalow of flying insects.

Pietie snoozing above Declan (illustration done by Chrissie)

Petie snoozing above Declan (illustration done by Chrissie)

Denzel the mouse opossum was first discovered in the bottom of the RN bungalow trash can, where he managed to get himself trapped after greedily searching for food.  Declan and Charlie (Declan’s room mate, aka Capuchin) fondly remember that first meeting whereby they found a dishevelled opossum at the bottom of the trash can covered in wet food, his fur standing up in all directions and the little guy showing his numerous tiny razor sharp teeth at them in defiance.  From that day forward Denzel seems to have a strange truce with the humans staying in his bungalow. Every evening he would show up moving dexterously from one surface to the next, hunting for cockroaches and bits of half eaten snacks left by the messy naturalists.

Denzel showing some teeth shortly after his rescue from the dustbin (photo taken by Declan Burley)

Denzel showing some teeth shortly after his rescue from the trash can (photo taken by Declan Burley)

One evening we were all sitting in the RN bungalow busy with our nightly data entry and photo editing activities, when I saw Denzel from the corner of my eye, running past.  He climbed up the book case, not bothering to conceal himself – which already set off alarm bells in my head – whereby he promptly made a beeline straight towards Charlie.  He jumped up the chair next to Charlie and went directly for the leftover boxed lunch container.

This was certainly strange behaviour for Denzel.  Denzel was used to us, but would always remain in the shadows where he thought we could not see him.  On closer inspection, we realised that Denzel did not look at all like himself.  He was skinny, wild-eyed, and seemed to have lost some of his fur.  We carefully tried to catch him, realising that there is a possibility that he might have rabies, especially after he jumped towards us, spraying saliva in his wake.  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we failed miserably in our task and he got away leaving us all to move around very carefully and just a little bit paranoid.

Denzel the mouse opossum.

Denzel the mouse opossum.

The following evening, Charlie and Declan woke up due to a scratching sound in their dorm room.  When they turned their flashlight in the direction of the noise, they discovered the “real” Denzel – complete with a healthy complexion and a full body of luscious fur that any self respecting mouse opossums would be envious of.  He was attempting to cross the room by using the makeshift washing line.  He would walk a few steps showing off his skills as a trapeze artist and then fail dismally by losing his balance and twirling at a nauseating speed in a seemingly endless circle around the rope until he gingerly regained his balance and moved forward again.  This continued all the way across the room, which caused hysterical laughter from Charlie and Declan who appreciated the fact that they were being entertained by Denzel the trapeze artist rather than Denzel the rabid Zombie.  Maybe the rabid mouse opossum was Denzel-turned-zombie or maybe not, but we are glad to see he is back and healthy as ever, at least until the next full moon…

Denzel

Denzel attempting to cross the room on a makeshift washing line (illustration by Chrissie aka me).

Some of these photos were taken by Declan Burley.  Please visit his Flicker website at http://flickrock.com/declan_burley as well as the website of the amazing project he is working on currently http://www.unchartedamazon.com/

Jungle Zoo Madness Part 1 of 3: Uninvited Guests

Saddle-backed Tamarins feasting on the bananas in the store room.

Saddle-backed Tamarins feasting on the bananas in the store room (photo taken by Anouk-Lisa Taucher).

When you live in the middle of the jungle, it is inevitable that some wild animals will in some way or another make their home amongst you.  In many cases, this is not really based on anything that can be seen to resemble a mutual understanding.  Some we adopt, whilst some “adopt” us, without us having much of a say in the matter.  Some animals “pay” for their accommodation while others just expect to be accommodated like the Saddle-backed Tamarins that raid the banana store every afternoon.  There are also always the kind that initially appear to be so “cute” and “adorable”, but soon their true colours are revealed and their deviousness and impure intentions are unmasked for all to see.

One such instance was when we moved into our new room next door to Kevin and Anouk (the other Resident Naturalist couple).  They have been telling us about the very ‘adorable’ rats that live in their wall.  Adorable only because they have babies that “meep-meep” in the night.  Seems harmless enough…  During their stay in our walls, they have engineered a network of entry points into both our bungalows – gaping holes that they seem to love gnawing on in the middle of the night.  The turning point for me was when I first encountered one of these critters in my bathroom.  Instead of running away from me like any decent rat would do, it just stared at me as if I was the one intruding on its space – the nerve! I started lobbying for the removal and, if possible, the destruction of these intruders; especially because they kept me awake all night with their incessant gnawing and squeaking.

Regrettably, I did not receive much support from our neighbours.  That was until the night of the Snickerbar… Anouk gave Kevin half of her Snickerbar when they worked in the field, but Kevin decided to save this precious snack for later.  When he finally decided that it was time to reward himself with this chocolate delight, he discovered that the rats devoured his Snickerbar.  They climbed into his backpack and STOLE HIS SNICKER!  Kevin made the very wise decision there and then, that the rats need to go and that the only way to achieve that is to burn down the entire bungalow with the rats still inside – they deserve no less!  DIE EVIL SCUM OF SATAN!  Fortunately, Arles, our trusted friend and local super hero, came to the rescue and simply closed up all the holes, which, strangely enough, kept the rats at bay so far.  The only sign that they have ever been there are the fleas they left behind in Kevin and Anouk’s bed…

Party Local Style

Pedro and I dancing in the background with Marco sitting on the left and Stefan on the far right.

Pedro and I dancing in the background with Marco sitting on the left and Stefan on the far right.

Before I came to Peru, I voiced my desire to experience the country like a local and last night I think I came pretty close!

A few days ago, myself, the other resident naturalists and a few local staff from the lodge, socialized in the Resident Naturalist bungalow until the wee hours of the morning, drinking beer and Pisco.  This is possibly the best way to get to know the staff while practicing your broken Spanish on the non-English speaking locals.  Let me take this opportunity to tell you more about Pedro and Arles, two brothers that live and work at the lodge.  They are the nicest people you can possibly meet; very polite, soft spoken, decent, hardworking and genuine.  They wear their hearts Continue reading