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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.