Peruvian Amazon, 6 till 25 July 2013

Earlier this year Jeroen asked me if I was interested in joining in on another group adventure which would lead us across the Atlantic and deep into the Amazon rainforest in Peru. I had to think about it for a while but after Jeroen promised to massage my feet every evening I decided to come along. And so it began... Besides Jeroen (a.k.a. Jeremy or Jennifer) Speybroeck and me, Peter (Pedrito) Engelen and Frank (mr. indestructible) Deschandol also joined.


We had also a guide with us, Edwin (or was he our translator?), a translator Luis (not sure if he was our cook) and a cook; Gilberto (I might have mistaken him for our guide). These three Peruvian friends went along with us the entire three weeks in the jungle where we stayed in three different accomodations.

Overview of prospected sites.
Overview of prospected sites.

Unlike on my other adventures, where I keep track of our daily whereabouts and write down the species we find every day, I didn't do such a thing on this trip. Many species were found each day and many species could only be named after the trip. Also I just wanted to soak up the experience and not be bothered by any paperwork in the evening. Therefore I will just try to write some memorable stories down for each camp.

Santa Cruz
This first campsite is situated along the Rio Mazan and while the mainstructure is situated near the river, the cabins where we would spend the night were situated some 3km into the jungle. After a long and strenuous journey we had to carry our luggage and hike a small jungletrail towards the cabins. Sun was setting, not used to the climate yet (at all!), mud all over, that wasn´t much fun!


But the camp was great, they quite recently constructed a pond behind the cabins and a lot of Anuran species use this pond as breeding water. Every evening we could hear Giant Monkey Frogs (Phyllomedusa bicolor), Smoky Jungle Frogs (Leptodactylus pentadactylus) and especially many Clown Treefrogs (Dendrosophus leucophyllatus) from our beds. The pond was also inhabited by a couple of Caiman (Caiman crocodilus), Frank went in the water with an inflatable matrass to try and catch one and eventough he managed to grab one in the beginning it escaped and so did Frank´s flashlight which is still somewhere hidden in the murky water.


Two snake highlights were certainly two members of the Viperidae family, already on the first night Peter found a Striped Forest Pit Viper (Bothriopsis bilineata) hanging in a small tree behind his cabin and on the fourth night a species that is not that common to encounter! Some people did many trips to the Amazon in the hope to find one and never did, we were hiking on of our regular trails at night when our guide (who was walking in front) found this "landmine" just sitting on the path, El chuchupe or a South-American Bushmaster (Lachesis muta). And yes people started dancing and singing!


One night we did a hike through the jungle as we did every night, Jeroen and I decided to go to bed a little bit earlier than usual and went back to the camp were we decided to photograph some more treefrogs before going to bed. The others continued their hike and went towards the river were our guide found another Black-headed Caligo Snake (Oxyrhopus melanogenys), a species we also saw the night before, so he thought... they made some picturesand even handled the animal before they gave it to Frank. Somehow the snake decided it was enough and bit Frank in the ring finger and then they instantly knew it wasn't the species they thought it was. It turned out to be an Orange-ringed Coral Snake (Micrurus hemprichii). Things got real bad, vomit, convulsions, cold fever... Peter ran back to our camp to get us and we first thought it was a joke as Peter sometimes makes jokes but sadly it wasn't, Jeroen and I also ran from the camp back to the river. Luckily the guides managed to find a boat in the middle of the night so we could lift Frank into a hammock, carry him to the boat and along with our guides he went to Mazan and from there to Iquitos to the hospital while we stayed behind in the camp. All very much confused from what and how it happened we decided to sleep, nothing we could do now... The next day we woke up and learned that Frank made it to the hospital and was stable. They even found a nice Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria) while they took him there. After taking pictures of this snake and also the snake that bit Frank we had to pack and head back to Iquitos as well since we had no idea what was about to happen. After a long boat ride we arrived there and Peter and I went to visit Frank who was doing remarkably well, thank god! Jeroen and I decided to go out for a beer in the fantastic nightlife of Iquitos, made some new friends, Jeroen kept his promise and fell asleep happily, knowing our friend was doing so much better.
And then after two nights in the hospital he was allowed to come with us again to junglecamp #2. First we had to pay the bill from the clinic, but getting money in Iquitos proved to be harder than to find a bushmaster in the jungle...

After a really long boat ride we arrived at the Sabalillo stay in the late afternoon and darkness fell in almost immediately. This camp was quite the contrast to our previous stay with no flowing water (besides the river), a hole in the ground as a toilet and no facilities at all except for a wooden building that was practically nothing besides a raised floor and a roof. But we made the most of it and got our infatable matrasses and mosquito nets into place while Gilberto made us diner.


Bathing in the river was an experience in itself. First plow through thick mud, knee deep, before you entered the water. Then you could wash your clothes or yourself but there were other obstacles here. Some small piranha's bit me in the legs and even in the nipple and that was not as much fun as it seems!


On one night we were hiking (what's new?) and we could hear rain and thunder creeping in slowly from a far. We went back to the camp since it was already late and fell asleep, as the sky was lit and bright as day, ear deafening thunder stroke and rain came pooring down. As we had no walls in our accomodation and I was sleeping at the outside of the row of matrasses I got wet first, no problem since it was still warm but I was worried about the luggage and decided to step out of bed (which made the mosquitos very happy) and pull all the luggage to the centre of the small building.
The next morning I found a species we heard every evening but never managed to see before; a Gladiator Treefrog (Hypsiboas boans) was sitting on my bag. So besides a lot of moist clothes we also had a new species to add to our already impressive list.


In the end we spend four nights here before we told our guides it was time to move on. They were impressed since we were the first group that had managed to stay here for more than one night. And yes, we are proud of ourselves...

Madre Selva
Surely the most luxurious of all our stays and we spend eight nights here, during four nights there was a large group of American students from Florida also staying at the camp, four nights we had the entire campground to ourselves.


Along the Rio Orosa where Madre Selva is situated are also some small villages upstream such as Santa Tomas and Nuevo Israel. According to our guides you could have at least cell phone reception in the first village when you stand on top of the hill next to the church. So every day I went by kayak to these small villages and try to have a phonecall but sadly it never worked out. But it was nice nonetheless to go out on the river, have some exercise and do some birdwatching. In the village was also a small shop were they sold some necessities such as chocolate cookies, soda and beer. After a few days they already knew me and were awaiting me, greeting me with "Mr. Chocolate!" while my groceries were ready.


Also at night we went out sometimes by kayak, it was very nice to get out of the mosquito infested woods and not hike through the slippery mud for a change. Treeboas (Corallus hortulanus) were plentiful in the trees along the river and their eye shine gave them away from a far. Also other animals could be spotted by their eye shine such as Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) and Caiman (Caiman crocodilus). One evening our guide brought us a nice gift which he also spotted by its eye shine, a matamata (Chelus fimbriatus) was fouraging in a small pond behind some cabins.


We had quite some nice mammal observations here as well, being startled by a short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) in the middle of the night, Tamarin monkeys (Sanguinus sp.) at the camp, riverdolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis) jumping out of the water during sunset and some nice species of opossum.

From left to right: Jeroen, Giuseppe, Peter, Frank, me, Edwin and Luis. © Frank Deschandol
From left to right: Jeroen, Giuseppe, Peter, Frank, me, Edwin and Luis. © Frank Deschandol

Link to Jeroen's report.

For species list and way more pictures make sure to check out his report as well!