Day Three: Travel by Boat
Me and my tent-mate were woken up around 4:00AM by the sound of biblical rain. And I mean BIBLICAL. I’ve heard stories about heavy rain, but this exceeded even those. It sounded as if the Blue Angels were somehow hovering over our heads for an hour and a half. At one point, I thought the world might be ending. At another, I was sure that we were in danger. But everything turned out fine — in fact, you might say things turned out better than they otherwise would have, since the height of the river rose nearly a meter! When we all (officially) got up, we boarded a boat on this river and were thankful that our chances of having to push the boat over shallows was decreased.
The boats, which were large, covered canoes with motors, carried all of us in two groups deep into Manu National Park. As we pushed on, civilization became sparser and vegetation denser. Eventually, no other boats or houses were able to be seen — only thick, dark forest. We made a few bathroom stops on beaches (not much privacy throughout this trip…) and looked for animal tracks in the sand and mud. At one point, we found fresh ocelot tracks.
One of our stops was at a very remote town called Boca Manu. Here, we were supposed to present our vaccination cards to a doctor and get approved to go deeper into the park. We waited for hours for the doctor to show. During these hours, we became well-acquainted with the gnats of Peru, which are not at all like the ones here at home. These ones bite…and itch. They’re also everywhere; nearly impossible to escape. When they bite you, they take out of a visible chunk of skin and leave behind a congealed spot of blood. The group impatiently waited for the doctor, swatting and grunting at the gnats the whole time. Once the doctor finally came, we were disappointed to find out that he had no interest in seeing proof of the vaccinations we paid a lot to get. He was much more concerned about us wearing sunscreen. To be clear, though, DO make sure that you get your vaccines when traveling to Peru and other surrounding countries! Not only for your own safety, but for the sake of the indigenous people that you have very real chances of running into.
We left Boca Manu and practically cheered to have the gnats gone from the surrounding air. We did, however, take dozens of bites with us. My feet and ankles had somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty bites.
After a full day of travel, we stopped at our lodging for the night. This place, called Limonal, was a station off the bank of the river. Unfortunately for the group — which was composed of new adventurers, at this point — we arrived after nightfall. We started setting up our tents by the light of our headlamps and quickly realized that the long grass we were setting up in was swarming with insects. And I mean SWARMING. You could shine your light at any given spots and see a blur of hopping, flying, and sprinting creatures. We got our tents up quickly, ate our dinner with an air of paranoia, and dove into our tents for sleep. My tent-mate and I spent a number of minutes checking the nooks and crannies of the tent for any critters. Alas, there were a handful of grasshoppers, but we let them stay, since they were the least of our concern. We slept pretty hard that night, though we practically fell asleep itching gnat bites.
Day Four: Travel by Boat…again!
We got up at the break of dawn and set out for our final destination: Cocha Cashu Biological Research Station. We ate our breakfast of eggs and rice, packed up our tents, and were on the boat once more. This time around on the boat, we were to take a wildlife survey for the whole ride. Over the course of the eight or nine hours we spent on that ride, I learned how to identify a large number of bird species, even from a distance. Horned Screamers, Yellow-billed Terns, Large-billed Terns, Roadside Hawks, Black Vultures, Greater Yellow-headed Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Muscovy Ducks, four kinds of parrot, five kinds of macaw, Orinoco Geese, and many more. That was my absolute favorite part of this section of the trip: learning that I had a knack for bird identification. I can see myself getting into bird-watching later in life.
Along the way, we also got to spot a White Caiman, Wooly Monkeys, and Spider Monkeys. It was a beautiful day. You hardly notice that you’ve been sitting for nine hours on those boats. There’s so much to look at, and you’re acutely aware that you could spot something amazing at any given moment.
In the early evening, we made it to Cocha Cashu. We had to hike our things about half a kilometer from the beach to the station. It’s a beautiful area — the
kitchen is spacious and clean, the bathhouse has plenty of room
for storage, the showers are clean and modern, and the library makes for a nice quiet area. After everything was brought in, we were assigned to tent platforms. K
ellen, Haley and I set up our stuff on our platform quickly and made it back to the common area with time to spare. The light was amazing — you would look up through the trees and see shimmering leaves, puffy clouds, and a Squirrel Monkey or two. The lake was calm and quiet.
We all went on a short hike to get introduced to the vegetation surrounding the station. We talked about plant species and the history of the land. The floodplains used to be under water a little over 100 years ago, but once the river broke off and formed the lake, the floodplains burst to life with tons of interesting species. We talked for hours about the plants’ adaptations to the environment. Tim, the other professor, caught a couple butterflies and let us look at them closely. The hike was an adventure in and of itself.
That night, we were welcomed by a few researchers at the station. They told us that we were incredibly privileged to be there — a statement that I know understand the weight of. In the 40 years that Cocha Cashu has existed, fewer than 5,000 people have been there. It is truly one of the most remote and untouched places on the planet.
We went to bed feeling blessed…and acutely aware of how isolated we all were.