Jinxed by a floating tortoise.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
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Sunday, September 4, 2005

It's not fair I wanted to scream, but then I didn't know who would listen to my complaints. At least I doubt the jungle gods or David Attenborough would pay much attention. It's day six of my eight days adventure in Manu National Park (about the size of Wales), one of the best places in the Amazon to spot tropical wildlife (including the elusive jaguar). We have just finished our excursion to Salvador and Otorongo (Jaguar), two oxbow lakes in the reserved zone of the park, and it's time for our long overland journey back to Cuzco.

Alvaro, one of our guides, has just told me that they always see the endangered giant river otters playing in the oxbow lakes. But not this time of course. I don't know what's going on Alvaro continues, we must have been jinxed by the tortoise trying to cross Rio Manu a few days ago. Spotting a tortoise gives you bad luck he says, and picking it up from the river and into the longboat probably didn't help our wildlife spotting opportunities on this trip. But we were only trying to help it cross the river, right??? I guess Alvaro has a point, only a few weeks ago a group of tourists going with the same company (Manu Ecological Adventures) spotted eight jaguars at eight different locations. Most of them sunbathing on tree trunks along Rio Manu. But that was then and this is now. Because the stupid tortoise is playing with us. It's been too warm, too cold, too much rain, too much blah blah blah.

So we go home almost empty handed. No jaguars, no tapirs, no giant anteaters and no giant river otters. Not even as much as a peccary (wild pig) or the ferocious Roy Keane (we are in MANU National Park after all). Well, well, it's not all bad. We spotted six out of the thirteen species of monkey living in the park; wooly monkey, black spider monkey, red howler monkey, squirrel monkey, white-fronted capuchin monkey and saddle-back tamarin monkey. We also spotted a few capybaras (the world's largest rodent), black and white caiman, turtles, geckos, snakes, agouti paca (another rodent), lots of spiders and other insects, butterflies and tons of birds, including toucans, macaws and the
cock-of-the-rock mating dance. And an endangered tortoise, stupid or not. It's much more common to spot a jaguar than a tortoise our guide continues. Alvaro, you are not really helping here!!

Jaguars or not, it's been an adventurous trip to a fantastic park. Starting with a 12 hours truck drive on scary, but spectacular, roads over the mountains from Cuzco. Through alpine forest and down to the cloud forest. Before continuing into the jungle for two hours on mountain bikes, 90 minutes river rafting, one seven meter high jump from a cliff into the rapids, 30 minutes swimming and eight hours in a longboat down Rio Alto Madre de Dios. And then continuing for ten hours up Rio Manu, including lots of boat pushing due to the shallow water, before reaching our final camp by Salvador Lake. And of course we have to do it all over again in order to get back to Cuzco.

Only a few agencies in Cuzco are allowed to take tourists into the reserved zone of Manu National Park, and hence you won't see many other wildlife spotters in this part of the park. I picked Manu Ecological Adventures, probably the cheapest company to go with. I had heard a few good things, but also some bad things about the company, but took my chance in order to save a few bucks from the more expensive outfits in town. And I don't regret it. It turns out to be a great trip, with very knowledgeable, funny and enthusiastic guides, good food and accommodations, as well as a great bunch of other travellers to enjoy the trip with. Samantha and James from England, Keren, Jonathan and Avi from Israel, Lee and Ron from New Zealand, Jane and Connor from Ireland, Judith and Adolfo from Peru, Fabia and Marco from Switzerland and finally Don and Brian (father and son) from the US. All of them fantastic people, with Brian and his father leading the way. I have never in my life met a more gay person than Brian. And not many times have I met a funnier and more talkative person either. He's hilarious, from the first minute openly talking about being gay, and also how he would have liked to take Avi home to San Francisco as his personal jungle trophy and private pet. We are constantly laughing with him, and have to admit that we would have all liked to be the fly on the wall when he came out of the closet and told his more old school father who he's bringing on prom night.

Only a sunbathing jaguar on a tree trunk away from the highlight on my trip so far...
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