Expedition to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle Part 1: Falling in Love with the RiverAuthor: Claudia Dickinson
Expedition to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle
Part 1: Falling in Love with the River
I have just returned from the Peruvian Amazon jungle and it was a fabulous experience! I fell in love with the people, the land, the river, and of course, the fish. There are no words to describe what a time I had; my heart and my spirit have been captured forever…
Under the exceptional guidance of Dr. Devon Graham and Margarita Tours, as well as Dr. David Schleser, a celebrated authority on fish, photography, and wildlife, a small group of us traversed the river and explored the jungle, collecting and observing a combined total of over 230 species of fish in their natural habitat. We were into mud over our ears (almost!), as we seined the river and dip-netted the streams and banks. We hiked all day long, and at night we took out a skiff to view the wildlife. An added pleasure was to have Marilyn Weitzman and Jaap-Jan de Greef along to share their wealth of knowledge. The camaraderie amongst our group was paragon, as we shared the special warmth of family and formed everlasting friendships.
Having dreamed of a visit to the Amazon for years, I always thought that my first visit would be to the dense inland regions of
While I was at the convention in
Full Speed Ahead
Barely in the door from Texas, I took one look at my bags that were still packed, and I dashed off emails to Luis, as well as Devon and Margarita Tours with hopes that they might still squeeze me in. As Devon was out on the
The decision to make the majority of the flight to the final destination of
Most of our group met in
A Taste of Things to Come
The first night we had lovely and gracious accommodations at the Dorado Plaza Hotel on the Plaza de Armas in
Sunday morning we were packed and headed out by 8 a.m. to the waiting minivan that took us through the streets of
Battling the Mud
As the Tucunare departed down the river with its new charges, we were given an orientation of the boat and procedures, after which we chose our bunks and quickly unpacked and arranged our equipment. It was not long before word was sent that our first collecting site was approaching. We rapidly donned our fishing gear, which, no matter what type of clothing is was, would always get soaked with river water, caked with mud, baked by the sun, possibly spattered (sometimes drenched) with rain, and infiltrated by a curious insect or two. It became clear that the same clothing was best worn for all collecting, with a quick dry over the railings of the Tucunare between sites. The soon-to-be familiar mental checklist ticked off: brimmed hat, sunglasses, insect repellent, sunscreen, followed by soon-to-be wet socks and squishy wet sneakers, collecting net, bucket, camera, and plastic bags for bringing wildlife specimens back for photographing.
We hopped onto the waiting skiff and sped up the Rio Nanay to the junction of the Rio Momon. Since it was the dry season in
This was my first time out collecting so I had a few things to learn. With all of nature’s uncertainties, one thing about the
Although I practically grew up underwater (my father is a noted scuba diver), swimming across a tributary of the Amazon, fully clothed with drawstring pants filled with water, net in one hand and bucket in the other, is a situation abounding with lessons to be learned! Naturally, my bucket immediately filled with water, and as hard as I tried to hang onto it (please remember, my other hand was holding a 12- x 12-inch net with a 4-foot handle), I soon had no choice but to let go of the water-laden bucket. How mortifying! How was I going to admit this one—there I was, out in the middle of the river, with no bucket to put my fish into!
My pants were laden with water as I was trying to hold a seemingly larger-than-life net over the water while searching behind me in hopes that the darn bucket would somehow magically reappear. Somehow I made it across to the seine, laughing the whole way. Then the fun really did begin! By the way, after undoing the pant drawstrings from around my ankles, and releasing half of the Amazon back to continue on its downstream journey, I then remembered to leave the drawstrings open before taking the plunge.
As the net was worked into the shoreline, the glistening bodies of fish just realizing their capture (the cichlids first, being the smartest, of course) could be seen leaping high in the air, some of them over the net and back into the safety of the waters on the outer side. What an unequivocal thrill came over me as we gathered the net up to the bank. The powerful crew members, Segundo, Cesar, and Eugenio, pulled the ends while the rest of us worked the center by holding the corks on the top of the seine up above the water, moving the bottom edge through the mud and keeping it tucked under to prevent any escapes. Large quantities of all species, sizes, and shapes flipped and leaped, their scales brilliantly dazzling in the bright sunlight, shimmering across the entire length of the net. It was a breathtaking site!
Everyone excitedly began picking through the catch, calling out the names of species discovered amongst the bounty, and placing in our buckets those that would return to the boat with us for identification, photographing, or to take back to the
Returning to the skiff, our group was filled with the enthusiasm of our good fortune and ready to move on to the next location. We were short one member and looked across the ridge to see Jaap-Jan coming out of the jungle where he had walked up a small stream to collect. It was customary for him to go off and explore for prime spots, always returning with something new and different. This time his bag held such prizes as Apistogramma bitaeniataas well as Pyrrhulina sp. “Nanay.”
Moving further up the Rio Nanay, we stopped at several more sites, one being a brush trap of dense branches that had been set out to attract fish. This was a great success in harboring Pterophyllum scalare, which was to the immense delight of Luis and some of our other angelfish enthusiasts. It was now time to make our way back to the Tucunare, where a delicious lunch would be waiting.
An Amazing Crew
Segundo, Cesar, and Eugenio accompanied us on all of our collecting excursions. Segundo was amazing in his notorious prowess at using his bare hands to catch any form of wildlife, be it fish, snakes, birds, frogs, or insects. Cesar excelled at searching out and discovering the best fishing locations and the rarest fish. If you had a dream fish he wanted to know about it, and he would find it. Eugenio was a master at going off into the jungle and locating new collecting sites that were bountiful with rare finds. He was also able to steer our skiff with an innate skill through the low waters, around fallen trees, and over the many traps laid along the way by the river people. All three men were forever ready if we needed a helpful hand, and they were my heroes on several occasions when we traversed fairly rough terrain. Always in the best of spirits, their contagious laughter resounded across the
Emerson and Raul remained to watch over the Tucunare, handling the many items that needed tending to there. Raul was our chef, preparing the most delicious meals that one could imagine—each more exquisite than the next. The platters were piled high with steaming hot seafood, chicken, local meats, rices, potatoes, yucca, sauteed bananas, and breads, as well as delightful chilled dishes of fresh slivered hearts of palm, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peas, carrots, and always a huge assortment of fresh local fruits and juices that rival any that you have ever tasted. Raul’s beautiful presentations were unsurpassed, as his creativity went far beyond the sumptuous cuisine, with every dish carved and decorated to perfection.
Emerson was magical! His quiet care for every minute detail of our needs went without compare. I never ceased to be surprised and touched by the thoughtfulness and concern that he put into making sure that our stay was a pleasant and enjoyable experience. That was the way all of our time spent with Margarita Tours went. I shall always treasure the friendships, memories, care, and kindness provided by the entire crew of the Tucunare.
[Claudia Dickinson will be taking part in an online interview, discussing this article live on www.TropicalResources.net on Saturday, December 2nd at 8 p.m. EST.]