Tag Archives: conservation

Getting to know Manu

Back home when it rains, life goes on.  You pull out your umbrella, your rubber boots, your jacket, and keep trudging.  That doesn’t really happen in the rainforest.  The rivers widen and the paths turn into a thick paste.  Animals and humans alike go into hiding.  Sarah, Hanako, Erica, and I came to the MLC at the end of the rainy season, and so we were subjected to the whims of the weather.  In other words, we didn’t have a lot of work to do at the beginning because it was raining too darn much.

On our second day at the MLC, we headed out to check the animal traps at 4:30 am in the rainy, gray morning.  Juvenal was heading our group, so of course, an asthma attack and a few minutes later, and we were there and back again.  I had a dream that we didn’t find anything, and sure enough, we didn’t find a single critter in our traps.  Pretty normal in the rain, but not even one small mammal was caught on the proceeding days of the project, which has never happened before.

Thankfully, we had better luck with seeing wildlife in action.  When the sky cleared up a bit, we saw a horde of adorable squirrel monkeys hanging out with some larger capuchin monkeys high in the canopy.  Juvenal grumbled that we would have seen more animals had we not been chattering so much.  I don’t think he’s used to so many girls…

White Fronted Capuchin

(Photo cred: Erica Moutrie)

Back at the MLC, Tilman forced us to learn the different bird calls.  I thought it would be easy if I thought about them like music, but no, the macaws sounded exactly like the parrots, and I could hear a slight difference between them and the parakeets, but not by much.  Heck, I was still confusing bird calls with monkey howls and bamboo rat screeches, so it was no surprise when I got 7 out of 20 on my bird call test.  Sarah was the champ of the group with nearly 3 quarters correct!  She must practice.

Thankfully, I still had a rather good hold on English which came in handy later in the day when we taught the staff and they taught us some Spanish.  I worked with Tomás, the housekeeper.  Tomás is a soft-spoken, sweet sort of man who has the biggest smile and an appetite for cervezas.  He had a good memory for vocabulary and already knew a lot, and my Spanish wasn’t too shabby either, so the lesson really flew by.

Then, we visited the orchid garden, the bio garden, and the medicinal garden.  There were cat’s claw for cancer, aloe for burns, and dragon’s blood to heal wounds.  Another plant that resembled a snake was crushed by people of the rainforest and applied to their legs to prevent snake bites.  But my favorite plant grew in a corner of the garden.  Hunters traditionally bathe with it before going hunting to attract deer, and supposedly, if a person mixes the plant with perfume and wears it, he/she will attract a mate.  The only problem is that everyone knows exactly what you’re doing because it’s ridiculously pungent.

In the biogarden.
Orchid Garden entrance
Dionicio shows us around the Orchid Garden.

Tree huggers, beware.

And so another day in the Amazon came and went.  The first day was for changes and the second for taking it all in.  That night was the first clear night we had in the jungle.  The trees were full of fireflies and the sky was heavy with stars- so much so that I caught my breath as I looked up and realized I didn’t know where the sky ended and the forest began.




That first night in the rainforest was hot and cacophonous.  I woke up in a sweat, scratching my bites and listening to a family of bats chattering over my head.  Thankfully, I had spent about a quarter of an hour tucking in my mosquito net, so nothing was getting into that safehold.  It’s a good thing too, considering how many cockroaches I saw scatter when I opened the armoire before I hit the sack.  I discovered that one of my earplugs had fallen out, and once I had remedied that problem, I drifted back into an easy sleep that comes with exhaustion.

Before I knew it, it was time to get up.  At breakfast, I had my first of many, many cups of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.  An interesting thing about breakfast in Peru is that it’s common to eat a huge meal to begin with in order to sustain you the rest of the day.  We mostly had omelets, fruit, and cereal, but when we visited other places, we generally had things like chicken and rice or spaghetti to start off the day.

After stuffing our faces, we took off for the small mammal traps with Tilman, Juvenal, and Nelson.  Juvenal was the head of the small mammal project and had garnered the nickname “Rambo” because of his tough guy attitude.  Nelson was his sidekick in the project- a gentle soul with a whisper of a voice and the agility of a jungle cat.  Armed with machetes, the men took the lead.

Sarita helping cut down a tree in our way.

Our mission?  To set the traps with peanut butter and tuna so we could catch and study tiny, furry animals.  The annoyance?  My ridiculous asthma that was fighting me every step of the way.  At first I was fine, but Rambo kept going faster and faster, the terrain became more and more rugged, and then finally, we encountered this steep incline lined with roots and rocks.  I don’t know why, but I had never really thought of the rainforest as being mountainous before.  Incorrect.  By the time I got to the top, my vision had started to blur and my head was spinning.  Erica asked me if I was alright and stayed with me while I recuperated.  Anyway, after a couple of incidents like this, I finally learned to use my inhaler before I got started on this whole trekking through the rainforest business.

I ❤ my machete

We finally arrived at the site.  We took out the aromatic tuna and peanut butter, set the traps, and went on our way.  Juvenal and I struck up a conversation about our families, and ever so often he would freeze mid-sentence to point out some creature in the distance.  He’d stare at it with the intensity of a hunter, pretend he was shooting an imaginary gun, and growl “Ese animal es muy rico.  Muuuy rico.”  Translation:  That animal is very delicious.  Veeeery delicious.  Sometimes I question Juvenal’s conservation efforts.  Just a little.

After lunch at the MLC, at the urging of Tilman, we became “one with nature” and went swimming in the river.  A more “kid friendly” kind of river rather than the mother (literally) of all rivers- the Madre de Dios.  It was very nice and uneventful until we were leaving.  It began to pour down torrentially, and we were a long way from home.  The sheer force of the current and the pounding rain combined with the glass-smooth stones made it a challenge just to stay standing.  I can’t tell you the last time I had properly fallen down before going to the Amazon, but within the span of forty-five minutes I had fallen on my butt four or five times.  In the river, in the streams, on the bank, and on the trail.  You name it, I fell there.

The gang by the river.

Hanako with a stick insect Tilman found on the trail.

By the time we got home, the rain had finally abated a little, but it was still too wet to do any work.  Instead, we learned about Manu and how to behave in the forest.  Most important piece of information?  If you come across a jaguar, DO NOT RUN.  They go in attack mode if you do.  You have to make a lot of noise and raise your arms so it appears you are bigger.

By this point, I already felt a burgeoning love for Manu.  Free and wild, dangerous and vibrant, it has more species of wildlife than you can imagine.  It is beautiful, and above all, a glorious challenge of artful simplicity.  By the end of the day, I had a taste of what this trip was going to be all about.  It wasn’t about fixing or finding something.  It was about loving and learning to be alive.