We've made it to Puerto Maldinaro in Peru. It's now time to enter the Reserva Amazonica through the Manu National Park and Biosphere Preserve. It is hot and humid down here! I've researched this trip and know that at least 30% DEET and a mosquito net to sleep in are necessities to avoid the bite of an anopheles mosquito and the subsequent six weeks off from work to recover from malaria. I'm equipped with complete rain gear including a waterproof camera bag for my Canon equipment. Let's do it!
The Manu National Park covers over 1 million hectares of land making it one of the largest protected areas in South America. Among the most biodiverse zones in the world, the Reserve is comprised of numerous habitats that include tropical lowland forests, mountain forests and grasslands. This expanse is situated on the eastern slopes of the Andes within the Amazon Basin and is composed of the lower Manu River, the Rio Alto Madre de Dios and scenic oxbow lakes. This is clearly one of the greatest shows on earth with over 1,000 bird species and more than 200 mammals. These include 13 endangered wildlife species such as the Black Caiman and Giant River Otter.
Our day begins with an introduction to hoatzin birds as we drift down a swamp in the Reserve. I'll admit that I am not a birder as a lot of the tourists down here seem to be. Nevertheless, I confess that the sites and sounds that I'm encountering this day are spectacular. The hoatzin, or stinkbird, is a species of tropical birds found in riparian forests and mangroves in the Amazon. I set my 300 mm lens on a small group of these creatures that are the size of pheasants. They have blue faces with maroon eyes and emit a manure-like smell from their digestive systems.
We next head down the Gamitana Creek in a small boat with an outboard motor. Although the conditions are warm and humid, we bask in the solitude of the virgin Amazonian jungle. This is a labyrinth of abundant botanical and zoological collections of biodiversity that strikes me as an outdoor museum.
We are surrounded by wildlife including mysterious butterflies that flit around us. Some species exhibit unusual behaviors such as rotating their meager torsos in a way that narrows their profiles. This makes it more difficult for a predator to spot.
As the day ends I'm hoping to take a shower. I know that this will only provide temporary relief from the harsh environment. The thought of applying DEET to my clean skin after the shower does not thrill me. However, I realize that withstanding the conditions in the jungle are well worth it since what we are experiencing here might be available only once in a lifetime.