The second leg of our trip involved flying east from the middle of the Peruvian Andes down into the Amazon jungle, about 40 minutes away. This sub-trip lasted 4 days, and the amount of wildlife and biodiversity we saw was nothing short of spectacular.
After arriving on a primitive landing strip cut out of the jungle, we took a boat for an hour and a half down the Madre de Dios River to the lodge where we would spend most of our time. On the boat trip to the lodge, we saw many birds, a river turtle, howler monkeys, and lots of evidence that we were at the tail end of the dry season. The river in this area reportedly rises about 15 feet in the wet season.
Giant log that floated down the Madre de Dios River when the water was just a tad higher
Howler Monkeys on the side of the river
Whenever we weren't doing something else, we were either eating or walking around the jungle in the vicinity of the lodge, looking for whatever wildlife chose to present themselves.
Perhaps the main attraction of this particular lodge, and the primary reason we chose it, is due to its proximity to one of the largest Macaw clay licks in the Amazon. Macaws are large parrots with about a 3 foot wingspan. They, along with a few other species in the jungle, eat a regular diet of toxic fruits. In order to counteract these toxins, the parrots take part in an unbelievable clay-eating ritual every morning at the exact same spot. The content of the clay neutralizes the toxins, allowing the parrots to live to see another day.
Macaws as they inch towards the clay lick
The daily ritual involves meeting up in the treetops above the preferred bank of clay. Smaller green and blue-headed parrots take their turn first, as they seem to be less afraid of the eagle and hawk threat. The Macaws slowly inch downward toward the clay, praying that another of them will be the first to make the move to the more-exposed and dangerous clay lick. We watched them take over an hour to inch towards the lick, just to have an egret fly overhead and scare them all back into the treetops. Another hour and a half later, the bravest one began the festivities, with the remaining couple hundred quickly to follow.
Video of the ritual
On the boat ride from the clay lick back to the lodge, we saw a capybara on the side of the river. He was a goofy looking critter (as seen in the photo) and happens to be a member of the largest family of rodents in the world.
Capybara (extra large rodent)
We spent the following night sleeping out at a clay lick belonging to the tapirs. Although the tapir has a similar diet to the macaw, thus requiring the neutralizing clay lick, they are nothing alike. Tapirs are related to both the rhinoceros and the horse. We got to see one for about 5 seconds via a spotlight around midnight. Hiking back to the lodge, we saw several frogs and our guide managed to coax a few tarantulas out of their holes.
The primary event of the following day was to tour a nearby lake in search of more wildlife, in particular the 6-foot-long giant otter. We never saw an otter, but the trip was still quite eventful with monkeys all over the place, more birds than you could shake a stick at, and a rare and brief sighting of a tree-dwelling ant eater. I had fun pretending to be a wildlife photographer.
Huazins at the lakeside
Great White Egret (I can't figure out how they stay so clean)
Weird lookin' duck
Lilly pad bird, for lack of a better name
On the boat ride back to the landing strip, we thought we had seen all the animals we would find for the trip. Not so. An unusual weather pattern, or perhaps it was just something in the air, brought the caiman out. We saw nearly a dozen on the 2 hour boat ride, every one of them holding real still, looking like a log, and smiling.