Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Jungle Canopies and Leaky Boats

The boat ride up the river to the cabanas was fantastic. The boats are long dugout canoes with a small motor on the back. The local people have been using them to get around forever. There has been a recent push to teach the locals how to use fiberglass to make the dugouts instead of wood. The trees they use to make the boats are very tall and wide, and are hundreds of years old. Each boat lasts only about 10 years so they are cutting down old growth forest at a very fast rate. Just another part of the deforestation of the rain forest. The tourist boats are still made the old way to add “authenticity” to our tours. Hopefully some day soon that will also change.
They are about 20 feet long, wide in the middle and narrow at the ends. They sit very low in the water and leak massively whenever the boat leans to one side or the other. The river curves constantly so of course that happens often. I was in the back seat on the ride in and was soon scooping water out of the canoe.
Riding on the river was like something you see in a movie. A dark dense jungle was on either side and it is filled with an enormous array of plants, all fighting for space and sunshine. The jungle is so thick that the plants all twist and wind around each other. Many plants taking root in the branches of other plants. Orchids were growing everywhere, balanced precariously on the branches of many of the trees. The water was lined with thick vines dangling down into the water. I was surprised to see that they were just an extended root system for the trees. Tarzan would have been very very happy here. Just beyond the edge of site, you could hear birds screaming by the dozens. Funny, but the tour groups sell you the tour promising that you will see all sorts of wildlife and there is really not much of it near the waters’ edge. The boats are so loud that the birds all move farther inland when they hear you coming. Whenever we did see something, it was always a big deal. “Look, a bird”. Funny.
The river opens to a large lagoon that floods around this time every year. Actually, it is on its way down right now. In the dry season there is no water here. The lagoon bed, some 10 to 30 feet below you, becomes the jungle floor. The current effect is that you are cruising around the top of the jungle canopy. It was a very cool sight to see.
The camp was on the edge of the lagoon and at first glance I could not believe that the boat driver knew the exact spot to steer the boat into. Bit within days I was able to pick out the area as I got to know the lagoon better. In the dry season, the dugout stops a big distance away and the tourists have about an hours walk through the jungle into the camp.
The days were spent walking in rubber boots on guided jungle tours learning about plants and animals in the region, fishing for piranha, canoeing from lagoon to lagoon, cruising the river in search of non-existant birds and monkeys, swimming (yes in the same river we caught piranhas in) and watching sunsets from the middle of the lagoon.
Since then, we have been to the Galapagos Islands, spent way too much time on more buses, and had more adventures in the south of Ecuador and now in northern Peru. Hopefully more stories about that to come.