Posing With Jungle Tarantulas & Battling Bull Ants In The Amazon, As You Do …
Following on with our Centre’s own Dr Anne Small on her whirlwind South American and Rio Olympics sojourn …
A week in the jungle with everything from poisonous frogs to squirrel monkeys has left an indelible mark on Dr Anne Small, before she landed in Rio for the Olympics
So I’ve boarded the Delphin II, the beautiful boat which will be my base for the next week and am ready for the Amazon!! How to start – there is sooooo much!?
For me the overwhelming thing is the amount of water that flows through this area. Imagine a river one kilometre wide, and when it floods (for 3 to 4 months of the year) the water level rises about 4 to 7 metres, all over, so the amount of water is unimaginable!! The water comes from melting snow in the Andes mountains plus up to 600 mm rain.
I’m given a quick lesson before going into the jungle. We are where the Marañón River and the Ucayali River merge to form the Amazon. These rivers enclose the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve of 5 million acres – that is under water for the 3 to 4 months every year! The people talk about different types of land that does not flood ‘terra firma’ and other lands that flood to different degrees. The Amazon jungle is typical rain forest but most is only primary forest because it floods and the trees don’t live long enough (hundreds of years) to become a secondary rain forest. Scientists say there are about 300 different types of trees per acre.
Our first jungle walk with the animals of the Amazon
On our first day when we went on a guided walk through the forest, the native guide found –
- A tarantula as big as the palm of my hand!!
- An anaconda lying in a shallow river – it was so well camouflaged that the guide had to point to his head – it was about 6 feet long – when it came out of the water one of the guests stroked its back.
- A small (size of a ten cent coin) red frog – its skin is covered in poison! (The poison dart frogs of the Amazon used to be boiled by natives for their poison which tribes would use to coat the tips of their arrows.)
- We were walking along a path when the guide stopped at a small sun-cleared area by the side of the path – he said “there is a snake in there – it took this experienced guide about five minutes to find this again explicitly camouflaged boa constrictor about five feet long!
- A cute three-toed sloth, all are covered in lichen and moss because they move so slow – they live in the trees – only come down to the ground once a week to defecate
- Hundreds of different birds – small colourful ones to large brown vultures.
….. and that was just Day 1
Morning tea on the ‘canoes’ and more fresh fruit than you can skewer on a stick – well that’s exactly what they did!
Bitten all over!
Every day – which begins at 5.30am to see the birds wake up – we go for an exploration in a skip – a metal ‘canoe’ that sits 10 guests plus the naturalist – we cruise along the banks of the river and look at the hundreds of birds. There are a number of ‘birdo’s’ (who like looking at birds) and a few ‘twitchers’ (who are obsessed with birds) on board, and they are very happy with all the birds.
We’ve seen the marmoset monkey (smallest monkey in the world) and the squirrel monkey which are also very small, leaping through the trees.
We went for an evening hike through the jungle but the paths were well worn in the ‘Amazon National Park’ – a private reserve. There were however 6 skybridges over the forest which were rickety but fun to walk on. Then as evening came we walked along a path that was covered with thousands of small bull ants that we couldn’t see and all of us had ants on us, biting any place on our bodies. When we got back to the boat and I had a shower, I found an ant in my bra and one in my underpants! Thank God they didn’t bite us there.
San Francisco and cocktail hour in the jungle???
The next day we visited a large town called San Francisco! (One of the naturalists was born in a town called Texas). In San Francisco we were able to go into a typical home – a front living room about 4m x 2m, from which there were three doors leading to the three bedrooms that housed the three families (Mum, Dad and two or three kids) to a passageway to the dining/kitchen area 4m x 4m. This had a fire and kettle in one corner, handmade cupboard with glasses and plates and homemade kitchen table.
July 25 is Peruvian Independence Day (from Spain) and so the children and teenagers of San Francisco got dressed up in the red and white colours, little girls wore glamorous white dresses and they all marched down the main street and saluted to a table where the mayor and four other important people were sitting. Three of the fathers and two of the mothers were taking photos on their iPhones! The Peruvian National Anthem was sung and the flag raised – truly an important ceremony for them all.
Later that day we sailed into the start of the Amazon River where the Marañón and the Ucayali Rivers merge – we celebrated with the national drink – the delicious Pisco Sour.
We went for another walk in the jungle. This time it was a jungle – the guide had to use his machete to cut a path a few times. We had to be careful not to touch things, for eg. a tree that is covered with ants, spikes coming out of trees, spider webs with small spiders this time – but no snakes seen … Thank God!
What to say about the Amazon? There is so much – home to thousands of different types of fish, one in particular that looks prehistoric, grows to three metres in length and weighs 200 pounds. It is also home to thousands of different birds species, and hundreds of different butterfly species. We saw a great DVD called Rivers Of The Sun which I would recommend to people interested in the Amazon.
Next – more to come from the jungle …
Dr Anne Small