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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Like Here, Only Different ~ Life in Camp

I joined Biosphere Expedition on their 2 week Peru project at the Las Piedras Biodiversity Reserve camp in the far southeast jungle of Peru. 


The Las Piedras river is in Madre de Dios department which is the heart of the biodiversity mecca of Peru.  The catalog of species; bugs plants butterflies birds and mammals far outstrips any other region on earth.

After a miss start and cancelled flight out of Los Angeles I arrived in Lima on election weekend Friday night.  I only had time to be driven into town and then return to the airport Saturday morning for the flight to Puerto Maldonado via Cuzco.  The experience of being in traffic in Lima prepared me for the more sedate but still free form driving of Puerto Maldonado.

Horns are a communication device.

I was happy that my flight to Cuzco was mostly free of clouds.  It was a thrill to see the geology of the area and marvel at some of the roads which wind and cling to mountainsides so steep they have to be seen to be believed.  The approach into the Cuzco airport was a 180 hairpin turn between two mountains.  I was on the side on the inside of that turn.  Pretty thrilling.

I joined the rest of the group at Wasai Lodge which is tucked onto a hillside above Madre de Dios river. 

Rooms have mesh screens which allow you to hear the sounds of nature and the sounds of the river boats, car horns and the disco up the street. After dinner and a quick sleep, we were off to camp.

First order of business is loading the vans onto open-topped river boats.  The boat driver then polls the boat away from shore and revs up the Peque Peque motor.  This long shaft engine makes a horrible racket and I am sure this driver must have some degree of hearing loss.

In the past the trip up river was 6 - 8 hours by outboard canoe, but now with the creation of the Interoceanic Highway a drive of 2 hours put us within 45 minutes boat ride of the camp.  You can read more about this highway here.


We turned off the paved road and drove what seemed like an hour along a dirt track to the "port"  Here canoes rest on the shore. 

The trip made shorter allowed one boat to make two trips.  One for us and the second trip for our luggage.  At camp we would walk back down to the beach and hike our bags up the 10 minutes distance. 

The boat was a low draft open affair with benches on either side.  We were given careful instructions for loading making sure to distribute ourselves alternately on the benches.  What a way to get into the jungle.  We got some looks at Caimen, turtles, birds and butterflies.  Everywhere swirling butterflies along the shore sipping minerals from the soil.

The walk up from the river involved some rather dicey steps of free form tread and timing.  The walk moved you into the life of the jungle; with bugs birds and your own heartbeat.  Silence at last, only the sound of the earth.

Rounding a small bend we saw our home for the next two weeks.

Thatched palm roof, open sides. It is all wood. 

The main porch is slatted for stripping off dirty shoes and boots. Bare feet or inside zoris ( thongs or flip~flops depending on your homeland ) for the main living areas. I selected socks to protect my feet from bug bites. Occasionally I moved to zoris after a long day on my feet where soft and cushy was the remedy.

The main Big Room was the center of life.  A long table is where we had class sessions, meals and socialization's. 

There were also a few chairs and hammocks. 

The high roof was a marvel of construction and the thatch was completely waterproof.  Bats spiders and geckos dwell up here.  One tarantula was named "Charlie" in honor of one of the teams insect loving members.

The kitchen was run by Rosie the most amazing Camp Cook in history. 

She presented us with three vegetarian meals daily and was able to cater to the diet restrictions and allergies of some of the members.  She knows an army travels on its stomach that is for sure.  She also pours a mean drink.  Yes that is a cake she has there, made using steam for our departure lunch.

Off the main room two long decks lined with 5 rooms each. 

The rooms held two platforms with twin sized mattress covered with Mosquito nets.  The window was open to the world and there is a 24/7 chorus of sound.  Birds, bugs, frogs; buzzing, chirping, beeping and croaking.  In the dawn you can hear Howler Monkeys sounding off, sometimes near often far.  At night, bats fly in and out catching moths.  Over the course of two weeks, moth wings built up on the top of my mosquito net.

It was a long walk from room #8 to the bathrooms.  Three showers three toilets. 

No electricity no lights no hot water.  We live with candles and head lanterns.  These lights attract visitors of all kinds.

 We woke at dawn (or earlier) and went to bed around 830 to 900.  Cold showers you get use to, the long walk to the bathroom at night was a chance to star gaze.  Laundry was hand wash and hang to dry.  Since we were out at dawn, laundry rinsed at the end of the day was not dry until late the next day.  The environment condenses in the overnight and water drips from the trees and roofs.  I thought for sure it was raining, the first I awoke on the first morning, but it was the condensation dripping off the thatch.  Laundry was vital, even a simple rinse helped keep things somewhat odor free.  The moths and butterflies flocked to wet laundry for water and minerals.  It was the best time for photography.  Clothes rinsed in the afternoon were usually dry late the next day.

Life in camp was good.  We all had our routines and seemed to find our own little place of comfort.  The first cold shower was shocking and took my breath away.  By the end I was a pro.  There is something to be said for showering by candlelight. Sometimes my place of comfort was on my bed under the mosquito net.  The flies loved me too much and I am still trying to shake off their lumps and bumps.  Thankfully they do not itch too much.

For some reason the mosquitoes really didn't bother me.  I had one momentary fright when a wasp bit/stung my in the corner of my eye.  It felt like a cigarette being pressed to my skin.  Amazingly enough for all the burn there was no swelling and the area was fine the next day.  Two more followed over the weeks and they were trouble free as well.

But darn those flies.  They kept me off the beach and in long sleeves, pants and socks for the duration.

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