Manu National Park
We are standing in a muddy, mosquito-infested jungle trail in the darkness, and our jungle guide is holding up a small gray snake (by the neck, to disarm it). He informs us that this is the Fer-de-lance, one of the most deadly snakes in the world. If you are bitten, you may survive, but it´s more likely you´ll die in 2 hours. At this point Char asks herself, “Why are we here?” We were on our way to sleep on a platform high up in the jungle canopy, from which we would see jungle animals visit the salt lick in the middle of the night. Dan said this was the first slumber party he´s been invited to in years. BBC video here
After a fairly cold trek in the Andes, we decided to go to the Peruvian Amazon jungle, because it would be warm. So we booked a 6 day tour into the Manu National Reserve of Peru.
We learned that Manu is extraordinary
in a couple of ways. A 120 mile cliff hugging perilous dirt road took us to the edge of the park. All travel in the park is on rivers, so we went about 40 miles down one river, and then 40 miles up another in a 60 foot panga. Much of the park is legally off limits to everyone…this part is called the ‘nuclear’ zone and is considered dangerous (but not due to nuclear waste). The jungle has an enormous diversity of life. So many new animals and plants to see, so many new and weird sounds such as the howler monkeys establishing their territory at dawn. The park encompasses about 7,000 square miles, about 4% of California´s size. It contains elevations from 13,700 to 500 feet, which helps explain the diversity of life in the park.
This was really a unique experience, with lots of wildlife searching and viewing, several jungle river trips, hikes in the jungle at night to see bugs and tarantulas, day hikes, giant river otter viewing in an oxbow lake, natural hot spring bathing, and more. During the trip we went as far into the jungle as you can go and still find lodging, far from civilization as we know it, but we learned that there are some kind people who live happily in the remote jungle. There are lots of photos at the end of this post.
Our trip was with Bonanza Tours Peru, a local tour operator, and family owned and run business. Our guide, Ryse, was the most knowledgeable and professional guide we have worked with. His parents had taken the family down the river on a balsa wood raft, and established a homestead. He was raised in the jungle, and many of his family members still live there. So we always felt safe in the jungle which is completely foreign to us. With the encouragement of his parents, he became well educated, and over time developed a successful tour business which now benefits his family and community. If you ever visit Peru, we highly recommend this tour operator.
On one side of the river live people (not our hosts) known as the Mashco-Piro and referred to as the naked people, because they don’t wear clothing. It is illegal to approach them in any way both because they are considered dangerous and because our germs could kill them. The week before our trip, they tore apart a tourist camp on their side of the river. Fortunately everyone was gone except the cook, who hid under a bed. They are not known to have ever been in contact with modern civilization otherwise. We did not see them, but of course we wished we could. Ryse said that when he sees the people they shout strange words such as “Uni Yarrow”. He shouts the same words back, which may or may not be a good idea depending on what they mean. We find it fascinating to contemplate a society that has no concept of our culture, and we have no concept of theirs.