When we reached the Pacaya-Samiria Preserve guard station at the end of our eight-mile hike, we thought "OK this is rustic, but we can hack it here for a night..." Sorry, amigos. We had to get into open dugouts for "a short boat ride."
Well that's cool, we'll get to where we're really staying in a few minutes and then we can chill out. Gee I hope they have some cervezas frias when we get there....
Two hours later we were baked to a crisp, dizzy from the heat, and fairly parched. But along the way we did see some fabulous things, including lots of wildlife that is extirpated from much of the rest of the Amazon. This relatively new preserve, called Pacaya-Samiria, is already seeing many animals and birds coming back to normal numbers.
The community of Manco Capac is working with several non-governmental agencies, the Peruvian government, and the US AID office and The Nature Conservancy to develop both sustainable agriculture and aquaculture and ecotourism at El Dorado. The villagers manage the hunting and harvesting from the local rainforest, lakes, and rivers with advice from trained biologists. They also manage and cater to the growing numbers of ecotourists who are treated to a view of the Amazon that is closer to what it should be in terms of abundance of flora and fauna.
If all you see of the Amazon is from the deck of your cruising boat on the big rivers, you are seeing a much depleted ecosystem--one that is over-fished, over-hunted, over-timbered, and generally over-run. Get off the beaten path and into the jungle farther from the rivers and you can still experience the Amazonian rainforest in a less compromised state.
Soon our open dugouts ran ashore and we were transferred to a pair of larger boats with thatched roofs. How delightful to get out of the afternoon sun. It was not much cooler, but it was less squinty on the eyes.
We were just a few miles from our destination. Nearly nine hours after leaving El Delfin on a four-hour hike, we were reaching our destination.
Signs welcomed us to El Dorado. And it was lovely--a large, smooth lake, the air thick with insects and birds.
Our home for the night was the guest house on Lago El Dorado. To the right, just up from where we landed was a wooden enclosure that looked like a giant's sandbox. This was where the villagers and preserve staff were raising Amazon river turtles for release into the lake. This species has been hunted almost to extinction. It's just one of the conservation projects at El Dorado.
We disembarked from the boats, enjoyed a light meal of fish and rice in the main building, then got back on the boats for an evening cruise around the lake. Amazing sights awaited us.
A large group of hoatzins watched us as we photographed them. Such a weird, reptilian bird.
Yellow-headed caracaras and black-collared hawks were even more common here at El Dorado.
Despite the heat, we kept covered up against the mosquitos. It was as buggy at El Dorado as anyplace else I've been on earth, but few of the insects bothered biting me. Some of my fellow travelers were not so lucky--and yet we all survived.
The last new bird of the day was a jabiru foraging and flicking flies off his head in the shallows at the east end of the lake.
A tropical kingbird waited at dusk on a bromeliad-bedecked palm trunk for the last foolish insect to flit past. He did not have to wait long....Sunset over Lago El Dorado. It would not have looked so beautiful and rosy if we'd known that there was no cerveza fria awaiting us back at our lodgings for the night. Once again, we all survived...
I slept in a tiny room with three British birders. We were in bunk beds completely surrounded by mosquito netting. You had to leap into your bed and get the netting around you in a flash or else share your tiny, netted enclosure con muchos bichos para toda la noche.
Don't I look relaxed, cool, and happy in my self portrait above, just before lights out? The pink fabric is the thick, air-stopping mosquito netting. Despite the conditions, the 95-degree heat and 200% humidity, and a mattress the thickness of a well-worn dollar bill, I slept pretty well.
More adventures awaited us the next morning....