Peru Travel Blog: 4th October 2011: Apoc – Clay Licks Now!

“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.”

Yesterday, whilst going up river on the boat I often thought of Apocalypse Now, especially after night fell and we passed by the lightning bursts.  I was half expecting to reach a stage with a helicopter full of playmates.  I think I dreamt about the opening sequence too last night, I think that was down to the light show I was treated to as I fell asleep…maybe I’ve been away too long already!

My alarm woke me at 04:30.  The dawn’s early light enabled me to have a quick look around in case something had decided to sleep on the other bed or generally hang around my room.  Nothing.  Great.

I’d slept soundly, only waking a couple of times: once to get inside the covers because the night had got cooler; and once because something was flapping around in the rafters.  I couldn’t see what it was and it’s not like there was anything I could do about it anyway, so I ignored it and went back to sleep.  My neighbours, the American couple later confirmed it was a bat.

I had a quick check whilst still inside the mosquito net and was happy to report no mosquitoes breached the perimeter and I had no bites.  I tugged at the corner to relieve myself of the net and..ahem…well, go and relieve myself.  Whilst in the bathroom I noticed 2 glowing eyes staring at me from the floor of the shower.  When I say glowing, I mean proper luminous yellowy green really, really glowing brightly.  I fumbled for my torch and shone in the direction expecting a snake or worse (a monkey).  It was some sort of beetle.  The glowing “eyes” were dots on its back that.  Although nothing too bad, it was still a bit freaky and nothing like any other beetle I had seen before.  It was about 2-3 inches long and black apart from the glowing dots.  I figured I’d let it have the shower and I would go for breakfast and hope that it had gone by the time I returned.

Another great breakfast!  I am loving the food over here (although some might say I would like the food anywhere!).  Eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit and lovely bread is a fantastic way to start the day.

Our first excursion into the rainforest is to a clay lick.  Not sure what that is?  Me, neither.  A Clay lick is an exposed embankment of earth that is predominantly clay which retains moisture from the humid rainforest atmosphere.  They are used by birds, insects and mammals to help them digest the food that they eat and provide minerals that they are unable to source elsewhere.  The clay lick we are going to today is one often used by parrots and macaws.  These birds, in the constant fight for survival in the rainforest, often eat unripe fruit which makes for tricky digestion.  The clay helps them with this – I don’t know how, I’m not a scientist.

To get there we went up river for about 20-30 mins and then hiked for an hour or so, following a very damp and boggy trail, through the rainforest to reach a couple of hides close to the clay lick.  Although I say “close” you will need binoculars – I didn’t have any, but luckily enough guide lent me his – had we been in a larger group I could have been out of luck.  The guide also had a super powered telescope that he set up so we could each get the perfect view if anything were to happen.

Although warm and humid, it was turning into a grey morning with light drizzle; not ideal for the birds to want to go to the clay lick.  We saw plenty of birds flying around and in the trees though – another tip I would have is bring a pen and paper out with you to write down what you see, I lost track after a while.  We were very patient and as the time passed the day brightened and the macaws started grouping in trees nearer the clay lick and making a bit more noise, so it looked like we could be on for some action!

We saw about 20 macaws patiently taking it in turns to go to the clay lick and get their fill.  Looking through the telescope was brilliant.  Seeing birds that I had only really seen as pets in their natural habitat acting naturally, i.e. not riding a tricycle, was awesome.  Parakeets and parrots also got in on the clay and elsewhere we saw a Toucan and an Amazonian King Fisher.  I’ve never tried bird watching, or even been inclined to, but this was fascinating stuff plus the enthusiasm of the others rubbed off on me.  Once it looked like all the birds had used the lick for the day, we headed back along the trail.

The morning had flown by and we headed back to the lodge to get some lunch, have some rest before our afternoon excursion.  The great thing about walking the trail with the guides is that they often stop and point out things and explain them to you: frogs, toads (it’s their mating season), insects, plants, fungi – there’s so much to see and so much variety that it’s a bit overwhelming.

I think my camera has busted – think it’s the heat and humidity – can’t be too disheartened as there is only a couple of days to go and at least it didn’t break on the trek.  I do wish I had brought a spare though (I did actually consider it).

The afternoon’s excursion was a bit closer to the lodge: we followed a trail through the jungle to an oxbow lake – an oxbow lake is when a U-bend in a river becomes cut off, forming a U-bend lake.  Potentially we may see some Cayman or Otters (we saw neither, but that’s nature for you).  We took a small boat out onto the lake and fed the piranhas in there.  Luckily they are as happy eating bread as they are meat and although we discussed the fact that they generally only go for dead and rotting carcasses none of us opted to stick our fingers in there.

We crossed the lake to another trail where we looked at a parasite plant that had taken over, destroyed and replaced a hug tree and also a tree that walks.  Get this: the walking tree can grow roots out from midway up and at 45 degree angles to then plant and allow the roots behind to die, thus moving along the forest floor.  This enables it to move to a place where it might get more sunlight.  Of course, it takes a while, but it walks nonetheless – nature and the quest for survival is fascinating.

By the time we started heading back it was dusk and, as we know, night falls pretty quickly out here, so it was quickly on with the headlamps for the trek.  Along the trail Yuri spotted a tarantula and coaxed it out of its nest.  It was pretty big and surprisingly fast.  Not so fast that Yuri wasn’t able to pick it up for us to get a closer look.  Yuri was a more than capable guide and I trusted him explicitly, so I had no concerns about him picking it up.  I’m not scared of spiders either and, as I understand it, although a tarantula can give you a nasty bite, they’re not poisonous enough to affect you any more than a bee sting would – that’s not to say I’d be happy for it to happen though!

The worrying bit was when Yuri put it back down by the nest and instead of it going back in it raised itself up and started charging at each of us as though it wanted to take us all on!  Given how fast and aggressive it was: that had me worried.  Yuri spotted that the spider was in some distress and an almost blind fury and he managed to coax it back to the nest where he realised why it had reacted the way it had.  The tarantula was a female and had several young tarantulas in the nest.  No wonder she got so mad!

We saw a few more tarantulas along the trail back and it got the point where I just assumed any hole in or by a tree had a tarantula in it.

Almost as soon as we got back it was time to go back out again.  This time it was down to the river to go Cayman spotting.  We had much more success and saw several small Cayman.  The bigger Cayman were most likely in the water and knew better than to hang around a boat load of tourists.

It had been a long day and soon after dinner I retired back to my room to write by candle light and admire and absorb the magnificence nature that surrounded me.  My mindset has changed already and although I certainly respect the rainforest, I have chosen not to fear or speculate as to what might be just outside (or inside) my room.

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