After a stopover and tour in Lima, Peru, we flew east over the Andes to Cusco, then on to Puerto Maldonado.
Puerto Maldonado is a city in Southeastern Peru in the Amazon forest 55 kilometers (34 mi) west of the Bolivian border on the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios River, a tributary of the Amazon River. It is the capital of the Madre de Dios Region.
Nearby are the Manú National Park, Tambopata National Reserve, and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. These are some of the most pristine primary rain forests in the world, which include several oxbow lakes and clay licks, where hundreds of birds including macaws feed on clay.
This is a fairly ‘new’ region in Peru, being first explored in 1901. Recently it has become a major area for eco-tourism. It is in the Amazon basin, and during the rainy season (October to April) has in excess of 1,000 mm of rain (3.3 ft,) per year. The climate is hot and humid all the time, except, we are told, for the odd days when an Antarctic wind blows through and temperatures can go to freezing.
The map below shows the location of Puerto Maldonado within Peru.
We landed at the small airport, and were met by the people from Lake Sandoval Lodge in a small white bus.
Fuel is very expensive here, so the main form of transport is the motorcycle. Even the rickshaws are based on motorbikes, with a light shell and rear axle being added to adapt them to this use.
We stopped to repack. We will walk a few km into the forest to get to the lodge, and our baggage will be carried by the staff. What we do not need is left behind at their facility.
Here is the nice bus.
Puerto Maldonado is a small town, mainly dirt streets, which are almost impassable during the rainy season.
Soon we arrive at the Tambopata River, a tributary of the Amazon River.
Our ‘carry along’ baggage has been stuffed into a larger bag and is carried on board by a staff member.
We descend down the stairs and across a plank onto the boat.
As we motor down river we come to the confluence of the Madre de Dios River. The bridge that is visible in the photo below is being officially opened today, replacing a ferry crossing that for many years was the only way to cross this river. Madre de Dios is the name of the river past this point.
This bridge is a link in the The Interoceanic Highway, or Trans-Oceanic Highway, now under construction, intended to link the river ports of Brazil with the Pacific Coast ports of Peru. This highway has caused some controversy, being seen by some as one more development that threatens the rainforest, bringing illegal logging, hunting and settlement in areas not easily reached at present, as well as conflict with indigenous people some of who are at present isolated from the modern world.
It is interesting along the river. Some of it still seems like jungle, and in some places there are small banana plantations and farms.
We are served a nice lunch on the boat ride.
We get to the end of the ride, and have to climb up a steep wooden stairway.
A sign welcomes us to Lake Sandoval, 5 km away.
We start the walk.
This really seems like jungle, with dense growth, tall trees, vines and lianas falling from the treetops.
During the rainy season, and before the ground has dried out afterwards, these paths are almost unwalkable, the mud is so deep.
After a short distance there is a forest interpretation center that shows a map of Lake Sandoval.
The lake is an ‘oxbow’ lake. An oxbow lake is a U-shaped body of water formed when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off to create a lake. This landform is called an oxbow lake for the distinctive curved shape, named after part of a yoke for oxen. In Australia, an oxbow lake is called a billabong. Oxbow lakes are common in this area, and are one of the remaining habitats for the endangered Giant River Otter, once common throughout the Amazon river basin. The population is now just a few thousand individuals, mainly living in family groups of up to about eight individuals. Total population numbers are difficult to estimate. An IUCN study in 2006 suggested 1,000 to 5,000 otters remain.
This pod of fruit shown in the photo below hangs down from a palm. The guide points it out and says these are eaten by monkeys. I think the kind of palm is Moriche Palm, Mauritia flexuosa, also known as aguaje in Peru. It is an elegant tree which can reach up to 100 feet in height. This tree is important for many animals, and several bird species, such as the macaw, who use it for nesting and food. Monkeys also depend on the fruit. Here is a video of a macaw eating a fruit from this palm.
Photo below is from Don’t Bug Me! (I was not able to get a good snap myself.)
After about 4 km walking, we came to what looks like a small stream with a boat dock and several canoes.
We load ourselves and our gear aboard one, and head further through the jungle.
The water is quiet shallow.
After a few minutes we come out of the jungle and onto Lake Sandoval.
These tall palms are more Moriche Palms.
You can see different layers of the jungle in this photo, with the Moriche Palm at the top level of the forest, and other trees and plants filling the lower levels.
We pass by a dead Moriche Palm. It has a hole in the top and a pair of macaws perched atop it.
Here is a view from within the canoe.
The jungle shore. The tallest trees are more than 100 feet tall.
Birds in a tree. Not sure what kind. They kind of look like vultures to me.
After maybe 30 minutes of rowing we get to a dock, the only such dock we have seen on the lake.
We climb up a long stairway.
And get to the grounds of the Lodge.
A funny thing about these white rocks. First, they are not rocks. There are no rocks here in the rain forest. The gardener wanted rocks, so he made them out of concrete (which had to be carried to the lodge by a porter), then painted them white. These ‘rocks’ are also used to line flower beds in the lodge garden.
We are also greeted by a sign, featuring the Giant River Otter.
Here is the lodge. There is a big central area where we will eat, and two wings, one on each side, with guest rooms.
Sandoval Lake Lodge, part of the Tropical Nature Conservation System, is the only such lodge located in the wildlife-rich Tambopata National Reserve in Peru. With the variety of lake and forest fauna, it is easy to see how Sandoval Lake lodge was named by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the eight best lodges in the Amazon Basin with “… a reputation for its great food … its setting … and for its wildlife.”
The dining area.
Sunset from the Lodge the first night.
We ate dinner at the Lodge, then they planned a special night walk for us the first night.
The first thing they took us to was to one of the local tarantulas, named Mathilda. Tarantulas live about 20 years, and have regular territories, so they know right where to find Mathilda. She is about six inches across.
They show us more spiders. Many things might be seen on a night walk. Tonight we mainly see spiders, and a line of leaf-cutting ants, carrying pieces of leaf back to their nest.
A jungle flower.
The next morning we get started early for a boat trip. First we have breakfast with our group, and our guide, Oscar. We are with the same group and guide for our whole stay.
Down the stairs to the boats.
Today we are going out on a catamaran, with a deck and seating platform, on top of two canoes.
As we tour the lake we see many birds. Most I cannot identify. There are more than 1800 birds species in Peru, more than in North American and Europe combined. If anyone can help with identifications, I would be grateful.
I kind of think this looks like some kind of heron.
These are White Winged Swallows, sitting for a moment on a log.
There is one more endangered species to be seen here, the Black Caiman, the rarest of the crocodiles, up to 12 feel long. This is probably why they do not offer swimming as one of the activities at the lake.
Another bird in a tree.
Below is a photo of a Hoatzin. This bird is the subject of much controversy. The young bird has a claw extending from the wing, the only such bird alive now with such a feature. Because of this, many think this is an ancient species, showing some features of earlier birds now classified as dinosaurs. It has its own genus and family, and is the only member of each. There is much debate about its relationship to other modern birds, but this is not known.
One of this species’ many peculiarities is that it has a digestive system unique amongst birds. Hoatzins use bacterial fermentation in the front part of the gut to break down the vegetable material they consume, much like cattle and other ruminants. Because of this digestive system, Hoatzins are locally called, “Stinky Birds,” due to their bad smell. This approach to feeding means that the Stinky Birds eat leaves, flowers and fruit, much of which cannot be digested by other birds.
These birds are considered rare, and one of the birds that avid birders should have on their “life list.” At Lake Sandoval they are common, occurring usually in groups by the water’s edge. They are loud and raucous, and seem to have no natural enemies.
Photo below from Don’t Bug Me!. I was not able to get a good photo myself. You can see in this photo the blue face, and a spiky crest.
Here is another bird. I am pretty sure this is a heron.
Some kind of stork. I think a Wood Stork.
Here is another photo of the Aguaje Palms that line the east end of the lake. This is a classic photo, with the reflections on the still water.
Here is a bird, maybe a cormorant, taking off from the water.
Next we headed to the west end of the lake, looking for a family of Giant River Otters that lives there. These otters, sized up to six feet in length, are the largest of the otter family. They usually live in family groups, and we are looking for the family that lives in this lake.
The otters are quite active, and hard to photograph with the small digital cameras that have to set exposure and focus before each picture. There is a delay between pushing the button and the actual photograph. With the otters this means that most of my photos are of water, disturbed by the recent presence of an otter. In the photo below you can see the shoreline by which the group was feeding, and, in the center of the photo in the water, the arched back of an otter diving under water.
In another part of the lake there are two other otters. These are probably adolescents, learning to live on their own. When they are a little older they will head out into the jungle by themselves, looking for another unoccupied place to live and to find a mate. It is tough being a otter going out into the world! There are more oxbow lakes in this area, so maybe they will find one where they can live.
We came back to the lodge and had lunch. There was another demonstration for us by the lake after lunch.
One of the native flowers, grown in the lodge garden.
What we are shown and taught about now are brazil nuts. It turns out that these are very important to the preservation of the rain forest. Brazil nuts cannot be grown in an orchard because the very special insects that pollinate them need a variety of other rainforest trees to survive. From Wikipedia:
The Brazil nut tree’s yellow flowers contain very sweet nectar and can only be pollinated by an insect strong enough to lift the coiled hood on the flower and with a tongue long enough to negotiate the complex coiled flower. For this reason, the Brazil nut’s reproduction depends on the presence of the orchid Coryanthes vasquezii, which does not grow on the Brazil nut tree itself. The orchids produce a scent that attracts small male long-tongued orchid bees (Euglossa), as the male bees need that scent to attract females. The large female long-tongued orchid bee pollinates the Brazil nut tree. Without the orchid, the bees do not mate, and therefore the lack of bees means the fruit does not get pollinated.
The nuts are in a thick brown shell. You need a machete and a lot of energy to cut the shell open. The trees are maybe 150 feet tall and up to six feet wide, rising straight up from the jungle floor.
Inside the shell are about 20 nuts, each in their own hard shell. Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium, and are sometimes recommended to prevent breast and prostate cancer. Eating two nuts per day will give you your daily allowance of the vital mineral and, it is said, prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Another jungle flower. Maybe this one is found in gardens, too?
A young pineapple plant. The baby fruit is clearly visible.
We take another walk through the jungle, this time in daylight.
Below is some kind of monkey, silhouetted against the sky.
This is a “Walking Tree.” This small tree has no central tap root, and puts out roots to all sides. As the tree flourishes on one side, and does poorly on another, the roots get stronger on the good side. After a while the whole tree will have moved toward the better location, the tree “walks” to the sun. In the rainforest, there is a fight for the sunlight under the canopy. The Walking Tree has a unique adaptation to this challenge.
Vines and lianas hangs from the jungle top.
The brown tubes “growing” from the ground in the photo below are cicada holes.
Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 30 cm (1 ft) down to 2.5 m (about 8.5 ft). The nymphs feed on root juice and have strong front legs for digging.
In the final nymphal stage, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults.
They leave these tower-like structures behind. Each is about six or eight inches high.
The next day we got up very early and were out on the lake before dawn. We were going to an area where we could probably find macaws.
It was full moon and still nighttime when we got into the canoe.
Dawn began to break and the light was beautiful on the lake.
After a bit the sun started to rise behind us.
Our guide Oscar is at the rear of the canoe, paddling.
As day breaks we enter the small canal in the place where we came out when we first arrived at the lake.
We paddle up the canal. The day is becoming brighter and the forest is alive with bird sounds.
We get out of the canoe, and walk up the same path we used to walk in.
After about one km, Oscar takes us on to a small path leading into the jungle.
Ahead of us are macaws! Oscar put his binoculars in front of my camera to take this shot.
We walk out another small path into the rainforest.
This time we are rewarded with the sight of many macaws, perched together on the branch of a tree.
I am not sure what this bird is. Oscar said it is a type of parrot, although it looks a little like an owl.
We moved to view another tree. This is a dead tree that has some salt in its wood. Salt is precious in the rainforest, and macaws come here for the salt.
After a bit, a much bigger bird arrives. It is a Blue and Yellow Macaw. They reach 30 inches in length and are the dominant macaw species here.
Here is one of the smaller birds. Is this a parrot, with a shorter tail than the macaw?
This Blue and Yellow Macaw seems to rule the roost.
Here is another one lower on the tree.
Many butterflies are also active in the forest.
This tree is, I think, being ‘attacked’ by a Strangler Fig, wrapping around it.
In the evening we went out on another canoe trip, to see what lake wildlife we could find. Oscar took us to the northwest side of the lake, where we found a troupe of Squirrel Monkeys feeding. The monkey troupe is big, we are told 100 – 200 members.
These are small monkeys, about one foot long, with a tail about as long, weighing up to 5 pounds.
We see quite a few in the trees next to the water, actively feeding.
Then, almost as if a signal had gone off, the whole troupe began heading “home” to a group of tall palms trees where they nest at night. The trees were swaying with small monkeys jumping from limb to limb, or walking over small branches, like the photo below. In the dim light, we were not able to get good photos of the quick action with our little digital camera. To get the best idea, we would have needed a video camera to get all the motion.
A white flower blooms next to the lake.
As Oscar rows us back to the lodge, there is another nice sunset over the lake.
The next morning we were going out on the lake again. This flower is in the lodge garden.
Waiting for us by the canoes was Coco, the resident Black Caiman. He hangs out by the canoes, I guess waiting for one of the guests to fall out.
Coco is small, only about six feet long.
Three turtles, with a friendly butterfly, stand on a log to watch Coco and the canoes.
We head out again, and today we have butterfly visitors in our canoe.
On the other side of the lake we see the two young otters again. This time they are stay still enough to get a photo.
Also on this side of the lake there is a solitary monkey that seems to like to watch the people in the boats. He stays in the trees beside the lake and comes out to look at and be watched by the eco-tourists. The Lodge guides have named him Julius. He seems to enjoy the attention. You can just see his black figure on the lower branch in the photo below.
This is some kind of flycatcher. There are more than 250 different kinds of flycatchers in Peru, and I have do idea what this one is.
Waterbird silhouetted standing on a log.
Butterfly on my bag. The bag has salt on it from my perspiration. The butterfly is attracted to the salt. Or perhaps the butterfly wants to get the darshan of Arunachala.
There is a butterfly on Carol’s cheek.
They thought that she was a flower, I guess.
A canoe full of people look at Julius, the waterside monkey.
He looks back at them.
Next we went ashore on this side of the lake, to walk through the jungle some more. The trees are very tall, as you can see from Carol’s upward gaze.
Here is another Strangler Fig, encircling a smaller tree, reaching up into the canopy, using the other tree for support while the fig gets strong enough to support its own weight. By then it will have completely finished off the inside tree, and taken over the forest space entirely.
This large tree with root buttresses, maybe a kapok tree, has many vines or lianas growing around it. Vines and lianas both grow from the ground up. The vine can support itself but the liana depends entirely on other trees for support, putting more of its energy into leaf growth.
There is a different class of ‘vines’ called Hemiepiphytes. Hemiepiphytes rely on a different strategy. These plants start life in the canopy as epiphytes (“air plants) and grow down to the ground. Hemiepiphytes grow extremely slowly due to dry conditions in the canopy but once the roots reach the ground and tap into the nutrients of the leaf litter, growth rates accelerate. One of the best known hemiepiphytes is the Strangler Fig. It seem so strange to me that such a plant starts in the canopy, not the ground, but that is the way it is in the rainforest. Every bit of growing space seems to be occupied with life.
Here the Strangler Fig has almost entirely taken over the inner plant.
Carol walking through the jungle.
A big tree has fallen, and we look at the roots. The massive “wall” in the left half of the photo below is the underside of the fallen tree. We are used to seeing a ‘root ball’ where the roots combine to feed and to support the tree. In the Amazon rainforest, the soil is quite shallow, so the roots are flat, and extend out widely from the base of the tree. The soil is shallow because it is so new. We were told that the Amazon rainforest is only about 9000 years old, having spread out in the Amazon basin only after the end of the most recent Ice Age. So deep soil has not yet had time to form. The reason we see buttresses on so many different kinds of trees here is that they have developed this approach so that they can stand tall and reach the canopy and still be supported and hold to the narrow soil layer.
This big tree reaches up maybe 150 feet. Its trunk is more than 8 feet thick.
Here is another tree with buttresses at its base.
The boys love to climb and play on the tree. So do the adults.
This is a kind of frog. Before we make out the frog, it looks just like the leaves on which it sits.
Another big jungle tree with its buttresses, vines and lianas. Someone is trying to ‘Tarzan’ their way up the tree.
This long orange flower is from a vine, far overhead. The ground here is covered with orange flower petals over a wide area.
Here is another orange flower, with black seed pods, growing from the ground.
This tree, with its nest of shallow roots, is called a ‘Chicken Foot Tree” because of the orange color of its roots.
A Neotropic Cormorant sitting on a log.
Towards the east end of the lake, high in the trees, is an observation post. The east end of the lake is protected, and no boats are allowed to enter these waters. The idea was to make a protected environment for the otters. The only problem is that the otters do not go in this end of the lake. They like the west side of the lake, where the people come and admire them, and stay there instead. So much for otter protection.
Roots hang down into the water. I think these plants are some of those that start up in the trees, then reach down to the ground (lake water, here).
Coming back to the lodge, another nice sunset.
Sunset from the lodge. We saw another lake visitor here tonight, a travel writer who thinks this is one of the best places to visit of all he has seen. He has been here writing before, and is working on another article.
The next morning was our last. Pack up, back to the boats, over the lake and back up the river.
We are off the boats, ready for the walk back to our river transport boat.
This is Oscar, our trusty guide, and a good guy, very knowledgeable about the jungle and lake and the plants and wildlife around them. He also knows a lot about Peru, its history and politics. We enjoyed having him as our guide.
Through the jungle again.
And back to the boat.
We had a great time at the Lake Sandoval Lodge. We would recommend this to anyone interested in such a nature trip.
Now we will fly to Cusco, then immediately drive to a lower altitude into the Sacred Valley.