So for the next 4.5 months (if all goes as planned) I will be exploring and learning in a range of South American countries (Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia) as well as Antarctica. I hope you will enjoy the journey!
So that gives you some background to the project … and now, let’s begin.
"And so, the journey begins!" January 2, 2007 – Lima, Peru
I left Vancouver early on the morning of the first of January, after a very short night of sleep (one hour I think), hopped an Air Canada flight to Toronto and then another to Lima, Peru. I arrived at about 1:30 in the morning on the 2nd of January, rather tired but excited to start a new adventure. It is always a bit stressful arriving in a new country, particularly one where the language is not your own, and arriving in the middle of the night makes it even more challenging. But all went well, I found a transfer to my hotel and lay my weary head to rest by about 3:30am. Lima is in the same time zone as eastern Canada (3 hours ahead of Vancouver) so getting to bed at 3:30 am is not quite as bad as it may sound!
I awoke to 20 degree temperatures and clear skies in Lima. I gave myself just one day in Peru’s capital city and my main objective was to visit the catacombs under the Franciscan Monastery in downtown Lima (based solely on a recommendation from my FWR colleague Marvin Rosenau, who teaches our fisheries courses at BCIT). I am always reminded about how young Canada is in terms of its western history when I visit other parts of the world. The Franciscan Monastery was established in the 16th century and despite over 500 years of time and who knows how many earthquakes, it has withstood the elements and is today one of the best preserved of Lima’s colonial churches (and a fabulous site to visit – thanks Marvin!).
San Francisco Monastery, Lima, Peru
We visited the underground catacombs where over 25,000 people (some say closer to 75,000) were buried. The skulls, femurs and other bones are still there to be seen… and certainly not for the faint of heart (the smell was a bit musty too… as you can imagine)! We were not permitted to photograph the bones or I would have shown you what the catacombs look like.
Church of San Francisco, Lima, Peru
January 3 - Cusco, Peru
For years I have had friends tell me stories about Cusco, a high elevation city in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Although I had a bit of an idea of what to expect, I was not prepared for the beauty of its landscape and the fascinating history that makes Cusco what it is today. It has many claims to fame including being the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America, the archaeological capital of the Americas (North and South) as well as being (and in my mind perhaps the most intriguing) the most important city of the Incan Empire (1438 to 1532). The Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1533, and the Spanish influence is very much evident in the architecture throughout the city today.
The City of Cusco, Peru
To get a quick introduction to Cusco and its immediate surroundings I visited a number of key sites including Coricancha (the Inca’s sun temple), the hilltop Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman (say that out loud five times), the gorgeous cathedral in downtown Cusco and the ceremonial pools of Tambo Machay.
If you visit Cusco, you must ensure that you go for a walk in the evening when the cathedrals and churches are lit up with flood lights. It is quite the sight to see.
Well I am a bit too tired to bring you up to date (to the 5th) but I will add the descriptions of my visit to the Sacred Valley and my incredible day of mountain biking in the Patacancha River valley (where we started at over 13,800 feet elevation and then rode downhill from there!). I am off to Machu Pichu tomorrow!
Submitted by Danny Catt on Mon, 2007/01/08 - 10:05pm.
I packed up my things once again and was off fairly early for a visit to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the very same valley that has been carved over the millennia by the raging Urubamba River. The Urubamba is one of Peru’s most famous whitewater rafting rivers … but at this time of year (the wet season) the water is a rich coffee brown, loaded with silt, and the river’s volume is so high that it is virtually un-runnable by even rafts! The valley itself though is green and fertile and as a result is filled with agricultural fields growing corn and potatoes, which are two of the main foods for the locals.
Urubamba River Valley
Two main stops for tours in the Sacred Valley, from primarily an archaeological perspective, are Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Our first stop was Pisac, where there is an Inca fortress situated high up on a plateau overlooking the valley and the village below. Rather than go to the archaeological site though we visited the famous Pisac market (which to be honest was my preference). Wandering through and poking around in local markets, seeing what is for sale (and perhaps buying a few small items), and who is selling it, is something I love to do.
Pisac Market Products, Pisac, Peru
I also enjoy photographing in markets, and when taking photos of people I always like to ask permission first. As a result I often end up ‘negotiating’ a photo to go along with a small purchase. One of the women in the market did quite well by me… as I think I paid the highest price ever for a hand-woven belt. She was pleased … but so was I!
Weaver at Pisac Market, Peru
In the afternoon we visited the famous fortress of Ollantaytambo (I finally figured out how to pronounce it!!). Ollantaytambo’s claim to fame is that it was where the Inca defeated the Spanish Conquistadors in a battle. This rarely happened, and unfortunately the victory was short lived. The Spanish simply came back with more men and eventually were victorious. The site though is remarkable and is said to be one of the best surviving examples of Inca city planning with narrow cobblestone streets that have been inhabited consistently since the 13th century!! Do you think the streets of Vancouver or Burnaby would last for 800 or more years? Hmmm, I am guessing not!
I had a nice rainbow trout meal with asparagus soup, and washed down with a cup of coca-leaf tea. Most of the rainbow trout sold in the restaurants are farmed trout ‘grown’ in small pools high up in the mountains. These family operations are quite distinct from the huge fish farms on the coast of Chile. We will talk more about those once I reach South America’s narrowest country.
I spent the night in Ollantaytambo.
Jan 5, Mountain Biking in the Patacancha River Valley
Submitted by Danny Catt on Mon, 2007/01/08 - 10:19pm.
A good friend of mine runs an adventure travel (or multi-sport) operation out of Vancouver called BikeHike Adventures. When I told her I was going to travel independently in Peru for a couple of weeks, she told me that one of the best ways to see the landscape, meet the local people and get some exercise at the same time is to either bike or hike! I didn’t have time to do the full Inca Trail (which you can hike) but I did have time to do some biking! So early this morning a young fellow came to the hotel and asked if I was ‘ready to go mountain biking’? I wasn’t quite sure how the day was going to pan out (was I going to have to bike UP and then bike back DOWN?) … but I was prepared for anything and keen to go with the flow. My guide, Docty, is an experienced mountain bike guide as well as an Inca Trail guide and it was a pleasure to have some one on one time with someone from the area.
Patacacha River Valley, Peru
Docty lives in Cusco, studied engineering at university, but has returned to do studies in tourism as that is his passion. Both his father and one of his brother’s are engineers, so that is why he followed that academic path… but figures he is now on the right track with tourism.
As I soon found out, the day was not exclusively a mountain biking day… and the plan was NOT to ride up the mountain (phew!!) … but instead drive up a reasonable distance and then ride down the mountain (right on!!).
En route we bumped into a procession of locals heading into the big town (relatively speaking) of Ollantaytambo (population 2000). Over 90% of Peruvians are Roman Catholic and the group was escorting into town a small statue of baby Jesus in preparation for a celebration the next day.
Procession in Patacancha River Valley, Peru
The group, who were from one of the small villages up in the mountains, were very pleasant and insisted I take a picture of the baby Jesus sheltered in a glass case. They even washed the glass and opened the case for me to be able to get a clear photograph! Once my shutter was released, the glass door was shut and the procession continued to town.
Baby Jesus Statue, Patacancha, Peru
We drove up the Patacancha valley to an elevation of almost 14,000 feet (what is that in metres?) where we visited some of the locals, and were given the opportunity to see how they live. I had a brief glimpse inside a small, dark cicular hut, which was home for two people (a mother and daughter). It was windy and cool, and the living conditions seemed challenging (to say the least) but we were greeting with smiles and generosity. It was a fabulous opportunity to observe the local customs (weaving for example) and gain an appreciation for the rich local culture.
Young Girl in Her Home, Patacancha River Valley, Peru
After our visit we took our bikes off the roof of the vehicle and started our descent. I couldn’t help but stop every couple of hundred metres as there was so much to see (and photograph!). I watched a young boy catch a trout from the Patacancha River, while across the valley I could see a few women whipping their laundry against the rocks to smack out the dirt and grime. We passed two or three small rainbow trout farms and we even stopped in a small village where the local shaman performed a coca-leaf ceremony for me.
I was very pleased to have the blessing of the local shaman who told me (after reading the coca-leaves) that my journey would be successful, that I would have to work hard, and that I would be lucky in both my work and in matters of the heart. He did though tell me that I had to be careful with my health… and in particular with what I ate. Good advice!
Our close to 4000 foot descent under clear sunny skies ended in early afternoon. Time for me to try to do a bit of writing and photo downloading.
Another night in Ollantaytambo. On to Macchu Pichu tomorrow! January 6, 2007 – Machu Picchu
For many visitors to South America, one of their primary goals is to visit the Lost City of the Incas – also known as Machu Picchu. I too was very keen to see the hidden city perched high amongst the Andean cloud forest and so I ensured I gave myself a day or two to visit South America’s most famous archaeological site. I am not much of an historian, so I was a little surprised to learn that the Incan Empire was relatively short-lived (about 1440 to 1532) and also in a time period more recent than I had imagined. Being a curious sort… I wanted to find out what else was happening on the planet when the Incas were in their prime so I did a bit of research. Some key world events that occurred during the height of the Incan Empire in South America include the following (selected from the World History website at http://timelines.ws):
c1440: Leif Eriksson drew a map of America about this time.
1451: Christopher Columbus, was born in Genoa.
1452: Apr 15, Leonardo da Vinci, Italian painter, sculptor, scientist and visionary, was born in Vinci near Florence.
1457: King James II of Scotland (James of the Fiery Face) banned "Futeball" on the grounds that it threatened national defense by drawing young men away from archery practice. He banned "Golfe" for the same reason.
1460-1470: Machu Pichu was built under the Inca King Pachacuti in the Peruvian Andes. It was occupied for about 50 years before 180 Spanish conquistadors wiped out a 40,000-man Inca army.
c1470: The Quechua-speaking Incas came to dominate what is now Bolivia a mere 75 years before the Spaniards arrived.
1473: The astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543) was born in Torun, Poland. It was Copernicus who spread the theory that the earth and the planets move around the sun (a very new and controversial idea at that time).
1473: The game of golf was played in Scotland at the old course at St. Andrews.
1475: British fishermen lost access to fishing grounds off Iceland due to a war in Europe. The cod catch did not go down and it is presumed that they had discovered the cod-rich waters off Newfoundland, whose discovery was later attributed to John Cabot.
1480: The Spanish Inquisition was introduced by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.
1491: Henry VIII, King of England (1509-1547) and founder of the Church of England, was born at Greenwich.
1492: Christopher Columbus, set sail from the port of Palos, in southern Spain and headed for Cipangu, i.e. Japan. The voyage took him to the present-day Americas. His squadron consisted of three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina.
1492: Nov 15, Christopher Columbus noted the 1st recorded reference to tobacco.
1492: Leonardo da Vinci drew a flying machine.
1493: Jan 9, Christopher Columbus 1st sighted manatees.
1494: The earliest report of Scots making whiskey was made.
c1495: The 500-year-old body of a young Inca girl was found frozen near the summit of Mt. Ampato, Peru, by American archeologist Johan Reinhard in 1995.
1495-1498: Leonardo da Vinci worked on "The Last Supper" in Milan under commission for Duke Ludovico Sforza.
1496: English King Henry VII hired John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) to explore.
1496-1497: Michelangelo sculpted "Bacchus," considered his first masterpiece.
1497: Jun 24, Italian explorer John Cabot (1450-1498?), (aka Giovanni Caboto), on a voyage for England, landed in North America on what is now Newfoundland or the northern Cape Breton Island in Canada. He claimed the new land for King Henry VII. He documented the abundance of fish off the Grand Banks from Cape Cod to Labrador.
1497: In Scotland the Declaration of Education Act required children to go to school.
1498: Toothbrush was invented. In China the first toothbrushes with hog bristles began to show up. Hog bristle brushes remained the best until the invention of nylon.
1503: Leonardo Da Vinci began painting the "Mona Lisa."
1509: Henry VIII was crowned king of England.
1510: Sunflowers from America were introduced by the Spaniards into Europe.
1512: Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were completed and first exhibited to the public.
1512: Newfoundland cod banks were exploited by fisherman from England, France, Portugal and Holland, who sent the dried catch back to Europe.
1515: Spanish conquistadores founded Havana, Cuba.
1516: The first published account of the discovery of North America appeared in "De Rebus Oceanicus et Novo Orbe" by the Italian historian Peter Martyr.
1520: Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan reached the Pacific Ocean after passing through the South American strait, the straits of Magellan and entered the "Sea of the South." He was first European explorer to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic by sailing through the dangerous straits below South America that now bear his name.
1523: Sugar was grown in Cuba for the first time.
1531: Haley’s comet caused panic in many parts of the world.
1532: Spanish conquistadores reached the high valley of the Andes. Pizzaro entered Cuzco, Inca capital of Peru.
1534: Jacques Cartier reached Newfoundland, discovered Prince Edward island and became the first man to sail into the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
So while Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were creating masterpieces in Europe, and Scots were sipping on whiskey while playing a round of golf at St. Andrews and while explorers such as Christopher Columbus and John Cabot were exploring new worlds, the Inca were expanding their South American empire. From their main stronghold at present day Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) the Inca built trails that connected their Andean centres north through Ecuador to Colombia, south to Chile and Argentina, westward to the Pacific Ocean and eastward into the jungles of no return – the mighty Amazon basin. And yet, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the less than 100 year dominance of the Incas… ended quickly. On August 28, 1533, Atahualpa, the last of the Inca rulers was executed by order of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. The Inca empire died with him.
Cusco to Machu Picchu Train
From Ollantaytambo, I joined one of the three or four daily trains that connect Cusco with Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. It was an amazing ride on a comfortable modern train (filled with tourists… not just from outside Peru, but with many Peruvians as well!). The train followed the valley of the Urubamba River and as we got closer to Machu Picchu the landscape changed with every curve of the tracks… the patterned patch-work of agricultural lands were slowly replaced by spectacular native forest on the steep valley walls. I even caught glimpses of small flocks of parrots cruising above the canopy as well as ducks in the river (likely torrent ducks). The mighty Urubamba was raging which just emphasized again that during the wet season it is not to be messed with!
Steep Valley Walls of the Urubamba River
With a full train of tourists and at least two other full train loads of tourists already in Aguas Calientes ahead of me… as well as hundreds of hikers arriving at Macchu Pichu via the Inca Trail each day, I was quite curious to experience how the logistics worked for the actual visit to the archaeological site because the number of visitors per day is staggering… over 2000 people per day!
When the train pulled in to Aguas Calientes there was a chaotic yet somewhat organized process to get yourself from the train station and onto a bus up to Machu Picchu. The best thing to do is simply follow everyone else. Once you leave the station, there are a couple of dozen ‘hostal or hotel’ representatives waiting for your luggage (which you entrust to them) and continue en masse along the cattle track (ensuring to hang on tight to your camera gear). You then make your way through a maze of trinket and textile sellers to get on one of the non-stop busses that weave their way up the 8 km of road uphill to the site. I had not done much research and was worried that I might miss ‘my bus’… but alas, that is not an issue. Each bus leaves when full, and you simply get in line, show your ticket and away you go. At the top of the switch-backed road you get off and wait to hear your name being called (if you booked a tour) and then get in line with the other folks and your guide takes over from there. If you go without a guide you may miss some of the fascinating history of Machu Picchu unless of course you bring a field guide along with you (and there are many of those… so you can make your choice accordingly).
I had the good fortune of seeing Machu Picchu in rain, sun and fog. It is a place you just have to see for yourself.
January 7, 2007 – Machu Picchu to Cusco – The Case of the Disappearing Camera
I was up at 5am to see if I could get up to Machu Picchu to watch the sun rise… but alas, when I stepped outside and looked up at the peaks above Aguas Calientes the clouds were thick and it was raining heavily. Weather changes though so I decided to make my way up to the site in hopes that the skies would clear.
The fog was thick when I got to the first viewpoint but it was warm and I was comfortable. It is not often you can relax and spend time taking in such a special place so I decided to plop myself down and just take it all in for awhile.
Thick Morning Fog
It was a quiet, calming experience … at least for an hour or so… until the groups of trekkers from the Inca Trail started to arrive. Because of the huge demand to hike the trail, and the damage and overcrowding that was occurring, independent trekking was banned in 2001 and in 2002 new rules were put in place to regulate trail use.
- trail hikers must trek with a registered guide
- group size is limited to 16, with one guide per 10 hikers
- and no more than 500 hikers are permitted to start the trek each day
Hikers on the Inca Trail Arriving at Machu Picchu
It takes 4 days to do the Inca Trail so there are at any one time (in the height of the busy season from May to August) as many as 2000 hikers doing the trek. Other popular hiking and trekking areas have had to put visitor management strategies in place. In British Columbia for example, if you want to hike the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, spots are limited so you must pay a fee and book a spot far in advance. The Bowron Lake chain (a very popular canoeing circuit in BC) in Bowron Lake Provincial Park is another example where high demand has necessitated a visitor management strategy.
At Machu Picchu though it certainly makes sense. Not only is it the highest profile archaeological site in South America, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site which means it has international significance. If you want to learn more about World Heritage Sites you can check out the UNESCO website at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/
Here are a few questions for BCIT FWR students to ponder:
1. What does UNESCO stand for?
2. How many World Heritage Sites does Canada have?
3. Do we have a World Heritage Site in British Columbia? If so, what are they (or what is it)?
You can find the answers at the above website, or you can click on a page on the Parks Canada website which also has the information:
The fog eventually lifted and I was treated once again to sunshine and great views of the site. I decided to climb to the top of the peak in behind Machu Picchu, called Huayna Picchu. It is steep… and on a hot day can take a lot out of you… but the view from the top is certainly worth the effort!
I was planning on putting a short video clip here… so keep your eyes on this spot. I am still learning the editing process, so it may take me a bit of time.
Train Back to Cusco
I made it down to Aguas Calientes in time to board my train to Cusco. Peru is an amazing country with diverse landscapes and wildlife, outstanding archaeological sites, and very friendly people but one of the things that the guidebooks tell you is that some partsof Peru are not always safe and to be careful with your property at all times. Lima in particular is famous for robbery and tourists of course are a prime target. Friends back home reminded me to keep my belongings hidden as best as possible but when you have an armful of camera gear it can be tough. I keep a number of key items in my LowePro padded hip pack and I also have an old ratty day pack that I put my camera stuff in when I am traveling in an area that may not be 100% safe.
The views from the train on the way back were as fabulous as those heading towards Machu Picchu. This time though I was going all the way back to Cusco. The train arrived in the outskirts of the city after dark which meant that we could get a wonderful panoramic view of the city at night. In fact due to the steep topography the train has to zigzag its way down into the city train station. This meant that we had the great view of the city for close to half an hour as the train moved slowly downward back and forth, back an forth. I was tempted to try to take a photo of the city with the churches all lit up by floodlights, but the train was moving, the light was way too low, and there was a train window to deal with (you can occasionally get some very nice photos shooting directly through glass… but in this case it would not have worked). So… I decided to just take in the sights and store them in my memory banks rather than on film (or a digital sensor in this case). But… a young traveler decided to offer to take a picture for his female travel companion and as the train zigzagged its way past a perfect view location he slid open the small window above the main window and stuck his friend’s camera outside to avoid the reflection of the glass. And then it happened. In a split second, a body leapt up from beside the tracks and grabbed the camera from his hand. A camera that was not even his!
The thieves must wait outside in the dark, poised and ready for that one opportunity. From outside the train they can see the passengers inside (as the train car is lit up with lights) but the passengers cannot see much of anything outside… just black, other than the lights that light up the city. I have no idea how often this camera-stealing system works… but in this case it did… and a $500 camera was gone in a flash. One of the train staff did say that it has happened a few times before. Lesson for the day? Keep your camera inside a moving train!
January 8, En Route to the Peruvian Amazon
Submitted by Danny Catt on Wed, 2007/01/17 - 4:05pm.
I was up early (5 a.m. is early for me!) in order to make a quick visit to the Cusco Market with my delightful host and friend from Trek Peru (thanks Dafne!) before heading to the airport to start the next leg of my journey.
My brief time spent in the Peruvian Andes was fabulous and there is no doubt that I will return. The region is so rich in culture, with incredible landscape diversity and warm and wonderful people. In mid-morning I boarded an Aero Condor flight in Cusco heading for Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon. Peru is so diverse … from beaches along the Pacific coast to lofty 6000 metre peaks, to the dark jungles of the Amazon rainforest.
First views of the Amazon rainforest
I admit it was a bit of a shock to my system as I left the air conditioned plane cabin and entered the hot, sticky and humid world of the Amazon basin. It was even stranger when I checked the weather in Vancouver on the internet to find that snow was in the forecast!
After checking into my hotel I went for a wander around town and down to the river, the Rio Madre de Dios, which runs through the town of about 40,000 inhabitants.
Rio Madre de Dios, Peru
The Rio Madre de Dios is one of the many headwater rivers of the Amazon. It originates in the south-eastern corner of Peru, not far from the Brazil and Bolivian borders, cuts through Bolivia and eventually joins the Amazon in Brazil. One of our Fish, Wildlife & Recreation program grads, Krista Adamek, has been working on a World Wildlife Fund project there for the past three years and it was my plan to get up river to spend a few days with her at the research station she has called home since graduating from BCIT three years ago.
I visited the Research Station office in Puerto Maldonado and filled out the necessary paperwork and also made arrangements for a transfer to the town of Laberinto where the next morning I would join a public boat (a collectivo) that would take me up river to the station.
My Spanish has not been improving as quickly as I would like but I was getting used to the menus in Spanish and I was getting fairly proficient (or so I thought) at ordering the foods I was keen to try (pollo = chicken; pescado = fish; carne = meat) so you can perhaps imagine my surprise when the words on the menu didn’t seem to make any sense at all. Had I suddenly lost all of the little bit of Spanish I had learned? I ended up asking the waitress to come over and I did my best to point out and ask why there was no chicken on the menu (her English was comparable to my Spanish… not very good). No matter where you are in the world though, with a little effort (perhaps some sign language) you can make yourself understood. When she finally understood and looked at my menu, she laughed, ran over and handed me a different one. This time the choices seemed much more understandable, and voila there was my pollo! Because Puerto Maldonado is so close to the Brazilian border, the menu I was reading was in Portugese (the official language of Brazil) not in Spanish!
After my fowlish feast I worked for awhile before calling it a night. Another early morning tomorrow.
Up the Rio Madre de Dios, Peru
http://blogs.bcit.ca/catttrax2/node/284 Submitted by Danny Catt on Mon, 2007/01/22 - 7:31pm.
Rio Madre de Dios, Peru
Once again I was up at the crack of dawn (another 5am morning!). Krista was originally going to meet me in Puerto Maldonado and join me on the trip up river but her schedule changed unexpectedly and so she set things up to make it as easy as possible (she knows my Spanish is limited) for me to get from town to the Los Amigos research station. The plan was to meet a vehicle outside the ACCA Los Amigos research station office (ACCA = Association for Amazonian Conservation) just down the street from my hotel at 6am for a transfer to a small community about a 45 minute drive from Puerto Maldonado where I would hop on a public boat (a colectivo) heading up river. I was there ready and roaring to go at 5:45am and just after 6am a vehicle pulled up and out hopped a young and enthusiastic driver. He threw some rapid sentences of espagnol at me, but when he saw the blank look on my face he just smiled, threw my bags in the back, and whisked me away.
Before leaving Puerto Maldonado we had to pick another person who worked at the station and who (luckily for me) was also heading up river to Los Amigos. We stopped briefly at the local mercado (market), to load up the taxi with fruits and vegetables for the station. We were heavily loaded as we sped our way down the slick muddy road to Laberinto. The road we were speeding down was in fact a section of the InterOceanica highway, a somewhat controversial road which when completed will connect the forests of Brazil with Peru’s Pacific coast.
There is so much development going on in the Amazon these days. Logging, cattle ranching, mining (mainly for gold) and soybean production are just some of the pressures that are impacting the Amazon, its people and its ecosystems. Read George Sranko’s short essay on soybeans on the Global Connections page of this website). For further reading check out the most recent issue of National Geographic (January 2007) which has an article by Scott Wallace entitled ‘Last of the Amazon’. In his article Scott describes in detail some of the pressures and challenges that the forests, people and cultures of the Amazon basin face. Scott’s opening line tells the tale of development in the Amazon, ‘In the time it takes to read this article, an area of Brazil’s rain forest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed.’ In five years, from 2000 to 2005, Brazil lost 50,000 square miles of rainforest! In Peru, although not as heavily impacted as the forests of Brazil, the pressure is building.
We arrived in Laberinto in time for us to load our things on the collectivo, the public boat heading upriver. Only two of us were heading to the research station, the rest of the passengers (individuals, families and workers) were heading home to their communities along the river. When we got to the river it seemed that the boat was fairly full (with gear and people) but as I soon found out, the loading had only just begun! They piled as much as the boat could hold… bikes, beer, mechanical parts, food, and more people… and then when it seemed the boat could handle nothing more… they added a bit extra for good measure! The passengers were laying head to foot in order to get as many people in the boat as possible. Once all was set… we pulled away from shore and began our journey up the Rio Madre de Dios.
Head to Foot and Foot to Head
Krista had told me to keep my eyes open for mining operations along the river. I was not exactly sure what to expect or what to look for… a big mine? small operations? but it became quite obvious only minutes out of town. Around almost every bend (that is perhaps a slight exaggeration… but not by much) there are either active mining operations or old ones where piles of gravel lay beside the river, or in the river, evidence of the ongoing search for gold. Apparently the active mines are worked 24 hours a day… so in many areas along the gold producing rivers the magical night sounds of the Amazon are now being drowned out by the roar of pumps and generators.
Portable Mining Operation Along the Rio Madre de Dios, Peru
We arrived at the research station about 9 hours after leaving Laberinto. It was a long, hot and sticky day on the river but the time passed quickly. Time always does when you are experiencing new places and new things. How often do you have the opportunity to chug your way up an amazing exotic river, with parrots flying overhead and amazing landscapes sliding by. Not very often!
Evening on the Rio Madre de Dios
Krista welcomed me with a big smile and helped me settle in. It was a real pleasure to chat and catch up with her after almost three years to learn of the work she has been doing and the changes in her life. Teaching is such a great job that way. I often think back to the first days of September each year when new students arrive at BCIT. They are always so keen, eager and to ready to learn. As instructors we are able to follow their skill development and changes in confidence and then to see them one, three or five years after graduation is so very rewarding. Krista is a prime example of a grad who has done extremely well and is living the dream of many young conservation minded folks… working in the Amazon to conserve its wildlife and ecosystems. There are many other grads from our FWR program that we are proud of working in BC, across Canada and internationally. To have a look at what some other grads are doing click on the Global Connections page and read their Conservation in Action profiles.
This region of Peru is not that far south of the equator so sunset was quick and by 7pm or so the blue skies of day turned indigo, then purple then deep, dark black.
What follows is a bit of a description of my first night under a mosquito net in the Peruvian Amazon. (this may take me a bit of time to upload … but stay tuned!)
I Met the Emperor of the Amazon
Submitted by Danny Catt on Tue, 2007/01/23 - 8:03pm.
The Emperor Tamarin
There are few things I enjoy more than exploring a new part of the world, listening to new sounds, observing new species of wildlife and just poking around and seeing what I can see in a new place. One region of the world I have long been keen to explore and learn more about is the Amazon basin. Although not a native Peruvian, Krista (the BCIT FWR graduate I am visiting) has been living in the Amazon region of Peru for the past three years and is incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife and natural history of the area.
Krista Adamek, at the Los Amigos Research Station, Peru
I was keen to explore so we were out walking the trails of the research station fairly early in the morning. It became obvious very quickly how important the trail system is at the station. Without the patchwork pattern of trails it would be virtually impossible to make your way through the thick tropical forest. The trails allow you to travel more easily and help you see where your feet are going to land… as there are snakes and sharp thorny plants to contend with!
For the past three years Krista has been working on a research project for WWF (World Wildlife Fund aka World Wide Fund for Nature) focussing on a variety of wildlife species including high profile carnivores like the Jaguar but also focusing on a range of birds including three different species of Macaw (Scarlet, Red-and-green and Blue-and-yellow). Macaws are the world’s largest parrots and unfortunately many of the world's 17 species are at risk. The illegal international trade of parrots as well as habitat loss are two of the major threats to Macaws. Another threat described by Krista is the loss of one of the Macaws favourite nesting trees and food sources, the Aguaje palm. The problem is that it is not only the Macaws that like the fruits of the Aguaje palm, the local people do too. Due to the size of the trees (some 30 metres or more) the locals are finding it easier to simply cut the tree down than climbing up to pick the fruits.
To learn more about these birds, Krista and her colleagues have a large number of Macaws tagged with radio transmitters so she and her team can follow their seasonal movements. In North America (for the most part) we have 4 seasons while in the Amazon there are really only two main seasons, the wet and the dry. One of the tagged Macaws traveled a fair distance over to Bolivia but then made its way back to the area between the Rio Madre de Dios and the Rio Los Amigos.
Wildlife movements never cease to amaze me. You can learn more about the movement patterns of some of our northern species of birds by checking out the Global Connections page of this website. Dr. Sean Boyd, a research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, describes some of the migration patterns of species that he studies, and we will soon have other short essays by other contributors. Bird movement and migration are great examples of global connections. Some species, like the macaws, move short distances, while others, like the neotropical migrants we know so well in North America (warblers, vireos, hummingbirds, etc) may travel many thousands of miles!
Cicada Tubes, Amazon Region, Peru
As we walked through the forest I was quite intrigued by the tall, thin tubes of mud sticking up from the ground (I thought they were small ant hills) but Krista pointed out that they were in fact the above ground part of a cicada burrow. I know we have cicadas in Canada with an amazing life history but I know virtually nothing about these tropical ones. The Amazonian cicadas apparently have a mysterious 17 year life history, but that is about all I could find out. I will need to do some research to learn more.
You want me to go up there?
When wildlife species are tagged with transmitters, the researcher will use a small antenna and a receiver to pick up the frequency of the different tagged individuals. The researcher can then plot the locations on a map to see where the individuals are spending their time. One of the things a researcher must do though is get to a high vantage point to scan as far as possible to try and locate the tagged individuals. The process is called ‘radio-telemetry’and it is used all over the world to learn more about the movement patterns of wildlife. In North America a broad range of wildlife species are ‘collared’ or ‘fitted’ with transmitters and then researchers use radio receivers to track the individuals movements. Bears, deer, wild cats (eg. cougars and lynx), as well as birds such as snow geese, seabirds like albatross and shearwaters and large raptors (eagles and osprey) have all been followed using this technique.
The Tower, Los Amigos Research Station, Peru
In the Los Amigos research area Krista and her colleagues use vantage points as well as small planes and ultralights to follow the movements of their collared animals. In fact, Krista’s brother is a pilot and has worked alongside Krista helping with data collection. If you don’t have a plane though, another way to get the telemetry locations is to climb to the top of towers and use the receiver to get locations. Krista asked if I was open to climbing to the top of one of the towers that she uses and I jumped at the opportunity! But… jimmeny crickets (excuse my language) I didn’t realize how tall the tower actually was!! Yikes…
The climb up was safe as we used a special harness to inch (or metre) our way to the top. There was no chance of actually falling and injuring ourselves but it was just the height of the tower that was the issue. From the bottom it looked like no problem… but jeeshhh it was 60 metres high (I think that is what she said)! As I approached the top I was trying to ensure that Krista didn’t see how pale & wide-eyed I was … but once I got to the top I realized that was not an issue as she was at the bottom waiting for me to reach the upper platform.
The View from the Top
The view from the top of the tower was amazing … and we could hear macaws, falcons, songbirds and other forest creatures and could see for miles in every direction. There was even a rainbow stretched across the sky! Unfortunately though our time at the top was limited as it was late afternoon and we didn’t want to be trekking back to the station in the dark. The trip down was faster and easier than the trip up… but not too fast!
On our way back to the station we met up with a troop of Emperor Tamarins that suddenly appeared and then left as quickly as they came. When we got back to the station we had a very enjoyable dinner chatting with some of the other researchers at the station from different regions of Peru as well as other South American countries.
After dinner I recorded an interview with Krista which you are welcome to listen to (if it is not here now, it will be soon).