In the summer of 2015 I rekindled my role as a Science Leader with the British Exploring Society on an expedition to the Peruvian Amazon, or the Manu National Park to be more specific. For those of you not in the know, Manu is the area where Charlie Hamilton-James "Bought a rainforest", a very good documentary I urge you to watch if you can.
The exped began with a day in Cusco, which pretty much entailed loading up on as much alpaca merchandise as humanly possible before going to find Jesus (as statue of Jesus over looking the city, not a late in life religious conversion), followed up by eating the local "delicacy" and I use the phrase "delicacy" as loosely as it can be used. Guinea Pig is widely eaten in Peru, with millions being cooked up every year, according to statistics but as Mark Twain said "lies, damn lies and statistics" because who the hell would eat Guinea Pig more than once?!?
Imagine getting a very bland and meager portion of chicken and stretching it over a rat skeleton, then wrapping the whole thing with vulcanized rubber and burnt hair. Ok, so you've imagined that? Well that my friends is the Peruvian "delicacy" of Guinea Pig. Sharing 5 of these with a group of 12 however was one of the most hilarious things I have ever witnessed, particularly upon hearing the phrase "Eat the eye balls, they actually taste nicer than the rest" and yes, yes they did.
After an 8 hour bus journey over the Andes (everyone covered in Alpaca based paraphernalia), we were bundled into boats on the banks of the Madre de Dios river and down stream we went to our base camp for the next 3 weeks. Base camp itself was situated just down river from the Manu Learning Centre which is part of the Crees foundation (Give them a google, very good organisation). We were very close to the bank allowing for some early morning bird watching sessions along the banks and some VERY necessary washing sessions.
The main aim of the expedition was to survey and explore the forests surrounding base camp, over the many day trips and night walks we proceeded to do this. Observing numerous amphibians species including glass frogs, cane toads, poison dart frogs, cane toads, monkey frogs, cane toads, numerous tree frog species and cane toads. Including a few nights at the wetlands, a small marshland area very close to the Manu Learning Centre. Here we were treated to a frog based orchestra, which was on of the most impressive nocturnal sounds I have heard yet. All different tones and sounds reverberating round a very small area (think one football pitch), easy sound unique to the numerous species surrounding the wetlands and water ways. A glance up gave a fantastic view of the milky way, rivaling the views I have seen in the deserts of Africa.
One particular adventure included scaling the Pini Pini ridge, this entailed a trek up to an elevation of 1200m from our base camp at 400m. Sounds relatively easy, but imagine doing it on a game trail (nothing more than mud) and at 32 degrees and 100% humidity. However the view from the top was spectacular and the cloud forest upon reaching the top was worth the walk, the ground essentially being replaced by a spongy root layer that bounces as you walk on it.
Many of these walks of science or exploration rewarded us with glimpses of some of the jungles more intriguing residents such as: Spider monkeys, saddle backed tamarins, cane toads and hoatzin. Spider monkeys being a particular highlight particularly when one member of the expedition observed one "pissing and eating at the same time", then declaring said animal to be his "spirit animal"...
Well, moving on! I could easily write about my expedition in Peru indefinitely, but I will probably end up using too many superlatives and start using phrases like "inspirational", "moving" and "I found myself", when it gets to that point ladies and gents I will have to shoot myself, so I shall bit you adios from this retelling of Peru. Hopefully I will be there again soon!
Huge thank you to all involved in the expedition, the fantastic young explorers who made the trip easy, the YE's who donated pictures for this blog and to my fellow leader James, couldn't have done it without you!
Also a big thanks to anyone who actually bothers to read my blog posts!