In the years to come the one thing that will stand out most distinctly when I recall the Amazon are the sounds of the jungle.
As the sun begins to peek over the trees each morning, the waking birds and monkeys begin their musical chorus.
The lilting songs of the small birds flitting through the trees meld with the gurgling sounds of the ever-present oropendula birds, whose long nests dangle from tree branches.
The deep guttural groans of red howler monkeys issue from deep within the jungle. Overhead parrots and macaws issue loud squawks as they fly by.
As the cool of the morning turns into the heat of the day, the sound subsides as even the birds and animals of the jungle rest to escape the stifling heat of midday.
Yet when night arrives with its cooling breezes, the jungle awakens again.
The cicadas sing what seems like a never-ending one-note song as animals and birds settle in for the night. Soon the frogs begin their chorus and the soft “hoo hoo” of the night monkeys echo from treetops.
It’s the sound of nature absolutely unadulterated by the sound of civilization.
For five days and four nights I’ve gone to sleep and awakened to these marvelous sounds within the Tambopata National Reserve in Peru.
I’ve traveled here with my sister and brother-in-law, Bobbi and Michael Tousey, to spend almost two weeks in Peru tracing a trail from the Amazon to the Incan highlands and finally to the highest navigable lake in the world.
The first stop on our trip – the Amazon. And although it’s the auditory landscape of the jungle that remains most solidly within my memory, the visual traces of this experience are just as spectacular.
A two-hour trip up the Tambopata River took us deep into the jungle, civilization growing less and less apparent with each kilometer except for the occasional small thatched tourist lodge nestled behind the trees.
Our own lodge was as rustic as all the lodges this deep in the jungle. Electricity was only available for three hours each day and little except mosquito netting protected occupants from the insects that accompanied us to bed.
Days were filled with walks through the forest where vines draped palms, Brazil nut trees and all the behemoths that towered overhead. Over 1,500 species of butterflies spread their wings and plate-sized tarantulas lurked in small holes protecting their young.
Boat trips took us yet further upriver — the most spectacular a trip to catch a dazzling avian sight.
At huge bank of reddish clay named the Chuncho clay lick, hundreds of brightly colored macaws, parakeets and parrots gather each day to feed on the nutrient-rich clay. This particular clay lick – or colpa – -is the largest in the world.
A visit is astounding — the air is filled with the loud caws and shrieks of hundreds of the bright red, green, blue and yellow birds as they swoop down to the clay lick. Soon dozens of birds are clinging to the steep sides of the lick to feed and preen.
The beginning of the next day took us to a second lodge almost three hours by boat downstream and one hour by foot inland to Lake Sandoval, an idyllic lake known for its resident group of rare giant river otters.
We encountered the family of five otters on our first boat trip onto the water and watched in fascination as they slid smoothly through the water and crunched meals of fresh fish.
Here are also hundreds of black caiman, whose eyes shown like rubies in the night as our guide slowly swung his flashlight along the lake’s edge.
Here also were the pheasant-sized Hoatzin birds, an ancient bird whose chicks are born with claws on their wings. This clumsy bird is an altogether an unearthly creature with an unfeathered blue face, maroon eyes and a spiky red crest.
But the most impressive sight may have been directly overhead as the Milky Way cut a shining path through thousands of glittering stars, undimmed by the ambient light that dulls its glow over most of the United States.
Two days at Lake Sandavol brought us to the end of our Amazon adventure. Ahead? The highlands and the mystery of the Inca.