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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sixth Day at Otorongo Lodge ~ Dec. 27, 2010

We started this day really early with a 7am boat trip to Aysana Creek upstream on the Amazon. Another pair of guests started with us, but we left them off on the bank of the Amazon to hike while we went birdwatching. We'd pick them up on the way back to the lodge.

The Aysana was beautiful, with slow-moving waters, and we moved past small farms (although we couldn't see anything but the mud steps going up the bank, with a boat or dugout moored in the water at bottom). Suddenly, our progress appeared to end at a pasture.
Actually, we had arrived at the edge of a floating field of water plants. Flat and apparently impenetrable, it was made up of water hyacinths (which jams waterways in the American South), water lettuce (the same), and a plant that looked like a bit like endive. It appeared impossible to navigate, but not to worry ~ the boatman headed right into it, with Osmar occasionally clearing the way with a pointy paddle, and we motored right on through.

As we came into uncarpeted water again, mysterious vistas opened up, presenting strangler figs with hanging lianas, and huge trees with bromeliads, ferns, and other epiphytes, decorating their branches.

We saw LOTS of cool birds: Amazon and Green Kingfishers, lots of cacicques and long-toed Wattled Jacanas, Jacana jacana, and raptors such as this cinnamon-red Black-collared Hawk, Busarellus nigricollis.

I'd like to apologize for my poor bird photography. I'm not using any special camera equipment ~ just a simple Canon PowerShot A590 with 4X Optical Zoom, and I shoot on Automatic so I don't have to spend time fussing with exposures. So the bird shots are pretty dinky, and sometimes a bit fuzzy. Still, I'm pleased with the majority of my photos.

We came up on a fishing boat with its load of armored catfish and I think another smaller type of fish ~ I only had time for a quick shot or two as we passed.

Suddenly the boat motor shut way down and the boatman was pointing into a cecropia tree high on our right where he had spotted a 3-toed sloth. This was the fastest sloth I have ever seen, obviously spooked by our appearance, and in moments it had descended arm-over-arm down the tree trunk to safety (it thought) behind another tree.

To my great delight, the boat headed to shore and we climbed up into the jungle to see if we could get beneath the sloth's tree for a closer look. It was dark and tangled, and you could tell this area is underwater during the wet season. We pushed through vines and past thorny trunks until we stood directly under the sloth's tree.

At our appearance, the sloth apparently decided its smooth tree trunk was poor protection, and still in speed-mode it prepared to switch trees (by speed-mode, I refer to the fact that we could actually see it moving). Over a period of about ten minutes, it used its incredibly long arms to transfer to a nearby tree, stretched out horizontally for several excruciating minutes (well, it would have been excruciating for a human) until it could haul itself across the space onto the next tree. What a fascinating process!

It had been sprinkling off and on all morning, and as we turned back it got pretty spitty, but it didn't really pose a problem because I had brought along a plastic grocery bag (I keep it in the bottom of my sketch-kit bag) which I tucked my camera and sketch bag into. But I kept hauling out the camera to get shots like this Great Egret, Ardea alba, which kept flushing in front of the boat and landing a short distance further on. The boatman had slowed way down so that I could get this shot, and was very pleased when I showed him the results on the digital screen.

Working our way back through the floating plants, we came upon this clique of beetles sporting on the plant leaves, and near the mouth of the Aysana we passed a defunct boat, clearly past its prime. It will probably be taken by the Amazon in the next high water (unless someone decides to rescue it).

After lunch, I took a siesta in the hammock room ~ after I finished sketching it, that is ~ and worked for awhile in my journal, drawing this huge snail that Tio Juan had been tormenting (it was rescued by Ricardo, one of the guides, who gave it to me to sketch, much to Tio Juan's displeasure).

Awaking from my siesta, I had some time to spare before the afternoon's adventure, so I played with Tio Juan and did a photo shoot with Ara and Azul, the macaws.

At 3:30 we started off on our afternoon adventure, a visit to Oran Village, from which Otorongo Lodge hires its staff. The village sits out on the bluff at the mouth of the Oran Village, about half an hour's walk from the lodge. On the way, we crossed behind a whole section of grassy bluff that is falling into the Amazon. You can see the fissures in the image at left. Just inland from that was what remained of the pasture, with a pool full of lounging water buffalo (perhaps the source of our buffalo cheese at meals?).

As the day cooled, Osmar and I sat drinking Inca Kola (neon yellow-green and sweeter than sweet) in the bleachers above the concrete futbol court (that's the World's name for soccer, y'know ~ except for us Americans...), entertained by two little girls who took a shine to us.

We were joined by one of the other Otorongo guests, Leili, and her guide, Walter, sitting and comparing notes about our day, shouting above the blare of the loudspeakers' funky rock music, provided courtesy of a generator which chugs away in the village each afternoon from about 4 until about 8 or 9pm.

As sunset drew near, we meandered down to the village landing with the girls to meet the waterbus. As it drew close, a parade of mostly women and girls filed down the trail and boarded the bus with trays of drinks, fruits and cooked food for the people passing through. Water buses don't supply food for their passengers, but the long-distance riders need to eat, so the villages along the way have created a thriving business of meeting the water buses with edibles and other necessities. Down behind the boat and next to shore, we spotted Anthony and Paymon, Leili's husband, fishing for the big, flat catfish common to this part of the river.

Leili and I played with the girls, taking their photos and sharing the images with them on the cameras' digital displays, which sent them off into gales of laughter that bridged the language barrier. Within twenty minutes, the food was distributed and the water bus pulled away from the landing to continue on downriver on schedule.

Near sunset, now, we all decided we'd better get home to dinner, and headed off through the village, which has the amazing attribute of no streets or vehicles ~ just sidewalks. What a nice way to create a serene town!

Our path along the bluff edge, in swiftly descending darkness, was lit by the flashlights we'd brought along 'just in case,' and since we kept stopping to listen to and photograph frogs, it was "dark-thirty" by the time we got to the lodge, just in time for supper. Nice day. Busy, but very, very nice.

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