Friday, December 26, 2008

Up the Tambopata, Backwards


There is nothing like a a robust high of 75 degrees the day after Christmas to inspire one to continue on with the Amazon adventures of last month. But that is Oklahoma for you!

Picking up where we left off - we are motoring up the Tambopata River in Peru towards the Tambopata Research Center for a two week tour of duty monitoring macaws, clay licks and jungle foraging activities for Earthwatch Institute. This is part and parcel of the training required to be Julie Zickefoose when I grow up. I endeavor at every step. But, if she is a science chimp, I am nothing more than a mere science marmoset - the golden lion mane long gone, however. I digress.....

Up the Tambopata, plying against the current, swift and fierce. The little motor chokes and sputters in an effort to move against the rapidly flowing water.

Up the Tambopata, our safety in the capable hands of jungle guides born and raised in this part of the Amazon. Born and raised in the Madre de Dios province of Peru. Hey wait, my life rests in the hands of 21-year -olds texting on their mobile phones. Help!

Up the Tambopata past the largest rodents in the world.

Yes! Capybaras! I love me some capybaras -- complete with giant cowbirds, no less. These semi aquatic, barrel shaped, web-footed rodents related to guinea pigs can weigh up to 140 pounds. Capybaras are coprophagous. Simply put: they eat their own feces - the bacterial gut flora in their droppings helps digest the cellulose and extract the maximum proteins in the six to eight pounds of grass they eat a day. I'll stick to yogurt, thank you. Capybaras are dearly beloved by jaguars. (Look ma, no hands, I'm a science marmoset!).

Up the Tambopata past the yellow-headed vultures scavenging the river banks.

Up the Tambopata past empty skiffs soon to be laden with goods for market - perhaps Brazil nuts or fish.

Up the Tambopata past the ubiquitous scarlet macaws.

Up the Tambopata past river guides heading home for the day.

Up the Tambopata past a troop of spider monkeys.

Up the Tambopata past serene oxbow lakes.

Up the Tambopata past the migrating hordes of butterflies.

Up the Tambopata past the fortune hunters seeking quick riches in gold prospecting.

And then suddenly, we're not going up the Tampobata anymore. With an obviously busted outboard engine we are now careening backwards at twice the speed we moved up river. Danger Will Robbins, danger!

The locals become concerned - no engine, no radio, no oars, no food, no water and the sun is rapidly sinking behind the Andes.

We strip to what can get wet and lower ourselves down the side of the boat in order to create a drag against the current that is swiftly returning us back from where we came. We are now in a race against the sun - in another thirty minutes it will be pitch black and the boat will become our bed. After about a half mile we are able to moor the boat on a sand bar. Sand flies rise up and fill every single orifice, every pore and a good part of the eyeballs. So much for the romance of the Amazon. Every intake of breath is an instant protein-packed meal of sand flies. Every inhale through the nose results in a cannonball sneeze of these tiny little pests.

Those of us hanging in the water are reminded not to urinate. To do so could attract that nifty little catfish, the dreaded candiru fish, that swims up the urethra, flails out its spiny dorsal fine and calls dear Willy home for the rest of the time that Willy remains attached. That's a big Ouch! And here's the remedy:
"Amputation of the private areas is the cheapest, and most life-changing, way to remove the fish. Actual surgery is extremely expensive and involves inserting the Xagua plant and the Buitach apple up the urethra. These two plants kill and dissolve the parasitic fish. If surgery is not done in time, the blockage of the urinary tract will prove fatal. The candiru is the only known vertebrate to parasitize humans." Sometimes its hell being a science marmoset.

The boatmen struggle to restart the engine. Fortunately the cough, wine and sputter of their efforts echos up the river valley and is intercepted by part of the kitchen crew at the Reserve.

Help comes in the form of strong hands...

and determination.
We are lassoed and looped and hauled up river like a bucking bronc, fighting the rapids all the way as the last bit of light fades away.

Sentinels of scarlet macaws greet us and we know we have finally arrived to our home away from home. Safe and sound....so far.

To Be Continued

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

This an amazing journey and told by images of splendid quality and words of wisdom ... oh, by the way, no "willy out" for me either!

But then the closest I've been to the Amazon was Recife and there maybe only sharks could cut that out :)

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

That willy-fish sounds awful. I saw something like that portrayed on one of those extreme ER shows; some guy came home from the jungle with one... he ended up at the ER writhing in pain. I don't remember the remedy because I either decided the whole thing was fake, or simply got grossed out. I'm horrified to hear it's real...

Lynne said...

Good Lord! I held my breath reading that whole post and irritated my husband every time I gasped and made him put down his book so I could read to him another sections.

Do those willy fish go after women too? {{{{shudder}}}}

I have a thing for vultures. I'd love to see a yellow-headed vulture.

Anonymous said...

An incredible journey. You are a born explorer. Julie would be more than proud of you. My son and husband are aghast about the candiru. It would be their worst nightmare. My son, who is a big fan of the Amazon has announced that he couldn't possibly go now. Just in case....
Your photos are glorious.
Hope you are enjoying the Christmas season. All my love. XXXX

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

I am lost for words, except "I wanna go." Superb travel info. Are you back home? I have to think so when you wrote about 75F. It was really warm, wasn't it? Now, it's cold again.~~Dee

Julie Zickefoose said...

AGGGGHHHHH!!! The dreaded candiru! I don't know what's worse here, that awful little fish, the dead engine, or inhaling lungfuls of sandflies. (Science chimp is allergic to their bites). Either way, the Science Chimp is running like a scalded ape, holding hands with the Science Marmoset. Yes, they do swim up the urethra of women, with equally painful and terrible effects, and if they can't get either they go look for a peeing manatee, homing in via the stream of urine in the water...so you see that being a manatee isn't all cuteness, hugs and loads of bloghits. Wear your tightness while swimming or bathing is the obvious answer, because you don't want to have to get a candiru (pronounced conjeeroo) cut out.
Timmo, you have us hanging by our toenails. What a post! What an adventure!

Julie Zickefoose said...

And may I add that your macaw, spider monkey and capybara shots ( I have yet to see one in the wild!!) are stupendous. Not to mention your beautiful Peruvian boat dudes...
I dunno though. Going backwards dangling in candiru infested waters at nightfall, inhaling sandflies...I'm sooo glad to be reading this and not experiencing it!

Mel said...

OUCH the fish indeed!
Love your 'adventures', lol
It is a wonderful trip anyway, isn't it? ;)

Anonymous said...

interesting blog, I'll have to come back and read more, thanks

Chele said...

I just found your blog through another blog today. YIKES! I can't wait for my dh and sons to get home from fishing today so I can tell them about the Candiru. I loved your journey through the Amazon and look forward to reading about some of your other trips. The photography is beyond words.

T.R. said...

Julie, let's hope our friend the Motmot is avoiding such obstacles -- she is now a good ten days into her Peruvian Amazon adventure. I know she will have some fascinating stories.

Barry - its real, very real. See Julie Zickefoose - the Science Chimp.

Mary said...

Oh, so serene and beautiful. Your shots are magnificent. I thought it funny that I'm the same size as the largest rodent in the world!

Then, when the locals became concerned, I started laughing out loud, only because I know you are OK. Didn't you feel like screaming to anyone out there, "Oh My God we're drifting to nowhere and we're all gonna die!!!! Save my camera!" And, what? When you hit the water you can't pee? That's so unnatural... I'll always remember to hold it.

Thanks for the laughs, wonderful story, and beautiful images, Tim. You are well on your way to Chimpdom.

Mary

Kolibri Expeditions said...

Great tale, and I'm looking forward to more. I know this area almost too well, but it is so refreshing to hear someone describing the first impressions. Regarding the Candiru, when it can not find the urethra of humans (who in the area know better than to pee when in the water) or manatees (which are non-existant in SE Peru), it usually seeks the gills of catfish and the like, where it hooks up like a catfish-vampire.

Saludos from Peru

Gunnar Engblom
http://www.kolibriexpeditions.com Birding Peru

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Arija said...

Whoever said adventure was a safe sport? Nothing like a bit of excitement, glad you survived it with all anatomical features intact. At least I hope so.

Doug Taron said...

Candiru are the reason I have never swum in the Amazon on any of my several trips there. This sounds like it was a fabulous adventure- and that's just getting to the research station. Very jealous of the capybara. I've never seen one and would really like to. I would have loved to be on this trip- but I'm not sure how useful I would have been. I would have been off doing other things while I was supposed to be tracking macaws.

Kathiesbirds said...

Your trip reminds me of the book about Teddy Roosevelt's trip down the River of Doubt. (Have you read it?) the story about the spiny candiru reminds me of movie with Sean Connery in the Amazon that I can't remember the name of right now (can spiny candirus inhabit your brain?) The Rhythmn of your writing reminds me of the poem "Hiawatha" by Longfellow. Have you been reading poetry again you science marmoset?

"Then the little Hiawatha
Learned of every bird its language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How they built their nests in summer,
Where they hid themselves in Winter,
Talked to them when'er he met them,
Called them Hiawatha's chickens."
(for TR courtesy of H.W. Longfellow via kathiesbirds)

Xander said...

Capybaras?? You saw capybaras?? I am so envious! -X

Anonymous said...

Great post! Fabulous photos and well written! I don't think I have ever seen the word ubiquitous and scarlet macaws in the same sentence before. I saw Marmosets in Brazil. They certainly are tiny.

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