Everywhere I look it is green and incredibly lush. Vines, orchids and bromeliads line the mossy tree branches. In the early morning light you can see fine water droplets in the air, for we are in the clouds of the cloud forest. The air is so pristine it is almost sweet. You feel as though you are in the lungs of the Amazon, the very lungs of South America. But it is not silent, below us tumbling over rounded stones is the river which has been our constant companion since we entered the park yesterday. There are waterfalls everywhere, small ones beside the road, large ones in the distance at first I photographed them, now I barely give them a second glance.
We are on a three night, four day safari with Wild Watch Peru, into Manu National Park, Peru. The park is a 16,921 square kilometre UNESCO World Heritage Site which stretches from the Andes into the Amazon basin. It comprises montane and lowland forest ecosystems, and this morning we are out on an early morning nature walk in the cloud forest.
Our guide, Javier, is alert for any movement or sound from the jungle,
suddenly he stops, his binoculars are out and he waves me over. He has spied a brilliant red Cock-of-the-Rock flitting amongst the trees. Mr Cock-of-the-Rock happily performs for our group who watch him through binoculars and zoom camera lens. He is a gorgeous bird not only because of his wonderful scarlet plumage but because of his unusual fan shaped crest.
A few steps on and we come across two baby otters playing literally at our feet totally oblivious to seven pairs of eyes watching them. Then there is a troop of Woolly monkeys making their way through the trees, another Cock-of-the-Rock and the list goes on. All this and it isn’t even breakfast time yet.
Such is life in this moist evergreen forest. If you have ever visited the Cloud Forest dome in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay you will have some idea what this region of the park is like. Certain animals and birds only live at this altitude between 1,500 -2,500 metres, including the emblematic Cock-of-the-Rock.
Today we leave the clouds and travel down into the Amazon basin. We pass through a little town without stopping, our driver slows so we can photograph a vast crop of drying Coca leaf on the roadside.
Coca is known throughout the world for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine, but in Peru it is revered as a cure for altitude sickness. Small quantities can easily be bought to make tea or to chew. It is not illegal to grow a small crop for your own personal use, but you cannot sell it, nor can you take more than one kilo from the Park. Policing this is difficult our guide tells us, and they never stop in towns were they see the leaf drying, nor do the other villages of the Park have anything to do with the Coca towns as they are locally known. Coca Leaf teabags and sweets are widely available. I have tried them all and they are pretty disgusting and had little effect on my altitude sickness and I certainly didn’t get high!
We leave our little bus in Atalaya Port to take a boat onto our next lodge. One of our party spies a shop selling icy beers and we cannot help ourselves and all indulge in a cold beverage whilst our boat is packed. The river is wide and fast flowing but quite shallow, thick jungle has given way to pebbly banks. We reach our destination after 40 minutes. Then it is a steep climb up to our lodge on deep wet slippery rough stone steps, which soon become know as the “climb of death”.
That afternoon we visit a lake literally littered with the most amazing wildlife. We encounter a Capybara or as Javier calls him “a big mouse” , Horn Screamers, Hoatzin and Social Fly Catchers – whoever named these birds certainly had a sense of humour!
I must confess I had been dubious about this trip into the Amazon. Not being one for roughing it, I don’t do camping, the basic lodge accommodation had me worried. Yet by the second morning I was so utterly under the spell of the Amazon, basic rooms, cold showers and wearing the same clothes each day ceased to matter. Unfortunately James thinks he is onto a good thing here and the next step for his princess wife will be camping! I think not.
Tips for Visiting Manu National Park
There are many companies offering various kinds of trips into the Amazon from Cuzco. James did a lot of research before choosing Wild Watch Peru. They were prompt answering our numerous emails and the guide, bus driver and cook who accompanied us into the park were excellent. They only take small groups, there were just 6 in our party.
If you like an alcoholic beverage (as we do) do take a bottle of your favourite tipple in with you. We only found one little shop selling beers at the port, and none of the lodges sell alcohol. You are only allowed to take a small backpack (it’s only a minibus), so pack wisely. Don’t think you will be washing and drying any clothes because it is quite damp in the park and nothing dries not even our superdoper drip-dry shirts. But don’t worry everyone is in the same boat, we are there for the animals and scenery not a fashion show.
For this section of Manu National Park Malaria was not a problem when we travelled, but do check with your travel doctor incase this has changed.