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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Challenging Days in Amazonia

November 19th, 2013 · 4 Comments

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While my trip to the Amazon got off to a great start, I had two challenging days. The first of these came with the weather, and my health caused the second.

On Monday afternoon the Amazon baptized us with its signature experience. Rain.

This part of the world gets a lot of rain. Maybe this has something to do with why the Amazon is such a big river. Downstream a bit from where we were, Iquitos gets about 250 days of rain per year for an average total rainfall of some 180 inches. This is ten times what we get in Boulder.

Even though I went there in the dry season, in the Amazon Basin dry is relative. I fully expected rain on this trip, was as prepared as possible, and don’t begrudge the experience. Still, I’m glad that I only got soaked once.

We had reached the end of what most people call the Amazon River by about 3 p.m. Here at the confluence of the Marañon and Ucayali rivers is where the Amazon begins — at least in name. The Marañon River starts near Lima, 1,079 miles away from the confluence. The Ucayali River is the main headwater of the Amazon, flowing for 1,659 miles from where it begins near Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It really should be called the Amazon in the same way that the Missouri River really should retain the name “Mississippi” all the way from its source at the Continental Divide.

We were hiking in the rainforest when the rain caught us. My dominant impression of the rainforest is that it is dark. For example, when I saw and photographed this butterfly, I had no idea that it had any color. Using my external flash, I photographed it anyway.

A Butterfly Roosts in the Dark Rainforest

A Butterfly Roosts in the Dark Rainforest

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The trail took us to a lake covered with giant lily pads. We arrived just as the wind came up. That warned me to put on my raincoat, but I continued making pictures until the first drops fell.

The Giant Lily Pads at the End of the Trail Just as the Rain Started

The Giant Lily Pads at the End of the Trail Just as the Rain Started

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I put my cameras and external flash in ziplock bags just before the downpour began. However, the smaller bag in which I put my Canon 50D — itself a replacement for the one that died from water damage in the Galapagos — got a little wet. Fortunately it survived, although a mysterious blue light that I had never seen before stays on constantly.

The problem with the second challenging day was internal, not external. Because I had an upset stomach, I skipped an outing. And it was one that I really wanted to make, because the guides had told us that we had an excellent chance of seeing a strange bird with a strange name.

The usual common name of this bird is a hoatzin; its scientific name is Opisthocomus hoatzin. Even the way to pronounce the name of this bird is strange: wat-sin.

Sometimes people call it the stinkbird, probably with good reasons, among which are its pungent aroma and the facts that stinkbird is easier to spell and to say. By whatever name, it is “one of the world’s genuine avian eccentrics,”says Mark Cocker in his book, Birds and People. “The hoatzin has been placed in its own separate order, Opisthocomiformes. To give a sense of how exceptional that is, the world’s entire list of over 10,500 species is divided into just 30 orders. The hoatzin has one of these to itself.”

The guide book I took on the trip, Birds of Peru by Thomas S. Schulenberg and others, says of the hoatzin that it is “sluggish, ungainly, and clumsy.” It also “flies with apparent difficulty and only for short distances.”

The hoatzin inhabits a large range of South America, including most of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. While the other seven participants and three guides on our tour got to see a hoatzin, only one of them got an acceptable photograph. Edison Buenaño, the tour’s leading guide to the birds of South America, got an outstanding photograph of one and kindly shared it with me.

The Strange Hoatzin Bird (Photograph Courtesy of Edison Buenaño)

The Strange Hoatzin Bird (Photograph Courtesy of Edison Buenaño)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

While I missed that morning outing, I was able to rejoin the group in the afternoon. I got my favorite shot of the day just as the afternoon came to a close.

Sunset on the Amazon

Sunset on the Amazon

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While this scene is technically a view of the Ucayali River, I think that the river is wide enough here to prove that it really should be called the Amazon.

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Posted in: Amazon, Peru

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gretchen // Nov 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I want a pet hoatzin. What do they sound like?

    How come my sunsets aren’t like that?

    Are there a lot of mosquitoes on the Amazon?

  • 2 David Mendosa // Nov 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Dear Gretchen,

    I applaud your courage in wanting a pet hoatzin. They can be challenging (to use my new favorite term of art). They aren’t called stinkbirds for nothing!

    You can hear many recordings of the call of the hoatzin at http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Opisthocomus-hoazin . I’m sure that you would find them beautiful, but only if you are a hoatzin. You aren’t, are you?

    The reason why your sunsets don’t look as good as mine is because you live too far to the north. You would also be a lot warmer if you moved to the equator.

    Actually, I was surprised at the dearth of mosquitoes. I had just come from Alaska, which is justifiably famous for its giant mosquitoes and was disappointed that the Amazon was just not that good in this respect. I took my quinine for nothing!

    Namaste,

    David

  • 3 Gretchen // Nov 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I listened to the hoatzin call, and I think I’m not a hoatzin, except possibly when I have laryngitis.

  • 4 David Mendosa // Nov 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Dear Gretchen,

    I am so glad that you are not a hoatzin! You always seemed sorta human to me.

    Namaste,

    David

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