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

December 6th, 2013 · 2 Comments

The city of Nauta has just 16,000 residents, but it was busy on market day when we happened to visit. I used the opportunity to take many photos of the scene.

Many Three-Wheel Motorcycle Taxis Met Us When We Left the Ship at Nauta

Many Three-Wheel Motorcycle Taxis Met Us When We Left the Ship at Nauta

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Much of the Market is Covered

Much of the Market is Covered

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Some People of the Amazon

December 5th, 2013 · No Comments

When we visited the village called Prado — Spanish for meadow — one of the women of the Nauta tribe who live there offered us a sample of their tasty breakfast, an armored catfish. I often eat fish for breakfast, so I greatly appreciated her gift.

The Armored Catfish was Delicious!

The Armored Catfish was Delicious!

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We visited another village for lunch. We ate at at a place apparently called Tiffany’s Restaurant, where Tiffany herself served us the local delicacies: catfish cooked in a large leaf, tender roasted agouti, and a few other specialties that aren’t on my diet, including tapioca and two varieties of plantain and three varieties of tropical juice. The open air restaurant, such as it was, has a prime view of the river, but the ship’s passengers were the only customers.

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A Meadow by the Amazon

December 3rd, 2013 · 3 Comments

During the last few days that we were able to experience the Amazon, we eased our way back to civilization. The first and last village we visited is called Prado, the Spanish word for meadow. The villagers told us that 85 people in 15 families live there around the meadow at the edge of the river. We started out by birding but also experienced the village scene.

My favorite shot was a dusky-headed parakeet at an edge of the meadow.

A Dusky-headed Parakeet Peeks from its Home in the Palm

A Dusky-headed Parakeet Peeks from its Home in the Palm

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In a tree beside the river a flock of parrots enjoyed the fruit and squabbled.

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A Quintessential Afternoon on the Amazon

December 2nd, 2013 · No Comments

After trudging through the jungle in the morning, we not only had it much easier in the afternoon but we also had the quintessential Amazonian experience. That’s five experiences, appropriately because the word quintessential comes from the Latin phrase for the “fifth essence” after water, earth, air, and fire, all of which we experienced either literally or figuratively in the Amazon basin.

The Amazon is the biggest river in the world, so we saw a lot of water. We left the ship moored on the river and in bright sunshine took a skiff up a shallow creek through the rainforest.

A Great Egret Rises into the Air Right in Front of Me

A Great Egret Rises into the Air Right in Front of Me

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Great Egrets are some of my favorite birds, and I have seen them everywhere from California to Florida. I appreciate hawks too, but had never seen a Great Black-hawk before.

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Into the Jungle

December 1st, 2013 · No Comments

After traveling up the Amazon River on the riverboat Queen Violeta to the confluence of the Marañón and Ucayali rivers, we reached the Pacaya–Samiria National Reserve. The largest reserve in Peru — equal in size to Israel or the state of New Jersey — it called to us to hike the land, and we obliged. While we made several hikes, we weren’t able to see all of it on this trip.

When we disembarked on a sandy beach early one morning, this shorebird was waiting for us. Collared plovers live in a large range between Mexico to the north and Chile and Argentina to the south.

This Collared Plover Reminded Me of the Many Killdeer in Colorado, Which Have Double Black Breast Bands

This Collared Plover Reminded Me of the Many Killdeer in Colorado, Which Have Double Black Breast Bands

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As we hiked further into the interior we came across a flock of black birds with striking yellow heads. Uncommon and found only in Amazonia, Colombia, and Venezuela, yellow-hooded blackbirds belong to the same family as the more common yellow-headed blackbirds of inland North America.

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Back to Nauta Creek

November 28th, 2013 · No Comments

After seeing a variety of kingfishers during an early morning outing on Nauta Creek, we went back right after breakfast to see more birds of the Amazon. Normally, that would not have been a good idea. Normally, the best times to see and photograph birds is by first and last light. But the Amazon isn’t a normal place, and Nauta Creek showed us a great wealth of birdlife close to the skiff.

This shot of a sungrebe is the one that I return to look at again and again, but not for the usual reasons. This is a shy and uncommon bird that superficially looks like a grebe, but is more closely related to the rails. Sometimes known as the American finfoot, it is the only member of the genus Heliornis in the Heliornithidae family. That family has only two other species, the African finfoot and the masked finfoot of Asia. Male sun grebes, like the one in my photo, have an unusual feature that is unique among birds. They carry their chicks within skin pouches on the underside of the wings.

But what none of my reference books mentions is how different the feathers of this sungrebe appear from those of other birds. They remind me of the broad brushstrokes of Impressionist painters like Claude Monet.

A Strange, Shy Sungrebe Swims in Nauta Creek

A Strange, Shy Sungrebe Swims in Nauta Creek

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Like the sungrebe above, which isn’t a grebe, the red-capped cardinal below isn’t a cardinal. At least, it’s not closely related to our American cardinals, which are mostly red. Red-capped cardinals are members of the family Thraupidae of tanagers, unlike the cardinals proper which are in the Cardinalidae family. Of course, since red is my favorite color of birds (and of cars and shirts, etc.), I do appreciate the bold red of this bird’s head.

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Some Kingfishers

November 26th, 2013 · No Comments

This was a much better day in Amazonia than the previous days. In a nutshell, we had no rain, no mosquitoes, much sun, and many birds. And I was well.

We started the morning by going up the creek. Namely, Nauta Creek, a shallow tributary of the Marañon River, which is one of the two rivers that form what is named the Amazon River. The level of the creek was so low in several places that we had to move as close to the bow as possible so the outboard motor at the stern of the skiff could clear the bottom.

Just after sunrise at the entrance to Nauta Creek I spotted a sleepy Amazon kingfisher.

A Male Amazon Kingfisher Wakes Up

A Male Amazon Kingfisher Wakes Up

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Later, the kingfishers were more active.

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Challenging Days in Amazonia

November 19th, 2013 · 4 Comments

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

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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.

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The Amazon River

November 18th, 2013 · No Comments

When I finally reached Iquitos, Peru, my trip up the Amazon River got off to a great start. Even when you fly there, the trip from the States to Iquitos takes many hours. The bus from Boulder to Denver International Airport left at 4:50 a.m. on Saturday, September 7, and I didn’t get to Iquitos until Sunday morning at 11 after layovers in Miami and Lima, Peru (including all of 3 1/2 hours to sleep on Saturday night), and a stop in Pucalpa, Peru.

While this was a tough way to start a vacation, it was nothing compared with Teddy Roosevelt’s journey to the Amazon a century ago that en route I read about on my iPad. The River of Doubt is Candice Millard’s wonderful book about it.

Iquitos, where more than 400,000 people live, is the world’s largest city inaccessible by road. And no other city served by ocean vessels is so far from the ocean, more than 2,200 miles away through Brazil. Most imported supplies for the people of Iquitos come from Houston, a trip that takes much more time than mine, four months.

The Amazon River is the biggest river in the world in both length and volume of water, and the Amazon Basin covers 40 percent of South America. While I was able to explore only a small part of it, I’m sure that no one has seen it all.

As soon as the flight landed at the Iquitos Airport, the group I traveled with, Wildside Nature Tours, set off to visit the Amazonian Manatee Rescue Center. The rare and endangered amazonian manatee is an aquatic mammal unique to the amazonian rainforest. The center rescues orphaned manatees that were the victims of poaching and reintroduces them back into the river.

We Took Turns Feeding the Baby Amazonian Manatees

We Took Turns Feeding the Baby Amazonian Manatees

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On the grounds of the rescue center we saw a great variety of birds and other wildlife. I especially like to find raptors, and when I looked up, I found this one.

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A Retreat to Nada

November 11th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Right after returning home from my epic trip to Alaska, I set forth once more. This time, however, I drove only 200 miles south to Colorado’s lovely San Luis Valley for a week-long Buddhist meditation retreat in the Roman Catholic hermitage at Crestone, Colorado. I drove four hours from my apartment in Boulder to the hermitage, where I joined 10 other experienced meditators. But people can also go there singly either to meditate or simply to retreat from the wider world for a time. This was the most fulfilling and peaceful week of my life.

At 8,000 feet, the hermitage is located where Colorado’s San Luis Valley rises into the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. This valley is high desert with less than 14 inches of rain per year. It is the largest Alpine valley in the world, and it remains relatively unspoiled by people, so it is one of my favorite places on earth.

Crestone is the largest intentional interfaith community in North America, although only 132 people live there. It is is a spiritual and new age center with several world religions represented.

The center of the hermitage a lovely chapel called Sangre de Cristo. I attended the Sunday mass there with about 30 other people from Crestone, who almost filled the 36 pews. Not only does the church no longer use Latin in its services, but at least here the church has much less ritual than I remember from when I was a Catholic in my young adult years. The mass had almost no music and no “smells and bells.” This was the first time that I had attended mass since November or December 1963. That was a service in the memory of President John F. Kennedy at the national cathedral in Mogadishu, Somalia.

The Nada Hermitage Chapel in Crestone at Sunset

The Nada Hermitage Chapel in Crestone at Sunset

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