Anaconda expedition 2/2, Amazon rainforest 2015

Day 9 Sanco Camp – Camp 4

Today we’re leaving. There is clearly a lot of life in the area, but we’ve struggled to find it. On the bright side, the camera trap has caught the image of a paca, the large rodent we saw at the start.

I’m pleased to see that they start to capture good images, which is promising for the next ten days. The journey on the pirogue is long, the weather threatening again. It seems to be the continuation of the curse from entering the mysterious lake, Boca de Sanco. We stop on the way  to look for anacondas but there aren’t any (it’s normally possible to tell from various prints left on the forest floor). At mid day, we stop for lunch. But before eating it, we have to catch it. We take the fishing rods out and head out to a nearby swamp. A few minutes in, the sky breaks and we’re getting absolutely soaked by the tropical rainfall, but the fishing successful.

I feel like my contribution is minimal, given the fact that I don’t catch many fishes. And the ones that I do catch, aren’t good to eat, there’s too many fish bones. Anyway, we are having a really fun time with the guys, laughing at the fishes that escape, sliding in the mud into the water. There is even a fish, a big opening on its head from the hit of the machete to knock him out, that makes its way back to the water despite Bérenger and I, stepping on it. We finally catch it back on the edge of the water as it had almost managed to get its freedom back. After an hour, we’ve got enough fish, we can go back to cook them, eat them and continue our journey back down Rio Galvez.

Excitement! The pirogue stops and goes back a dozen meters! An eagle!

_DSC0167_reduced sizeIt looks like harpy eagle, apparently very rare to find and see.

Shortly later, Dennis, sat at the front of the boat, gets tense, looks ahead, indicates to Hernan to slow the pirogue down and suddenly urges to stop… There is tapir on the river bank just behind a river corner. After climbing up rapidly into the bushes because of our approach, it comes back down in confidence that we do not pose any threat.

_DSC0173_reduced sizeAnd a bit like it wanted to make a show, the tapir goes for a swim.

_DSC0174_reduced sizeThis is amazing! We’ve all got our cameras in hand, shooting this rare and endangered animal. After a few minutes of observation, it goes back to the forest and disappears behind the trees. Wow! This was such a great sight! Only seeing the tapir was absolutely fantastic but out in the open like this, posing for us is even more incredible.

Hidden under our poncho and plastic sheets, we soon find the place where to spend the night and offload the bare minimum. It’s not raining too much but the number one priority is to build a shelter in case it gets heavier. We’re all very busy chopping branches and large leaves, and build a very basic cover for us and our bags. Excellent call, almost a few minutes later, the rain becomes torrential and we can wait under our shelter, definitely not dry, but at least not as wet as we could be. However that’s by far the heaviest rain of our trip, not far from the first of the monsoon season I experience in Guatemala. It goes on and on and on… The night is falling, we have to take some more stuff out of the pirogue, put the tents together thanks to our head torches and hide inside. Also, all the cookware and cutlery is still in the pirogue. A fire and cooked food aren’t going to happen tonight. Instead, it’s canned tuna, with our own fingers.

Day 10 Camp 4 – Harpia

The rain has stopped during the night, but everything is wet and the sky is still very dark. That’s not very promising for today. However, I want to remain positive. Yesterday, rain has brought us 2 amazing sights, demonstrating that nature reveals its secrets when we expect it the least. But we actually are very miserable. Some went hunting for perdis during the night, they found  one but the rifle didn’t shoot. It was too wet. We haven’t had any meat since the end of the first trekk to Casa grande, more than a week ago. The wood is wet too. Lighting the fire is proving challenging. And all our clothes are soaked. We hang them wherever possible but I can’t imagine them drying at all. So like I said, miserable! However, there is great positivity in the camp. Every one of us is still joking, teasing and laughing. It can seem like nothing but in fact, this positive mindset is probably the most important element of successful survival. We all are on the same boat and know that we can count on one another during hard times. It helps to stay alert, continue to go out in search of wildlife, instead of falling into a negative spiral. This morning for breakfast we’ve got an omelette with onions and potatoes, the richest of all. It doesn’t seem like much, but for us it’s a luxury.

_DSC0183_reduced sizeNow it’s time to continue exploration. As we come back down the river bank, I observe that the water levels have gone up by a meter at least, definitely because of yesterday’s rainfalls. We are heading to a colpa, a little upstream. I have got the camera traps in the bag. The plan is to assess whether the area has got potential for wildlife. If it does, we’ll stay another night. If it doesn’t, we’ll head further downstream. During the hour-long hike, we come across a few more groups of squirrel monkeys.

_DSC0193_reduced sizeWhen we arrive at the colpa, we realise it’s flooding. The water level is increasing every minute, again a consequence of yesterday’s heavy rain. Therefore, the banks are very, very muddy. My feet go deeper at every step. And the deeper one foot goes, the more I have to push on the other to get out, so the deeper the other foot goes. To the point that both my legs, up to my knees, are stuck in the mud. I can’t get out. Dennis brings a branch for me to step on and avoid sinking again when I get my first foot out. But that’s too late.  I have to extract my feet out of my boots and leave them in the mud.

_DSC0216_reduced sizeFortunately, Dennis helps out to get them out while I’m waiting in socks in the nearby mud.

_DSC0218_reduced sizeand manages to get them out. 🙂

_DSC0221_reduced sizeIt’s been again a good laughter with the guys and another great memory. 😀

But unfortunately, the conclusion is that nothing is going to happen in this colpa because of the flooding. As the water reaches the trees, even if animals come here we won’t find a good angle to have a good view and capture them on camera. We’ll move on. On the way back to the pirogue, we encounter another species of monkey, a borwn capuchin monkey._DSC0229_reduced sizeWe arrive back at camp, where the river level has gone up further. And then Bérenger captures my attention “Regarde ce qu’il y a au dessus du feu!”, he says (“Look at what’s above the fire!”). A bird! Hector and Armando have caught a bird! Finally! They call it pukakunga and after a week of only eating fish, today we’re having meat. You can’t believe how great this is.

_DSC0231_reduced sizeWhile it’s being prepared and cooked, Dennis, Armando, Bérenger and I hop back on the pirogue to explore two cochas nearby.

At the first one, nothing. Not a single mark or evidence of the presence of an anaconda. That doesn’t really disappoint me anymore, we must have done a dozen cochas and never saw any snake. We cross the river and step on the bank to explore the second one. That’s the moment chosen by the sky to open and let rain fall. Dennis looks at me, in an attempt to ask: “what are we doing?”. We continue!

But soon after, Dennis hears something and stops, exchanges a few words with his father and confirms: “Jaguar!” The decision is quickly made, we’re going to try and find it. We split the group, Dennis walks alongside the cocha while Armando, Bérenger and I progress as silently as possible through the forest. This is so exciting, I am careful at every step to avoid walking on branches or dry leaves. The rain keeps falling, the noise of the drops touching ground prevent me from hearing the jaguar. But Armando is sure of the direction and continues progress. I stay alert, camera at hand, ready for the first opportunity to arise. But the first sign comes from my left. Suddenly Dennis calls for our attention! He tries to make as little noise as possible but seems very excited in his movements. It has to be something extraordinary, he’s never been like this for a monkey. I start running towards him, as quickly as possible and close the 50m between us in a matter of seconds. He points towards the other side of the cocha: “Anaconda”. I look and see a big branch. “Mira”, he says. It must be somewhere on it. But after a few seconds, I still can’t see it, how can I miss such a giant snake? Dennis continues to point out in the direction of the big branch. That’s when I realise, that’s not a branch, IT’S THE ANACONDA! Massive! He’s resting next to the water, most of his body above it. His head is just at the surface, most certainly alert to his surrounding environment. I climb on a tree, which leans over the lake in order to get closer. I’ve got the perfect view._DSC0247_reduced sizeI’m not thinking about anything but admiring the giant reptile. To give you an idea, I can see from where I am that the diameter of it’s body must be as big as a football… We couldn’t hope for a better view. But after a few minutes, the branch I was hanging to breaks and falls into the water. Now made aware of our presence, it slowly escapes into the water, showing the length of its body, maybe 6 or 7 meters.

I come back on the ground, everyone is still so excited from what we saw. However, Dennis confirms it was much bigger than I thought, around 10 meters. Apparently, it’s the largest one that he’s ever seen. And living in the Amazon rainforest, believe me, he’s seen quite a few of them… But that’s not it, I suggest we walk around the cocha and see if it comes out of the water again. Everyone else is up for it. Here we go, for more anaconda action. After 30 minutes, we reach the other side. Armando and Dennis climb onto a large trunk, I follow, it’s there!!! But it escapes as soon as it hears us and all I can see is the trail of bubbles at the surface. There is no chance for it to come up again, it’s scared and will now be hiding in the water for some time.

We head back to camp and as we arrive, the pukakunga is ready. But before this, we’ve got a story to tell… Hector is really excited about it. And I have to say, this is what I love about this crew, they’ve seen many of these creatures and yet they share our joy and excitement when we find rare wildlife. But now is time for the best lunch of the trip so far. It’s the perfect occasion to look back at today. This morning, we were miserable, completely wet, and this morning has turned the day into the most amazing, having seen the giant anaconda we’ve been looking for and we’re eating meat. I would highlight that the mood is also at its best but this is about this whole trip, not just today. As soon as we’re done, we load the pirogue and head towards the next camp. We stop at the same cocha, just to see if the anaconda is here but he’s definitely hiding. I think back to the fact that rain has always brought us fortune, a tapir yesterday, an anaconda today, I’ll take rain every day if it continues to reveal more animals to us. Maybe a jaguar?

The journey to Harpia takes us through changing weather. First threatening…

_DSC0250_reduced size

… then much more welcoming.

_DSC0254_reduced sizeWe reach Harpia a little before night fall. There is no time to lose, torches in hand, we walk towards the colpa in order to place the camera traps. Apparently, this one shouldn’t be flooded since it’s a lot higher than the river. So I’m hopeful it’ll reveal something as interesting as the first one where we saw the ocelot. Also, we’re staying two nights, so plenty of chances to see cool stuff.

Frogs…

_DSC0265_reduced size _DSC0275_reduced sizeButterfly

_DSC0279_reduced sizeOn the way back, near camp, Armando and Dennis spot a perdis, sleeping on a branch. “Que hacemos?”, Dennis asks me. Of course we kill it. I don’t mean to be horrible, but that’s our dinner. The only thing is that we don’t have the rifle with us, so Dennis uses a stick, moves silently and hits the bird as hard as possible. Suddenly woken up for a deep sleep, it’s definitely K.O but manages to fly away in zigzag, hitting many branches and leaves on the way. After 30 seconds, I hear a dull sound. It has hit the ground. It takes less than a couple of minutes to find it and bring it back to camp. After a very tasty dinner, it’s time to go to bed, end to probably the most fantastic day of this expedition.

Day 11 Harpia

As we agreed last night, Dennis wakes me up at 4am. We’re going hunting for more perdis. To me, that’s also the opportunity to be out in the forest before dawn when the wiildlife is most active. In the dark and under the stars, we let the current flow carry the pirogue down river. We’re keeping an eye on the river bank, looking for potentials preys, but there isn’t any. We attach the pirogue to a tree and venture to the forest on foot instead. Almost immediately, Dennis hears something (which I don’t :s). He produces some kind of groan. The animal replies immediately in the same tone. To me, there is little hesitation possible, it’s a jaguar! I recognize it from the megaphone. And it’s close. Dennis repeats the groan, the animal responds back again. “Caiman”, he says. It seems that his response is a sign of aggression, which means it’s probably a brave big male. He could attack us if we got too close. But apart from that, still we can’t find anything to eat. The sun is coming up, it’s time to head back to camp, and me? I’m going back to the tent for a snooze.

Breakfast and we go for exploration again. Dennis, Hernan, Bérenger and I head to a cocha while Armando and Hector go hunting. For us? No sign of anaconda, so we start fishing. Again nothing for Bérenger and I but enough food from the two Matsés. Time to move on. We go to another area on the other side of the river, and we follow a path for about two hours, in complete silence, not even a monkey.

_DSC0286_reduced sizeWe do find a forest creeper, from which water flows in abundance, drinkable.

_DSC0310_reduced sizeWhen we arrive back at camp, I can tell something’s happened. Hector is excited but also very teasing. He took a picture of something, orangish but difficult to recognise: “Que es?”, he says. A puma!!! They saw a puma! But that’s not all, I notice something hidden under leaves at the back of the camp._DSC0287_reduced sizeWhat’s that?

_DSC0292_reduced sizeThey caught a peccary! We’re going to have an absolute feast, guaranteed meat for the next few days. This is absolutely fantastic. I spend the next hour watching Armando preparing the animal, already thinking about the tasty lunch we’re about to have.

_DSC0293_reduced size

_DSC0294_reduced sizeSoon, it is skinned, cut into pieces and placed above the fire. Once smoked, we can keep the meat for up to a week.

_DSC0308_reduced sizeThe first pieces didn’t go into the smoking area though, but straight into the pan and now is time for lunch. In the rainforest, this is like a banquet in a 5-star restaurant.

Knowing that we can see big cats around here, I am even more motivated to continue exploring the forests and try and find a jaguar. Now we are taking the pirogue upriver and hike towards a colpa. An hour later, we haven’t reached it but the sun is coming down and its getting darker. We need to go back without unfortunately seeing any wildlife. It’s dark by the time we arrive. We’re keeping the engine off and let the current carry us back. But again, the forest remains completely silent. We keep looking towards the river bank but I am not hopeful. We’ve never seen any animal during our night river explorations. However the rain starts to fall. Lightly at first. My initial thought is that we’re about to see something, as it’s always been the case when we were getting drenched. However, it gets much heavier, time to turn the engine on and rush to camp… This is not saying I was wrong. We can hear and see some movement on our right behind the trees. There is an animal running. We can see its eyes glowing in the dark. Hernan thinks of a paca at first. Wrong. It breaks through the leaves and enters the water. It’s another tapir!

_DSC0312_reduced sizeIt swims towards us, takes notice of our presence. I thought it would swim away but does something else that I wasn’t expecting at all instead. It dives and disappears below the surface. I peer into the darkness, waiting for its head to come out. After a short suspense, it reappears near the shore and returns into the forest.

That’s the moment chosen for the sky to open and rain to fall incredibly heavily. We got used to it by now, and even though this is probably the most challenging element of this expedition, I remain positive. As I’ve said, rain has brought us many surprises. And the heavier the rain the bigger the surprise… Not this time. As we reach camp, I run straight to the protection of our tents. Only to discover that the water has come through, there is a 10cm deep puddle in the corner next to where I sleep. My mattress is wet, my pillow is wet and my sleeping linen is wet. Fortunately my clothes are still dry (kind of) but we have to come out again to sort out the tent cover and get soaked even more. However, I could take all this on based on the comforting idea to eat some more peccary for dinner. … Nope. It’s probably not smoked yet, so we’ve got more fish on the menu. I ate as much fish in the last 10 days than in the entire year. I thought I’d at least have a break for a couple of days and enjoy meat in abundance. So here I am, sat in the tent, wet, in the dark, seeing from the flickering light of my head torch, eating the fish with my hands cause my fork can’t access the flesh, hands which I won’t be able to wash up cause I’d have to go back outside under the torrential rain. And it’s still full of scales… The more I struggle, the more I think about the peccary meat. Tonight, I’m miserable! Pissed off! I struggle to remain positive. I’ve just had enough for today. I’m not sure why, cause that’s been a great one still. But if we all have to go through a moment of weakness, this is mine. Finally I’m done with it and leave the remains just outside the tent. Tomorrow is another day.

Day 12 Harpia – Buen Peru

When I wake up the rain is still falling but that as much as yesterday. Right after breakfast, we’re heading to the colpas to get the camera traps back. Also I hope we can see the puma Hector and Armando saw yesterday. We soon see signs of it though, fresh marks of claws on a tree._DSC0319_reduced sizeBut we reach the colpa without any other sight. Hopefully, it did walk by the cameras in the last couple of days.

It didn’t… Nothing did… We find the prints of the puma but no other animal came here. That’s pretty much it for today, we won’t see any more wildlife for sure since we are going back to Buen Peru.

We arrive there around 1pm, time for a great picture with all the expedition members.

_DSC0329_reduced sizeFrom left to right, Armando, Bérenger, Hernan, Dennis, Hector and me.

While the food is prepared, it’s time to relax, take a bath in the river, the first one for more than a week. I do not actually feel dirty but still has to wash up in respect for the people welcoming us in their house. On the menu today, smoked peccary and rice, succulent. There is no time pressure today, we’ve got nothing else to do this afternoon other than rest.

_DSC0333_reduced sizeI take the opportunity to catch up with my diary, sitting outside Armando’s house with a coffee. A little boy and a little girl come sit next to me. They are very intrigued by what I do. They’re very shy and extremely polite.

Late afternoon, it’s time for a catch up with Hector. He explains to we have to go separate ways. The plan for us is to hike back from where we’ve come from to Requena. He needs to go to Angamos, the military colony with an airstrip where we whould have arrived, and pay for all the supplies that we got from there. We are not going because there is a high risk that the plane is cancelled if the air strip is too muddy. So we’re really hoping that he makes it so we can go for a drink in Iquitos before we fly back. Dinner is made of more peccary, fine by me, and then we catch a few pictures from the trip on the desktop. It’s very enjoyable to have somewhere to sit, a roof above your head, eating at a table and sleeping on an even floor. Better to make the most of it, because tomorrow we’re back in the jungle.

Day 13 Buen Peru – Camp 5

I wake up to the bright morning sun light and the sound of children playing near the house. We’ve slept for 11 hours. The long and nice breakfast that follows is equally exquisite. The children of the community bring the puppy of the rare jungle dog that they found when we first arrived 10 days ago. Sadly, there is only one left, the other 2 died. It was predictable that they would struggle to survive without their mother. But this one looks healty.

_DSC0336_reduced size_DSC0355_reduced sizeIt’s very scared of us. I attempt to hold it in my arms, such a fragile little thing. It shits on my tee shirt of fear… But it obviously got very familiar with the children and keeps going hiding behind them.

_DSC0337_reduced size _DSC0341_reduced sizeIt’s being very playful too.

_DSC0363_reduced sizeIt eventually gets used to our presence and allows to be held.

_DSC0391_reduced size _DSC0395_reduced sizeIt still has very little chance of making it through adulthood, therefore, Hector will take it with him back to Iquitos, look after it and who know, maybe reintroduce it in the wild at some point. There isn’t any good rehabilitation centres for wildlife in Iquitos but I trust Hector will be an amazing job.

It’s almost time to go. While I’m packing, I hear Dennis calling my name: “Guillermo!”. Thinking that something cool is hapenning, I rush back to the house. “Feliz cumpleaños!!!”. Ah yes, it’s my birthday today, the 15th of August. Dennis has a gift for me: a Matsés bracelet and Armando gives me a traditional bow and arrow, both about 1.5m long. That’s such a nice attention. I couldn’t really hope for better gifts, they’ve got a meaning, a direct link to this experience shared with the Matsés that I’ll always remember.

_DSC0401_reduced sizeI have to admit it’s quite an emotional moment. Even though we’ve got a few more days, it feels a bit like the end of the expedition. Maybe it’s because Buen Peru is really the gate to the heart of the Amazon and being here means that we are definitely on our way back, also because we have to split for the last leg of the trip. But I also feel really happy because this trip has already well exceeded my expectations and the guys have been amazing. It’s time to say goodbye to everyone, including Hector and Armando, a brief one though, hopefully we’ll see them again back in Iquitos. We embark on the pirogue, turn the engine on and slowly get away from the river bank waving at our hosts.

The camp for tonight is only 3 hours away. But first, we’re stopping to an other cocha, the Matsés said this morning that there is definitely an anaconda here, they’ve seen it only a few days ago. Apparently, it comes as soon as there is noise in the water. But we don’t see anything. Nevermind, there is another near the camp, where we arrive around midday. It’s a very tiny clearing, right above the river. We immediately go to explore the area. The bushes are thick, making it hard to see through. We do find prints, proof that the giant snake is here but we don’t manage to find it so we head back to camp. Hernan’s wife has been kind enough to join us and help with making our camp life easier. She has prepared some pasta with tomato sauce. It’s not very “jungly” but very tasty. The afternoon is only made of another unsuccessful exploration of a cocha.

Just before sun set, Dennis and I go hunting. We forgot the smoked peccary in Buen Peru, so we need more meat. I’m just hoping that I won’t make too much noise and scare wildlife off. After half an hour, Dennis appears to have seen something. He slows, walks with a lot more care and keeps looking in the same direction. I follow and soon sees the prey: a perdis on a branch. BANG! The shot goes and is followed with the noise of wings agitated on the floor, last spasm of our next dinner. Well, breakfast actually cause tonight we’ve got fish, urgh! At least we’ve got more cooked banana but fried instead, which is nice.

The evening river exploration turns out to be a good one, pacas, snake and frogs.

_DSC0421_reduced sizeFor the night, we’ve changed our set up. The tent has been left behind, we’ve got a linen mosquito net, under a plastic cover. The only difference is that it drops on the floor and, theoretically does not stop animals to sneak underneath at night, which a tent would do. But that’s not going to stop me having a deep sleep.

Day 14 Camp 5 – Camp 6

It starts with the traditional daily routine, going to get the camera traps. Since we had been relatively unsuccessful so far, I’ve covered the housings with mud, as an attempt to block any smell that might keep the animals away. It looks like it worked, Dennis spots large fresh animal prints around and desperately wants to know what it is.

It’s another paca.

But the second camera has captured a lot of activity too. First, a deer in the distance.

And a tapir, much closer.

On the way back, we find another group of monkeys, with a funny white moustache. They’re very curious and inquisitive and don’t escape seeing us. I think it’s a black-chested mustached tamarin.

_DSC0430_reduced size _DSC0435_reduced sizeBack at camp, the perdis we caught yesterday is ready. That’s an excellent start of day and now that I know what it’s like not to have meat for a week, I really enjoy every single day we do.

Since, we know there is definitely an anaconda in the nearby cocha, we go for a last exploration but it still cannot be found. Only, birds.

A very colourful bird.

_DSC0449_reduced sizeA colibri.

_DSC0452_reduced sizeAnd even an owl, who had to wake up in the middle of the day because of us. Oups.

_DSC0457_reduced sizeWe take off the last camp at around 11am. The plan is to stay there two nights. While everyone is asleep, I spot a massive fish coming to the surface. Given the size, it’s a paiche, larcgest fish in the Amazon reaching up to 4.5m. A bit later, there are two otters on the side of the river who dive into the water before I have the chance to take any picture.

It’s only a couple of hours before we reach the next camp, in the middle of the afternoon. We immediately go to place the cameras before the sun goes down and discover that there aren’t one colpa around here… there’s three! Great! Plenty of opportunities to find good spots. I only wish I had more cameras now. We find two excellent spots in a single colpa, the objective being to keep the other two for stake outs, hoping for another ocelot-like encounter.

Later during the night river exploration, I try to guide the boat, see how hard it is. We’ve gone upriver with the engine, so now it’s only about letting the pirogue flow with the current. I sit at the front, paddle in hand. On paper, it seems easy, I only have to guide the pirogue to avoid trunks and branches. In reality, completely another story. It only takes mes 10 minutes to get the pirogue completely stuck. There’s a trunk in front, branches on the left, river bank on the right. And the current is strong so it pushes the pirogue further into this dead end… I’ve done enough, that’s not for me. It’s best I give the paddle back to Hernan to get us out of this trap. The following couple of hours are a lot more quiet, too eventless in fact. And that’s not having seen anything that we touch the river bank and go to bed.

Day 15 Camp 6

I am awaken in the middle of my sleep: “Guillermo! Guillermo!”. “Hay un animal!”, Hernan whispers. That’s enough to get my brain working. In a few seconds, I’m out of my bed… in pants. I rush towards to tree, Hernan pointing to the top. It’s dark, really hard to see and the lights don’t really get there. The flash of my camera does actually reveal something.

_DSC0460-Edit_reduced sizeI can’t tell what it is and it soon disappears behind the leaves higher in the tree. It’s 4:15 am, I’m not going back to bed, but to the pirogue instead for a river exploration. The sun starts to rise an hour later but we’ve seen nothing again, we’re returning to camp. Today is kind of the last day of the expedition. We’re not back to civilisation tomorrow, but we’ll be starting to make our way back, therefore ending our active search for wildlife. I really want to make the most of today.

We hop on the boat again towards a nearby laguna, the last one. Dennis goes one side, Hernan and us the other. I’m a bit annoyed, we’re being very loud, shouting at one another from one side to the other side of the laguna. If anaconda there is, he’s definitely gone hiding. They’re also throwing large pieces of wood into the water again. I know this is supposed to bring them out, but I haven’t seen this technique working.

“Salio!”, shouts Dennis with excitement (“It came out!”)

What??? I really had given up and definitely wasn’t expecting to see any anaconda. I run ahead to try find a clearing and an angle to see the snake. It’s in the water, I can only see its head.

_DSC0469-Edit_reduced sizeFor the moment it’s not moving, probably observing what we’re doing. Hernan has built a collar, to place it around its head and pull it out of the water.

_DSC0474-Edit_reduced sizeBut trying to approach it is very noisy, the anaconda dives to escape our attempt to capture it. It’s still somewhere underneath the branches. We stick poles down into the water hoping that we’ll make it come out again. I can see the bubbles at the surface and after 5 minutes, the head pops out of the water again closer to me. I’m standing on the very edge of the water, the anaconda is around 3m away. We don’t have time to bring the pole around, it disappears very quickly again. For about another hour, we continue trying to bring him out but it’s definitely gone this time. I’m so happy we’ve managed to see a second anaconda. It’s impossible to tell how big it is but the Matsés indicate maybe 6 meters length, which is not small.

Back at camp and while the food is being prepared, I look through my wildlife book to identify the animal that was up in the tree this morning. I’m thinking some kind of rodent, maybe like a coati. Hernan points out to another species much cooler. It’s a tamandua, a sub species of anteaters… I can’t believe we saw an anteater! OK, not the giant one which would have been amazing. But still, it’s very rare, even more than a jaguar. I only wish that I had seen it better, rather than a ball of fur up in that tree. That last day has started in a pretty amazing manner, which fills me with hope for the hike to come.

This afternoon we’re exploring the area around camp on foot. No particular site like a colpa or a cocha, just trying to cover as much ground as possible and hopefully spot a jaguar. That’s really the last animal we haven’t seen and it would be the cherry on the cake for this trip. Dennis spots many prints, including the one of a young tapir which would be cool to encounter. They’re spotted and look very different to the adults. But that’s as close as we get. We end the exploration at the colpas which we’ve kept “camera-free” and sit there for an hour. I’m thinking I’ve only done it once really, just to sit and wait, and I saw the ocelot. Unfortunately, nothing enters the colpa.

Back at camp, we’ve ran out of coffee. That doesn’t seem like a big thing but for Bérenger and I, it meant a lot, even though we hadn’t realized that until now. In the rainforest, we had no comfort whatsoever. We’d left everything that made our lives easier at home. Our cup of coffee in the morning, after lunch, in the afternoon, was the last bit of comfort we had. It’s annoying but we’re nearly reaching the end, we’ll be fine.

Dinner. Fish. Again.

“BANG!”… “BANG!”… 10 minutes… Dennis returns… Perdis for tomorrow! J

Another night stake out at the colpas tonight. An hour is the plan. I’m sitting in complete darkness, taking in every last second of our expedition in the rainforest. Soon we’ll be back in civilization, far away from the pristine nature. Every now and, I light up the colpa but it is very quiet again. Three hours have passed without I even noticed. There is still hope from the cameras, which we’ll go get in the morning…

Day 16 Last camp to Matansa

And actually, that’s the best shot of the expedition. A tapir has walked right up to the camera, I guess it must have smelt it.

All packed, the boat ride to the communal house of Matansa is relatively short and we get there just before mid-day. I feel another wave of emotions as I step on the ground and walk up the hill to the house. It represents the last leg of our journey, tomorrow we’re starting the hike back to Requena (which promises to be painful). This afternoon is all about resting. And what would have been great for that? Coffee… Grrrr

Just after night fall, I am having a snooze waiting for dinner to be ready.

“GUILLERMO! JAGUAR!”, gets me immediately on my feet, awaken. Camera in hand but without shoes, I run to the back of the house where Dennis already is. He points towards the bush. I can see a shade… but it looks more like a pig than a jaguar. It suddenly runs away into a sound of foliage. But the shade I was looking at is still there… Damn it! Bérenger and I hop on the pirogue with Leo hoping to see it from the river. But again I can hear it run away and all the other Matsés shouting, the animal had passed near the house again. I know at that point that it’s not a jaguar but what is it? Right, let’s grab the book and go through the images. A Capybara! It’s the largest rodent on the planet, around 1 meter in height. That would have been cool to see.

Hernan admitted later that he knew it wasn’t a jaguar but he was looking for a way to wake me up quick. J

He does wake me up in the middle of the night again, the capybara is back outside.

_DSC0499_reduced sizeI’m really glad it came back and we had the chance to see it.

Day 17 Matansa – Aucayacu

We’re waking up with the early morning light of a beautiful day.

_DSC0506-Edit_reduced sizeSoon the moment to pack all my stuff into my backpack and carry it on my own shoulders has come. I wasn’t really looking forward to this moment but the first few hours go surprisingly well. We even see a saki monkey, very hairy.

_DSC0512_reduced sizeThe heat hasn’t kicked in yet and we reach the old park ranger house where we slept coming here on time for lunch. Only this time, there is a lot of food to regain energy and we go again. It’s harder in the afternoon, the backpack feels heavier and the hills harder on the legs. But at the moment, nothing compared to the first day.

_DSC0513_reduced sizeThere is a bit of rain which helps to cool down. My camera is getting a bit too wet but I wouldn’t miss an opportunity a jaguar if one came to appear. We arrive at Aucayacu as a tropical rainstorm is about to break in the sky. We’re going to set up camp on the other side of the river, the one which we cross walking on the really high trunk I filmed the first time. First thing first, plastic covers up to protect us from the rain, bang on time! There is also lots of mosquitoes so we spend the rest of the evening a bit miserable, hiding from rain and getting biten. And my camera is dead, it didn’t survive getting exposed to that much water…

Day 18 Aucuyacu – Chakra

Another long day of hiking and tomorrow should be the arrival in civilisation. From experience, there is absolutely nothing better than the first cold beer after a long time spent in the jungle. The closer it gets the more I look forward to it. I hang to that thought to keep going. Again, the morning is completed without too much problem, even though I start feeling the tiredness earlier and stronger. I struggle more in the afternoon, my backpack is very heavy and have to slow down considerably to hike up the hills. I avoid too many breaks, we’re nearly there. Passing the same obstacles that we did when we started the expedition two and a half weeks ago brings back memories and reminds me of everything we’ve lived since then.

Suddenly, Dennis, walking right in front of me, stops and looks ahead. There is something in the bush right next to the path, I can see the leaves moving. It’s a group of pecary, the larger species. Also immediately, he takes the riffle, points to the bush, pulls the trigger… click! (this is the defective one that doesn’t shoot, damn it!) Let’s try again… click! I’m hoping so hard for the bullet to go, I’m already hungry for a steak tonight. But for about 5 minutes, I stand still, watching the riffle “clicking” every single time… We start progressing again, for 10 meters. The others are shouting something behind us.

“RUN!!!”

The peccaries are charging! I have no second thought. I sprint as fast as I can. My backpack feels so light when it comes to running away from aggressive boars. We stop when we reach the top of the hill, completely out of breathe. To my greatest surprise, Dennis asks for my machete, leaves his bag behind and heads back into the bushes. Is he really going to try kill one with a machete??? That’s mental!!! I’m still hopeful, I want that meat for dinner! But he unsurprisingly comes back empty handed 5 minutes later.

It only takes half an hour to reach our camp for the night. Dennis explains that he’s going to push on to book the boat tickets for tomorrow and arrange for a tuk tuk to come and pick us up at the same place where we started. It should be only a short 45-minute hike away from here. The cold beer is getting closer. 🙂

Day 19 Back in the city

After the last night in the jungle, we finish the last few kilometers to Requena. The feeling of arriving at our destination is exhilarating. We immediately get a cold drink from the nearest corner shop. And Dennis has arranged for us to take a shower before we go on the boat, which is probably nicer for the other passengers. That’s fantastic. For the first time for three weeks, I don’t have to fear for my private parts to get bitten by insects while going to the toilet nor get eaten by a caiman while washing up. I put clean clothes on that I’ve kept in my bag during the trip. I feel so refreshed. The other good news is that Armando and Hector have managed to take the plane to Iquitos and we’ll see them tonight before taking our own plane.

This is it then! We’ve finished the expedition. It has well exceeding my expectations. From a nature point of view, we’ve seen what we came here for, a massive anaconda and many more animals. From an experience point of view, we’ve lived at the rythm of the rainforest, going through difficulties at times but thriving overall. But most importantly from a human point of view, I’ve been through this adventure with the most amazing people I could ever hope for, Bérenger, Hector, Dennis, Hernan and Armando. I am still into that dream, I will need some time back home to realise what we’ve just accomplished. Right now, I’m really looking forward to eating a massive steak with a bottle of wine, sleeping in a bed or simply having clean hands to put my contact lenses on. This adventure has certainly changed my life, my perspective on our modern society and the comfort we often take for granted. However, this natural environment is very fragile and under threat. Every day, an area the size of a football pitch is being destroyed. I’m personally going to take a more active role to protect what is the primary source of the oxygen we breathe and the medicinal plants used in modern therapy. And one day, I wish I’ll be able to come back to finally meet with the King of the Jungle, the mighty Jaguar!