Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve Revisited
A guest post by Gart van Gennip
Our loyal readers will probably say; “What? Again? We went to Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve just last month! There are so many interesting places to visit in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest!” And yes, they are right. But if you thought that every trip to the same area is the same as the one before, you would be wrong!
One example is our very unusual encounter with a tayra. The tayra is also known as the weird cat in Central America. It is an omnivorous animal from the weasel family. Tayras have an appearance similar to weasels and martens, growing to a size of about 60 cm, not including a 45 cm long tail. Tayras are expert climbers, and can leap from treetop to treetop when pursued. They can also run fast and swim well. Tayras will eat most anything, hunting rodents and invertebrates, and climbing trees to get eggs, fruit, and honey.
Tayras are playful and easily tamed. Indigenous people, who often refer to the tayra as “cabeza del viejo”, or old man’s head, due to their wrinkled facial skin, have kept them as household pets to control vermin. It soon spotted us too, and came down the tree trunks to take a closer look, as if to say; “Now you know what it feels like, you tourists!”
And so it was from day one; it seemed like an entirely different trip. Traveling up the Nanay River, we soon spotted a group of squirrel monkeys, enjoying an early lunch in a giant fruit tree. And not much further up-river, we came across a group of capuchin monkeys as well. Meanwhile, we had already spotted a large number of birds, some of which weren’t even included in the book we brought along to help us identify the animals we saw. There were kingfishers, the ever entertaining yellow-rumped caciques, different types of egrets and herons, turkey vultures and black vultures, hawks and falcons, caracaras, woodpeckers, parrots, anis great and small, hummingbirds and aracaris, blue-gray and masked crimson tanagers; the list is just too long for this article.
But during our jungle walks in places like Mishana and Llanchama, we also saw a number of frogs, lizards, spiders, dragonflies, and one of the largest butterflies I have ever seen. Our guide was very knowledgeable and seemed excited about this opportunity to tell us about his neck of the woods.
I was amazed at how much he knew about the plants and trees; a knowledge that seemed to go far beyond what one might expect from a simple farmer. He knew the names of every tree, bush, plant and vine we came across and was able to tell us their practical purpose, or what kind of medical application certain plants were used for. We even tasted a variety of fruits, nuts, and even sap from a tree that was used as medication for children’s ailments. It tasted sweet!
We left Mishana at sunset and were treated to another incredible display of nature. The river was as smooth as a mirror, perfectly reflecting the surrounding forest and the marvelous clouds sailing along in the sky. It was awesome to realize that we were probably the only ones there to enjoy this display of divine splendor, which would soon vanish, never to be seen in quite the same shapes and colors again.
The next morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise, along with the sound of monkeys at breakfast coming from across the river. But monkeys weren’t the only creatures around for breakfast; during the night a snake had crawled into the boat. I was chatting away with our guest for the week, when a slight movement caught my eye and I spotted it, slowly crawling along, as snakes do. The captain soon caught it, even though it put up quite a fight. Whether it was or wasn’t poisonous remains a topic of debate; even the experts couldn’t agree. But we were able to set it free, and both the snake and we were unharmed.
We set off in our canoe to meet the monkeys at 5.30 AM and were not disappointed. Slowly paddling underneath the canopy, they put up quite a spectacle in the treetops. One of them even fell out of a tree and landed in the water below, making a huge splash. Who knew this was even possible? Screaming in frustration, it ran back up the tree.
But the monkeys moved along quickly and soon disappeared from view. But then there is so much more to see. Butterflies, more than you can count. Especially the blue morpho is always an instant hit. It is unclear what the purpose of such a colorful set of wings may be, as it is easier to spot than a christmas tree in a graveyard. Its wings are of the most incredible fluorescent blue you can imagine, hardly a good camouflage, which cannot help its chances of survival, until it lands, closes it’s wings, and practically disappears.
Almost invisible and one of the masters of disguise just happened to fall into our canoe, when a branch of a tree scraped across it. Something that looked like a fair-sized twig, all of a sudden tried to run off and find a safe spot to hide: a walking stick, or stick insect, of about 6 inches in length. These are amazing, harmless creatures that can barely be distinguished from a dry twig. Even the way the head is attached to the body looks exactly like a piece of dry wood.
We decided to put our friend on a tree trunk, but this did not meet the approval of its tenants; about thirty medium-sized bats, which had been taking a nap hanging from the bark, all of a sudden took off and started circling around our heads, before disappearing into the jungle. But they soon returned, to see if those rude intruders were still there.
Another fabulous sunset and sunrise later, we were traveling further up the Nanay, when the vessel’s chef Judith, herself not foreign to jungle life, spotted a slight movement up in a tree. We would have missed it, if she hadn’t had such sharp eyes. What appeared like either an old termite nest, or a dead fur ball, turned out to be a two-toed sloth. Our calls and whistles could not persuade it to move, but softly poking the tree it was hanging on did, and it slowly started to flee. It gave us a cranky look, as it moved into the next tree, and we decided to leave it in peace.
We arrived in Lagunas, a peaceful, friendly village, but decided not to stay. There was a decent trail through the jungle to the next village, although the extremely high water levels had also affected this part of our trip, and we had to wade about 30 yards through a pond to get to one of the bridges in the area. A genuine ‘bridge to nowhere’!
But Samito, the village on the other side, was a truly lovely place. Quite large for a river town, with some 2,000 inhabitants, most of which appeared to be under twenty years old. Kids were playing football, basketball, or swimming and diving in the river, people sitting on their porches, or strolling along the concrete walkways; life sure seems sweet! It’s almost like every day is a holiday. Children who spotted my camera excitedly started to show off their diving skills.
We came by the community center and found an artisan workshop in progress. Women were learning how to dye dried grass and weave it into baskets, handbags and lots of other useful things. We discovered that a foreign NGO (non-governmental organization) is sponsoring this activity and comes once a month to buy up all the newly woven products. It allows the community to support itself in an eco-friendly way.
That evening brought the only rain shower of our trip and we spent a relaxing evening enjoying the noise of the rain on the water and on the roof of the boat. Yes, enjoying, just as we enjoyed four wonderful sunrises and sunsets. Our last day took us back to Iquitos, where we stopped at Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm, paid the Bora Village a visit and ended our journey at the confluence of the Nanay and Amazon Rivers, where we witnessed a spectacular display of pink and grey river dolphins, frolicking in the surf.
Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve Revisited
If you enjoyed reading this article by Gart van Gennip you will want to read Allpahuayo Mishana: It ain’t Disneyland, A Trip into Pacaya Samiria Reserve, and Save the Rainforest, The First Battery Recycling Program in Iquitos Peru.
Gart is also the publisher of Ikitos .com.
If you would like to read more by Gart on the Captains Blog, check out the links below…
I wrote this review of Gart van Gennip’s unique web site back in December 2008. Since those times it has grown up into a force in our virtual Iquitos community.