CAPTAIN'S BLOG
An observant, quiet person will have rich interaction with nature
during the course of every day in the upper Amazon region of Loreto,
Peru. I fished with two friends in my thatched-roof, wooden riverboat,
Dawn on the Amazon, less than one day’s travel from Iquitos. We
explored a labyrinth of small rivers and cochas, between 3 and 4
degrees south of the equator, without seeing another human being.
We caught fish every day except the day that is the subject of this
story.

On this particular morning, I could not trick a fish, not a nibble, not
even a piranha. My patience and confidence disappeared. I no longer
believed the next cast would catch the lunker peacock bass of my
dreams. Peacock bass, or tucunarè, are the hardest fighting fresh
water fish and one of the hardest to catch when the rainforest is
flooded.  The tropical sun was bright, there was no breeze, and the
only ripples on the water were the ones I made. I imagined the
tucunarè devouring small fish the size of my lure in the cover and
shade of the flooded forest, watching me bake in the hot sun.

A flock of greater ani, feeding on insects and frogs, worked their way
close to me, sounding like a factory manufacturing metal parts. Their
color is darkly iridescent, like a clumsy crow with the beak of a parrot.
I made another cast. A greater ani awkwardly half-hopped, half-flew,
with its tail flicking every which way, and nearly caught my lure in mid-
air.  I remembered years ago when I caught a screech owl on a limb
line. Well, first I caught a minnow, then a small, yellow-bellied catfish
ate the minnow, then the screech owl caught the catfish, which is how
it came to be that I caught the screech owl.  I love birds, and
particularly birds of prey, and felt awful the next morning when I ran
my lines and found how the drama of the food chain played out on my
limb line.

That did it for me, I did not want to catch another bird, so I reeled in
my lure, stowed my fishing gear, and paddled my dugout canoe
quietly around the edge of the flooded jungle, staying in the shade as
much as possible, watching, listening, learning, fulfilling my
fantasies.  I was witness to the primordial tropical forest. Giant trees
soared above me straight and true, like the masts of sailing ships,
vines hanging down like the ropes of the ships rigging. Strangler fig
vines grew big as trees, epiphytes appeared to grow and bloom in mid
air, under story plants had leaves the size of elephant's ears,
sensitive plants closed in the shadows, opened in the sun, every
shade of green in the spectrum represented in a mosaic of greens, to
relax the eyes, and fill the mind with wonder, and all the while my
ears were full of the songs of birds, overflowing with the squawks of
parrots and macaws.

They saw me first. Five Columbian black spider monkeys in a dead
tree hanging over the water a few yards in front of me were startled
to be seen in the open and put on an aggressive display of barking
and jumping to scare me off.  I lay back in the canoe and enjoyed
their antics for several minutes.  This was my first experience with
spider monkeys up close. They live in the high canopy and are usually
only glimpsed as obscure silhouettes before they disappear, never
coming all the way down to the ground. Part of the reason for this is
that Maquisapa are considered to be delicious and are hunted by the
ribereños, and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.  They are
primate smart, and must have determined I was not a threat.

I estimate they weighed nearly 20 pounds, with long arms and longer
prehensile tails.  They all gathered on one medium sized dead branch
and jumped up and down until the branch broke and fell in the water
with a splash in front of my canoe. They hopped off at the last
second, regrouped, and seemed very pleased with themselves.  They
jumped, swung, and ran away, limb to limb, occasionally glancing over
their shoulders at me and were soon out of sight.

I sat up just in time to look down the blowhole of a 8 foot long, 300
pound pink river dolphin as it sounded inches from my canoe and
splashed water on me with the expulsion of air, startling me again
with the sound, a loud bufeo.  It slowly and gently rubbed its body
the length of my canoe, the tail splashing me with water again as it
submerged.  It was an astonishing experience.

Was it a coincidence that the dolphin surfaced so close to me within
30 seconds of the spider monkeys departure? I think the two nature
events were somehow connected. The dolphin has a brain capacity
40% larger than a human and a history of interaction with people
along the river, and I am certain it initiated playful contact with me.
No other creature in the Amazon is the subject of so many stories,
and legends. The Bufeo Colorado is not a threatened species, partially
because the rivereños consider it to have supernatural power.  To
deliberately harm a bufeo colorado is virtually unheard of.
Supernatural powers or not, playing with a pink river dolphin,
breathing bufeo breath, is one of the unforgettable Amazon
experiences. After recovering my composure, I paddled back to the
Dawn on the Amazon to share my nature experience with my friends.  
They had also given up on fishing so we tied the canoes on the Dawn
and motored back to our base camp.

Even before we arrived it was obvious something was wrong.  We had
hung our laundry on a line to dry. The line was bare. Towels and
clothes were dirty and scattered. The morning’s breakfast skillet was
upside down with grease spilled all around. The spatula and a bar of
soap were missing. Our cloths had a musky odor. What happened?  
The mystery was solved when we spotted a handkerchief and my
underwear half way up a tall tree.

Every morning a large troop of squirrel monkeys moved through the
canopy. Each day they became bolder and passed closer, until this day
when they raided our camp. Squirrel monkeys have the largest brain
to body mass ratio of any monkey, which is probably why it was a
squirrel monkey that was chosen first to go into outer space.  They
are very cute, but have a strong musky smell. Unlike the spider
monkey, they have well developed opposable thumbs, handy for
stealing the gringo’s spatula.

We did the laundry again, straightened up the camp, cooked a nice
meal using the previous day’s salted tucunarè, steamed with onions,
garlic, ginger, and a splash of wine, yellow potatoes from the Andes,
fried in palm oil, turned with a fork, a heart of palm salad, another
splash of wine…or two, and sat around the fire retelling the stories of
our day.

Another Day on the Amazon River
Why were the animals moving?  Was it coincidence, the moon phase,
the “sign,” or some other natural phenomenon?  We decided it was
just another normal day on the Amazon River, in the rainforest, with
Dawn on the Amazon.
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Another Day on the Amazon River

fishing on Dawn on the Amazon I
Dawn on the Amazon I
(a prototype)
Dawn on the Amazon I