|down with a pitcher of mango juice. The next morning my camera was
still in pieces so we decided to spend another day in Tarapoto.
Tarapoto is not a bad place for nature lovers. It was near here in the
mid-1800s the English botanist and explorer, Richard Spruce,
discovered and named the Platycerium Andinum, or Staghorn Fern.
Spruce’s specimen died before getting back to England and it was not
until 1969 that Lee Moore, the Adventurer, rediscovered the staghorn
in the vicinity of Tarapoto and got a live specimen back to civilization.
I fondly remember growing two staghorn ferns in the shower of my
bathroom in Indiana, in the 70s, doing my best to recreate the tropical
rainforest environment. When I found my first magnificent specimen in
the wild rainforest, I realized how pitiful my houseplants had been.
This monster circled most of the tree, had fronds hanging down five
feet or more, and the 35 shield fronds grew nearly two feet tall. If my
house plants had reached their natural potential, there would not have
been room for me to have taken a shower.
The next morning my camera still did not work. I purchased the used
Canon 3.2 megapixel I had borrowed the day before. Compared to the
Nikon at 5 megapixels, with the wonderful lens and all the buttons and
functions that I know and love, this was a big loss. With no practice
and the manual in Spanish, the odds of getting great photos were
about the same as finding an orchid big as a plate.
|Moyobamba is the Orchid City, with
2,500 species of orchids growing in
the high jungle around the town.
Marmelita and I hiked jungle trails,
saw hundreds of species in full bloom,
soaked in the hot springs, went to
more waterfalls, and pursued tips to
the nearby villages of Lamas and Rioja.
We had a wonderful adventure,
accomplished most of what we set out
to do, and learned a lot. We learned
the truth is rarely heard, seldom
seen,and difficult to photograph. The
|orchid is more the size of a saucer than a plate, but it is one of the
most beautiful, rare, and valuable blossoms I have ever laid eyes on.
|adventure by discovering a large group of pretty flowering plants. He
dug some and sold them at a crossroad truck stop called El Progresso,
for $1 apiece. An orchid collector from Virginia, like a typical gringo,
paid $3.60 for three of them. He can be forgiven for not negotiating the
price. He knew they could be worth $10,000 apiece and make him
famous. I imagine him running down the road, looking over his
shoulder, cradling his three treasures, but an important part of the
story is he used Lee Moore’s taxi driver, Jose Mendoza. He did not have
to run; Mendoza drove him directly to Moore, who confirmed, “You have
the Holy Grail of Orchids.”
Wild orchids are protected by the international CITES treaty. This orchid
was new to science and was unnamed. The catch is that only 23
experts in the world can name an orchid and none of them are in Peru.
To gain possession of an unnamed, world-class orchid is hard. To get a
legal permit to take the orchid to an official taxonomist is next to
impossible. Legend has it that Lee Moore has smuggled most of the
things that can be smuggled. His advice was to put it in a suitcase and
go straight to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.
They are affiliated with five taxonomists, the most of any botanical
garden in the world. The collector walked through customs, worked up
some papers, and realized his dream by having the lady slipper orchid
named after him, Phragmipedium kovachii.
It is ok to build a road and destroy a million orchids. One gets a
permit. It is not ok to take an orchid out of the country in a suitcase.
That it has been done many times is not a defense, and it was not a
defense this time. Federal agents confiscated the plant and charged
and convicted the collector and the botanical garden of possession of
an endangered species and illegal trade. They paid fines, served
probation, and suffered loss of reputation.
At approximately the same time, the taxi driver, Jose Mendoza, raided
Faustino Medina’s patch, taking every plant, and selling them on the
black market to dealers in Ecuador and Lima. Lee Moore has the other
two plants left by the collector, and has acquired 200 others that he is
raising and propagating for the time when they are legal to export.
Faustino discovered another patch and seems to have sold several
hundred for $4 apiece to a rogue with a pickup truck named Kenneth
Reategui, who has a small recreational park and restaurant on the
outskirts of Tarapoto. He fenced them to an orchid dealer in Lima for
what is understood to be a small fortune. An article appeared in the
Orchidist, about the last known site of P. kovachii. A thousand mature
plants. It was considered to be a safe site because of its
inaccessibility, requiring a “hike from hell.” Two weeks later a
helicopter with cargo boxes swooped in and stole all but two plants too
high up on the cliff to reach. Armed men who would not know an orchid
from a cactus are fingering the hibiscus.
Visit this link, Flowers of the Peruvian Amazon, to see photos of some
of our trips. Anyone interested in having an adventure, photographing
orchids, touring Tarapoto, Moyobamba and the surrounding countryside,
swimming under waterfalls, and soaking in natural hot springs can
contact me to arrange an orchid tour or cruise.
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Follow this link to view posts from our new Captain's Blog.
|One day, not long ago, I sat at the round table in front of the Yellow
Rose, drinking a cold Iquiteña with my good friend, Ryan, talking about
the many beautiful orchids and epiphytes we have observed in the
rainforest near Iquitos, Peru. Ryan nodded his head. He glanced over
his shoulder, leaned toward me, and said in a low voice, “My spies,
who are wrong ninety percent of the time, tell me that a new species
of orchid has been discovered near Moyobamba the size of a dinner
“Sounds more like the size of a pile of horse manure to me.”
“My spies work for INRENA.”
The national institute of natural resources. Hmm. “I have always
wanted to go to Moyobamba.”
“They say the weather is perfect every day and every night.”
“I think I will go tomorrow.”
“You know about the Lacey Act?”
“How can I not know, you lecture me on it once a week.”
“I only want you to be careful and stay out of trouble. This orchid is
unknown to science, it is unnamed. You can not touch it, hold it, move
it, transport it, or export it. You understand?”
“I understand! I only want to look at it. Smell it’s scent, photograph it
for posterity. That surely doesn’t violate the Lacey Act, does it?”
“Be careful, it’s intoxicating.”
I spent one day researching and packing. My best friend, Marmelita,
and I left the next day for Tarapoto, a quiet, clean, farming
community. We found an inexpensive hostel, two blocks from the
central plaza, took a motokar to the market and made a meal out of
fresh milk, whole grain corn bread, good cheese, fruits, and nuts from
the local farms.
|In Search of an Orchid As Big As a Plate
|Marmelita with orchid
|Cattleya Maxima orchid
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|My Nikon D-70 camera malfunctioned
and the man at the camera repair
shop loaned us his digital Canon
while he worked on mine. In the
afternoon we hired a car to take us
up to the High Cascade Waterfalls, a
great place to swim and enjoy
nature. In the evening we ate
delicious, giant, fresh, aqua-farmed
Malaysian shrimp and washed it
|Here is most of its story, woven
together from several sources we
interviewed in and around
Moyobamba. Some of the locations
and most of the juicy gossip I am
keeping to myself.
A farmer named Faustino Medina
set in motion an Indiana Jones style