Heat, Humidity, Critters

May 28

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I was woken up by what I thought to be a cell phone. Clearly, this could not be, as there is no signal in the rainforest. However, the ringing was very real, and soon annoying. I was thinking to yell in the usual Stan way "turn the damn alarm off", but then realized that it would be both rude and quite useless, as the locals don't speak any English. It wasn't until the evening that I learned that this alarm clock sounding thing was a local bird. Boy, what an annoying voice...

The morning walk to the bathroom was incredibly wonderful, for two reasons: the obvious one, and also because of the very beautiful early morning fog, which was just lifting at this moment right after sunrise - clearly, we were working hard on further growing our sleep deficit. Once back from the bathroom, we were greeted by a cute small frog in our bedroom, immediately followed by an equally cute squeal coming from Essan, asking me to remove it. But first I had to install the macro lens and take a couple of pictures. Upon close inspection, it's amazing how dusty the little frog was!

After a very hearty breakfast we packed our things and embarked on a hike through the jungle to a view point about 5km away. Just barely off the lodge's grounds we spotted some monkeys. This time, I was able to produce some photographic proof, even if fuzzy and grainy. Our relatives move faster than the world's fastest autofocus, which had to be turned off anyway because it was confused by all the layers of thicket. All in all, we saw four different species of monkey - Alvaro, Essan and Lane saw a fifth, which just briefly ran through our field of view while I was busy shooting some insects. Oh well - there are eight different species in the rainforest, so with 50% I am pretty happy.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (46 pictures)
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The hike was by no means long, strenuous, or granting any other excuses for discomfort. If there only wasn't for the heat and humidity, that is. Let's say that I fared much better in Fairbanks last February. Bring on the cold, I can take it, but please keep the heat and humidity to yourself. Ironically, this is what I came for, but as so many things it always sounds better when you read about it in books or on the web, while in your air conditioned office.

Enough bitching, the rainforest is just that - hot and humid and thus the home of quite some interesting species, many of them very big, and thus easier to spot. Or so we thought: animals of all sorts of size, type and gender are very well camouflaged and thus hard to spot. Alvaro was very helpful, and few things escaped his experienced eye. Creatures ranging from moths over reptiles to grasshopper looking things, even a transparent insect sitting on a leaf, he spotted them. His spotting skills were almost out of this world (and raised the not so serious suspicion of cheating) when he spotted a tiny, perfectly camouflaged reptile from around a tree. Strangely, the one thing he missed was a large red crab sitting on a black log; blind Essan had to spot that one - as she said, well, it's friggin' red! So we had a good time with a crab that was missing two legs.

On and on we went, seeing more interesting things, mostly in the insect domain. After three hours we arrived at an overlook on a hill where we could see very far into / over the rainforest. It was a magnificent sight, prompting many deep and spiritual thoughts, such as my wondering why exactly I was dragging my telephoto lens with me, as it was not only heavy but also occupying the pouch where I planned to store my macro lens on the way back. Realizing that not so many people will come by here, I deposited the lens by the overlook, gambling that it would be too boring and heavy for the monkeys to play with.

On we continued to the next overlook, further up the hill. This is where the mandatory rant about heat and humidity needs to be inserted. By now I was soaked, and somehow my body kept producing more. I have survived 10 shuttle launches in Florida, some of them in the heat of a July afternoon, but nothing like this. But, as expected, the view was well worth it: the 2nd overlook was again very nice and you could see quite far over the jungle.

We rested and drank some water, I switched lenses and flashes, and back we walked. Downhill was easier for most of us, definitely cooler. At the first overlook we picked up my telephoto lens and continued back to the lodge. Clearly, our pace was quicker, and we stopped less frequently to see plants and critters. In about half the time of our ascent we made it to the lodge, with very very noisy tummies, where we were expected by the staff with the usual very exquisite lunch. Large lunch: we could only wonder how people are expected to eat all this, in this (you know it by now) heat and humidity, and then go on another trip?

Cleaning the sensor of a DSLR is a problematic experience; cleaning the full frame sensor of a 1Ds is a story of its own, but since I discovered some sensor turds after downloading the morning pictures, I simply had to clean the sensor. At home, I am proficient enough to do it in two passes in less than five minutes. Sadly, things are not as easy with 98% relative humidity. You touch the sensor with a swab, and you get a nice coat of water on the sensor. After the panic of the moment went away, I managed to come up with a way to get the water off - along with the turds. But let's say that I will wait with further cleaning until nicely dry Cusco.

The afternoon trip was much shorter, which was probably secretly welcomed by everyone. We hiked to the river dock, got on the small boat, and rode about 20 minutes downstream the Manu river where we anchored at a place which didn't look like it had seen any humans before. After a quick 20 minute walk through the rainforest we arrived near to a platform, some 10m up in the trees. The narrow metal ladder was very inviting, and indeed it must have been the highest I ever climbed, or am planning to for that matter. Alvaro, Essan, Lane and I were joined by the two boat drivers, and let's say it was getting a bit crowded up there for my taste. The view was clearly more enjoyable for the others than for me, as I could not get out of my head that I was up there where normally only monkeys go.

After watching the rainforest and some parrots for about half an hour, with the sun about to set behind the trees, we started the march back to the boat. We reached the river just as the last rays of the sun were disappearing, and rode the boat back upstream while watching the sky change color and be illuminated by the occasional lightning. By the time we arrived at the port of the Manu Lodge it was rather dark - the sun just goes here in the tropics. Of course I just removed my flash light from my jacket before we left. Sharing Alvaro's flashlight we made it through the pitch black jungle and arrived at the lodge, where we hurried to the well deserved shower. Cold water only, of course, but at least I would not want it any other way.

Dinner was good and big as usual, and we exchanged some stories about the Swiss Army and their F-18s, the Oracle cafeterias, and about the Peace Corps. We sorted the pictures and wrote our notes of the day - Essan most cutely looking like a miner, with my head lamp while in bed.


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