Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Manu National Park Day 1

Peru Day 6: With the moon still in the sky, we embarked on our 3 day-2 night journey to Manu National Park, an expansive protected area east of Cusco and Machu Picchu that housed the headwaters of the Amazon forest. The area is also a protected cultural zone. The journey would cover a descent from 11,000 ft to only 2,000 ft. Our guide Abraham with Amazon Trails Peru picked us up in a large van with a driver and a cook. We easily could have seated 3 more people in the large space.

As we drove out of the city, we picked up fresh bread on the roadside at the edge of the city. School-age girls clustered around the van in the pre-dawn chill, waiting to hand us the goods. To my eye, standing out in the freezing cold would have been quite terrible, but from their smiles and laughter, the girls showed no sign of discontent. Bread packed, we continued on our way into the mountains.

Our first stop was at Chullpas de Dinamarca, ancient tombs of a pre-Incan civilization. Supposedly, the royals were embalmed and entombed in these circular clay tombs. They appeared like a series human-sized chess piece castles dotting the hillside. A small rectangular window was carved into one side, but not much was visible within. The views of the surrounding valleys were quite impressive -- all things considered, not a bad sight for eternity. 

Tombs at Chullpa de Dinamarca on the way to Manu
Next, we headed to the town of Paucartambo, which lay along a river with the same name. As we took a cup of coffee, our driver went to get a tire fixed. We sipped the rich Peruvian coffee in a small shop as a World Cup soccer match played on in the background. The sun was fully out now and the heat was building.

As we continued onwards, we descended further and the surround flora began to change. The mountainous areas soon became more forested. As we crossed the simple park entrance, we entered a zone called the cloud forest, and the views did not disappoint. It truly felt like we were staring at the clouds, eye-to-eye, with hints of a forest peeking in and out as the clouds slowly sauntered by.

Cloud Forest
We eventually pulled over to the side of the road. Abraham was very sharp at spotting unique plants and birds with his naked eye, but his scope proved invaluable in bringing out the detail in the forest background. Even my SLR zoom lens was no match. As we took in the sights, the driver went ahead and set up a picnic table for lunch in a clearing up ahead. We enjoyed a fresh lunch with the rainforest surrounding us.

We drove deeper into the forest until we came to a viewing deck for the Cock of the Rock, a colorful bird that tends to cluster in a few areas in the forest. The males have a colorful orange head that are hard to spot initially but once seen, hard to miss. Standing there for 15 minutes, we spotted at least 7 flying around between the trees.

Cock of the Rock
Our last sight of the day before halting was a pair of monkeys, feasting on tree blossoms. 

We then headed to a bamboo lodge. The rooms were simple - beds with restrooms, lit but without hot water. After putting our bags down, Abraham took us on a night hike into the forest. I presumed we would have some background light from the moon and stars but was I wrong! The unassuming canopy overhead by day acts as shut out curtains by night. We were in pitch dark with only our flashlights to guide us. Walking became much more hazardous as it was very easy to trip over roots or other irregularities in the ground. While Abraham forged ahead undaunted, we 3 clutched each other as we cautiously inched forward. Abraham pointed out the ‘night life’, mostly spiders and moths. After about an hour, we headed back. We retired for the night after a quick dinner. 

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