Monday, 2 December 2013

Leon, Nicaragua: Volcano Boarding

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Peru - Padre Cocha: The gringo and the village

A man of what would be considered fair complexion, standing at approximately 5´11", casually strolling down the street next to his girlfriend of similar complexion and some kind of backpack like device affixed to his shoulder would not be a stare worthy event in many of the areas I have visited on my travels so far in South America. In the small village of Padre Cocha on the other hand..... it is. I am by no means speaking of this in a negative way, as the way in which the staring is done is quite friendly and usually accompanied by greetings of "Hola!" which, in the case of small children, may often be repeated from the safety of the shadow of a door way until I am well and truly out of earshot (or for all I know, beyond). Now, allow me an opportunity to tell you a few of the tales of my experiences that have defined this connection (and separation) between myself and the local Peruvian people.

I have been living now in Padre Cocha for approximately 5 weeks and in that time I feel as if everyday brings me a little closer to the villages inhabitants and to getting a true glimps, contextual and small as it may be, into what it may actually be like to live here on the banks of the Rio Nannay, within Amazonian rainforest. At the beginning of this time, my limited Spanish proved to be a significant issue, with very few people speaking English. This infact proved to ultimately be a blessing as I was forced, through cultural immersion, to learn and speak the language on a much more regular basis. The primary ignition of my education being the local employees attached to Pilpintuwasi, the animal orphanage at which I was volunteering.

The beautiful Clarita, our lunch lady and one of the first people to befriend us as we were finding our feet in the village, made us feel at home strait away. We would stop by and say Buenos Dias every morning and would be met by her 2 sons at the door, Juan Carlos (7) and Hugo (12). The traditional hello from Juan Carlos was a secret handshake I taught him early on while Hugo would simply greet us very respectfully with a smile. Through playing soccer with the boys, inviting Clarita to my birthday (to which she brought homemade cake) and teaching the extended family English in an almost uncomfortably official setting, we ended up earning an invite to Claritas nieces 15th birthday party. Now to an Australian, a 15th isn't very special..... but to a 15 year old Peruvian female...... it is the biggest night of their life.

A 15th is a coming of age event that draws a huge crowd of extended family and friends that sit awkwardly around a dance floor in a circle and watch the birthday girl dance with as many men and boys as possible. After an allocated allotment of time, or in this case after the birthday girl has danced with a gringo (me) that is caught up in the festivities, a small confetti explosion is released and the birthday girl disappears into the back room. After a moment she re-enters the circle, dressed not in her original princess threads but in a new outfit that wouldn't be out of place in a local Discotec. Upon enquiring I discovered that this change signifies the Innocent girl, who can dance with many males without inference, becoming the woman who will experience all that being a woman entails.

Although this is just a sprinkling of all of the people I met and experiences I had, all in all the immersion into Padre Cocha and the day to day adventures that this involved was a part of this journey that I thoroughly enjoyed. If, while travelling, you have an opportunity to spend some time out of your comfort zone getting to know a community I would definitely recommend doing so.  

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Peru - Pilpintuasi: Makes no sense at all (Red Uakari Video)

A day with the Bald Uakaris (Vulnerable) at Pilpintuasi Animal Orphanage, near Iquitos in Peru.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Peruvian Amazon - Red Uakaris: A silent extinction

How silently some species creep towards extinction, hunting and deforestation desimating their wild populations. The beautifully peacfull Red Uakaris (Cacajao calvus) are one of the species.

I have had the pleasure of working with and learning about this species at a small wildlife Rescue Centre named Pilpintuwasi in the village of Padre Coche, Peru and have learnt about and seen the challenges they face first hand. Pilpintuwasi is only small but maintains a troop of approximatly 9 monkeys, including 3 babies..... one of which is the only baby to have ever been bred in semi or full captivity making it an important component of the local efforts towards understanding this species.

This species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Getting to Know the Species
The Red Uakari is one of 4 species of Uakari. The family Cacajao to which the Red Faced Uakari belongs also includes the Black-Headed Uakari (Cacajao melanocephalus), the Ayres Black Uakari (Cacajao ayresi) and the Neblina Uakari (Cacajao hosomi).

At the turn of the 20th century, the rubber boom saw an influx of people dispersing through the Peruvian Amazon, and these indivduals required food. The inquisitive and social Red Uakaries were easy prey. Since then, with the ever growing Amazonian population requiring resources, deforestation of their very restricted Brazilian and Peruvian flooded forest habitats that has condemed them to further decline.

It has been said that, as a result of their limited facial hair, a Red Uakari can express their emotions just as effectivly as we ourselves can, including anger and joy. This feature, no doubt, bides this species well as they socially navigate their way through their huge troops that sometimes contain as many as 120 individuals. Recent research has concluded that the unusual red face of the monkeys may infact be a sign of health, with those monkeys containing parasites or Malerial infection having reduced coloration.

Another very unique feature of Uakari species' √§re their rather short, fluffy tails; a feature that no other new world monkey can claim. Its uncertain how this adaption benefits the species but it definatly does not limit their athletecism as they bound easily through the highest reaches of the canopy. 

Nikis Bits:
Who would have thought id fall in love with a red-head.... but ive fallen inlove with 8 of them (not all 9, because one hates me and she´s a little evil anyway).

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Wildlife Photos: Iquitos, Peru

So as the internet in Iquitos leaves a huge amount to be desired, and my ability to get access to it also highly limited, I am constricted (boa constricted some might even say) in my ability to post exhaustively about our adventures in the amazon to date. One thing that I can do is share a couple of photographs of my favourite animals that I have encountered while working in the Peruvian Amazon.

Red Tailed Boa: Iquitos, Peru
Red Ukari: Iquitos, Peru

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Chile - Bolivia: San Pedro to Uyuni Salt Flats Tour

Being the writer of a blog allows certain privileges that are not afforded to the blog reader. For example, the writer can grab the reader by the pointer finger and transport them halfway across the world with the click of a mouse button (skimming them callously across the surface of the pacific ocean if they so please) and put them in the Bolivian Jungle eye to eye with a Puma. The writer can carefully place the reader on a small, slowly sinking tour boat out on the open Chilean ocean cavorting with hump back whales and nonchalant Sea Lions. The blog writer can challenge the concept of living for the reader through carefully constructed language and vivid imagery to the point where the reader may even open another browser window, being careful not to shut their favourite blog, and purchase a ticket on Web Jet to the places that the writer has imprinted so deeply in their minds. This pretty much makes the blog writer GOD of the blogging world.

One important power that the writer holds is that of time travel. Even though something may have been experienced by the writer in the past, he or she has the ability to transport the reader there now. This power is important, particularly when the blog writer may have accidently forgotten to write about a significant part of their adventure through a continent such as, but not limited to, South America. So allow me the opportunity to seat you in my very own Delorian, fire up the flux capacitor and take you back 2 months to the blank, white expanse littered with large, pink birds that was the Uyuni salt flats and our journey through them.

Day 1

The sun emerges after being seemingly buried for 12 hours beneath the sand of the Atacama, stretching light across the floor of the dorm, up the leg of the bunk bed until it just begins to warm my face. I awaken….. again. Its one of the downsides of dorm life, the co-inhabitant snorer. I felt it necessary to go to bed early last night so as to prepare for the 3 day desert tour ahead…… his deviated septum did not agree. It wanted to discuss the meaning of life in a droning, gurgled monotone all night. I wasn’t enlightened.
Pre-packing was a stroke of genius on Nikis part, particularly after the sleepless night we had. So after a brief amount of morning “prettying” and a breakfast massacre we headed out to the front of the hostel where the small bus from Estrella Del Sur Tours was waiting with its engine running. You will all know the type of bus im talking about. The white kind that usually contain school kids on an excursion to some form of local monument or an excitably drunk football team on their way home after an epic win or a disappointing loss. It was clean looking and the engine gave off a smooth purring sound so that’s a good start. We clamber in and the journey begins.
The first stop is the Chilean exit border crossing. It was orderly, ill give it that. Guided by tired men in military uniforms we and the 3 other bus loads of gringos formed a shambles of a line while one at a time we were allowed to walk up to the small, bared window and be processed.
Next, approximately 15 minutes further down the road, was the Bolivian entry border crossing. This place was unreal. Nestled in the foothills of an old snow capped volcano, surrounded by artefacts like half buried, rusted out bus bodies and the crumbling remnants of mud brick walls was a small stone hut. In that hut are two men, one desk, a stamp……… and nothing else. Welcome to Bolivia.

Once we were given entry to Bolivia our bus was divided into 2 four wheel drives and we were on our way. The first thing the driver did, in an attempt to break the ice, was offer around a small bag of greenery that he identified as the infamous Coca Leaf. Not wanting to be rude or commit any cultural faux pas, we partook as directed  and felt the desired effects which made the next 2 hours of the trip very talkative. The excitement of shooting through the desert on dirt roads at 80-100km an hour was enhanced by the drivers selected sound track……. 80s greatest hits. Whitney Houston will forever be in my mind whenever I reminisce about the desert. Eventually, after cruising through the empty expanse of dry, salty plains and jutting ex-volcanos we finally came to rest at our first night accommodation for a night of good food (really good food), card games and tea.
Day 2
After a relatively fulfilling breakfast, one that rose above the usual bread and jam that we have come to know and lov......., let me rethink that phrase. Know and accept, we then were once again moulded into our seats in the land cruiser and flying through the desert. Our first destination (and second, third and fifth) was one of the many impressive and highly saline lakes that shimmer among the mirages of the mountainous desert. Although these lakes themselves are about as impressive as any average size water body can be, their crowning glory lies in the scattered avian shades of fuchsia that collect in these lakes, sometimes in smatterings and sometimes in vast clumps, known to many as Flamingos.  There are in fact three species of Flamingo that inhabit this region including the Andean Flamingo (P. andinus), James's Flamingo (P. jamesi) and the Chilean Flamingo (P. chilensis). Of these, only the former two were observed in the Bolivian highlands as the third, the Chilean Flamingo, prefers more temperate areas.
These species of high altitude Flamingo co-populate the salt lakes of the Andes during the summer, even utilising shared nesting sites. During winter, both species of Flamingo are know to migrate to lower altitude lakes due to the increased aridity of the salt flats. Flamingo survive in the highly saline salt lakes through the use of a salt gland in their nose that excrete the excess salt gained during filter feeding for diatoms and microscopic algae. It is also this diet that gives the Flamingo their pinkish hue. The James's Flamingo is listed as Near Threatened under the IUCN while the Andean Flamingo is listed as Vulnerable.

The frivolity of day 2 didn't end with the Flamingos either, after another hour or so in the vehicle we were introduced to the rather steamy inner workings of the earth through an assortment of terrestrial portals known as Geysers. These intermittent discharges of water in its vapour phase erupted from the earth, covering an area of 50 square meters. Other more distant Geysers we could identify on the horizon stretched over 30m into the air and seemed to play a part in some sort of energy production system. We were told that people occasionally die as a result of slipping into the boiling mud that surrounds each Geyser, a story that many of the more callous tourists (of which I may have been one) were willing to test out as they lent rather close to the edge in an effort to get a closer look.

Finally, at the end of another comfortable car ride, we arrived at our next nights accommodation..... one of the infamous salt hotels. From the front of our saline palace we could see a road stretching off endlessly into the endless white obscurity of the vast Bolivian salt flats. This, we were informed, was where we were bound at 6am the next morning.

Day 3

Day 3 began with a rather icy awakening and a rather stomach achingly fast breakfast before, once again, we were in the 4x4 and racing through the haze of the early morning in a race against the sun. The reason.....? to see the sunrise over the salt flats, an experience that was far less enthralling than the guide books make it out to be. The sunrise over the salt flats was nothing compared to the sunrise from the top of Mount Kinabulu in Borneo which I had experienced only a short 3 years before. But, all the same, we were up and moving forward...... our next stop, a land locked island?

The island, as with the sunset, was (although interesting) rather unimpressive. I put this down to my tired mind and, consequentially, un-enthusiastic attitude. The island is an oasis among the vast expanse of salt desert, an expanse of white that is renowned for one primary thing...... humorous point of perspective photos.

These are those photos:

Then to Uyuni, a desolate town with little to offer other than a train garbage dump, huge dust devils and a forest of plastic bags attached to cacti. The one redeeming quality of this town, the food. Llama pizza being a highlight.

The tour was well worth it. The people we met on the tour, the lakes, the Flamingos, the Geysers and the expansive landscape being the highlights.

Now, back into the Delorian, fire up the flux capacitor and back to the future we go.

Niki's Bits

Hard to remember it was all so long ago.... whitney houstan blarring in our cramped 4x4, freezing chattering teeth, surreal pink birds and several nature loo's with amazing views...

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Bolivia: Inti Wara Yassi - Azara's Night Monkeys

Among the most interesting and enigmatic species that I have had the pleasure of seeing, enriching, playing with, feeding, walking (on a leash to their designated play ground) and being bitten by are the three amazing Azara's Night Monkeys (Aotus azarae) that are currently being rehabilitated by Inti Wara Yassi, Pete, Celine and Cucu. On our arrival at the park, due to their nocturnal nature conflicting with peoples down time, these three monkeys were largely forgotten about by the volunteers. But after one evening with them I was hooked.
I ended up spending almost every spare moment I had enriching their lives through enclosure development, toy manufacturing and just generally spending time with them and ensuring they were happy and healthy. In turn, they also enriched my life, making my life at Inti Wara Yassi all the better for their presence.


Azara's Night Monkeys (Aotus azarae)

Azara's Night Monkeys are one of 8 species of night monkey that occur throughout South and Central America. Although this species of night monkey is widely distributed through Panama, northern Colombia, northwestern Venezuela, northern Peru, southern Brazil, and eastern Ecuador much of its habitat is under threat due to clearing for agricultural purposes.

The 8 species of night monkey constitute the only fully nocturnal species' of primate in the world resulting in a reduced level of competition between diurnal primates that may otherwise compete for fruits, leaves, flowers, and insects.

The Azaras Night Monkeys of Inti Wara Yassi

All three Azara's Night Monkeys that were managed by Inti Wara Yassi at Parque Ambue Ari were surrendered to the park at a very young age. These monkeys all have had run ins with humans at one stage or another that resulted in them requiring the care and attention that is provided by the park.

Pete: Pete was the only male of the three night monkeys. He was separated from his mother when he was a baby during farm construction activities and was surrendered to the park by the farmer who found him among wood debris. Although a little moody at times due to the hormonal changes occurring as he was coming of age, he was generally a happy, inquisitive monkey who would mischievously play with your clothing, bounce around the cage like an energiser bunny, play with whatever toys we made or sit on your head holding your hair like reigns and ride you through the jungle to their play ground.

Celine: Celine was probably the most affectionate and beautiful of the three night monkeys and her back story is not very clear. Despite being blind in one eye as the result of an ongoing fungus infection which made here quite quiet and placid, she was always the first to welcome new volunteers to the family and climb up on their shoulder where she would sit happily for the entire evening just enjoying the company. Her blindness also did not slow her reflexes as, being partially insectivorous, she would be nothing but a blur of fur streaking across the cage to catch a stray grasshopper that made its way into the cage.

Cuco: Its sad to say but during my time at Inti Wara Yassi, Cucu was the night monkey that I got to know the least.  She was found by a lady in a marketplace in Santa Cruz and, after being purchased, was surrendered to the park. Her timid nature made her generally very stand offish, only coming over to greet you once you had spent a bit of time getting to know her. Once we had made a connection though she was more than happy to come out for a walk to the play ground, play with a toy you had made her or even come over and groom you.