Tropical Nature Travel has opened the ultimate premiere parrot-viewing site in all of Latin America! Paititi, the Inkas' lost city of gold, has been discovered outside of the Machiguenga community in Peru. It turned out not to be just "gold," but Blue and Gold (MACAWS). The latest discovery of Charlie Munn, this clay lick is located just a short boat ride on the Urubamba River from Tropical Nature Travel's newest lodge, Timpia.
As if the several hundred Blue and Golds at this clay lick were not enough of a spectacle to behold, another clay lick at Kimaruari on the Urbamba is an awesome display of Green-Winged, Scarlet, and Blue and Gold macaws. Over 50 macaws can be seen on the clay lick at one time, all within easy photo distance from the blind.
Then when you think it can't get any better, you find yourself heading up the Urubamba to the Pongo de Mainique Canyon to view the Military Macaws nesting in the cliffs next to a magnificent falls. From here you will see fly-overs by Blue-Headed and Severe Macaws. NOW, it's the best, right?
WRONG, there is yet another clay lick on the Sebeti River, where you can watch Blue and Gold, Green-Winged, Scarlet and Severe Macaws flying over the rain forest on their way into and from the clay lick.
For almost two and a half hours we enjoyed this magnificent site from a viewpoint that allows one to look down on the flying macaws (great photo opportunity!) and occasionally flying directly by.
Sebeti also has a blind below the lick where you can view and photograph other species of parrots earlier in the morning.
A film crew from England was producing a documentary for "NOVA" on Charlie Munn's conservation work. Timpia and Pauai (the Kaytee Hyacinthine Macaw site in Brazil) were chosen as the focus of the film-- Timpia being the newest of the ecotourism lodges that Charlie helped open.
Seven other folks and I were asked to participate in the filming of the Timpia segment of the film, called "Parrot Passion." It is due to air on PBS in the fall of 2001. The film crew was waiting for us at the grass airstrip located in the Machiguenga community.
Approval for the use of the airstrip had held up the opening of Timpia for several months as the field originally had been approved only for the landing of planes in and out for the community's Catholic mission.
As we disembarked we were greeted by a horde of children. After all, it is not every day that a plane lands here. They were crawling around under the plane, touching the wheels, landing gear and wings. About 60% of the community is made up of children under the age of 15, according to Charlie.
Our plane, a twin-engine, 18-seater Otter, was chartered from the Peruvian military, which uses this type of plane to transport troops wherever they might be needed in the country. Because the planes are not in use all the time, they opened a commercial division with charters available.
Here's a travel tip for encountering grass landing strips. Bring out the "deet" (high-octane bug repellent) and tuck your pants into your socks.
One of the travelers on this trip forgot to do this and as a result got some nasty chigger bites around his ankles.
Of all the critters in the rain forest, these (besides the parrots of course!) deserve concern and attention. They are red and so small you can hardly see them. When they bite they leave a red welt that can evolve into a blister in some people. They seem to love elastic, and bite mostly around the ankles and the waist. Several different ointments were tried, including a local remedy. "Gold Bond" brand, however, seems to work the best.
After getting our supplies unloaded from the plane, we made the short walk to the river for our quick boat ride down the Urubamba to Timpia.
The lodge is located up on a bluff with a panoramic view out over the river and valley. Like most of Inkanatura lodges, this one is build up on a platform some 5 feet off the ground. As you enter, there is a long hallway to your left with 8 rooms set up with two twin beds in each. Straight ahead is the hall that leads to the showers, with hot water and rest-rooms (yippee). Off to your right is the large dining hall.
The lodge is completely screened in and pleasant, both day and night. But even with the screens, a maid comes by in the evening to lower netting around each bed and tuck it in under the mattress.
We had left Cusco late in the morning, which was nice because we were able to sleep in and have a leisurely continental breakfast at the Cusco Plaza Hotel, located just two blocks from the main square. Upon arrival at the lodge, we were served a delicious lunch cooked the traditional way. The meal is wrapped in a leaf and then slid into a three-inch bamboo tube which is then placed over the fire for cooking.
With some food to tide us over we were off for a boat ride. This was the longest canoe that I have ridden in South America--about sixty feet long and four feet wide. This allows room for two passengers side by side. With the film crew, their gear, and the eight of us, plus three Machiguenga boatsmen, we had a full boat.
We took a ride down the Urubamba to see the Kimaroari clay lick that we would be visiting the next morning. On the way, we passed several peci-peci canoes. These canoes are hollowed out of a tree and have a small engine that makes a "peci-peci" sound, thus the name. They were loaded with the Machiguenga soccer team. It was Sunday and they had been down the river to another community for a tournament.
It was approaching 5:00 pm and having viewed the clay lick, our boatmen turned the canoe around and we headed back up the river to the lodge. In the tropics you can count on the sun coming up at around 6:00 am and setting at around 6:00 pm.
Again we passed the soccer team. This time it turned out to be very helpful because shortly after that, we ran out of gas. Now, with a fifty-gallon gas barrel in the boat this is not a normal occurrence--but then again, you are in Latin America. We flagged down one of the canoes as it passed by and our boatman sent them off to the community to get some gas.
It is now after six which means that it is dark. Until you have been in the rain forest at night without a moon you do NOT know what dark is. We had pulled up on a rocky beach, where most of us had gotten out to stretch our legs. They have these cute little plants that grow up during the dry season right out of the river rock. They have a great mechanism to protect themselves--thorns!
During the wait I grilled Charlie with macaw questions. Like, "Have you ever seen hybridized macaws in the wild?" Answer, "No, I haven't." They came back with some gas and we were shortly on our way to the lodge, only about 10 more minutes away. Once there, we had a late dinner and then turned in for the night, as we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow.
The Kimaroari lick is not too far from the lodge and since the parrots don't show up a until around eight, it was not necessary to get up and be in the blind by first light. After a breakfast of fresh fruit, juice, bread and a cup of cocoa we were off.
The blind is about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, so it held all of us-- film crew included--quite easily. As actors in the film, we were to act normal (?! Now there's a stretch!) and ignore the microphone over our heads and the camera that was pointed at us. Oh sure!
Shortly after getting settled in, we heard the real subjects of the film start to arrive. Landing in the trees above the blind, the macaws could be heard chattering away. I suspect that they were saying something like, "OK, the humans are in the blind now--time for us to go eat clay so they can get some good pictures of us."
We counted about 50 macaws on the lick at a time, which according to Charlie means there are probably some 100 in the area, coming and going from the lick. This magnificent special lasted for over a half-hour, with Green-Winged, Scarlets, and Blue and Golds. The show is almost over.
Charlie wants the macaws to get used to humans in the area so we leave the blind while the macaws are still around. As we exited the blind the macaws were sitting in the trees above us, checking us out with great curiosity before they flew off to play in the rain forest for the day.
Macaws in the wild will feed first thing in the morning before visiting the clay licks and then once again mid-afternoon. Charlie does not believe that all macaws come to the clay lick each and every day but probably show up several times a week.
There are boats posted up and down the river from the lick while the blind is in use to stop any river traffic, as the macaws are still skittish of canoes because this is where and how the local people, both colonist and indigenous, would hunt them for food.
After a great lunch back at the lodge and a little rest, we are off to the swimming hole. We travel up the Timpia River to a huge rock that juts out into the river. During the month of September the river is low so we had to jump out of the canoe on several occasions so the boatmen could get the canoe up the rapids. These boats only draw about six inches, but even with that we were still dragging the bottom on several occasions.
When we arrived at the rock, just to be on the safe side we decided to dive down to check to see if there were any logs or other debris that might have floated in. ALL CLEAR, up the back side of the rock we went.
Whoa! It didn't look this high from the water. Nathaniel, the lodge manager, and I were the first off the rock, while the rest of the party sat in the canoe, rating our jumps. Not to be out done by the guys, Lillian, a veterinarian from California, and Karen, a recordkeeper at a hospital back East, climbed up the rock. We counted to three and off went Lillian. Karen was shaking like a leaf but finally made the plunge and got the biggest hand of all for her courage. This is a great place to go swimming, however, the real treat is the river ride in and out through the rain forest.
Next was our second full day in the rain forest and after a good night's sleep we were up at 4:00 and left for the Sebeti lick at 4:30. A short trip across the river and we were on our way with flashlights for a 45-minute hike. At 5:30 we were all in the blind waiting for "the little green parrots," as Charlie put it. When they arrive, like the macaws at Kimaroari, they land in the trees above and around us.
At 7:00, it's time to head up the trail to the viewpoints located at the top of the bluff which overlooks the lick. This proved to be one of the most spectacular places to view macaws. As the first group of macaws arrive, Rita is saying, "Blue and Golds," and I'm saying, "No, Green-Winged." "NO! Blue and Golds," she repeats. "NO! Green-Winged," I say. Well, we were both right! The lead birds in the flock that she was looking at were Blue and Golds, while at the back of the flock were my Green-Wings.
Next was a flock of 19 Green-Winged, then came the Scarlets, a pair at a time. Altogether, 60 to 70 macaws, including some Severes mixed in. What a special treat to be able to be above the birds as they flew down to the lick, flying out over the valley from the surrounding trees.
For two and a half hours we watched them perform their precision flying, many times flying right by us at eye level. Never in all my trips to visit the macaws in Central and South America have I ever been privileged to such a spectacular event.
Just before we left for the day a pair of Green-Winged flew in and landed in a tree not more than thirty feet over our heads. This gave me a chance to practice my macaw jargon. They sat there for close to five minutes while we chatted back and forth to each other.
Sadly I departed this delightful conversation and headed back to the lodge for lunch. After lunch and a short siesta we were once again off on a new adventure--up the Urubamba. When we spotted some Blue and Golds in the trees off the main river, we beached our canoe and scrambled out of it, as it became apparent that there were not just a few Blue and Golds but hundreds of them, flying from tree to tree down to what we were going to discover was yet another clay lick. You could barely see the clay through the openings in the trees but the macaws showed us where it was hidden by flying up and down the hill. "Paititi", the lost city of gold, had been discovered in all its splendor.
By the time you read this, there will be a blind constructed part way up the hill from which to view this magnificent site. We all climbed back in the canoe talking about how great it was to have been along for the discovery of the lick.
Onward we went to Pongo de Mainique, a 50-yard-wide, two-mile-long canyon through which flows the Urubamba River on its way from Cusco. This canyon is the only break in the entire Vilcabamba Mountain Range. The canyon has 3,000-foot-high walls, 30 veil-like waterfalls and is extraordinarily beautiful. Here was where we were to see Military Macaws in their nesting sites in the cliffs next to the main waterfall, the "Tonkini". According to Charlie, the Machiguenga name for Pongo is not "Mainique" but rather "Megantoni", meaning "the Place of the Meganto". "Meganto" is their word for Military Macaw.
While playing in the falls and swimming in a small cove created by the falls, we were treated to a fly-over by a pair of Blue-Headed Macaws. We were just having too much fun which the film crew couldn't resist. They put away their equipment and came down from the far side of the canyon where they had been perched throughout the afternoon filming us, and they went for a swim with us. A great afternoon was had by all!
It was now time to head for the Machiguenga community, located just a few miles from Timpia. They have a long building with a cement floor with many tables and the children were displaying crafts. Most of the rest of the buildings in the community are traditional, with thatched roofs and bamboo walls. We were introduced to many of the children who, with the young women from the community, were showing their handiwork, from beautiful beadwork to pictures of the community, the rain forest and, of course, macaws and other parrots. These crafts are available for purchase at the lodge.
There are two pet macaws in the community, a Severe and a Blue-Headed. Indigenous people like the Machiguenga allow their pets the freedom of coming and going on their own. Because they are fed by the owners, the birds always return. What bird would want to pass up a free meal?? It seems, however, that the Blue-Headed had gotten himself into some trouble and had his wings clipped to limit his flight. What kind of trouble could a macaw get into here? (If you've owned parrots, you know they'll come up with something!) It seems that he had decided that when school let out and all the kids were excited and making noise that it was his job to keep the community quiet. So he would fly down, land on the kids and bite them. (Faulty logic, but he was a bird of action!)
On our last morning the plane didn't leave until noon so we had time for one more hike up to the Sebeti viewpoint. We slept in until first light, had a cup of coffee, grabbed some bananas and were off one more time to see the magnificent spectacle of macaws as Mother Nature had intended--flying free over the canopy of the rain forest, screaming for all the world to know what a joy it is to have the awesome freedom of flight in the beautiful environment that remains.
For information on how to book this trip of a lifetime, Tropical Nature Travel can be contacted from our home page or by calling 1-888-287-7186.
ARA Editor: Tamara Stromquist