In Praise of the Mother of God

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You can understand why they named the river that flows through Peru’s southern Amazonian basin and the region around it the Madre de Dios (Mother of God). It, along with the rains that fall in the rainy season, is the life force behind the astonishing diversity of life that exists here. One does feel truly blessed to have seen it.

Yesterday we travelled to Lake Sandoval, an oxbow lake (I’m sure you all remember them from Geography lessons at school) created from this mighty river. We paddled around the lake, the only sounds being the gentle splash of the paddles in the tranquil water and the activity or calls of the local wildlife. It felt very much like their territory, not ours, and the guides do an excellent job of respecting this. They must do this every day, but their enthusiasm for viewing, photographing and interpreting the wildlife for visitors is infectious and inspiring.

We saw a family of giant otters playing in the water on the edge of the lake. Apparently the only such family on the lake, they are however the top predators, even having been known to kill and dismember black caiman, one example of which we also observed at the lakeside (alive and still in possession of all its limbs). Red howler, capuchin and squirrel monkeys all entertained us with their antics in the trees.

The first bird we saw was a majestic heron, perched on a log in the middle of the lake. Oh, a heron, I thought. We have three of them resident on the island in the middle of the boating lake in the park over the road from us back in urban and distinctly untropical Manchester! But that would be missing the point by a spectacularly huge distance. Peru doesn’t just have herons, it has birds aplenty: 18.5% of all the world’s bird species, 45% of all neotropical birds and the number one country in the world for birdwatching. Not to mention the incredible diversity of other animals and plants (more of which in a future post). We saw, amongst others, grey necked wood rail, white breasted small macaw and cobalt winged parakeets.

We didn’t spot any fish, but our guide Fray, who was brilliant, told us that 60% of the fish in the lake are piranhas. Apparently it’s safe to swim in and we shouldn’t believe the image of the fish given by Hollywood!

Later on we spotted a sloth and her baby in a tree. Apparently they only come down once a week, to defecate. I don’t know if they have to put their toilet paper in a bin rather than flush it, which is what the humans in Peru have to do. Back at the lodge on a nighttime walk the highlight was seeing the legs of a tarantula as big as your hand. Despite the best efforts of our guide to entice it out of its underground hole, that was all we saw, but still a memorable sight.

When you experience the amazing vitality and biodiversity of the jungle teeming with life, you realise what the destruction of just a small part of it represents in terms of loss of habitat. I do realise that there’s a risk of sounding like a hypocrite, travelling thousands of miles by air, writing my blog under cooling electric fans and then prattling on like an eco warrior. However, sometimes you need to experience things first hand in order to appreciate them and to help ensure that they are not lost. It has been a privilege to do so.

Muchas Gracias, Madre de Dios.

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