In the wilderness lies the preservation of the world.
Henry David Thoreau
Moving mud patches and many, many bananas
I grew up in central Peruvian Amazonia, having a whole jungle as my backyard. I studied Forest Sciences and have traveled my country’s forests long and wide, but I have to say: Tambopata is different. From the moment I jump into the peque-peque -this long wooden boat and classical feature of Amazon rivers- in one of Puerto Maldonado’s ports, loaded with water, food and many, many bananas for next days, the vibe changes as the trip into the reserve begins. Once you leave the city behind, it’s showtime. Keep your eyes peeled, animals love to go down to the river. Sadly, with human populations growing and cities expanding, continuous forests are farther out than they used to be…now we have to travel longer distances to see undisturbed forests and their wildlife. Nonetheless, Tambopata delivers. I barely blink as we go upriver, I don’t want to miss anything. I’m sweeping left and right to not oversee anything on either of the riverbanks. I had to look twice to be sure, but I see a small group. At first glance they seem like they are part of the landscape, just a patch of mud. Until the mud starts to move and I realize it’s a Capybara…yay!
I know people probably imagine Jaguars or massive Caimans when thinking of Amazonia. But for me, Capybaras are the highlight of the boat ride. I’ve never seen so many Capybaras on the riverside. These giant rodents are…well, giant. The biggest rodents in the world. Think a mix of red-haired guinea pig with Labrador. They are huge! And they love muddy areas on Amazonian riversides. They hang out in groups while eating long strings of grass and getting themselves covered in mud as they move forward munching on the greens. Our boat stops and gets a bit closer, while we just look at them. It’s a whole family, with two babies. Happily, peacefully eating grass, all covered in mud, and not minding our presence at all. We observe them for a couple of minutes and finally let them be and continue our trip. But I can’t help thinking how I’ve traveled many rivers in the Peruvian Amazonia, and this is the first time I see them this “easily”. That is Tambopata. And without quality efforts, like the ones led by Wilderness International, places like this could become nothing more than a distant memory.