Rare Earth

I wrote this article for the Bonaire Reporter, published October 25, 2011

This past June, Sabadeco residents Dennis & Tamara Brown were taking their daily hike when they came upon what the couple thought were wild orchids.  The blooms were visible due to a new road that was being cut through the development.  Afterwards, the Browns spoke with Sabadeco neighbor and local plant enthusiast, Marlene Robinson.  “I wasn’t convinced they were actually orchids so I waited for two weeks before I went,” confesses Marlene. “When I finally did go I saw the first orchids in a tree and then noticed all these bromeliads.”

The law under Bonaire’s Island Nature Ordinance protects two of the species Robinson observed, the Humboldt’s orchid and the bromeliad, Tillandsia flexuosa.   The other bromeliad, Tillandsia balbisiana, does not have protected status since this was the first time it had been observed on the island.

“I was happy just seeing that first tree with orchids,” continues Robinson. “And then when I walked and saw the bromeliads, that was really thrilling.  Later that morning, I located over 15 large trees populated with orchids.  If there are these three incredible finds in this place, what else is here? And what does it mean about this place?”

This bromeliad is a new variety of Tillandsia balbisiana discovered for the first time on Bonaire in Summer 2011 by Marlene Robinson.

Part of the answer has to do with island biogeography, the concept that explains why islands have such richness of species due to their geographic isolation.  “Bonaire has been out of touch with continental land masses since it was first created,” explains Kalli De Meyer, executive director of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance.  “What that means is that you can expect to find species, subspecies or varieties that don’t occur anywhere else on the planet.  We have over 200 endemic species on Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao alone that occur here and nowhere else on the planet.  And now, we just found a new variety.”

Humboldt’s orchid in bloom. Photo-Marlene Robinson.

Another reason why these rare plants exist is that Bonaire offers unique micro-environments where interdependent relations between organisms exist.  For example, the Humboldt’s orchid on the rugged Sabadeco hillside has specific relationships with ants for pollination and with fungi for nutritional transfer.  Few habitats support these relationships, which may be part of the reason for the rarity of these species on Bonaire. While the Humboldt’s orchid can be found in a few private gardens, its presence in the Bonaire wilds is unusual and diminishing.  Ecologist Dolfi Debrot from the Dutch research institute, IMARES, concurs. “Humboldt’s orchids are quite endangered on Bonaire largely due to overgrazing by goats. The best option is to draw property lines to avoid the plants.  However, unless that area remains ecologically connected to a more expansive and suitable natural habitat, just bulldozing around them will be only a stopgap measure. The plants will not be able to reproduce or expand much from a small fragment of natural habitat.”

Humboldt’s orchid in a catus.

Debrot is talking about the effects of habitat fragmentation, how checkerboard development can rapidly alter an environment resulting in species elimination.  Marlene Robinson realized this too and alerted DROB, the RNC and STINAPA about the rare plants at risk in this soon-to-be developed area of Sabadeco. After discussions, DROB recommended to Sabadeco (the Santa Barbara Development Company) that a comprehensive plant survey was needed to ascertain what is at stake.  Botanist John de Freitas from CARMABI, the biological research station in Curacao, conducted a survey that was completed last month. Results will be released this November, and thereafter, orchid and bromeliad experts will advise on the next step.

One scenario could be the establishment of a nature reserve within Sabadeco that would protect the rare orchid and bromeliad species from grazing goats and further development.  This would be beneficial to the entire community. Sabadeco would gain community goodwill and status as a champion of Bonaire’s natural assets in return for relinquishing potential development within the rare plant habitat. Value would be added to surrounding lots and neighborhood property values would increase by having an on-site rare plant sanctuary.  Sabadeco residents would have a nature reserve at their doorsteps to enjoy.  Local children could learn about ecology, botany and biology through organized school field trips.  Senior citizens like the “Sixty-Plus-ers” could take pleasure in leisurely strolls through the reserve when the plants are in bloom.

A Humboldt’s orchid in bloom. Photo-Marlene Robinson.

“People need to know what is there and outreach is important,” concludes Kalli de Meyer of DCNA.  “It has always been the ethos of our islands to protect and preserve, and live in harmony with nature and culture.  But if you don’t know that these rare plants are there in the first place, it’s just another hillside covered in ‘green stuff’.  That changes once you understand the specialness of the place and the fact that there is at least one variety that occurs there and nowhere else in the world.”

While a nature reserve would benefit many people, the rare plants in question would be the immediate beneficiaries. These botanical wonders are just a small, but incredibly important part of what makes Bonaire so unique.  Perhaps Marlene Robinson sums it up best; “There is just this incredible feeling of happiness to see something so special and new on Bonaire. No matter how long you live here, there is this sense that because we have a small island, maybe there is not much going on.  But the more you know about Bonaire’s natural world, the more you realize it’s extremely complex. It’s just this amazing, happy accident of circumstances and it’s obviously quite rare.”

One thing is certain.  The fate of this unique, biological community lies in a committed and creative partnership between the public and private sector.  Time is of the essence.   If that partnership happens, than this biological hot spot of rare earth will be enjoyed for generations.

Photo-Marlene Robinson.

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Part 4 & the final installment of the Peru Chronicles

The Stairway To Heaven

Photos-Hettie Holian

The Amazon jungle is a tangled mass of living biota that gets in your face, and perhaps more importantly, takes over your mind.  There were times in the Tambopato that I would momentarily place my hand on a tree trunk for balance as I passed by.  Within that tiny slice of time, some living being would land on my hand and occupy it.  Once it was a venomous beetle, no damage done.  During another, it was a curious, chroma-saturated butterfly.  In the jungle, there are surprises with each step.  Comforting, huh?

For someone trying to see birds, the jungle presents a formidable visual barrier.  Plus, the vegetative density of the maze prohibits even some of the magnificent feathery fliers from penetrating the towering canopy.  They are simply denied entrance.  That is where my trusted guide, Joelson ‘Fino’ Teixeira Toledo, came to the rescue.

“Let’s hike down the trail,” suggests Fino.  “In twenty minutes, we will be there.”

Our guide is referring to Posada Amazona’s, our current eco-lodge’s, stairway to heaven.  It is an observational tower rises 110-feet above the jungle floor, perhaps 20-30 feet above the dense, tree canopy.  It is only 5 am and while the sun struggles to make its encore above, all that remains below is darkness.  We walk with flashlights bobbing along the leafy, narrow path.  After about 10 minutes, we kill the lights.  There is enough illumination filtering down to barely negotiate the path.  My mind wanders to the day before when I foolishly asked Fino if there were Fer-de-Lance in the neighborhood.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss. This aggressive serpent is a venomous pit viper that inhabits the tropical lowlands east of the Andes.  At times, the Fer-de-Lance hunts in pairs where one gets the attention of the victim while the other strikes from behind.  They are so intent on the kill that they will continue their attack even if sliced in half.  Local knowledge tells to pin the snake down with two forked staffs, slice the middle with a machete, and then hold fast until the life of the deadly beast shivers out.  One man that ignored this technique had the severed head of the snake chase him for twenty feet before its adrenaline pulsed out.  Now that is bad ass.

So the Fer-de-Lance is on my mind as I stumble through the darkness.  Finally, we reach a clearing with early daylight. The tower stands before us.  Fino leads the charge up the single file staircase.  Even though the structure is heavily cabled on all sides to the ground, it vibrates and sways as we ascend.  Five minutes later we are awarded the payoff—the beginning of a new day over the Amazona.  As the steam of the jungle rises above the Tambopata, the birds begin to fly.Fino wastes no time setting up the spotting scope.  All three of us have binoculars too.  In the next hour we witness the wonders in the air.  A half dozen Blue & Yellow Macaws swoop down.  Not to be outdone, Scarlet Macaws, Chestnut-fronted Macaws and Red-And-Green Macaws cruise by.  We enjoy White-throated and Channel-billed toucans, plus four species of smaller toucans called Acaris—Lettered, Ivory-billed, Curl-crested and Chestnut-eared.  It is an amazing spectacle, a rainbow of plumage.

White-throated Toucan

White-fronted Nunbird

Scarlet Macaw

Gray-headed Kite

By now,  sweat bees are in our faces.  These persistent insects seek moist places like ear canals, nose nostrils, inside of the mouth.  It is not pleasant.  Plus, the tower begins to sway again.  I look to down see that another group of birdwatchers has arrived.  We continue to scan the tree canopy until they arrive on the landing below.  The moment we move 10 feet below, the sweat bees disappear.  Unseen territorial lines.

We return to the tower the next afternoon to watch the sun go down, and days later, visit another tower further up river at a place called Refugio Amazona.  On the top of that platform we also watch day’s end.  But what is most memorable is a small flock of Paradise Tanagers we spot across the way.  They are brilliantly multicolored, medium-sized songbirds with light green heads, sky blue under parts, black upper body plumage, and yellow and red backsides.  The bird truly lives up to its name.  We watch them prepare for the night in the waning light at the top of a 90-foot kapok tree.  As the red ball of a sun slips below, so do the birds, one by one, deep into the shadows of the leaves.  That is our cue to also depart.  As we head down hundreds of stairs to the jungle below, I can only smile. The stairway to heaven has paid off in spades.  Now if I can only make it home through the jungle without meeting a Fer-de-Lance…

A Bonaire Sunday Morning

Island Notes 95

It’s 8:30 am and my friend, Nat, pulls up in his funky, beat-up, open jeep to go for a dive.  We drop by Yellow Submarine for air tanks and head north to the dive site of Oil Slick Leap.  It is a first for both of us.  This place was originally going to be the location for the BOPEC oil storage terminal, but it was eventually placed a mile or so north of here.  Apparently, those responsible for naming this site were environmentally pessimistic about BOPEC’s ability to safely operate the facility and added “Slick” to the moniker.  That was prophetic for last year a BOPEC storage tank was struck by lightning and burned for days polluting the surrounding land with black oily ash.  Most of it, to my knowledge, fell on the land and surrounding saliñas (inland salt lakes, home to flamingos and other shore birds).  Not a good thing.

A couple taking the leap!

The ‘leap’ part of the name becomes readily apparent as we approach the shore in full dive gear.  There is a ladder down the cliff and into the water, but also two spots where you can leap into the sea below.  Nat and I choose the higher one.  No, the choice is not for cheap thrills.  Rather the lower jump point is where the rock shore juts out a bit to sea.  With the wave direction this morning, the higher leap spot is safer, even though higher above the blue.

I go first.  It is only about a dozen feet jump to the water, but burdened with tank, regulator, weights, fins and mask, I don’t want to screw this up.  Once entering the sea, the motion of the ocean will immediately move me toward the rock wall.  It is not a place where you want to be floundering.   I pop some air into my BCD vest for floatation, hold my mask with one hand and regulator in mouth with the other, and do a Daffy Duck leap with spread fins.  Perfect.  The current quickly starts moving me north, parallel to the craggy coast.  Nearly 30-something Nat leaps in like a frog with camera in hand.  We head under.

At 25-feet we are greeted by a yard-long barracuda grinning menacingly as it cruises by.  Nat takes photo of the toothy assassin.  We descend down to 85-feet and swim against a soft current.  This stretch of coast was beat up badly by Tropical Storm Omar nearly three years ago to the day, so I am surprised to see such healthy coral.  The usual suspects are hiding out—drum fish, parrotfish, blue chromes and butterfly fish.   A queen angelfish flashes its glorious patterns.  That always makes me smile.

Some of the "suspects". Grunts, squirrel fish, and a baby drumfish(lower).

Nat, down under.

But all during the dive, Nat and I are scanning the water out in the deep, above us and behind us.  This past week a whale was spotted by divers swimming underwater parallel to the coast.  We heard that big was beautiful and don’t want to miss the show if we are only so lucky.  By the time we turn to head back, the whale is a no show.  We ascend to about forty feet and ride the current over the coral back to Oil Slick.  I spot a huge moray eel down in a hole.  Nat uncovers the smallest lionfish either of us has ever seen.  In spite of its diminutive size and age, the invasive fish has a full armament of venomous spines.  Divers beware, but the real hazard of the lionfish, an Indo-Pacific misfit with few natural predators here, is that it’s gobbling up our reef fish at an astonishing rate.  Also, not a good thing.

Finally I see the mooring line at 20-feet that marks our return back to Oil Slick Leap, but I stop to look into the deep blue and watch a bait ball of thousands of 6-inch fish moving in unison.  I have plenty of air left so I descend down to fifty feet to get a better view.  The enormous school moves, as if it is one creature.  The fish perform an aquatic, circular ballet of serenity.  Minutes pass as I witness the bait ball undulate in form and change in direction and color.  This is the best show in town.

But my air gauge reminds me it is time to return to terra firma.  Nat and I swim to the ladder and scramble back to the top of Oil Slick Leap.  On the road behind, a dozen divers are preparing gear for their time below.  I am glad we got in the water early and avoided the crowd.  Hunger hits me now that I am back on land.  Maybe an egg and another coffee is in order.  It is just another Bonaire Sunday morning.

Sailors Who Never Left-Part 8, Caren Eckrich

After buying an old sailboat in Puerto Rico, a young

American woman sails south and discovers Bonaire.

It was in 1994 when Caren Eckrich decided that she had enough of sharing a cramped apartment with fellow students while attending the University of Puerto Rico.  It was time for a move and a chance to fully live her Caribbean experience.  “I wanted to live on a boat,” says Caren.  “I figured that if I bought one and lived on it, I could save a year or two of rent.  That turned out to be true.  It was really nice.”

Her quest for a nautical lifestyle led Caren to a weathered 1965 Sagitta 30 lying in a nearby harbor.  About 40 of these sloops were built in Denmark between 1965-1967 at the Royal System Yacht Yard near Copenhagen.  The boat was a robust, full keel, double ender (canoe-shaped hull) with a 4-foot 9-inch draft (depth under water) and a 9-foot beam (width).  The sloop was designed by Danish naval architect, Aage Utzon, who was known for designing beautiful, double ender sailboats up to 45-feet.  Utzon must have passed the “design” gene to his son, Jørn, for he later became the famous architect who designed the Sydney Opera House.

“My boat’s name was the same as the model, Sagitta,” explains Caren.  “It’s the name of a constellation and it means ‘arrow’.   Sagitta was a strong boat.  The fiberglass was one-inch thick.  She was built so well, and it could turn on a dime.”  As a 12-year old from Texas, Caren had learned to sail one summer at Clear Lake, California.  Her uncle had a small sloop there.  He offered her the use of the boat in exchange for sanding and varnishing the mast and boom.  Both skills—sailing and boat maintenance—would serve Eckrich well when she moved to Puerto Rico nearly a decade later.

Sagitta was my first boat.  I spent $8000 to get it, but it was badly neglected.  The boat was just floating there and nobody had sailed it for years and years.  It was bare bones.”  Caren and her boyfriend lived aboard Sagitta while she earned a masters degree in biological oceanography.  The boat was anchored in front of the university at Magueyes, an offshore island directly across from Parguera.  The aspiring marine biologist commuted to campus by dingy and used the facilities on shore—bathrooms, ice machine and Laundromat—conveniences lacking on the sloop.  Weekends were spent sailing to nearby reefs for snorkeling with friends.  It was an ideal life.

But a year before graduation, Caren and her boyfriend began to ready Sagitta for cruising. “He was really good with motors and I was really good with sailing.  It was a good partnership. The plan was to either go north or south.  I was offered a job at Sea Camp in Florida.  My cousin was working at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium.  We figured we would first go south and lay low during the hurricane season and then work our way back up to Florida.”

Unlike many cruisers who abandon jobs for a voyage of discovery, Caren’s goal was to cruise to her next job and then live aboard the boat.  In July 1998, the young couple began their journey, first sailing along Puerto Rico’s southern coast, and then pointing directly south to Bonaire.  Eckrich had heard wonderful things about the island from friends who had worked on Bonaire as marine researchers.  Upon landfall three days later, the young sailor was smitten. “I loved it.  We had just arrived and I had to go up the mast to do something.  When I got to the top, I looked down.  The water was amazing, not to mention that the reef was right there.  I also loved the island’s laid back attitude.”

The crew sailed Sagitta to Curacao a few days later to visit Caren’s cousin at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium in Willemstad.  She soon got a job there and began the live aboard life in the protected harbor of Spanish Water.   Then, life suddenly began to change.  The boyfriend left to pursue big wave surfing.  Later, Caren encountered problems with crime. “In one year, I was robbed six times and found two dead bodies—Colombian drug smugglers.  Thieves even stole the windshield from my old van—downtown and in midday!”

Caren felt that she could no longer maintain Sagitta alone.  “I loved the boat.  It was amazing.  But the motor was dying and I finally sold it for a good price to a French guy from Venezuela.  That was a sad day.  A few years later, I saw him.  He had painted Sagitta yellow.  The last I heard, it was still in Venezuela.”

Boatless, Caren took a dive instructor job at a resort on Westpunt, the far western tip of Curacao.  It was there she met her future husband, Frans.  Both wanted to leave the island, and after considering Costa Rica, moved to Bonaire to begin a new life.  Caren started her own business, Sea & Discover, a marine education center.  For seven years, she gave customers lessons and guided them on snorkeling and diving trips.  Frans began to renovate their house.  The couple now has two young daughters.

For the past four years, Eckrich has worked as an instructor at CIEE, the marine research station on Bonaire, teaching marine biology to university students.  Frans, in the meantime, bought a yacht named Oscarina for his next project.  Coincidentally, George and Laura De Salvo of the Bonaire Reporter were former owners of the boat, but that is a story for another time. Oscarina is now beside Caren’s Kralendijk home, waiting for repair.  Is it possible that this sailor who never left is contemplating an escape? “If Frans actually learns how to sail or learns more about motors, I actually might go with him,” says Caren with a sparkle in her eye.  “It’s a possibility.”

The Peru Chronicles-Part Three

Talking To Trogons(and other animals on the Wild Side)

Our quest is to spot as many birds as we can in five days.  We certainly won’t run out.  After all, there are over 550 species of birds in the Tambopata region of Peru’s Amazon basin.  But if it is left to me, I may only identify a dozen or so by trip’s end.  One of the reasons is that I am not really a bird watcher.  Sure, I have made nature documentaries about birds.  I use to go for an annual gathering of the tribes in southeast Arizona every May and partied hardy with the wildest group of talented birdwatchers you will ever meet.  And yes, I now help the national park on Bonaire four times a year doing shore bird counts as a volunteer.  But in all these endeavors, I have felt like an imposter.

Bird watching is not a talent that comes instinctively to me.  It does not flow through my DNA.  I feel as incompetent spotting birds as I did playing bass guitar in a band for four years or being a Little League pitcher as a kid.  Yes, I did all those things, but I never really excelled at any of them.  I knew deeply that no matter how hard I tried, I never would fully succeed, but I enjoyed doing them anyway.  I attained some level of competency, but missing was that comfortable groove, that delicious chill of achieving success.  No regrets.  We all have our limitations.

So I now find myself severely challenged in an environment that I have never experienced. I am in the jungle.  It is a snarled mess of buzzing growth that defines chaos to my untrained eyes.  Vines tangle with trees.  Plants are difficult to differentiate as everything is über interwoven.  It is a place where you don’t want to stand still for too long for something will walk on or over you, guaranteed.  There are even 40-foot trees called “walking palms” that actually move laterally over time, uprooting themselves in a desperate search for sunlight.  It reminds me of the Ents in Tolkien’s fantasy world.  And then there are the sounds.  What I think is a bird is actually a frog or an insect.  When the red howler monkeys start, it is a low frequency, industrial roar that drones on endlessly.  Every living thing here is on a vegetative podium, voicing its organic opinion vigorously.  It is a sound track that would make Johnny Weissmuller simply smile.

But all is well for me deep in the jungle for I have my trusted Brazilian guide who is enamored with Peru.  His name is Joelson ‘Fino’ Teixeira Toledo.  Fino has spent five years in the Tambopata.  His keen ears and sharp vision allow us to see motmots-birds with two tails, seven species of macaw, various smaller parrots, five kinds of toucans and other birds that look like they are fresh out of a Henri Rousseau painting.  But Fino is no James John Audubon, who in the 19th century captured birds on canvas with paint and moxie. Rather, Fino is a dude who could rival techno savvy Steve Jobs on his best day at a Mac convention.  This morning, we are searching for trogons—neotropical birds with broad bills, weak legs and Kodachrome plumage that would make Lady Gaga drool.  Fino whips out his iPod, quickly scrolls through a list 1800 bird calls all of which can be heard in Peru, and dials in “Blue-crowned Trogon”.  The iPod is hard wired to his waist-belted amp box that projects a whistling sound, whew, whew, whew, whew, whew.  Within minutes, we are directed by Fino to point our binoculars up a tall finca tree at 60-degrees, follow the bare limb to the right for four feet, and glance above into the greenery.  Sure enough, we spot both female and male Blue-crowned Trogons.  This is no easy feat as trogons are notorious for remaining still in the presence of humans.  I know this all too well as I stalked the Elegant Trogon through Arizona’s Cave Creek Canyon one hot summer with thirty pounds of camera gear.  But that’s not all.  Fino beckons howler monkeys in an attempt to engage in grunting conversation.  He hisses at an electric green boa constrictor complete with white polka dots hanging in a tree above our heads.  He chatters to five-foot long rivet otters frolicking in a steamy lake.  The hombre must have a Masters in jungle jive.

A trogon photographed through a spotting scope.

For the next five days we play ‘follow-the-leader’.  On rare occasions, Hettie or I spot a bird first before Fino sees it and he compliments us enthusiastically.  But usually it is our trusted guide who is first and urges in a loud whisper, “Look-look- look- look- look- look!”  He barely contains his excitement while we frantically glass the canopy.  By trip’s end, Fino is my bird-spotting hero.  Because of him we get to see over 130 species plus assorted other animals.  Strangely, he seems a bit disappointed by the number.

Before I left for the Amazon, my good friend Tom urged me to read The Lost City of Z, a harrowing story about 19th century explorer Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett whose obsession with the jungle led to his permanent disappearance.  Tom warned of what Fawcett found to be an unstoppable lure into this incredible, overwhelming morass of biota.  He asked me after I came back what I thought of the place.  I tried unsuccessfully to explain my compulsion to return.  I knew better.  But during my last hour on the Rio Tambopata, Fino told me of a place further upriver—12 hours by boat—where seven species of macaws flaunt their rainbow plumage, where softball-sized Brazil nuts fall from towering trees, where civilization is abruptly refused entrance.  Obsession?  Nah, not me.  Now where is that credit card?

The Peru Chronicles-Part Two

The Tambopata Tango

The Star Peru jet descends quickly over the white glaciered Andean slopes and down into the steam of the jungle.  We are heading toward the two-bit, funky town of Puerto Maldonado known for corrupt politicians, eco-unfriendly gold mining, prostitutes and dirty shanties.  Humphrey Bogart would feel at home here with fedora and a white linen suit. This frontier outpost lives up to all of that.

Greeting us at the airport gates is Joelson ‘Fino’ Toledo, a lean, tall Brazilian who would guide us for the next five days through Peru’s Amazon basin.  Before I take two steps, Fino asks enthusiastically, “Do you want to see your first bird?”

Sure. We grab our binoculars, leave our bags with the driver and follow Fino across the blazing hot, asphalt parking lot.  Fino stops at an 80-foot tree and points, “Look! Look!  Look!”  About two-thirds up, flattened against the trunk is a Great Potoo—a buff colored, orange-eyed, two-foot long bird that ranges from Mexico to South America.  We had landed only five minutes ago and Fino already got us to our first sighting.  I am duly impressed.

After an hour drive through spotty, slashed-and-burned jungle, we are delivered at our boat waiting on the banks of the Rio Tambopata.  This mud-brown river winds north through southern Peru, changing its name to the Madre de Dios at Puerto Maldonado, and then snakes east 20 miles to Bolivia.  There it becomes the Rio Madeira, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River.  The Madeira runs for 2000 miles. It dumps into the largest river in the world near Manaus, Brazil, the former rubber capital of the 19thcentury.

Heading up the Tambopata

But today, we head against the stream south and get into the rhythm of the Rio Tambopata.  The first dance step is boat balance.  The craft are narrow and long.  Before we start our boatman, Enrique, places people and cargo that bests suits horizontal.  If I reach from starboard to port in order to reach my pack, the boat leans quickly.  Sloooow is the operative word.  We are starting to learn the Tambopata tango.

The next step learned is the rhythm of the trip.  The overhead sun shimmers mirages off the water.  The heat overwhelms when we have to slow down. The sights of scarlet macaws, zone-tailed hawks and yellow-billed terns simply mesmerize.  Traveling by river through the jungle is everything that I had ever imagined.  A banana boat passes by.  A red howler monkey screeches at us from a 70-foot umbrella tree.  I watch naked local kids frolic in the river searching for relief from the heat.  I know that the Tambopata is home for deadly piranha and hungry caimans.

A white caiman on the hunt.

“Is this safe for those kids?”  I ask my trusted guide.

Fino looks in the direction of the children and simply shrugs his shoulders.  “They swim like that all the time.  Probably not a good idea.”

Lunch on the voyage--rice and beans served in a banana leaf.

Butterflies on the bank.

A banana boat headed to market.

An hour later we reach the jungle lodge appropriately named Posada Amazonas, the Amazon Inn.  This is home for the next two days.  Soon we will be sipping pisco sours at the bamboo bar.  But I don’t need the elixir to enhance the day.  I am already heavily hooked on the rhythms of the Tambopata Tango.