TRIP REPORT, PERU, PAMPA HERMOSA AND EL PAUJIL, 16 - 31 OCTOBER 2016, A TRIP ARRANGED BY ADRIAN HOSKINS ACCOMPANIED BY DAVID GEALE
Sunday 16 October
Met Adrian at the gate for the first leg to Madrid. The stop-over was a couple of hours and the Lima gate wasn't too far away but we had to go through security again. The long leg would be 11½ hours and most of Brazil and the Andes were covered by cloud as we approached the dull brown prospect that is Lima looping over the Pacific from the west. We waited for Regine's flight to arrive and then were chauffeured to the hostal in San Miguel through heavy evening traffic. The hostal was very homely, entered through what could have been someone's front gate in a high wall. David Geale was waiting for us. When Chris arrived a bit later we all cracked our first Cusquenas of the trip and chatted a while over crisps and another beer, going to our rooms at 10.30pm, or 4.30am Monday back home. Mark had not yet arrived from the US…
Monday 17 October
With a long transit ahead of us, we rose early at 4.45am before going down for a coffee. By 5.30 we'd met a bleary-eyed Mark and were beginning the drive east out of Lima with Juan at the wheel and Orlando, our chef for the trip, dozing in the back. Traffic was lighter than I'd reckoned for but after 90 minutes we were still passing through ugly urbanisation. Then after a couple of hours Juan diverted off the main road and took a dusty track into the Rimac valley bottom where there might be our first butterflies of the trip and where there'd certainly be some breakfast! The former to appear was a Chequered Skipper, (Pyrgus orcus), and the latter was an omelette. David showed us the Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) bugs on the Agave, very interesting.
The pass at almost 5,000m was typically forbidding, greeting us with a mixture of sunshine and sleet. The bustling mining town of La Croya was remembered from two years ago particularly by its massive limestone outcrops and a bit further on we began to see the small fields of cultivated flowers from which the scent of stocks filled the air. Lunch was taken just off the road before Tarma in cool and mostly sunless conditions but a Thespieus peruviae skipper attracted some attention. A few drops of rain began to fall as we packed up to go. Our hotel for the next two nights was reached at 4pm, the very comfortable Monte Prado on the edge of San Ramon. Cusquenas at 5pm, of course, after a bit of wandering around the grounds and took a few shots, including Cissia penelope, leading into dinner. Although the hotel had wifi I couldn't get my emails. As dusk fell the wind began to get up and fireflies braved it for a while, not to mention the lightning and first few drops of rain. We made brisk tracks to our rooms around 8pm with a thunder storm well underway.
Tuesday 18 October
Slept well, despite a noisy cockerel at 4am right outside the window, not to mention a raucous creature of some kind a bit later. Dozed until 6am, breakfast at 7, and off at 7.30 for the nearby Rio Puntayacu, back to an old special haunt from 2014, some 20 minutes away. The track into the forest was now manned and a charge levied for its use. Juan drove past the river crossing stopping about ½km further on by the bridge. The day would be spent walking up and down the track which David had baited with some of his smelly potion attracting some great skippers, amongst others. The sun shone hotly until early afternoon when we snacked at the trackside. I experienced some camera confusion as the viewfinder became 'snowy' and for a while I couldn't use it. But a chat with Adrian revealed that whilst the viewfinder had indeed 'gone' I could still use the camera's flip-out screen, so relieved about that! Phew! Got back to the hotel c4pm, showered and changed, beer at 5 and dinner before 7, to room at 7.20, played with the day's photos for a while, then retired.
Wednesday 19 October
Up at 6am on an overcast morning after rain. Departed at 7.40, now sunny, in a Toyota 4x4 and a new driver taking a right turn in San Ramon for our next destination, Pampa Hermosa. Our road soon became un-made, a gravel track running alongside and over the river, steadily heading upstream and uphill. The track was one vehicle width with a sheer wooded drop on our left. After about 45 minutes we dipped down to cross the river and parked up near a small habitation, very hot in the open. I walked back to the bridge and then sought the shade of the cooler forest. About 1km into the forest I came across a muddy patch that had attracted a couple of Cracker species, including Hamadryas arinome and spent much time here trying to get decent shots. Sweat bees were troublesome but as they don't sting they were simply a nuisance. Some drops of rain led me, and others, to seek shelter and this coincided with lunch under the tin roof of an open shack out of the still shining sun.
We left around 3.30pm for the final stretch to Pampa Hermosa, necessitating a multiple point manoeuvre with Orlando peering out of the rear window advising Juan how close to the sheer-drop edge we were - very close! Our destination was reached half an hour later where a Red Macaw greeted us. The site is superb, thatched log cabins nestling amongst lush vegetation. A quick reccy was in order, getting the lie of the land, before a Cristal beer at 5 in the bar. Hummingbirds buzzed around the feeders. At 1,200m the evening air was cool and I donned my thin Berghaus long-sleeved top to combat the chill. Dinner was excellent, lovely food served in style. I got to my room at 8.10 and was in bed shortly after, the constant rush of the Rio Utcumayo my lullaby.
Thursday 20 October
Slept well under a heavy blanket and got up at 6.30 on a chilly morning, but the hot shower was good. Strangely there had been no dawn chorus (that I'd noticed) nor cockerels or dogs! David was already out baiting before breakfast at 7. My first visit was to the nearby beach majoring on large skippers, followed by taking the path into the forest down to the mossy log by the fast-flowing stream below the high waterfall. There were more Firetips here, along with Prepona and Chorinea, all very exciting! Having made my way back up to the main gate, I bumped into David who showed me a couple of butterflies I'd almost certainly have missed otherwise. I decided to go back up the track towards another waterfall where David had seen a superb Swallowtail earlier but as things were very quiet I turned back at the second z-bend. So, I went further into the forest to where toilet-paper ‘arrows’ laid by David showed us which path to take down to a slab bridge across the river, some 15' below. In the open here it was boiling hot and butterfly activity was plenty and frantic making photography difficult. Making my way back for lunch at noon my timing seemed neat coinciding with thunder and rain. A bright orange male Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruvianus) put on a shy, mostly concealed display for me, and several others had been seen by the group.
This didn't last too long and with the sun out again it was time to revisit the beach but then the rain resumed and I dashed back to the lodge. Photos were dumped into my laptop to make best use of the time. When the sun reappeared I walked with Chris up the zig-zags to the creek past yappy dogs at the small homestead and a couple more noisy little critters at the creek itself. Seems like they feel they've got a responsible job to do, though none of them were scary or threatening. A Morpho aurora came down to the damp mud at the trackside but was too jumpy to photograph - lovely to see though. Back at the lodges, I made a final visit to the beach and the mossy log around 5pm but by now the day was effectively over. A strap-like green snake struggled to get away up the steep bank.
Friday 21 October
Awake since 4am and out of bed at 6. Heavy rain through the night had left a wet patch on my bathroom floor and clothed the forested hillsides in patches of mist. We had a slow start today, a combination of the rain effect and obscured sun. The beach was very quiet, David's bait washed away by the rain. I made my way to the slab bridge and by now the sun had broken through, and was hot. The butterflies were more controlled than yesterday but a fantastic Caligo superbus put on an open-wing display for us, quite spectacular and unexpected at this time of day for a genus that is typically crepuscular.
As I walked back for the noon lunch the sun had gone again and thunder was back out on the prowl, getting closer. Rain began to fall, light but steady. I ate too much at lunch - we're being fed three good meals a day here - and felt laboured during the afternoon. The session finished back down by the log with David and Mark in the hope of seeing some evening skippers but this was not to be though I picked up a nice Haetera piera skulking in the dark leaf litter. The evening routine was 'the usual' and by 8.30pm I was warm in bed.
Saturday 22 October
After a restorative sleep I was up just before 6am in the cool morning. The paths were dry as no rain had fallen in the night. I checked my camera settings as the flip-out screen is far from ideal, being completely used to seeing the world through a viewfinder. Nothing was on the beach at 6.30 - actually, not true - a large, busy, orange Opsiphanes zoomed around the beach and over the river before nervously settling and permitting a photo or two. After breakfast I went back to the slab bridge and it being a Saturday there were several locals making their way up to the shack across the bridge. Two guys plus dog were surprised to see me and one exclaimed 'Gringo!' which I repeated much to their amusement, we shook hands and off they went. Making my way up from the beach just before lunch I was unable to see anything on the camera screen, initially putting it down to the bright sun. But no, the screen had now died as well - the camera was a goner. Catastrophe! No spare.
Adrian and Chris came to the rescue, Adrian supplying a Canon EOS 5D body and Chris a Canon 24-70mm lens with macro, a heavy combination compared to my Lumix. There's a chance of finding another camera tomorrow at Le Merced or Oxapampa. Called in at the Cock of the Rock lek-viewing site across the river and saw a few more of these strange birds and made a final visit to the beach on what had been a largely overcast and subdued afternoon, getting back to the room by 4.15, totally whacked.
Sunday 23 October
Awake at 5.30 and up before 6. Breakfast today was at 6.30 so that we could be off at 7 for our transit via Villa Rica to El Paujil. We drove back down the classic steep-sided, heavily forested V-shaped valley to San Ramon where our original minibus was waiting to be reunited with Juan and Orlando. As a favour to me we diverted into Le Merced to seek out a camera shop and David and Orlando accompanied me around the town, mostly closed on a Sunday, without any luck. The next attempt would be in Oxapampa, a larger and more affluent town, into which David and I journeyed in a tuc-tuc, or mini-taxi as they're known locally. We walked the town square with no success and eventually took a taxi towards Villa Rica to intercept the others some 17km away, the last 12 of which were on a gravel road. We gave a young woman and her daughter a free ride home. The meeting point became our lunch stop though butterfly activity was limited by a combination of no sun and reasonable altitude. A spontaneous stop at the roadside just before reaching the protected Bosque de Sh'ollet produced a lovely 'Swallowtail' (Pterourus warscewiczi). Dropping down into the timber town of Villa Rica, nestling in its smoky valley, we reached our overnight accommodation, the pleasant Madreselva at 1,500m attached to a coffee plantation, around 4pm. Grenadines are also grown in this part of Peru, with the coffee crop shielded from the sun by plantings of introduced pine and eucalyptus - such a shame and a big regret for the future.
In the late afternoon a few of us walked through the wood and bark fragments of a destroyed forest passing a macheted marbled snake - the workers kill every snake they see, just to be on the safe side. You'd think they'd know which ones were dangerous and leave the others alone. Raul and Orlando went into town to buy wellington boots for everybody, apparently an essential bit of kit for tomorrow. Beers at 5 were on me - thanks to David, Adrian and Chris for attention to my camera needs, and to Regine and Mark for having their day disrupted. Having reduced my case contents by c50% and filling two large plastic bags to leave in the minibus ahead of our river journey tomorrow, I had nothing else to do but go to bed: it was 8pm.
Monday 24 October
Had a poor night - dogs frequently barking right outside my window, and a mosquito buzzing in my ear from 10.30pm through to 1am when I sprayed the fabric repellent over my head and belatedly inserted a tablet in the repellent device, should have done it earlier. Was then awoken by the arrival of a text from Barclays at 3am! So, realising that I was now mysteriously 'connected' I rattled off a text to my wife Jean and put a short call in to my sister, Trish. And as quickly as it came, the connection went! Breakfast was ready at 5.30am and 30 minutes later we were on our way through the town. The first 40 minutes or so were on decent roads which then became gravelly and sometimes bumpy travelling north up the eastern flank of the Yamachaga Chemellin National Park. We continued to the bridge over the Rio Iscozacin from where we'd travel by boat upstream for 12km to our next base. The boat would make two trips, people first then a return with cases, food and bedding etc. With life jackets on, the low-sided boat began the journey, soon reaching a set of rapids, oft-repeated until we reached the disembarkation point/rocks 2 hours later. En route we had to get out and walk a few times under a blistering sun and watch as David and the young guy at the front got into the raging torrent to pull the boat up the rapids. The Mercury outboard motor took a hammering, and the propeller significantly reduced in shape. But on one of the walks I managed to get 3 fleeting shots of a distant Philaethria dido, my #1 target for the trip!
We had our snack lunch out of plastic boxes before continuing the trek on foot to El Paujil. This was arduous, being stinking hot, tricky tributary crossings to negotiate, heavy rucksacks and cameras to carry, and taking 1¾ hours. At this point we could see our destination but didn't expect a deep river to cross. The expected boatmen were deaf to our calls, so David dived in, swam across, and returned pushing one of the boats. So eventually we got to the other side, staggered up the steep rocky path and saw the Research Station that would be home for the next 4 nights. Water was available, boiled rain water we think, but much needed wherever it came from. I was knackered - we all were. But when the boat returned later full of our stuff I had recovered enough to go down and help unload/porter the gear up to base. A real workout! I selected bunk room 1 and dumped my rucksack before exploring one of the forest trails for a while before a cool shower, beer and Orlando's dinner. David had erected mosquito nets even though the resident guy said they were unnecessary. Mark took the other bottom bunk. At 7.30pm it was time to turn in and it was a shock to find the room was still heavily hot. And the sleeping bag had got wet on its journey up-river, and had been laid on the mattress cover which was also now very damp, so I removed both and in the circumstances decided to sleep on top of the mattress in pyjama shorts only. At 8.15 I crawled under the net and at 8.15 was asleep. In the early hours I awoke cold but toughed it out until 6am so as to not disturb Mark. My sleep had been long and good.
Tuesday 25 October
Cold-rinsed my face and head at 6am. Then sorted out the sleeping bags, putting the wet one across the washing line to dry in the sun and replacing it with the one I'd brought from home, daughter Lizzie's I think. I worked out the bearing from the sunrise concluding that we were on the eastern edge of the park and that the river was flowing south to north. David was out baiting early, good lad. I spent all morning from 7.30 for 4 hours in the forest, upstream, species numbers steadily building doing my best to manage the camera's limitations. Mark joined me for some of the time, as did a small troupe of monkeys who were clearly unhappy about our presence and took to throwing things at us from on high.
Orlando had made a lovely drink - chichi morada - a purple (black corn) fruit drink that was quickly consumed. More please! I repeated the morning after lunch, cooler now in the forest but dark which limited the camera. The late afternoon routine was the usual one - beer at 5, trampled t-shirts in the cold shower, dinner, photos, and me to the room around 8.15: Mark was still with David going through his shots. I think the room was cooler than last night, but I was still sweating when I turned-in at 8.45pm, and the sleeping bag didn't help either.
Wednesday 26 October
When I nipped out to the loo in the small hours the sky was split in two - to the south it was full of sparkly stars and to the north it was dark with sheet lightning illuminating the scene almost continuously. Then heavy rain fell through the rest of the night leaving the morning grey and misty. And I awoke at 6am to discover that I'd been bitten to hell especially around my ‘pants line’ - were these chiggers/sand flies from the undergrowth/beach yesterday? I applied the ammonia-based 'Bite Therapy' gel and I also thought I might have 3 ticks in on the action too but wasn't able to make any impression with the tweezers so made a mess of myself scraping them off.
The dull weather continued well past breakfast as we hung around in the Comedor to see which way the day would go. Eventually, with my trousers tucked into my socks and top into my trousers, we took a boat the 30 yards across the creek to the north side, out of the National Park into degraded forest. Slow going. When the sun finally broke through the heat was almost suffocating. But a highlight of the morning was the presence of a magnificent Agrias (now for some reason reclassified as 'Prepona') claudina firstly devoted to Regine's trousers and socks, very bold! It then alighted on me flashing its amazing magenta and blue upperside, and was reluctant to leave. Another specimen was found on a baited leaf permitting good underside photos. Back for lunch at noon, a welcome break indeed. But I was surprised to see that my two plastic bags containing all the stuff I'd deliberately left in the minibus had now turned up!
After lunch David and Chris returned to the other side but the rest of us needed more recovery time and planned to follow at 1.30pm. But the boatman failed to show and the distant thunder seemed to be getting closer, and the sun had disappeared too. When he turned up just before 2pm and waded over to retrieve the boat I was now in two minds about crossing, as was Regine, but when David and Chris suddenly came into view on the other side we decided to stay. The boatman agreed too, pointing to the sky, so we all trooped back to base. I used the time to re-pack from the bags. At last the thunder stopped and some sun came through but I decided to stay this side and venture back into the forest. It was quiet, but peaceful. Showered and treated my bites again. I concluded (probably erroneously with hindsight) they'd most likely come from the mattress and also realised that Lizzie's sleeping bag would now be infested too. After dinner David helped me to remove the heavy mattress and replace it with the one from above. Lightning was building again in the north-east, where last night's rain came from…
Thursday 27 October
Spent an itchy night, better after I threw out our sleeping bag. Lightning, thunder and mucho rain from before midnight. Awoke 6.35 and applied the ammonia stuff, stung a bit. Felt it was a problem not knowing for sure the source of the bites and took a couple of Nurofen. At 8am it was still spitting, and cool. Apparently, the river had risen too much to make an early departure safe. We spent the whole morning in the Comedor through persistent and variable rainfall. David located some anti-histamine in the Tanager Tours first aid box which helped, at least psychologically. The rain continued into the afternoon. Time was spent trying to id my Adelphas until the rain stopped around 3pm, and down by the river the boatman had begun bailing out. The rest of the afternoon was idled away until a beer at 5 and another at 6. Re-packed my case and got into bed at 8pm, glad I won't have to sleep on these mattresses again.
Friday 28 October
Slept OK itchy-wise, but cold and during the night put on an extra t-shirt and used my towel to cover my legs and torso. Up at 5am and case on the verandah at 5.30, breakfasting before 6am, keeping warm in my fleece. The rain had stopped but the atmosphere was dull and grey. Lizzie's sleeping bag and my old boots were donated to the Research Station, their jobs finished for me. Two boats would ferry us and our belongings back to the 'port' but we needed to walk back c2km to be picked up. A bit pathetically we had to be transported the 30 yards across the swollen tributary so as to keep our feet dry - the boat guys laughed at us, with some justification! With wellies back on we tramped to the pick-up point and waited for the boat to arrive. The journey down the 10-12km of river was easier than coming upstream and I counted a total of 16 rapids, varying from short steep ones to long, drawn-out ones. At #10 the boat hit a big wave and soaked all of us, my boots sitting on the floor of the boat filling with water! Luckily I'd put the rucksack's 'kagool' on so at least its contents remained dry. We stripped off and changed into dry clothes on the pebbly beach, getting away by 9am. On the day-long transit to Oxapampa we stopped a couple of times, the second one for lunch and a bit of butterflying, reaching our comfortable hotel complex on the west side of the town around 4.15pm. At 1,800m it was chilly and a fleece was needed - in fact, I also put on my zipper jacket. My river-wet clothes were laid out on the banister though unlikely to dry very much. A pre-dinner beer was followed by a luxurious hot shower and an excellent dinner enjoyed inside.
Saturday 29 October
After a good night's sleep I awoke to a chilly room at 6.20, finalised my case and took it across to the vehicle before breakfast at 7. My clothes remained damp, now packed in plastic bags. We'd spend the morning on the nearby western slopes of the Yamachaga Chemillen National Park up a track at San Alberto. A good four hours were passed here and I had the most fun yet with the camera due to a much better light and less manic butterflies in the moderate temperature. I shot some nice stuff, 'top' being the superb Polygrapha tyrianthina.
Our journey to Tarma continued after lunch as we dropped down to c800m stopping just before Le Merced for a break at a café alongside the river, sampling a soursop drink and also a tomato tree drink, both very pleasant. Then began the long climb up the Andes to Tarma at 3,000m, passing some major tunnelling/roadworks on the way. Our smart, gated hotel, the Los Portales, was reached at 5.20pm. After a lovely hot shower we met in the lobby at 6 for a beer and to order dinner and after a slow, but nice meal, Adrian, Regine and I hung around until 9pm in order to check-in for our flights on line. Boarding passes were PDF'd to the hotel reception for printing. Set the alarm for 6.30am.
Sunday 30 October
Up at 6.15 after a very itchy/scratchy night, didn't sleep well at all. After a buffet breakfast at 7 we soon set off on the long transit over the top of the mountains and down to Lima, passing once again the flower-filled plots of Tarma. The summit, at 4,880m, was gloomy and barren, as usual. One of the lakes contained Chilean Flamingos, Andean Gulls, some unidentified Geese and Swallows, Yellow-billed Teal and Giant Coot. The altitude gave me, and the others, a slight headache. A couple of stops were made on the diesel fumed descent down the West-facing Andes, both pretty fruitless, the first being remembered for a small flock of Eared Doves and, sadly, for a hobbling horse struggling with a clearly broken, dangling front leg. At the second, in the Rimac valley again, not far from where we'd stopped for breakfast on the way up, a Queen (Danaus gilippus) was photo'd at distance on lantana and a few skippers gave us the run around. Chicken pieces provided lunch.
The approach into Lima is horrible, ugly, and must be one of the most unwelcoming city approaches in the world. The airport was reached at around 3.30pm where we said farewell to Juan and Orlando. Farewells were also made to the others, at various times as our paths separated. As the Iberia gate wasn't yet open Adrian and I went up to the café area and shared a large slice of apple pie, and coffees, joining the check-in queue around 5.20pm, then soon airside. Gift shopped for the family. Departed 9.05pm for the long night flight back to Madrid.
Monday 31 October
I managed a couple of hours stiff-necked sleep hemmed into my window seat by a tall, black hooded Jesuit priest. Once at Madrid we had to change satellites taking the shuttle train and then walking miles. At one point we thought our flight had been re-directed to another terminal/satellite/gate as we couldn't find it on the board! The lass at the information desk put us right however. The exit process from Heathrow was fine, and it was good to be back home at last.