PERU, 9 - 23 May 2014 with Adrian Hoskins, Ana Ashida, and local guys Manuel and Miguel
Friday 9 May
The LAN flight to Lima departed at 1.20pm and arrived 30 minutes early after some 13 hours airborne. I noticed a gratifying amount of forestation in Amazonia, replaced by the grey-brown dry Andean west-facing slopes as our destination approached. Lima was reached at dusk, through low grey cloud and over a grey sea. Once through immigration we met our local contact, Manuel, who drove us through heavy evening traffic to the Maria Angola Hotel in Miraflores.
Saturday 10 May
Adrian and I met Ana for the first time at breakfast, a Mexican landscape architect with an impressive portfolio. Manuel picked us up at 9 for the journey east over the Andes, the first hour and ¾ being taken to exit Lima's sprawl, continuing past the barren brown hillsides latterly dashed with snow at the 4,818m pass where we stopped briefly, the car being chased by several youths keen to sell us things. Limestone became the dominant geology on the other side of the pass.
Traffic became stationary outside Tarma, the flower city, due to extensive roadworks but our accommodation for the night arrived at 5pm, a 250 year old hacienda - La Hacienda La Florida - at 3,200m. Essential Cusquena beers preceded dinner at 6.30 after which a young Swiss couple joined us to share experiences. Reached a chilly room by 9.30.
Sunday 11 May
Up at 6.15 and ran the water for a long time before the hot came through, then went to breakfast at 7. A simple but pleasing eat consisting of pitta bread to be filled with local jams and scrambled egg. Today is Mother's Day in Peru, and they make a big deal about it. The hostess of German descent offered a nice spontaneous gesture to Ana, a candle on a little bun, then gave her a great hug as her sons would not be getting in touch with her.
Away by 8 with either a faint weary headache or a bit of altitude effect. We continued to descend rapidly and after a couple of hours stopped at Rio Puntayacu, a small river flowing into the main valley, with no more than a row of fruit stalls bordering the road. This was our first opportunity to get the cameras out and there was plenty to occupy us at the roadside, various species of Perisama mainly, until we crossed over and followed the track into the forest. The track was good too and held us until 3.30 when things began to quieten down. My #1 target for the trip was Philaethria dido - would I be in luck?
At Le Merced we stopped for a snack before eventually arriving at our hotel at 6.30, the Hotel Santa Lucia in Satipo, quite a large town, its central square very busy with Mother's Day celebrations. I passed on a further meal, however the Cusquena negro was excellent! Back at the hotel it was time to split the suitcase contents selecting only what we'd need for the next few at Shima making sure that clothes and camera gear were protected from potential falls into the river crossings. Young Juan Carlos then knocked to say we'd be leaving even earlier in the morning, departing at 5am due to our road being closed at 7am.
Monday 12 May
Alarm at 4.30, car packed by 5.10, when Miguel showed up along with young Juan Carlos. The Kia will be full today! Loaded-up, we continued east along the dual carriageway under construction, the Amazonian Highway, soon to change the face of this place big time. After the next big town the road became a dirt track until Puerto Ocopa where we'd take the ferry across the Rio Tambo. This was preceded by a catfish and rice breakfast in a busy café before the crossing around 8am. Continuing to the indigenous Ashaninka village at Pauti we found the fast-flowing river too high to risk taking the vehicle across so we waded, sometimes above knee-deep, to the other side and walked about half a mile in hot sun to the very orderly and clean village. This was part of a necessary ritual, negotiating the Shima fee with the village chief, a woman in this matriarchal society. It seemed that all the women regardless of age were pregnant or had babes in arms! Having each handed over 300 solas we returned to the car before setting off through the forest following the Rio Shima and accompanied by three Indian porters carrying our food, tents etc through two or three more river wadings and around 12.30 the Shima shack came into view - just a bit different! Adrian was immediately disappointed as the area around the hut was very overgrown indicating an absence of collectors and therefore baiting. Manuel prepared the sleeping platform whilst Miguel laid a fire and set his cooking pot over it, later serving up a very good meal of rice, chick peas and chicken. The afternoon was OK, and the two Ms used machetes to clear the ground.
After dinner the generator powered a moth trap which attracted, amongst other things, the first Hedylidae of my experience (moths I reckon!) but by 9pm I went up to my tent.
Tuesday 13 May
Awoke at 5.40 just as it was getting light. Small sweat bees were 'everywhere' as the morning began its slow build-up. Miguel prepared porridge for us: I asked him if it was touched with cinnamon and he said "no, just woodsmoke!" Around 10.30am Miguel put down some ripe bait and butterfly activity exploded, we were busy at last. The star for the day was a solitary Morpho rhetenor that Adrian shouted out about and also a solitary Agrias amydon. I clambered up the slope to the upper river a couple of times, the 'river with no name', and found a dead snake that was entertaining a Riodinid or two. That evening I washed off my sweat in the pool out of the main river current, and very refreshing it was too. Moth trap again. To bed by 9.30pm. (Whenever anyone got up in the night for a pee the upper deck swayed gently, as if we were on a boat - there was no way to avoid it!).
Wednesday 14 May
Washed in the river at 6am and wandered the site ahead of a chicken chunks and chapatti breakfast. Today was hot, butterflies increasing with the sun's strength. Miguel's bait was proving to be too good as it was near impossible to single-out individuals to photograph. The two Ms went to the village for more supplies, some having been lost in the river crossing on the way in a couple of days ago, and returned at midday. It was so hot that I sought shade under the cabin, as did several butterflies. Lunch was kidney beans, fried eggs and plantain.
The afternoon seemed quite long and when I took my evening dip the water seemed colder than yesterday but refreshing all the same. Miguel asked to borrow my Swiss Army Knife to slice some tomatoes, part of what he was preparing for dinner. The usual generator and moth trap routine followed.
Thursday 15 May
Was awake at 3am…an hour and a half later I ventured outside, the ground illuminated by a billion stars and the still air dotted with fireflies. Deeply peaceful. Spiritual, unforgettable, etched in the memory forever. The Indian porters came at 10am to transport the non-essential gear back to Pauti, Ana and Manuel leaving with them. Adrian, Miguel, Juan Carlos and I stayed on site until noon and then began our journey back, butterflying as we went. The river crossings were well down on Monday's levels though still not to be taken lightly.
We arrived at the river crossing and car around 1.30 to find lunch already well on the way - spaghetti bolognese and tomatoes - for which we were joined by the matriarch, husband, daughter and grandchild then later by the four porters. When lunch was over and the locals had dispersed Manuel and Miguel stripped off to their pants and sat in about 18" of water to cool off.
Around 4pm we set off for Satipo, making time for a group photo with the Rio Tambo as backdrop, via the Puerto Ocopa ferry but were then held up for an hour by major road building. This will be the beginning of the end for the forest. Satipo was reached at 8pm and we parked up in the town square and immediately went for something to eat - the appropriately named 'Rambo Chicken' restaurant did us proud. Back at the Hotel Santa Lucia we were reunited with our suitcases, to be duly repacked.
Friday 16 May
Up for breakfast at 8 in the town square then continued our drive eastwards towards Pozuzo. Soon took the dirt road detour to Cataratas Bayoz, a waterfall venue and a good butterfly site on a previous trip, and I made the short detour with Ana. We stopped where a broad river crossed the road and picked up a nice Papilio and Fountainaea stopping finally at Oxapampa, a nice clean town at 1,800m with the standard central square. Manuel found the Carolina Egg Gasthaus in this colonial, mostly German town, a nice peaceful place surrounded by high walls with a solid gate, with pleasant gardens. My room was pretty good too with its typical Peruvian bed blanket.
Saturday 17 May
We set off at 9.10 stopping soon to buy fruit at the market. Under way, just gone 10am, taking the forest road out of Oxapampa. A major roadslip into the river was being frantically repaired so we had to wait until the bulldozer could clear a way through for us. This area is well cultivated but once into the cloud forest a light drizzle set in. Amidst stunning scenery of deep, steep-sided valleys containing large, northerly fast-flowing rivers, we stopped a couple of times en route but things were generally very quiet due to the absence of any sun, and lunch consisted of bananas, mandarins, and biscuits. Our destination, Pozuzo, was reached after a full day in transit at the lovely Albergue Nueva Patria located on its own a kilometre before the town. A bag of my smelly washing was immediately handed to Helga, and the others followed suit. Pozuzo is a clean, tidy and pleasant town in a German/Austrian enclave and we found a late lunch/early dinner at the Restaurant El Tipico Pozucino where I just had to try their Wien Schnitzel! Miguel's 86 year old father joined us for the meal, an ex-mayor of the town. The sound of the nearby Rio Huancapampa lulled me to sleep a couple of hours later.
Sunday 18 May
Just north of the town the Rio Huancapampa is joined by the equally large Rio Santa Cruz becoming the Rio Pozuzo whose valley we were to follow today. We continued in poor weather along the forest road deteriorating through low cloud into persistent rain for the next 2½ hours! Once at our intended destination we sat in the car until the rain eased. The rest of a very quiet afternoon was spent slowly strolling back occasionally being picked up by Manuel then dropped off again. He almost ran out of fuel but found an isolated pump just in time!
Helga came to inform us that a truck had come off the road on the way back to Oxapampa and that it would be closed tomorrow for recovery, inevitably delaying our departure.
Monday 19 May
… by 9.30 we were off in hot sunshine towards Oxapampa. A stop at the Yanachaga Chemillen Parque Nacional for a couple of hours was a pleasant break but the track was rather overgrown and dark making butterfly photography unusually difficult. Back in the vehicle we snacked en route on fruit and the breakfast rolls that Ana had made stopping 2 or 3 times to take landscape shots or stroll the track. The truck had come to grief at the major roadslip site, as expected, but had now been cleared.
Arriving in Oxapampa at 4.30 we went straight to the local famous cheese factory where, much to our delighted surprise, we found a range of Fullers bottled beers, so we bought some!
Tuesday 20 May
Lots of dogs barking and cockerels crowing through the night, or so it seemed, and some heavy rain fell too.
Back on the road at 8.45 in rain for most of the next 2½ hours to Le Merced where we stopped for a 45 minute break and sampled some local crème brulee and mixed fruit drink. Not far away, on the edge of San Ramon, Manuel located a hotel for the next couple of nights, the Shirampani, a kind of Art Nouveau monstrosity with swimming pool. We arrived there at 11.30 and quickly set-off for the nearby Rio Puntayacu again. Manuel parked at the top of the track by the river crossing which had much less water in it now, and in 70% overcast conditions the butterflies were fewer too. Collectors of all ages retained their presence however and it's clear that collecting in Peru is conducted on a truly industrial scale principally for the tourist trade, Damien Hirst, and Japanese buyers!
Wednesday 21 May
Breakfast at 8 in light rain and away 9.15 under overcast skies, but no rain now. Stopped at another police road block on the way to Puntayacu. Manuel took the car as far as he could, some 2k beyond yesterday's stop on this, our last full day in the field. We pretty much spent the rest of the day there in patchy sun making butterflying 'steady' - some nice skippers though. My highlight was Morpho aurora on the ground and even an underside shot only was a real treat. We walked most of the way back down to the main road reaching the car around 3.45. We went straight for a late lunch in San Ramon and found KFC and chips whilst a long procession of young kids in colourful outfits marched past, an out of tune brass band bringing up the rear. Manuel reckons that Colonel Saunders got his idea from a visit to Peru…
Got back to the hotel by 5pm just as a stream of narco helicopters returned to the large base across the valley. We met up again before setting off to the local Chinese restaurant. In bed by 10, serenaded by yapping dogs.
Thursday 22 May
Slept better than recently, and the dogs had been quiet too. The heavy rain that started around 4am had stopped when I got up at 6.15 although it was very grey with low cloud shrouding the forest tops. Eventually we departed at 10.30 for the all-day drive over the Andes towards Lima. Getting through Tarma took some time due to the continuing major roadworks. After 3 hours on the road we lunched at a trout café set by the railway between limestone hills but the 'silver satyrs' (Argyrophorus argenteus) we'd hoped for were not seen, and were probably not on the wing.
Our journey behind a succession of slow moving trucks belching out black smoke was a real test for Manuel but he looked after us superbly. At last the truckers stop-over at San Mateo was reached just before 6pm and we would spend our last night here at the Hotel and Restaurant Chez Victor. At 3,200m the air soon became quite chilly. The area became a vast truck park by nightfall.
Friday 23 May
Was up for a 7.30 breakfast and by 8.45 we were off again, descending through the brown dry mountains with little to do other than take photos from the moving vehicle. Some 50km from the city we could see the brown smog hanging like a blanket over Lima and the coastal plain. Civilisation I think it's called.
It was now time to head for the airport at 4pm just as the evening traffic began to build. Lima isn't the world's most beautiful city! Adrian and I were dropped off at the airport at 5.30, a good half hour before check-in for our 9pm Lan flight to Madrid. The Lan desk referred us to the Iberia desk as they'd be handling the flight. Once checked-in we decided to wander the shops before meeting up at 7 and going airside. With plenty of time to kill we did a bit more shop gazing then met up for a drink. Around 8pm we decided to go to our gate only to find the flight had departed at 7.40! Iberia hadn't informed us at check-in, but neither had we inspected our boarding passes!! Eventually we caught an Iberia flight departing at midnight with no idea where our cases might be.
Saturday 24 May
Got to Madrid around 7pm and Adrian had a boarding card waiting, but I didn't, put on a 9pm BA flight instead, delayed until 10.10, which left with only 20 passengers. Got to Heathrow some time gone 11pm and, as expected, my case was unsurprisingly somewhere else, and at half-past midnight I got home, wide awake….
This trip has to rank as one of the most memorable I have ever had the privilege to be a part of, a combination of great company, fantastic butterflies and other wildlife, superb habitats and dramatic scenery, and a wonderful overall cultural experience.