Monday, November 13, 2000

Heading Out!

This morning was an early wake-up. We wanted to check the website to make sure yesterday's highlights were posted. This morning was the only time during the next two weeks that we could actually see our site until the end of the trip. Thanks to Ernest, our friend receiving our transmissions in the evenings and posting them to the website, they were up!

After breakfast, we packed for our trip to Nauta, where we met our boat, the Mirón Lento or the "Slow Peeping Tom." On Saturday, Tamara sent the boat ahead to save us two days of travel time. The Mirón Lento is smaller than the Delfin, last year's boat, and travels much more slowly. Driving to Nauta saves us two days time and gets us immediately into the Reserve. She promised us dolphins by 3:00 PM!


The Iquitos to Nauta Express

Tamara hired a small bus to transport us along the newly opened road from Iquitos to Nauta. This is the only road in the area and serves to connect the two towns, cutting a path right through the jungle. Not many people have traveled this road, including our driver. Having been under construction since World War II, it is reported to be "mostly" finished. We felt a little like the travelers in "Around the World in 80 Days" who set out to circumnavigate the globe, but found that none of the roads or railways were completed.


Because the road is so new, Tamara's friends Hilmer, Adelina, and Harold came with us on the bus. They took a "holiday" for the day just to see what the road was like. We stopped mid-way and went wading in a small stream to cool down and wash off all the dust from the road. Some children also found the water refreshing and were "surfing" on a large log. Fortunately for us, it didn't rain this morning or we wouldn't have made it through. The dry potholes and rough road were enough of a challenge. We arrived in Nauta; hot, sweaty, and covered with yet another thin film of road dust.

Nauta is a river town located on the Río Marañón just above the confluence with the Río Ucayali. Nauta was settled around the same time as Iquitos. Because of its location farther up the river, it never had the importance that Iquitos had during the rubber boom. Still a frontier town, Nauta is a staging area for much of the exploration that continues in the area. We all wonder what the impact of this new road will be on the surrounding forest. No doubt Iquitos and Nauta will expand towards one another as the population in the area continues to grow.


Slash and Burn Cultivation

All along our route the jungle has been cut or burned back from the road. This morning the air was heavy with smoke and smelled of burning wood as small fires burned all along the way. There are groupings of thatch houses and small fields of corn, rice, yucca, plantains and sugar cane planted. The rainforest soil is poor in nutrients, so within a few years the nutrients for growing crops are depleted. The cycle will then be repeated and new areas will have to be cleared for planting.

Once the fields have been abandoned the land becomes eroded, as there aren't any plants to keep the soil in place. Native plants can't grow because there is no topsoil to hold or nourish the seeds. This slash and burn method of cultivation is ultimately very disruptive to the rainforest worldwide.

Along the way, we passed a group of people wanting a ride. The driver passed them by. He was worried that they could be dangerous, just as picking up hitchhikers in most countries is considered dangerous. This is also a concern on the river. If a boat flags us for help, the boat captain will have to determine whether it is a true call for assistance or perhaps a decoy to attempt to rob us. Tamara always defers to his judgement when on the river.

As soon as we arrived in Nauta we loaded the boat and headed out. We immediately set out our solar panels and started to recharge the super batteries we brought along. We need these to recharge all of our computer equipment. Hungry, tired and hot, we sat down to a great lunch of our favorite Peruvian potato and egg dish. There was a fresh cucumber salad and catfish in a spicy tomato sauce served over rice. We will not go hungry this trip.


The Reserve At Last

Just outside of Nauta we entered the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. This afternoon we traveled up the Río Marañón to the Río Samiria, a much smaller river in the Reserve. Once on the Río Samiria, we will travel all the way up to Ranger Station 5. San Martín village, located at the confluence of Río Samiria and Río Marañón, is the last village in the reserve and will be our last contact with people other than the rangers living at each of the five stations.

The long months of planning and preparation have all been worth it. It is absolutely wonderful to be on the river again. And, as Tamara promised, we saw our first dolphins at 3:08 PM. Tomorrow we will start counting them! You may want to review the information about the dolphins and Tamara's research in the River Dolphin section before we start posting our data on Wednesday.

A special hello to the students of Mira Flores School in Lima, Peru and Universidad Mayor de San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia.


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