Day 20 | 24 May 2019 | MWC to Lima

For the birders out there, you may want to stop reading here as there were virtually no birds, other than a Jabiru, which got Garret to 400 lifers for Peru. I think I’m more relieved than he was as it meant he didn’t need to drag me out of the airport in Lima during our long layover to add one more bird.

But, even as a birding follower, you may be interested in the most bizarre day of travel I can ever remember.

It all started very badly as Garret set his alarm clock half an hour too late. I haven’t bothered to set mine on this trip as Garret has been like a precision Swiss clock for our morning wake-ups and so I’ve never needed to. I wasn’t worried.

I should have been. Maybe he’s just exhausted after the frantic birding pace?

The alarm went off five minutes before breakfast and if there were only a few birds to miss, it wouldn’t have been a crisis (Garret would argue the opposite) but we had a very tightly timed morning of travel where we couldn’t afford a mishap. It was a complete scramble to get everything ready for the 5am departure.

The second crisis was that it was pouring with rain.

We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather to this point but it all came apart on our departure day. If we were going to be sitting in a car, there would have been no real drama but we were travelling on two boats this morning and so, within 5 minutes of departing Manu Wildlife Centre, we were both bundled underneath a plastic sheet which was mostly ineffective and getting wet. It wasn’t typical tropical warm rain. It was a cold front. I didn’t know that happened in the Amazon.  We were both absolutely freezing after three hours’ exposure to the elements on our boat.

The first boat trip took us from Manu Wildlife Centre to a dreadful gold mining town called Boca Colorado. The boat landing was as close to a monumental disaster as we’ve had on this trip as I started teetering on the narrow plank exiting the boat and nearly ended up in the muddy brown waters of the Madre de Dios River. I recovered just in time. I shudder to think how badly that would have affected my mood, especially considering I would have lost every photo I took, never mind having to travel for two days with wet clothes.

We then climbed into a local taxi, which was about as old as my first car. It was a Toyota, which was good, but there was not much more to put in the “pros” column, whilst the list of “cons” would be too long for this message.

That taxi trip took about an hour and a half over a diabolical road. The worst parts of the road were the narrow river crossings, which are all passed over on narrow wooden bridges. The description of the construction is necessary to explain the next mishap. Each bridge has about 20 planks laid parallel to the river (obviously varying depending on width), all of which are supported by struts below. Each plank is separated by a gap of about 15cms. Just enough width for a new born calf hoof (the relevance will become apparent shortly). Then, on top of the parallel strips, they lay two strips of wider planks, just wider than a tyre width, that are parallel to the road. Each plank supports the tyres of the vehicle as it crosses. Much like the parallel strips you drive onto when a mechanic needs to inspect the undercarriage, I think. I don’t know much about the mechanics of a car.

As we approached one of the crossings, we had to wait as there was a small herd of cattle crossing. They had to walk across the wider planks as the narrow ones below were akin to a cattle grid.

At first, we waited tortuously for the first cow to cross. It had an unusable back leg (it must have been broken) and it took what seemed like forever for it to get across. Then another four cows crossed with a very young calf. The cows seemed to know that they needed to stay on the wider planks, but it may have been the calf’s first crossing so it simply walked out onto the narrower slats and all four legs dropped through, straddling it immobile in the middle of the bridge, with its belly on the planks and its four legs dangling below.

What a stuff up.

Our taxi driver, Juan and Alex all jumped out of the car with great intention to resolve this mishap. They would simply lift the calf to safety. The only problem was that the ample-horned mother cow wouldn’t let them get close to it. I don’t think a butting into a muddy river was in any of their job descriptions. They made several half-hearted and totally fruitless attempts. Alex even bravely picked up a few stones to throw at the cow but she simply stared him down.

We were well and truly stuck with no way to cross.

At one point our driver even contemplated driving with one tyre on the outer plank and the other on the narrow slats. It was a very precarious solution and since I had nearly fallen in the river once today, that wasn’t going to happen.

Fortunately, the locals were a lot braver than Alex and Juan, so we waited for a build-up of traffic and then a pair of sturdy men got out of their cars and shooed the cow away, grabbed the calf by its ears and tail and carried it safely across the bridge.

Muchos Gracias.

Fortunately, that was the end of our ground travel mishaps for the day.

We arrived in the town of Santa Rosa, took another boat (again in the driving rain) across the Inambari River to a clearing on the opposite bank to access the main road. That river crossing only took about 5 minutes but it’s worth mentioning that the boatman spent every minute of that bailing water out of the boat as he steered us to the other side. Chris de Burgh springs to mind (anyone younger than 40 won’t know what that means).

Once we’d paid the ferryman we got in another taxi and drove for 2 hours to the Puerto Maldonado “International” Airport.

It was a mere six and a half hours since leaving MWC and we had still not boarded one of our four flights for the next two days.

We said a very sad, but fond, farewell to Alex and Juan who were flying direct to Cusco to reunite with their families before their next assault on their year lists. They have been AMAZING but there’ll be more about that in my trip roundup (everyone groans at the thought of another long message from me).

We’re now at Lima Airport waiting for our flight to São Paulo at 11pm. We land at 7am tomorrow morning and then get collected for a morning of birds at a lodge. I may ask them for a bed while Garret sees about 50 more lifers. For the birders who are shaking their heads at how soft I really am, I’m just joking, of course.

No bird summary today as it’s pretty much unchanged from yesterday.

Click here for day 21