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Jungle Rivers of South America
Published on Friday, June 01, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - Miami, USA / Belém, Brazil: Upon arrival in Brazil, we transferred to coaches for our drive to the Hilton and a delicious buffet dinner, before retiring to rest up for our adventures ahead.
Wednesday, March 28 - Belém / Embark Clipper Adventurer: Our morning tour of Belém provided us with an introduction to the ‘rain’ part of the rain forest adventures awaiting us. A passing shower at the impressive Nazareth Cathedral turned into a downpour at the Goeldi Museum and gardens, but our intrepid group braved the rain and was rewarded with the garden’s huge Victoria water lilies, Ceiba, and mahogany trees, and even an apparently wild three-toed sloth resting on a palm tree. We then toured the huge Belém market, where highlights included watching the preparation of acai palm fruit juice and cassava flour, the traditional medicine area, and the fish market. Here we got a sense of the amazing diversity of the fishes of the Amazon River, including armored catfish, tambacui, pacu, and tarpon.
We then visited the Mangal das Garcas Park and restaurant for a delicious lunch and a tour of the grounds. Aviaries of brilliant color, scarlet ibis, and many other Brazilian waterbirds were in abundance. After lunch, we boarded the Clipper Adventurer and settled into our quarters for the next two weeks.
Thursday, March 29 - Breves Narrows / Amazon River Delta: Today we awoke early as the Clipper Adventurer prepared to enter the famous Narrows of the Amazon River Delta. Most of us gathered with the naturalists on the top deck to welcome the tropical dawn and watch the early morning activities of parrots and other birds. We were rewarded with wonderful views of chestnut-fronted macaws, the energetic calling of a red-billed toucan, and, most spectacularly, the sight of a magnificent king vulture drying his wings in the crown of an emergent rain forest tree. Shortly before breakfast, we also spotted a tucuxi, the smaller of the two freshwater dolphins of the Amazon, breaking the muddy waters.
After breakfast, our first Zodiac excursion brought us close to the forest and to the houses of the caboclos, the local inhabitants of the river banks. At the door of every small house, children smiled and waved, and many gave pursuit of the Adventurer during the course of the day, shrieking with laughter as they “surfed” our wake.
Following an afternoon rain shower we had our first recap from the expedition team, followed by another leisurely passage through a narrow channel at sunset, with the naturalists pointing out a variety of hawks and other birds, and several sightings of boto, the large, pink Amazon River dolphin. Then it was time for the captain’s welcome cocktail party; the animated conversations filling the dining room reflected everyone’s excitement at our first full day of expedition cruising.
Friday, March 30 - Amazon River Delta: Today, the rain forest fully lived up to its name, with a mix of sprinkles, showers, and torrential downpours. At dawn, we explored the tributary of Murupucui and experienced the morning sounds of the awakening forest. Some Zodiacs heard the impressive roaring of distant howler monkeys, and others spotted spectacular tropical birds, including sunbitterns and red-and-green macaws. Later in the morning we visited the town of Gurupa, exploring the old Dutch fort, the prosperous commercial main street, and a local boatyard.
In the late afternoon, we took the final Zodiac cruise of the day. The rains had stopped and we had a wonderful exploration of a small creek. Several pink dolphins were actively hunting for fish near the mouth, and we had our best views yet of these unique inhabitants of the Amazon. The cruise took us past several enormous fig trees, and the birders were thrilled with views of toco toucan, limpkin, and glossy antshrike.
Saturday, March 31 - Amazon River Delta: The day began with an early wake-up call for our last Zodiac cruise in the Amazon, up a small creek in the vicinity of Ariamba. We enjoyed splendid wildlife viewing, beginning almost immediately with a large tree full of macaws, parrots, and toucans near the mouth of the stream. This cruise offered our best views of toucans yet, with multiple sightings of both white-throated and channel-billed toucans, as well as their smaller cousins, the black-necked aracaris. We also had fine sightings of woodpeckers, kingfishers, and several species of hawks. Pepper Trail’s Zodiac got an unexpected surprise when an eight-inch long Amazonian fish jumped into the boat! After being thoroughly photographed, the fish was returned to the creek, with a tall tale to tell its friends.
After the Clipper Adventurer weighed anchor, our lecture program began with presentations by Peter Zika, Conrad Weston, and Pepper as we cruised the Amazon to the pilot station near Santana. We soon crossed the equator and celebrated with a champagne toast on the back deck, under a dramatic sky filled with towering thunderclouds. We steamed down toward the mouth of the mightiest river in the world, toward new adventures.
Sunday, April 1 - At Sea: Today was a relaxing day at sea, with beautiful sunny weather tempting many of us to sunbathe on the outer decks. In the morning, there was a screening of Simbiosis, a beautiful presentation about the Costa Rican rain forest, for which botanist Dennis Wille did natural sounds recording. Brent Stephenson and Peter also presented lectures later in the day. After dinner, a screening of the film Papillon got everyone excited about our visit to Devil’s Island.
Monday, April 2 - Iles du Salut, French Guiana: In the early morning we dropped anchor off the Iles du Salut archipelago of French Guiana, home of the infamous Devil’s Island Prison. Our Zodiacs landed first at Ile Royale, the largest island and home to the majority of the prisoners, as well as the prison hospital, church, and administrative buildings. On our arrival, we were greeted by a squirrel monkey sprawled nonchalantly on his back high in a coconut palm. We soon spotted more squirrel monkeys, as well as capuchins. The monkeys are not hunted or disturbed on the Iles du Salut, and are very tame, delighting everyone. We explored the prison complex on our own before being joined by two excellent French guides who put the history of the prison system in context—and in the process debunked many tales of Papillon.
We then transferred to the smaller Ile St. Joseph, where more dangerous and/or mentally disturbed inmates were kept. Here, the ruins seem to grow organically out of the lush, unchecked vegetation at the top of the island, the battered stucco walls painted in startling shades of orange and blue by mold and mildew. The entrance to one cell was nearly blocked by the enormous trunk of a tree, whose roots wound down the narrow corridor like a heavy serpent. It was sobering to imagine the hardships suffered by these men locked in their tiny cells, as the guards walked back and forth on the bars above them, their only roof.
After our full morning of exploration, we returned to the ship, and weighed anchor for Suriname. The afternoon was highlighted with lectures by Conrad and Pepper, followed by the daily recap and briefing.
Tuesday, April 3 - Paramaribo, Suriname: Dawn found us cruising up the Suriname River toward our berth in Paramaribo. After clearing the ship, we embarked on either a morning tour of the city or a birding excursion to the Peperpot Nature Reserve. Highlights of the city tour included the Waterkant, Paramaribo’s beautifully preserved waterfront of colonial-era wooden buildings, the historical exhibits at Fort Zeelandia, and the bustling central market. We also visited a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a Jewish synagogue—testimony to the diverse and tolerant nature of Surinamese society.
Meanwhile, the birders enjoyed a successful morning exploring the coastal forest of the former Peperpot plantation, including excellent looks at Suriname’s only endemic bird, the arrowhead piculet.
In the afternoon, everyone participated in a tour of the countryside, with visits to a Trio Indian village where traditional pottery is still being produced, and a Creole settlement for a cultural performance. Our last stop was the new Neotropical Butterfly Park, where we were surrounded by hundreds of butterflies of many species in a beautifully landscaped flight enclosure. Soon after returning to the ship, we sailed with the tide and enjoyed a reception on the back deck with the fine local Parbo beer. As we left Paramaribo behind, flocks of egrets and parrots crossed the sunset sky, returning to their roosts for the night.
Wednesday, April 4 - Essequibo River, Guyan: We enjoyed a rare opportunity to sleep in as the Clipper Adventurer cruised westward along the coast of Guyana toward the mouth of the Essequibo River. During the morning, a lecture by Peter on the mating of orchids, and another from Pepper on his studies of the cock-of-the-rock, kept everyone entertained. After lunch, we sheltered from the fierce tropical sun as we slowly cruised through the river islands of the Essequibo, toward our anchorage.
In the late afternoon, we embarked on a memorable Zodiac cruise among the islands. High clouds and a refreshing breeze had taken the edge off the heat of the day, and lovely evening light lit up the western sides of the islands. We cruised slowly past impressive masses of arching mangrove roots, pausing to inspect numerous colorful flowers and fruit. An active colony of yellow-rumped caciques rewarded a long stop for observation. As darkness fell, flocks of orange-winged parrots flew toward their roosts against a peach-colored sky, and we returned to the brilliantly lit ship, a welcoming sight in the tropical night. After time for a quick shower, everyone gathered on the back deck for a lavish barbeque dinner beneath an almost-full moon: the perfect end to the day.
Thursday, April 5 - Essequibo River / Kaieteur Fall: Today we visited one of the great waterfalls of the world, Kaieteur Falls, which roars off the top of a tepui, or table mountain, deep in the interior of Guyana. Getting there from our anchorage in the Essequibo River was not a simple task, requiring a 40-minute ride in a fast launch to the Baganara Island Resort, and then a transfer to a small aircraft, which took us on a 40-minute flight to the falls. The complex logistics were organized by Julie Fielding and Russ Evans with their usual efficiency, and everyone successfully made the trip. Kaieteur Falls has a sheer drop of 741 feet, which is reputed to be the highest single fall in the world. Standing on the granite ledges at the edge of the immense cascade was an incredible experience.
The hike to the falls offered many additional attractions, including several species of orchids in flower, huge spongy lichens and carnivorous sundew plants on the granite outcrops, and flocks of swifts zooming over the falls and roosting on the cliffs. Some of the groups were lucky enough to see the beautiful cock-of-the-rock in the forest near the falls.
Upon our return to the Baganara Island Resort, we enjoyed an excellent lunch followed by birding, ping-pong, or relaxing, depending on personal inclination. The river trip back to the ship featured a short walking tour of Bartika, a rough-and-ready gold-mining town whose residents were friendly, and perhaps a bit amused at the sight of our group in their midst.
A cocktail party on deck ended our day, with everyone toasting our successful adventure.
Friday, April 6 - Essequibo River: We made the most of our last day on the South American continent by packing two extensive excursions in this morning. After an early wake-up call, we loaded into fast launches for a run upriver to the small Arawak village of Saxakalli. We were greeted by the elders and also by the children of the village. A village tour was followed by a nature hike along a jungle trail laid out for visitors, with Peter pointing out plants like the flaming red “hot lips” flower and Pepper and Brent luring out several species of antbirds.
After returning to the ship for a quick breakfast, we disembarked again, this time in our Zodiacs for a short run to a timber camp on the eastern bank of the Essequibo River. Russ had scouted this site and found that the logging road leading away from the river looked promising for birds—how right he was. For two hours, the ship’s naturalists were kept busy running with their scopes to zoom in on bird after bird, with some of the highlights including spangled cotinga, paradise jacamar, and screaming piha. We were also treated to numerous close fly-bys by brilliant blue morpho butterflies. It was a memorable farewell to the South American rain forest.
After a barbeque lunch on deck, everyone retired for several hours of well-deserved rest. A lecture by Conrad Field and recap by the expedition team rounded out the afternoon.
Saturday, April 7 - At Sea / Charlotteville, Tobago: We spent a relaxing day at sea, leading up to our arrival at Tobago and an opportunity to explore the charming little town of Charlotteville. The seas were calm and finally blue again as we left the influence of the Amazon’s sediments behind, and many of us took full advantage of the opportunity to bask on deck. Our lecture program for the cruise wound up with talks by Rich Cahill and Pepper, and a popular quiz on bird facts led by Dennis.
We arrived in Tobago slightly ahead of schedule in the late afternoon, and we didn’t miss the opportunity to climb ashore. Russ and the expedition team quickly organized a Zodiac shuttle operation, and we had an hour to stroll along the waterfront street of Charlotteville, a colorful beach town that fully embraces the motto emblazoning many locals’ T-shirts: “Live Slow.” A spectacular sunset lit up Man O’War Bay as we returned to the ship for cocktail hour on the back deck. It was such a beautiful evening that we stayed out on the back deck for the final recap for the voyage.
Sunday, April 8 - Little Tobago Island: Even though many of us bought “Live Slow” T-shirts on Tobago, we didn’t follow that motto today, as a full schedule of activities allowed everyone to thoroughly explore this beautiful island. In the morning, an early birders’ group set out for a trip to Little Tobago Island, which is home to major nesting colonies of boobies and tropicbirds. We had wonderful views of the tropicbirds—dazzling white with long tails and coral-red bills—soaring against the green cliffs of the island. Our hike also provided close looks at motmots, nightjars, and other birds.
Meanwhile, another group disembarked the Clipper Adventurer for a hike through Tobago’s rain forest to Arygl Waterfall, enjoying spectacular views over the island’s steep valleys. Upon reaching the falls, many chose to take a swim. The ship’s naturalists also pointed out interesting plants, insects, and birds along the way, including Tobago’s endemic white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird.
After a return to the ship for lunch, we set out again for an afternoon of snorkeling and glass-bottom boat rides around Goat Island, a well-known coral reef area. Though the reef itself is sadly experiencing the declines affecting many Caribbean coral reefs, we observed many beautiful fish, including blue damsels, porcupine fish, blue tangs, and several species of butterflyfish.
Back on board, we enjoyed the captain’s farewell cocktail party on the back deck, enlivened by the sounds of the local Pleasure Pirates calypso band. And yes, there was dancing under the tropical stars.
Monday, April 9 - Port of Spain, Trinidad: During the night, the Clipper Adventurer repositioned from Tobago to Port of Spain, Trinidad. After breakfast, we embarked on a tour of the city and its surroundings, beginning with Maracas Beach on the north coast. This beautiful powdery sand beach was already beginning to fill up with families enjoying the Easter Monday holiday, and we were entertained by a group of young men playing cricket on the beach. Our tour wound through the Santa Cruz area, home to many greenhouses as well as major cacao plantations, before returning to the city for a walking tour of the Botanical Gardens. Because of the holiday, almost all shops and other businesses were closed, but we saw all the city landmarks, including the huge Savannah in the center of the city, home to soccer and cricket matches as well as Trinidad’s legendary Carnival.
After returning to the ship, we received our disembarkation briefing from Julie, followed by lunch and a few hours to relax (or begin packing). We left for our final excursion to see the famous scarlet ibises of Caroni Swamp. As we explored the mangrove-lined waterways, we spotted a tree boa coiled over the water, and then a rare silky anteater, wrapped in a ball and sleeping the day away. But by far the highlight of the day was watching wave after wave of scarlet ibises dropping in to a roosting island deep in the swamp, their red almost unbelievably pure and intense against the mangrove green. We returned at sunset for a final dinner aboard, reminiscing about the day and the trip to the sounds of a fabulous Trinidadian steel band—a perfect end to our Jungle Rivers adventure.