Jatun Poza & Pacaya River
The highlight of the morning during our dawn, early birdwatching excursion was without a doubt the time spent watching a troop of squirrel monkeys forage along the banks of a lagoon. They were in low trees, close to eye-level, for about fifteen minutes, and we watched in complete silence. Massive leaps from branch to branch and small hands stuffed mouths full with berries or insects (hard to tell); it was mesmerizing.
After breakfast we landed by skiff nearby to visit the small community known as Jatun Poza, made up of perhaps 20 families at the very most. The modest homes on stilts were surrounded by fruit trees, medicinal plants and other food products. To hear about and see their lifestyle, be able to ask questions via our ship's staff, photograph and learn about these “riverside” people (“Riberenios”), was so very valuable a lesson.
Of course the fun really started when we were invited into the one-room schoolhouse. All fifteen students were introduced to us, and soon the visit turned into a “sing-off”, where the children, ages 5 through 12, sang a song for us, whereupon we were expected to reciprocate! After their rendition of La Charapita (the little turtle), we managed a decent rendition of “row, row, row your boat” in a two-part round for our first attempt. Their second song of “Como están amigos, como están” (requiring an appropriate response from us as part of the chorus), was then followed by “Old MacDonald had a Farm” with cows, pigs and ducks. Unfortunately, I think farm animals make different sounds in Spanish, and as a result, we were stared at in incomprehension for the duration of this song. But yo-yos, balloons and funny-bands were easily understood and graciously received before departure.
Before returning to the ship, the skiffs headed up-river until we found a quiet bit of shady bankside. Here, our simple canes with fishing line, hook and raw meat were prepared. Immediately, everyone's preconceived ideas of the ferocity and plenitude of piranhas in the rivers of the Amazon were dashed to bits. It took my boat two more locations before we finally saw success, and then it came fast and furious! Squeals of excitement sounded when the piranhas started falling for the bait, and their red bellies marked them as “red piranhas”. After the obligatory photo, they were released, of course. They were much too small to be worth keeping for eating, although they are known as a tasty white meat. No fingers were lost to this late morning activity.
The afternoon was spent travelling up the Pacaya River into the furthest reaches of the Reserve we could manage. “Sloth River” could be a new name for the trip up, but the biggest treat was arriving into a huge, still lagoon and finding the pink river dolphins. It took very little time for those of us prepared to strip down and jump in, and soon enough the puffs of air and breaths were heard of dolphins coming to investigate the commotion in the middle of the lagoon. Staying in the warm top two feet was the challenge, but really it was quite comfortable. Only reluctantly did the last swimmers climb up the ladder back on board to start our return journey back home to the Delfin II waiting patiently for us at the entrance to the Reserve.
As we returned to the ship down the Pacaya River and the sky darkened, I was amazed to see pin-point lights on in the forest. I realized there were lightning bugs of many, many species throughout the forest and at all levels. It was enchanting.