In the afternoon we may travel an hour or so downriver to visit the Ese’Eja native community of Sonene, where we can meet these descendants of nomadic forest tribes, and catch a glimpse of those traditional life ways that they manage to maintain in the modern world. We can also purchase their handcrafts, made from a wide range of seeds collected from the forest.
After dinner we can board our canoe once more, for an evening of spotting for caiman, the Amazonian cousin of the alligator. This region is home to the endangered black caiman, and we nearly always pick out a few with our powerful spotlight as we patrol the river. (B,L,D)
DAY 4: HEATH RIVER WILDLIFE CENTER - SANDOVAL LAKE LODGE
We leave at dawn for the return trip downstream. This is peak hour for wildlife so we keep a sharp eye on the riverbanks, often spotting families of Capybara, and perhaps being rewarded with a rare jaguar sighting, or a tapir swimming across the current. We reach the Madre de Dios River, re-enter Peru, and set off upstream for the boat landing near Sandoval Lake Lodge.
We walk the 3km/2 mile trail to the narrow boat channel through flooded palm forest that leads to the open waters of this peaceful lake, stopping as we go to spot birds and butterflies. As our crew paddle us across to the lodge (motors are prohibited here), we may see the lake’s surface boken by a massive Paiche – an Amazon fish that can reach 100kg/220lbs. Or perhaps we will hear the strange and haunting calls, and see the heads bobbing above the lake’s surface, that will signal our first acquaintance with Pteronura brasiliensis, the Amazonian Giant Otter.
After lunch at the lodge and a brief rest to avoid the early afternoon heat, we once again set off by boat or catamaran to explore the entire west end of the lake. Here, in the flooded palm forest we drift to the sounds of hundreds of Red-Bellied and Blue-and-yellow Macaws as they return to the palm forest for the night. Our viewpoint from the canoe often allows closer and more extended encounters with birds and mammals than on a typical forest trail hike, and we may witness intimate feeding and mating behavior. On Lake Sandoval monkeys, in particular, have almost lost their fear of humans.
We return to the lodge around nightfall for dinner. After dinner we take to the boats once more, in search of black caimans, which today are extremely rare in the Amazon, but still common in this protected lake. They grow up to 4m in length, and compete with the Giant Otters for their share of the fishing. On clear nights we take our boat further out into the lake to get an unimpeded view of the vast southern sky, with its unfamiliar constellations and superb vistas of the Milky Way. (B,L,D)