Another amazing day on the Amazon, today I really noticed the water line on the trees, realizing the water level is dropping fast. One of the first things we saw was a line of long nose bats on a tree trunk. Ricardo told us it was a harem with one male bat and many females. Apparently this guy is doing really well; it was a larger group than usual.
Most days we enjoy the play of the plentiful squirrel monkey. Today, we also saw the saddleback monkey and the black tamarin monkey, a small monkey with a white face. The hollowed out spaces in the trees were hiding places for some wonderful animals. On our first evening out, we saw three owl monkeys hiding in a tree. One of our big finds today was a kinkachu with its dog-like canine teeth. Like the owl monkey, it is nocturnal.
While we have been fortunate to see sloths everyday, it was unusual birds, some we hadn’t yet seen, that dominated the day. We saw two pairs of blue and yellow macaws and a pair of scarlet macaws in flight. Although we see them in aviaries at home, seeing them fly over the river in their natural habitat is a sight to behold.
We saw some marvelous hawks, including the black hawk, in the trees today. We are also beginning to see sand bars appear in the river as the water level retreats. On one sandbar we saw the small birds that migrate from continent to continent in large flocks.
These sandbars appear as the water levels drop. Families will go out and claim areas, marking their “fields” with flags, tee shirts, etc. The spaces are used for planting rice and other crops that thrive in these wet areas. The season is short, about five months, and the people have to harvest before the rainy season begins. On one such area, we saw a beautiful pair on the storks.
We saw water taxis out on the Amazon transporting people from one community to another. Many areas are only accessible by water. Speaking of hitching a ride, Boris raised the bar today. After a series of cricket ride alongs, today it was a striking blue butterfly that landed on his hat and made the morning journey with us.
Back on board the Aria for lunch, it was demonstration day once again. Carlos was back making a new series of drinks and got Leslie and Joe to help with the shaking. Harvey gave us a napkin folding demonstration and crafted a lily pad that he added a frog handicraft to; it took it back to my room as a decoration. Finally, our chef made a wonderful ceviche which we all got samples of to start off our lunch. Afterwards, we also enjoyed a food coma and an afternoon break.
Late afternoon, we headed out down one of the tributaries that line the Amazon River. Some of these tributaries are black water rather than the muddy brown water of the Amazon. It is a rather sudden change when they merger. The black water originates at a swamp, rather than coming from the mountains. “As vegetation decays, tannins leach into the water, making a transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained.” In contrast to the black water created by the tannins, when water runs down the mountains it collects silt that gives the rest of the Amazon its muddy brown color. The black water has a strikingly different PH balance. Pink dolphin mothers come to the black water just after giving birth while the baby is still attached by the umbilical cord. The water kills the umbilical cord causing it to fall off; the water then seals the hole. If you place a piece of red meat on a string in the black water it will be white when you pull it up; the water cooks it.
The black water if really quite beautiful. It is mirror-like and reflects the surrounding foliage on the surface of the water. When we swam in the black water, it looked like we were swimming in tea. Most of the planet’s blackwater rivers are in the Amazon Basin, but we also have some in the Southern United States.
After a twenty minute ride down the tributary, we pulled into a creek and came across children out in canoes; they rowed their small narrow boats with a wooden paddle.. They were eager to show us what they had caught. Some had the iron armored catfish; other piranhas.
A young boy brought his armored catfish right up to the boat. The fish was aptly named. Although they are found in my home state of Texas, I had never seen anything like it. In the US State of Florida, the invasive armored catfish is considered a problem for the endangered manatees. While these catfish only eat algae, they cling to the back of the manatee to eat the algae that collects there. For the manatee, it is like being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos.
Julio brought the armored catfish inside our skiff and we got a look at the underside of the fish as well. It was spotted like a giraffe, an interesting contrast. Some of the other young fishermen had caught piranhas. They had bright red bellies. Julio gave us a close up look at the teeth on one of them.
I love being out on the river at this time. The day is cooling and the breeze as we glide along is refreshing. One of the things we spot is the beautiful red fruit with the silk cotton inside. We have seen some with holes where the parakeets have eaten the seeds and made a home. We have also seen sloths lounging in these trees, presumably eating the fruit when they are hungry. The fruit on the trees we came across was not quite ripe. Julio opened one for us.
We will be out on the river after dark tonight, so Carlos met us along our route for a sunset treat. Evening cocktails were enjoyed on the river as we got to watch the colors change in the sky with the sun’s setting. It was gorgeous. The on-river cocktail hour was a surprise.
We are hunting for caimans tonight; that is why we are out after dark. Since the guides use a spot light, all kinds of creatures are attracted to the light. As we moved through the water, we wore masks and clear glasses to protect ourselves. The easiest way to spot the caimans is to look for their red eyes. Billy and Julio are the best spotters and we are lucky to be in Julio’s boat tonight. We found caimans in two patches of reeds.
Caimans are “species of Central and South American reptiles that are related to alligators and are usually placed with them in the family Alligatoridae.” Brittanica. The name is sometimes spelled cayman, like the Caribbean island. We found one small and one medium caiman. I got to hold them both; Boris chose not to. Everything we caught was returned to the water.
After our successful caiman hunt, we headed back to the Aria along the completely dark tributary and than the main river. Our guides moved the spot light along the shore looking for more caimans. Occasionally, they pointed out a large log in the middle of the river to our drivers. For almost the entire journey, the drivers navigated completely on memory not by sight. It was truly impressive.