We had seen a looks-like-prehistoric turtle during our night safari the previous evening (which turned out to be a mata mata); this morning we were searching the Yanayacu River for a looks-like prehistoric bird.
There is no shortage of prehistoric-looking animals in the Amazon rainforest it seems.
We set out at dawn, mist rising over the tranquil tributaries of the Yanayacu River (an arm of the mighty Amazon); a shortcut from our lodge leads us straight through the flooded rainforest.
It’s mid-April, the rainy season has just ended. Water levels are receding, but still elevated enough to let us pass through the forest like a gondola sliding through the canals of Venice.
In the flooded forest we spot our first animals of the day: pygmy marmosets.
Pygmy marmosets are the smallest of the true monkeys (there is a lemur that is smaller). They weigh just over 100 grams, and their numbers in the wild are decreasing due to black market trade (they are sold as pets).
Higher in the branches, shy, reclusive, but following our movements with interest: a lone, woolly monkey.
The woolly monkey keeps its distance; it watches us pass in silence, unmoving, like a sentinel of the forest.
We complete our shortcut through the flooded rainforest and reach open water.
While puttering along the Yanayacu River we pass scattered thatched houses, the odd villager in a boat, and several abandoned, decaying, tourist lodges.
We have just past a small village when there is a huge splash in front of the boat. Our guide, Jaime, cuts the engine.
What has he seen?
We drift along in silence for several minutes before the animals reappear: Amazon pink river dolphins.
The dolphins arch their backs as they breach, their blunt dorsal fins prominent. Exhaling loudly through their blowholes, they leave a cloud of vapour suspended in the air before descending into the murky depths.
Yesterday we spotted several grey river dolphins, which, to my eye, looked exceedingly similar to the pink variety that we saw today.
I have to take Jaime’s word for it that they are in fact different species.
As we cruise along the river we spot a three-toed sloth in the canopy of the rainforest – our third for the morning.
Sloths are riddled with mites and sloth moths (as you can see in my post on the night safari), and sitting high in the trees like this, exposed to the intense rays of the sun, is supposed to keep the parasite population in check. The canopy is also where the youngest leaves are located, which make up the bulk of the sloth’s diet.
The Horned Screamer
Periodically we will disturb a Horned screamer, a large bird related to geese and swans, which takes to the air letting out a loud, echoing cry – which is how this bird gained its evocative name.
We pass a crop of Victoria amazonica, the largest of the water lilies, with leaves that reach up to three metres in diameter.
Joseph Paxton was the first to successfully grow the lily in England, the flowers of which were subsequently presented to Queen Victoria. The plant was then named in her honour (the lily was at first called Victoria regia, later changed to Victoria amazonica).
The ribbed undersurface of the lily, an intriguing radial network of interlocking support tissue, is said to have been the inspiration for the Crystal Palace – designed by the same Joseph Paxton.
Eventually we enter a sheltered lagoon fringed with palms. The engine is switched off.
We paddle silently around the edge of the lagoon, searching for a looks-like-prehistoric bird, an animal better known as the Hoatzin.
We smell the hoatzin before we see it.
This creature has another name: the stinkbird. The odour you smell is the food rotting in its stomach.
The Hoatzin has a blue face and a spiky red cockscomb.
It’s chicks are born with claws on their wings (as are the turacos of Africa) which they use to quickly scamper up and down trees should their nest be attacked by raptors.
Our search for the hoatzin was a success. What better way to celebrate than with a quick dip in the mighty Amazon?
At this point the river is more then a kilometre wide, and, thanks to the rainy season, flowing extremely swiflty – although in the middle of the river, floating alongside our boat, it doesn’t look it 🙂
Practical information and how to reach the Yanayacu River:
Tourists wishing to visit the Yanayacu River will have to fly into Iquitos, Peru, and board a passenger boat that will transport them 140 km upstream (it takes 3 to 4 hours in a speed boat). There are several eco-lodges operating in the region that provide transport, accommodation and guided activities.
Read more on the Amazon Rainforest in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.