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Notes from the Tower

December 6, 2010

Sunrise over the Los Amigos River, Los Amigos Conservation Concession



Notes from the Los Amigos Conservation Concession, Madre de Dios Department, Peru

Waking up at 3am is never fun, and yet it is almost always worth the trouble. This morning I lay in bed at 2:55am, paralyzed with fear of the darkness outside. My sleepy delirium filled me with images of giant snakes and hungry jaguars, irrational fears that do not linger during the daytime. I pulled myself out of bed at 2:59pm and turned off the alarm to save the other researchers from its annoying jingle.

Ben and I quickly assembled gear and donned headlamps as we ventured outside. There are only 5 people at the station right now and we didn’t hear or see signs of human activity. The stars were brilliant. Without a cloud in the sky, I knew we’d picked a good morning to climb the 180-foot metal canopy tower. It’s better to avoid the climb when there is a possibility of thunderstorms.

We set off into the jungle, down one of the wider trails. A bat swooped at my headlamp and I jumped back. Even when you know you’re okay in the dark, entering the jungle in the dead of night is intimidating. We scanned the side of the trail with our headlamps to look for light in the eyes of animals. I found a few stick insects and Ben quickly spotted a yellow frog. An anole lizard slept on the top of a leaf. We walked on, listening to the forest. The night noises are difficult to describe. It is so quiet in the forest and yet there is a steady buzz of insects. I think of it is a loud silence. Then, occasionally, the silence is broken by the cry of a night monkey or one of the many unexplained, unknown noises. You often turn to your companion as if to say, “What was that?,” and yet you know they have no idea.

At 4:30am, the sky started to lighten. We booked it to the tower, watching the ground in front of us for snakes and branches. The tower is around 180 feet tall. It is actually a radio tower and consists of three sides and a ladder that goes straight up. A cable extends the length of the ladder and it is to this that we attached our harnesses. I tend to be ambitious and my first climb proved that I should be less so. Climbing 180 feet with a full camera bag is virtually impossible. This time I slung the camera body over my shoulders with the 17-40mm lens in the mount. Ben carried my 100-400mm in his small shoulder bag. After 10 to 15 minutes I reached the top. My arms were shaking because I had rushed up at the sign of pink on the horizon. The trees were dark, but the fog over the river was just starting to glow purplish blue. Ben joined me at the top and we waited as the sun peaked over the horizon. Macaws flew over the treetops and we could look down on them as they ventured off in pairs. We were at least 80 feet over the canopy and had an exaggerated birds-eye-view. Birds do not fly that high.

The sun bathed the forest in sweet light and the white-capped Andes revealed themselves in the distance. It was an opportunity to appreciate the vastness of the forest and the close proximity if its buffers. With the Andes so close at hand it is easy to understand the importance of conserving not just the Amazon basin, but also the highlands from whence the rivers flow.

We stayed at the top for over an hour, listening to the oropendolas’ bubbly call and the screams of howler monkeys in the distance. When the sun got too bright we tied up our harnesses and made the climb down, pausing at the small platforms to appreciate the canopy from different viewpoints.

Now its naptime.

White capped peaks of the Andes seen in the distance

Ben Apple Climbing Down

Fog near the Los Amigos River
One Comment leave one →
  1. Ann Elkins permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:03 pm

    I could almost feel the fear as you made your way to the Tower in the darkness! Wonderful!
    Ann Elkins

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