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Colca Canyon

February 25, 2011

Andean Condor on Cliff in Colca Canyon (Gabby Salazar)


For us, Arequipa’s big draw was the Colca Canyon. The canyon one of the deepest canyons in the world at a depth of 10725 feet. We stayed in the Colca valley for two nights to see the canyon and the Andean Condors that are common there. In an uncharacteristic move, we decided to go on a group tour and while it had its advantages, we were sad to be pulled away from Chilean Flamingos and vicuñas more quickly that we would have liked.

The tour started with a drive to the canyon (about four hours) with multiple stops along the way to see flamingos and vicuñas. Vicuñas are one of two wild species of South American camelids. They were highly endangered in the 1970s, but have now recovered in numbers. We were able to observe them from the side of the road and watched as they grazed on the high plains. We also saw Chilean flamingos and a number of other high elevation birds (giant coots included) in the puddles along the road.

We arrived in the Colca Valley in the afternoon and were taken to a hotel nestled at the foot of a terraced hill. The evening was spent on a trek to some old ruins and a dip in the hot springs. The rain followed us to Arequipa and we hiked while drenched and felt the contrast of cold rain on our heads while bathing in the hot springs.

The next morning we were picked up at 7am to go to the Cruz del Condor – a spot famous for seeing the Andean condor. The Andean condor is the second largest bird in the world in terms of wingspan (second only to the wandering albatross). Three condors swooped above us with 15 minutes of our arrival. They are spectacular and my 300mm lens was almost too long. They were gone in a few minutes and we were left to enjoy an extraordinary view of the canyon and to sip our hot cocoa tea.

We spent the evening relaxing and birding and returned to the Cruz del Condor again the next morning. When we arrived the view was completely obscured by thick fog. You couldn’t see a thing and we both felt sorry for the tourists who only had one shot to see the condors. Fortunately our guide knew another condor spot and we found four adults circling at close range.

We returned to Arequipa for two nights and then took a bus on to Ica, a Peruvian city made famous by its wines and piscos.

Vicunas near Colca Canyon (Rick Stanley)

Cruz del Condor overlook, Colca Canyon (Gabby Salazar)

Colca Valley (Gabby Salazar)

Rufous-collared Sparrow (Rick Stanley)


Santa Catalina Monastery (Arequipa)

February 18, 2011

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru


Rick and I have taken a few weeks off from our project because of the heavy rains that are currently pelting Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. At the beginning of February, we opted to leave the jungle because the humidity and the mosquitoes had reached an all time high. Februrary is the rainiest month of the year and we found ourselves drenched and itching during our last stint in the field. Rick had 200 chigger bites on his back at one count. Believe it or not, both of our camera bodies are still functioning (with occasional metering issues).

We headed back to Cusco to plan the next leg of our journey and were informed that Manu Road, our other major work area, was wrought with landslides. Last year the road was closed for all of February because entire sections of the road were swept off the mountainside. We decided it was just as well to wait till June for that part of the project.

So, we ended up in Arequipa, Peru for a few days – also known as “the White City.” The name comes from sillar, the volcanic rock used in most of the architecture. You can see the fingerprint of Spanish colonialism around every corner. Aside from the palm trees in the Plaza de Armas and the women adorned in traditinal Andean dress, you’d think you were in Europe. We spent the first two days visiting the local museums and sites – the highlights being the Santa Catalina Monastery and the Museo Santuary.

The Monastery was delightful – a photographer’s dream. It was only recently opened to the public (1970s) after over 300 years of isolation. It occupies a number of city blocks and is a labryinth of nun’s quarters, fountains, and hidden courtyards. I was impressed by the beautiful colors of the walls and the perfectly landscaped scenery. If you had to be cloistered – this would be the place to do it. I was also amused by the display on barbed wire undergarments that were used by nuns to atone for their sins.

We also visited the Museo Santuary, which hosts Juanita, the Incan Ice Maiden. Juanita was a sacrifice given to a volcano to stop the volcano from erupting. She was recovered a few decades ago in perfect conditions (even her organs were still intact) when a scientist was studying volcanos near Areqipa. Over ten other child sacrifices have been discovered on other volcanoes in Peru and one of them was on display in a freezer in the museum. The history was fascinting  and there is a National Geographic Documentary on Juanita if you are interested.

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

El Gato Lodge: Tambopata Part 1

February 13, 2011

Gabby birding in the jungle (Photo by Rick Stanley)

As part of our project, we are working in the Tambopata National Reserve – part of the Manu – Tambopata Conservation Corridor that protects land around the Interoceanic Highway. All transport to and from the reserve is by boat and this section of our trip proved to be the most difficult to plan.  There are no official research facilities in the reserve, so we had to be creative. Our final plan for Tambopata was to work at the park guard posts, the lodges owned by Rainforest Expeditions, and – a gem worth mentioning – El Gato Lodge. We recently spent 8 nights at El Gato and 7 nights at the Malinowsky Park Guard Post in Tambopata National Reserve. The next few entries will recount some of our adventures during this time. We return to the area in April to work with Rainforest Expeditions!

El Gato Lodge is owned by the Ramirez family. They have an agricultural concession on the banks of the Tambopata River, but have decided to preserve it for ecotourism rather than developing it for agriculture. With 3 rustic cabins, they offer an affordable alternative to the luxury lodges, and a complete jungle experience. Their property is located in the reserve zone of the Tambopata National Reserve and some of their trails spill over into the reserve itself. Rick and I stayed there for eight nights and had a blast. Three meals a day and lodging in a private cabin costs S/65 per person per day (around $25).  We’d recommend it to anyone.

One of the highlights was our adventure at the clay lick. We left the lodge at dawn and arrived at the bird blind at 6:00am, just in time to see hundreds of parrots descending on the bank. Blue-headed parrots, orange-cheeked parrots, and mealy parrots flew back and forth between the trees and the bank, fighting for space on the clay. After a few hours, the parrots departed and over 30 macaws swooped in (red and green, and scarlet macaws).

We also had a lot of luck with herps – a handful of incredible frog species and a spiky lizard. We found three species of poison dart frogs and were able to observe two species calling.

More on this soon – for now, a few photos!

El Gato Lodge - One of the Rustic Cabins.

El Gato Stream at Dawn (Photo by Gabby Salazar)

Dart frog under a mushroom (Photo by Gabby Salazar)


iSUR Andes: Day 2

February 6, 2011

Young girl milking cow near Upis, Peru

iSUR 02.02.2010

This morning I couldn’t get out of bed – the cozy wool blankets and the space heater made the ascent all the more difficult. I finally got up and ventured to the eating area where I had breakfast with Rick and the staff. We ate quickly and gathered up our things for the day. Our first stop was Upis, a small Andean community of around 130 people. As we drove towards the community, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the surroundings – in some ways it reminds me of Ireland – stone fences, green pastures, and rolling hills. In other ways, it is a foreign landscape – when the clouds open up you are surrounded by snow-capped peaks on all sides. The women and men here look like colorful birds – all decked out in neon colors and sequins. In Cusco I have often seen people in traditional dress and wondered if they were dressing up the traditional costume. They are not. Up here, with no one to see but the neighbors, the women are attired in the most splendid patterns and colors from head to foot. The men also wear colorful clothing, some only hats and others in full regalia – ponchos, hats, and wraps.

We were driving to Upis when Herman spotted two women milking a cow while dressed to the nines. We pulled over to the side of the road and I found myself hiking across a field and climbing over a rock fence to ask the women for a photo. They got a real kick out of the request, but acquiesced. Unfortunately, they had already let the cow go by the time we arrived, so the older woman had to rope it in again. She posed and smiled by the side of the cow with her hands deftly pulling at the udders. We left them smiling and clearly amused by the odd request of the ‘gringa.’

We arrived at Upis right before an artisan’s meeting and I shook hands with what I believe was the entire town. Rick went off birding while I visited with the heads of the artisan community and conducted three video interviews. I took photos and learned about the Ausungate trekking route – a six day/five night trek that takes you to five communities in the area. Through the help of iSUR, three of the communities now have hot showers and bathrooms.

After the interviews that women and men laid out all of their crafts and artwork on the ground for me to see. I took a few pictures and then asked if they could explain the significance of some of the designs. They spent over an hour telling me about the colors and designs and I bought an alpaca scarf and an alpaca cloth that they use to carry coca leaves in the mountains.

After Upis we returned to the worksite for lunch and ended up being rained in for the afternoon. We spent the evening working on photos and relaxing. It is very tiring to work at this altitude and I find myself wearing out very easily. I also worked with Herman for two hours on the videos – we translated three videos from Quechua to Spanish. It was nice to actually learn what they had been saying!

Tomorrow we go to Marcapata for an all day tour of the local attractions – the famous Marcapata church and the Huallahualla lagoon.

Homestead in the Andes near Upis, Peru

Women carrying their milk back from the fields, Upis, Peru

Lenticular cloud over Ausungate Mountain.


Alpacas for sale!

February 5, 2011

Annual livestock fair in Urcos Peru (Photo by RICK STANLEY)

The annual livestock fair in Urcos was so cool that I thought it deserved it’s own post . . . these photos were taken from a bridge, overlooking the market. I think it offers a neat perspective.

P.S. From now on, I will be posting Rick’s photos along with mine – the photo credits are in the caption of each image.

Women waiting at market (Photo: GABBY SALAZAR)

Alpacas for sale! (Photo: RICK STANLEY)

The market (Photo: GABBY SALAZAR)

Old and New Hats (Photo: GABBY SALAZAR)

iSUR Ands Journal: Part 1

February 5, 2011

Artisan from the community of Upis, Peru along the Interoceanic Highway in the Andes

iSUR Andes Journal: 02.01.2011

After visiting the lowland sites supported by Interoceanica SUR, Rick and I scored an invitation to their sites in the Andes. Claudia Yep, the Director of Tourism, invited us to visit last Friday and had everything arranged by Sunday. She sent a car to pick us up in Cusco and to take us to iSUR’s house at 3,800 meters on the Interoceanic Highway.

Herman and Taco arrived at the hotel right on time and we set off for the highway, with assurances that we could ask to stop for a photo at any time. That is a dangerous offer for two photographers, but it was sincerely meant and we had a nice drive with many stops for birdwatching and photography. One stop of note was in Urcos, the first city along the highway. It is famous for it’s beautiful lagoon and we happened to pass through Urcos on the day of its annual livestock fair. We stopped by a bridge and were able to look down on thousands of people trading their llamas, alpacas, cows, and pigs. The fair in Urcos draws people from across the Andes and you could see the diversity of visitors from the differences in their dress. It was lovely to see the beautiful hats of the women from above and to take photos with a long lens, unnoticed by the people below.

Along this part of the highway, iSUR is working with local communities to create sustainable businesses that will help augment their income and improve the quality of their lives – these efforts simultaneously promote the conservation of nature and culture. We met Claudia at one of iSUR’s projects at 4,300 meters in elevation– it is a restaurant and overlook that has a breathtaking view of the snow-capped Ausungate Mountain.  The community of Cuyuni owns and runs the restaurant there and we were greeted with hot coca tea and choclo (a thick-kerneled corn native to the Andes) and cheese. We learned about Cuyuni’s efforts to bring in tourists and their goals for the future. In addition to the restaurant, they have a small store field with work by local artisans. I purchased two baby alpaca scarves that were completely handmade – from shearing the alpaca to spinning the yarn.

After our visit at the restaurant, we met with the director’s of Cuyuni’s projects and were greeted by beautifully dressed women, hiking up the small hills while spinning their yarn. Two men and two women kindly agreed to be interviewed and we asked them questions about the impact of the highway on their lives. Overall, they are very pleased with the highway. A journey that used to take seven hours now takes 45 minutes and they have better access to healthcare and education. The women also commented on the fact that their clothes are cleaner when they walk on the new paved road. The people all spoke in Quechua, so I worked with Herman to ask the questions. I will be posting some of these videos as soon as I have time to work with a translator.

We arrived at iSUR’s worksite just as the sun was setting. They have a nice office and a building with bedrooms. Rick and I each received our own bedroom, replete with space heaters, sinks, and private bathrooms. Both of us were worn out and feeling under the weather because of the altitude. We rested until dinner and then spent some time talking with the staff before heading off to bed.

View from Overlook at Cuyuni, Peru

Woman miking cow near Upis, Peru

Traditional hat and dress of a woman in Cuyuni, Peru (Andes)



High Elevation Adventures

February 5, 2011

Boy herding alpaca at 4,900m in elevation in the Andes.

It’s been a while since I’ve contributed to the blog! Rick arrived on January 4th and we’ve been working in Tambopata National Reserve and Puerto Maldonado (lowland rainforest) until last Sunday. It’s been a busy time and we returned to Cusco for only a night before leaving for the the highest point on the Interoceanic Highway (4,800 meters elevation). We received an invitation from Interoceanica SUR (iSUR) to visit their highland projects and were taken on a 4-day tour of the communities they work with between the cities of Marcapata and Urcos on the highway. We are back in Cusco for a few days and I will be catching up on my posts. For now, here are a few favorite images from my adventure yesterday along the old highway between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado! This part of the highway peaks at 4,950 meters and is all gravel and dirt. The trip between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado on this highway used to take up to 15 days depending on the season. The trip takes 10 hours on the new highway.

Over the next few days I’ll be posting images from:

  • My second journey by car along the Interoceanic Highway
  • Andean villages along the Interoceanic Highway
  • Tambopata National Reserve
  • Brazil Nut Concessions

Waterfall at 4,500 meters along the old highway (before the Interoceanica SUR).

Woman watching her alpacas at 4,700m in elevation along the old highway between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado, Peru.

Lichen covered rock by the highway near Marcapata, Peru (Eastern Andes)

iSUR Journal Part 6: El Parayso

January 5, 2011

Flowers in the swamp . . .

12. 28.2010

Got up at 4:00am this morning and Therany and I drove to Herbert’s property to see sunset from his canopy tower. We arrived at 4:40am to the sounds of barking dogs and climbed up the hill to wait for the sky to color. It was too cloudy for much of a sunrise, but the view was beautiful and we spent a peaceful hour birdwatching from the tower. It is incredible that 20 minutes from the city of Puerto Maldonado you can see trogons, motmots, oropendulas, tanagers, woodcreepers, and a myriad of other birds. We saw over 25 species over the course of an hour from a single lookout.

After breakfast at Magali’s we made a quick trip into Puerto to fix a flat tire.  The problem was a nail and it cost $1.50 to fix it at the shop. Incredible.

After that we returned to the corridor to visit Percy at El Parayso. It is an incredible property. He lives on the land with his parents, both of whom have been here since the 1940’s. I spent lunchtime questioning them about the rubber boom and they were full of fascinating anecdotes. Percy’s is one of the oldest families in this region.

Percy is trying to create an ecotourism experience based on birdwatching and wildlife viewing. The property is perfect for it. Two rustic cabins are situated on the bank of the Tambopata River. You can look out at the river and feel a nice breeze all day long. He has a trail of over three kilometers that goes into primary forest. The trees are beautiful – he has ceibas and ironwoods that are of a size that is almost impossible to find in this region (they have all been cut down for lumber). We walked through the forest for over four hours and he showed me the swamp where he is planning to build a boardwalk and canopy tower. We heard hoatzins, saw hummingbirds, and tasted native cocoa fruits as we made our way through the selva.

Talking with Percy, Robert, and Herbert, I am amazed at the passion that they all feel for conserving their land. For them nature is number one. They also believe strongly in the importance of environmental education. I am worried about the disconnect between children and nature in the United States and have often assumed that the situation would be better in a place like Peru. It’s not. These children live 30 minutes from one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and they are just as plugged in to television and iPods. These men and women are trying to change that. They are investing all of their money in creating these initiatives and hope to turn a profit, not so they can buy new things, but so they can afford to run programs for children, or rehabilitate animals, or keep the majority of their property as pristine forest. I am impressed and amazed.

My cute little cabin!

The swamp in the property.

Cacao fruit (this is where chocolate comes from!!!)






iSUR Journal Part 5: La Habana Rural Inn

January 2, 2011

The Spanish translation is not perfect! I did it by myself – but it accurately conveys what Herbert is saying. I’ll be fixing it soon with a translator.


Dusky-headed parakeet (Aratinga weddellii)

Last night we stayed at Magali’s again (Amazon Shelter) because a pipe broke at La Habana Rural Inn. We got up at 5:00am to visit the small bird clay lick near Magali’s house on the Tambopata River. It was spectacular! There were dusky parakeets and blue-headed parrots. I estimated that there were over 100 birds over the course of an hour. They arrived early and stayed in the trees above the clay lick for a little while before flying down to the riverbank. In our last moments at the clay lick, two yellow-fronted parrots arrived as well. Overall it was a morning well spent.

I took a nap after our morning excursion and then we headed out to La Habana Rural Inn, a property owned by Professor Herbert Lovon and family. Herbert is a character. He is an older gentleman and was a science teacher for most of his life. Now, he owns a beautiful piece of property in the corridor and is creating a paradise. One of the first things he told me was “We don’t have any paintings in the buildings because you just need to look outside to see art.” He has a few rustic cabins on the property, a canopy tower on a terrace behind his house, and a beautiful botanical garden. Besides all that he has a view of the Tambopata River and many hectares worth of forest and trails. He took us on a tour of the whole property. Along the way he teased me relentlessly in Spanish and told the funniest stories. One of my favorites was the story of the ironwood tree – one of the strongest woods in the forest. Apparently cutting down an ironwood tree with a stone axe used to be a test given by the fathers of young girls to eligible bachelors. If they couldn’t do it – they were lazy and unworthy. We were standing in front of one of the giants as he told the story and I could hardly imagine trying to cut down a tree so massive and strong. The men who did it must have really been committed (probably reduced the divorce rate). He also told me about the forest knome that they believe in here in the jungle. It often assumes the shape of an animal or a family member and leads people astray in the forest. It is the reason that people get lost in the forest – especially beautiful women. The knome can change everything about its shape except for its feet. It has one human foot and one knome feet – so Herbert warned me to always look at a person’s feet before I go into the forest with them.

In our walk in the botanical garden, Herbert made sure to point out all the interesting plants. He stopped for a bit longer at one called para para. “This is for old men like me to make the ladies happy,” he told me. It took me a moment to understand him, but I got it when he bent a leaf in half and let the bent half slowly pop back up. His raised eyebrows said it all. Para para is the natural equivalent of Viagra.

Overall it was a beautiful property and a great visit. I would enjoy spending more time there and would recommend it to anyone who wants to relax and see some pristine forest within 15 minutes of the city of Puerto Maldonado.

We spent the afternoon at Playa Botafogo – a beach that is nonexistent in the rainy season. The property around the beach was beautiful though. They have been reforesting much of the property and the forest is strong and healthy. We saw a lot of wildlife in the short walk we took on the trails. Ronald, the owner, is a young man and his two daughters were charming. He is passionate about conserving the forest and showed me the large trees on his property with incredible pride. It is amazing here to see men take as much pride in a large ceiba or ironwood tree as in an expensive sports car or a new house.

We spent the night at Magali’s and had a lovely choclo salad (choclo is a delicious variety of corn from the highlands). I went to bed early to prepare for an early morning.

Dusky-headed parakeets (Aaratinga weddellii)

iSUR Journal Part 4: Amazon Shelter

January 2, 2011

Therany, my guide, with Pepe the red howler monkey


We arrived at Amazon Shelter this morning and were greeted by a red howler monkey named Pepe. He ran up to us much like a happy dog and led us to the lodge. Amazon Shelter is run by a woman named Magali – she has a rehabilitation center, a lodge, and a beautiful piece of forest. She moved to the Puerto Maldonado area from Lima about four years ago to start the shelter and now has over 20 animals to care for. The animals range from a koati to macaws to a red brocket deer. And they could not ask for a more loving and caring guardian.

Magali sat with us over a cup of coffee while rubbing the belly of Pepe the monkey. She would intermittently turn to Pepe and whisper sweet words. She talks to all of the animals like they understand her and it is incredibly endearing. She told us the history of the project and talked about the challenges and lessons learned. It takes a strong woman to take in a puma and learn how to care for it.

We took a tour of the property with Thomas, one of her volunteers. He is from Australia and is working at Amazon Shelter for six days during his time in Madre de Dios. Magali has volunteers on an off, but her goal is to staff the shelter with 10 volunteers per month. It is a great opportunity to work with animals and to learn about the struggles of caring for a diverse bunch of wild creatures. Thomas seemed to be having a ball.

While we were visiting Magali got news that she would receive a new Titi monkey. This leads to a flurry of activity. They have a special area called the “quarantine area” for new animals. Magali has visitors at the shelter and new animals aren’t adjusted to the movement of many people. The monkey will have a new shelter in a quiet part of the forest. Each animal also has a very specific diet. The list is incredible – one boiled egg, three leaves of lettuce, one beet, half a papaya – and that is just for a single species.

For Magali, it is a labor of love. I know this because she was tired today from having taken blankets to the monkeys in the night because it was cold.

I spent a peaceful night in the lodge and enjoyed listening to the animals with a red howler monkey curled up in my lap as I lay in a hammock on the porch.


Night Monkey

Magali, the owner, petting a red brocket deer

Volunteers preparing food for the animals