Environment

And unforgettable experience of the rainy season

The first few nights, you might find that this is all slightly overwhelming and need the relief within the four white walls of your mosquito net, once it is safely tucked under you mattress. But still the noise of insects and other animals is ever present. For a taster, leave the sound track below running in your studio for a day... 


There is a ‘techno-beatle’ (not its scientific name) that sounds like really bad audio-feedback and the howler monkeys which at four in the morning sound like something between a disfunctional world war II siren and a tropical storm ripping through the forest. By about 4.30 am, however, the huge males have staked out their territory for the day and the usual cacophony becomes audible again. After a while, however, all those sounds become as soothing as that of a washer-drier, and on my first night out of the jungle, it was the silence that kept me awake.


The Howler monkey which you will rarely see but who will make a racket every morning as reliably as Big Ben.

The residency will only be open during the rainy season as this corresponds to a lower occupancy at the lodge. During that time, it rains frequently but the temperatures are cooler. Frequently means it can rain all day for several days, but usually it means there will be “cycles” of rain, where it rains for several hours at more or less the same time period. In the dry (drier, really) season, I experienced temperatures of 39C with 100% humidity which was quite difficult to handle. You are covered in sweat most of the day but get little relief from walking around in wet clothes. T-shirts and shorts are out of the question as you need protection from insects when out and about and so the only relief is a swim in the river, a cold shower or taking everything off and sprawling under the mosquito net.

My white cube haven behind the mosquito net

In the wet season, when the residency is open on the other hand, the air is so much fresher. When I was there, it only rained one day but it was so soothing to listen to the rain on the trees and produced an instant cooling breeze. The rainy season brings its own challenges but it has its own rewards: glistening clean greens on the vegetation, baby animals on mothers backs and fruits of all kinds rotting on the forest floor.

If you are a typical guest with only 3-5 days to spare or a researcher with a lot of field work to get through, then sitting and looking at the rain fall could be a real disappointment. As an artist, however, it made me dream of sitting under the verandas and writing and drawing away. The cycle of sunshine and rainfall could set a beautiful pace to your practice. And you don’t need to go far for inspiration.

 

More to see than you could ever imagine


During the rainy season, the forest looks its best, glistening in every shade of green (to the  point that people who come to film nature documentaries are known to spray down the forest they are filming with a garden hose!). In the dry season, there aren’t as many flowers, only few frogs and fewer fruits for the monkeys to gorge themselves on and so the rainforest is (relatively) still in the heat. In all seasons, however, the rainforest goes through peaks of activity at dawn and at dusk.

One of a few frogs we found in the dry season. Many more come out when it rains.

Though there are a number of mammals trotting around and a large variety of noisy and not very shy monkeys, the real stars are the creepy-crawlies. You need to develop a sense of wonder for the ridiculous variety of ants, termites, beetles, butterflies, moths, crickets and spiders that you will encounter.  And struggle to remember all the things that made you cry out loud at the end of the first day. 

The butterflies are out of this world, some as large as birds but difficult to photograph.
Leaf-cutter ants. Always on the move. Difficult to see except for the large bits of green they ferry to their nest for growing mushrooms.

A healthy sense of humour will also be necessary as you will share all your belongings and most of your body with these smaller inhabitants. If Africa boast the big five, you will do better here if you can get excited about the small fifty. Though many of them are actually rather huge, as insects go. But as long as you don’t suffer from actual phobia, you will laugh at how quickly you get used to seeing hundreds of insects every day, each of which would warrant a call to the local newspaper if encountered at home.

The scorpion spider is not so small at all but at least it sits very still. There is a saying that what lands on you doesn't sting.

 

A challenging environment but a rewarding one


You quickly learn to look at anything you touch (no casual leaning up against a tree trunk here) and recite the mantra that whatever actually lands on you, won’t sting you (unless you exert pressure on it). Out and about in the forest, you wear long sleeves and long trousers, sometimes trouser legs get tucked into socks too, a broad-rimmed hat and a scarf or a closed collar around your neck, simply because you might walk into or brush against something where fabric buys you some seconds to flick off unwelcome hangers-on. 

A fly I photographed for no other reason that it took a liking for my left hand and stayed with me for almost half an hour, feasting on my sweat and tickling me a bit too.

You learn to flick rather than squash because if you squash, you might get stung. Only fair. This said, and army ant I walked into one night, got a good hold of me through my trousers. Still, it was a lot easier to get off than if it had sunk its pincers straight into my thigh. Or so I was told. I also found a minuscule tick on my chest after a day of wearing only long sleeves but there are no diseases linked to these as in Europe. It was easily removed. And slowly you find that even the largest bug ceases to be a reason to wake up your neighbours or even change the subject of conversation.

Snapshot from the insect trap one evening. The long thing at the bottom is 10cms long. So the others aren't small. All of these will have flown through the lodge at some point or other.

Attention to small things also pays off when it comes to the flora. Though there are trees that make us all look like hobbits, roots that are 10m long, leaves that could feed giant dinosaurs, the beauty is in the dense variety of tiny things: seeds, leaves, mushrooms, fungi, etc.

A creeper with leaves that hug its host.

The Peruvian rainforest will not disappoint a curious mind but it’s important to realize that it is a physically challenging environment. You should not expect to be able to go out for a long walk by yourself. Even the nature trails around the lodge need to be approached with respect: you are not allowed go off on them on your own. They all look the same, one wrong turn and you could get lost and die. You cannot use the sun to orient yourself, its impossible to judge distances, it can get dark extremely quickly and well before the sun sets and you need to be able to find your way out at a jog if the wind picks up, before large branches come falling down. The guides themselves avoid venturing on their own, all will have stories to tell of how quickly things can get hairy out there.

The different parts of the lodge are linked by walkways and an unbelievable amount of wildlife, big and small, will come right up to the lodge. I experienced a whole family of capuchins coming right over our head on one of these walkways, a family of peccaries crashing out of the forest and into the lodge clearing and much much more...

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