Yup, we spent Easter in the jungle. Breakfast that morning seemed a bit of a nod to the holiday with lots of ham and cheese, bread and fried bananas. After filling up on food, we got ready for the morning excursion.
Several guides banded together and took a group of us to Frog Valley for a morning hike -- the only one we'd go on for our entire stay. This particular area of forest is on high ground, so it doesn't flood during the rainy season. Of course, we still used a motorboat to actually reach the designated hiking area.
Along the way, the guides were constantly scanning the trees for wildlife. One of the more interesting birds spotted was a toucan. No pictures as we had to use binoculars to get a good look at it, but it was really cool. We named him Sam ;)
We also saw more monkeys! These guys decided to come right down to the trees that lined the river and hang out for a bit, so we had a great look at them. The pictures are only so-so though.
Lastly, the guides suddenly killed the motor and let our boat float over to this tree. See anything special?
How 'bout now?
You should see 4 tree bats all lined up. We have no clue how the guides spotted these little guys. Because really, they are quite small and blend in perfectly with the surroundings.
After about an hour, we finally made it to Frog Valley. A quick briefing by the guides and some time to put on more DEET (the mosquitos were vicious) and then we broke back into groups and were off. Anselmo pointed out all sorts of fun stuff during our walk:
Old wasp nest - I originally thought this was some sort of old snake skin. Being a wasp nest still creeped me out though.
Rubber tree - Nick the tree and a white, sticky substance starts running out. To plug it back up, he just used some dirt.
"Plastic" Plant - The leaves of this plant feel like, you guessed it, plastic. The best example is the texture/feel of plastic containers that are often used to package cookies. Local people gather the leaves from the jungle, let them dry, weave them together and then use them for their roofs, our lodge included. The finished product lasts around 8 years!
Iodine tree - This was crazy. Anselmo nicked this tree with his machete and a reddish-brown substance starts oozing out. Iodine. Insane, right? He actually used it to put on a few of our mosquito bites to keep them clean and prevent infection. I'm still in awe of this.
Camoflauge tree trunk - No idea why the tree looks like this, but it's pretty, no?
Fungi-covered tree trunk - The tree is actually a normal shade of green/brown, but it's fully covered in white fungus.
Climbing vines - They actually grow and twist naturally. They're really long and go up up up into the canopy.
Canopy tree trunk - See how thick it is? These are the trees that are at the very top of the canopy.
Tarzan vines - They're flexible and strong, like what you'd expect Tarzan to swing around on.
Sugar Ant nest - See all the little red dots? Yeah, those are sugar ants, aka fire ants. Our guide banged on the tree next to the nest and they swarmed out of it immediately. Like MoP said, "'Kay guys, nobody fall into the nest!"
Most of the hiking was pretty standard, however, there was one part where we had to traverse a fallen tree trunk to get across a stream. Did I mention the tree was covered in moss and it had recently rained? Everyone got across just fine, though. So much so in fact, that Jim and I posed for an action shot. What can I say, we're both hams!
We also had time to pause to take a group shot with Anselmo's machete and everything.
After walking around for over an hour, we stumbled upon our first poison dart frog! We've all seen these in zoos before, but seeing them in the wild was really cool. They much smaller than I remember and so beautiful. Brillant yellow spots and stripes on a black background. They truly look fake until they start moving.
We saw our first one and then continued on our hike to find more. Scientists have actually set up "breeding" containers (i.e. the bottoms of plastic two -liter soda bottles) around the trees in the area to encourage and maintain the growth of the frog population. We stumbled upon one such container and Anselmo told Jim to peek in and see if there were any tadpoles inside.
And this is where Jim almost had a fatal encounter with a poison dart frog.
Jim leaned in to look in the container and to steady himself, he went to put one hand on the tree trunk. As his hand was getting ready to touch the tree, I saw it. A little dart frog right where his fingers were about to land. "Honey, move your hand. There's a frog right there." He quickly pulled it back, looked down at his hand and a wave of concern swept his face. You see, we had been told that the frogs are only poisonous on their backs and it's only a problem if you get the poison into your blood stream. And guess who had an open cut on the tip of their finger? :/ Yeah, we were all a little freaked out after that.
We spent the rest of our hike continuing to look for the little frogs, but we made sure to keep our hands to ourselves. It seemed that not only were the plastic containers used for breeding, but also as soaking tubs for larger frogs. Ha!
Before we finished the hike, one of the other guides found a beautiful, but non-poisonous frog for us to look at. Not only was his back pretty, but his underbelly was, too.
The boat ride back was pretty, but uneventful. At lunch, the Easter bunny (aka: MoP) visited us and we got gifts that were oh so appropriate for our jungle adventure:
One thing the boys were really excited about doing in the Amazon was piranha fishing. We knocked that off our list that afternoon. The ride out to the fishing spot was just gorgeous. The weather was perfect and the view was unreal.
When we finally got to the pond, we dropped anchor and set-up shop. What do you use to fish for piranhas, you might ask? Why, raw chicken and beef, of course!
As soon as you drop the bait into the water, you can feel them start to nibble on the meat. Such an odd feeling. However, you really have to snap the rod up when you think you've caught one because otherwise, the hook never gets caught in their mouth and they fall back into the water.
One of the guides was the first to catch one, but I was actually the first of our group to catch something. Granted, it was small and had to be thrown back, but I was still oddly proud of this.
We weren't allowed to take them off the hook ourselves as their teeth are sharp and you could easily loose a chunk of flesh off your finger, or worse.
Jim and MoP eventually caught one, too, but poor T-dogg just didn't have a ton of luck.
Overall, we kept 3 of what was caught and those were brought back to the lodge to be grilled and served to us at dinner. Strangely enough, piranha is actually quite tasty. Who knew?!
On our way back to the lodge, our guide stopped the boat and pointed out the cresting pink dolphins. A mama and a baby. As the sun was setting. Beautiful. Just beautiful. (Sadly no pics of the dolphins as they surfaced too quickly for us to capture them on film.)
We also had a heron that seemed to lead us down the river, waiting til we almost caught up and then flying off again.
It was a long and stressful afternoon for the boys (insert sarcasm here), so what better to relax with than a cold beer on the boat.
Shortly before we got back to the lodge, our guide spotted a sloth hanging out in the tree. Our guide made hawk noises, one of their predators, to get the sloth to turn its head, but it still took forever for the sloth to make move. So funny!
[A quick note about the mosquitos. Vicious, people, absolutely vicious! We wore long-sleeves and long pants whenever we were outside. And remember that permethrin we sprayed on our clothing? Yeah, they laughed at it. All of it. Those devilish mosquitos bit right through our clothing! Like, it didn't even phase them. After fishing, I easily had 10 new bites on the back of my left leg. You could play connect the dots with no problems. Ugh. I can't tell you how frustrating it was!]
Our evening excursion was probably our favorite outting of the whole trip. We again road the motorboat out to a designated area and then switched to the river canoes. While it wasn't raining, we all still donned our raingear as it provided an extra layer of protection from the little flying devils.
I think, for some odd reason, I was the only one that wasn't a bit freaked out by canoeing through the forest at night. [shrug] The moon gave everything a pretty glow and provided just enough light so that we weren't out there in total darkness. Both guides had flashlights that they'd use to scan for eyes (which look red in the light) in the trees or water. Okay, I guess that's kinda creepy in retrospect, but at the time, I was totally relaxed and just enjoying the ride.
We went back to the swamp area where we had done some bird watching the day before and upon entering, we were overwhelmed with the noise. It was SO LOUD! And what was making all the racket? These little frogs, not more than a half-inch long (didn't catch their name, oops) that were calling and answering each other. So crazy! I've never heard anything like it.
Anselmo found one of the little frogs in an aquatic plant and T-dogg was able to see it, but the rest of us had to take her word for it. Shortly thereafter, the two guides had a brief, quiet discussion in spanish and then our canoe (with the second guide) pulled ahead, into the aquatic plants. With all of this frog stuff, I'm still thinking we're looking for more frogs. We pull up next to a bunch of reeds and the guide motions me to hold on to the leaves to steady the boat. I look over and see a pair of eyes, which I assume belong to a large frog.... The guide steadys himself, and then plunges both arms into the water and comes up with... A CAIMAN.
Mmm hmm. I'm sitting in the canoe with a baby caiman in front of me. UN-FREAKING-BELIEVABLE! They guess it's around 2-3 months old, but even at that age, it's teeth could do some serious damage. We all turn on our headlamps to get a closer look and it's just amazing. I get to touch it and MoP actually gets to hold it for a bit.
After a few minutes the guide released it back into the water and we got the hell outta dodge. Mom is still out there somewhere and we prefered not to have a close encounter with her, if you know what I mean.
All of us were on cloud 9 after that and the ride back to the lodge found us with huge smiles pasted on our faces. Best night of the trip!