Winding to Manu 🇵🇪

I am so grateful that we flew some of our own snacks. It was just a handful of granola bars and a sandwich bag of trail mix but without it I would have starved! This morning we were picked up at 6:30 by our guide and professional naturalist David Fuerte to begin our journey into the cloud Forrest. This adventure involves an extensive drive of 6 hours where we ascended and descended one mountain into a valley only to drive up another mountain and arrive at our destination on the other side.

David was amazingly friendly making stops at photo spots and pointing out birds along the journey. My favorite was the giant humming bird! It wasn’t until 10:30am that we arrived in the town where we could purchase breakfast and use the restroom! That’s another thing...here public restrooms are not easy to come by and most of these people are on a schedule. So watch what you drink and use them as you can!! As we continued on our dirt road that hugged the mountainside it began to rain. If I thought the ride was nerve racking before I was on high alert now as cars passed in this 1 lane road.

We entered our halfway point in the town of Pocatambo at about 10:30. David took us to his friends local restaurant for some breakfast of eggs, bread, and cheese. As Americans we tend to forget how fresh something as simple as eggs can taste when it is farm fresh. We finished our coffees and needed to exchange more money to sol (they spend quick!) David took us to a bank that actually refused our bills because they weren’t brand new bills. They weren’t torn or anything. He just didn’t like that they were 2013. So we went to the other bank where they agreed to exchange but in order to do so needed my passport, moms maiden name, and even a finger print! Lesson learned. Next time we will either exchange a larger amount at the beginning or simply withdraw it from an ATM here.

David then led us around town to a church and a local museum. Here he explained the costumes, customs, and numerous cultures and communities of the Incas. The museum contains vast displays of costumes typically worn during festival de la mama ha del Carmen, a 2-3 day festival occurring in July. As we walked through the city back to the car two little kids spotted us and exclaimed “ooooooh gringos!” We laughed and continued on.

The drive was much longer than listed but this was partly due to the rain mucking up the one lane dirt road and mostly because of all the stops we made to look at wild life. Our driver Daniel and the guide David expertly spotted multiple species of bird while in motion, stopped, allowed us to use their binoculars, and sometimes set up a scope and took pictures with our phones through the scope! It was wonderful! We even spied some wooly monkeys swinging just above the car!!!

We arrived at the Paradise Lodge around 7pm, just in time for our dinner! After having multiple crummy experiences with our free food we were very nervous for this meal, especially because there was no where else to go to get alternative food! To our delight, this and all the following meals were some of the best we had on this trip. These were all 2-3 course meals which was the exact opposite of what we had experienced the previous days. I even had to turn down some of the delicious food at some times because it was just too much! As we went to sleep that night we realized we had the entire lodge to ourselves. Our windows were open and we could hear the “AC” that turned out was the river adjacent to our rooms.

The following day, it was another early start around 5am. We had stopped at a viewing area for a bird called cock of the rock (pictured below) and seen 5-6 of the males. Our guide insisted we visit during the early hours and we are so grateful he did! Their activity level was through the roof as there were now 3-4 females present as well as a juvenile; the males were loudly calling (we recorded it) to draw their attention. We stayed here for about 1.5 hours and even spotted a highland mot mot before we left. The day continued with a series of walks, bird sightings (and even a brown backed agouti-giant guinea pig) followed by a car ride back to the lodge (Chris loved not having to walk back). We were fed regularly (almost constantly!) during our breaks at the lodge. Again, I can’t tell you how delicious the food was. During the afternoon they drove us into a small town about 1.5 hours away to a privately owned rescue center. On the way there, we saw more monkeys! This time it was 4 red howler monkeys that allowed us to watch for several minutes although my video did not turn out fantastic. Entrance to the rescue required a donation of 10 sol per person (ended up be about $6 US dollars for the both of us. This was a short but fun experience. There were only a few animals which included wild pigs, mccaws, a sloth, a tapir, a tiny caiman, some tortoises, and 2 different species of monkey. What made it so fun was the squirrel monkey that jumped onto you and walked around with you before leaping back to the trees :)

One more note about the lodge, their power is run on a generator which ONLY operates from 6-9pm. As a conservationist I LOVE this but had I known the first night, I would have plugged in my phone sooner. Luckily it had plenty of battery in the morning to use for a flash light and the water was gas heated so we still got that hot shower. By lunch, after using my camera so often my phone was almost dead. Our host graciously turned the generator on for about 20 minutes allowing me to charge my camera (phone) for the rest of the exciting day.

The drive home was still exciting as we were better attuned to the things we were looking for and we continued to spot more exciting birds such as two more highland mot mots and a quetzal. I only mentioned some of my key favorites but we saw over 50 species of birds ranging from hummingbirds, swallows, taningers, toucans, macaws, etc. Before this trip, you never could have convinced me that I would give a flip about birds but the truth is it was like I-spy for adults full of brilliant colors and exciting challenges.

As we headed back towards Cuzco, we stopped just outside of town to finally try cuy (Guinea pig). This is a local dish mostly associated with celebrations but it is consumed year round. Unfortunately we just wanted a taste but had to purchase the whole guinea pig to do so. It was...not aesthetically pleasing to watch them chop off the head and then put it into our dish! The meat itself was very rich and herby and fatty, similar to pork, but the way this one was cooked was very earthy. We were happy to try but passed the rest of the enormous dish to our hostess at the B&B, who graciously thanked us.

Instead for dinner we went back towards the cevicheria but instead went to the pizza place, Matteo pizza and pasta; that turns out was owned by the same person! Again we enjoyed excellent service, savory food, and tantalizing drinks all for an EXCELLENT price. In fact, I’m mad we have eaten anywhere else based on the value and quality.

If you have the chance, try to do a longer trip in Manu. We certainly enjoyed ourselves but there is so much to see that a week seems like a better way to go. Also, we can’t recommend David Fuerte and Daniel enough. Without them we wouldn’t have seen 1/8 of what we did and their personalities were welcoming and made the trip that much more enjoyable. Thanks for all the pictures and memories!

Our last adventure leads us up to rainbow mountain so stay tuned... :)

Blue banded toucan

Masked trogon

Cinnamon fly catcher

White collared jay

Andean guan

Giant humming bird

Scarlet bellied mountain tangier

Golden collared tangier

Wooly monkey

Speckled humming bird

White capped dipper

Cock of the rock

Orange bellied euphonia

Highland mot mot

Female booted racket tail hummingbird and male

Sparkling violet ear hum

Violet fronted brilliant hum

Swallow taninger

Tropical kingbird

Blue and white swallow

Blue grey taningers

Social fly catchers

Ilinea (crested?)

Slate throat red star

Silver beak taninger

White crested ilania

Speckled turkey

Blue necked taninger

Brown back agouti

Black faced bush finch

Orange eared taninger

Long tailed tyrant

Green parrots

Red throated cara cara

Red howler monkey

Chestnut fronted macaw

Chestnut ear aca

Burrowing owl

Andean solitary

Quetzal

Ladder tail night jar

Lire tail night jar (female)

Oralpendulum russet back

Dusky green oropendulum


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