The Peruvian Amazon on the waters of the Tambopata River
João Marcos Rosa
A photographer who's passionate about animals turns his eye to the fauna of the Tambopata River in the Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon is reached by few. First it appears in the airplane window, as the Andean mountains disappear behind you. It materializes in the full blast of hot, humid air that hits those disembarking in the city of Puerto Maldonado, the port of entry to the forest on the Peruvian side. It is here that Brazilian photographer João Marcos Rosa's journey to Tambopata National Reserve begins.
“The name Tambopata always sounded like music to my ears,” he says. Dreamy words, but which here take on an almost literal meaning: the area is home to almost 600 species of birds, in addition to another 300 types of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. A specialist in leading photographic expeditions for professionals and amateurs with cameras through the company Onelapse, João came to get to know the land so as to bring a new group there in 2019. A dream scenario for anyone who tells stories through their lenses.
On the waterway
Just 12 miles [20 km] separate Puerto Maldonado from the Infierno community, by the banks of the Tambopata River, the great fluvial roadway that guides the itinerary of the next few days. Aboard a canoe, João never puts down his camera, waiting furtively; any curve can reveal the first signs of life.
After an hour-long boat ride, the first stop comes at Posada Amazonas, a lodge which has a special attraction: an enormous observation tower where you can clearly see the horizon above the treetops, a green carpet that camouflages monkeys and parrots. From there, you can head to Tres Chimbadas Lake, which, by naturally 'imprisoning' the fish, ends up concentrating predators like grey herons and alligators. The voyage proceeds nice and slow in a catamaran with no engine so as to not scare off the animals. 'The absolute silence here makes it easier to get close to the animals,” explains João as he carefully shoots a group of giant river otters fishing. 'It is a very serene coexistence.'
The journey continues and, an hour and a half later, you come to another lodge, Refugio Amazonas. The hotel has small wood and straw cabanas that serve as hideaways for observation. In the silence, attentive spectators just might spot a young harpy eagle feeding.
The following day brings the Amazonian rains in all their power and, with them, comes a cold front, but João's energy is unaffected. 'The end of the rain is almost always a prelude to life. When the sun appears, all the animals are flushed out,' he explains. The visual result is an explosion of colors: green toads, black-tailed trogons, the yellow tones of the wings of a butterfly, all of them making the most of the light streaming into the forest.
Kaleidoscope in clay
After another four hours on the river, you come to the Tambopata Research Center (TRC), the only lodge inside the Tambopata National Reserve. The change in landscape is clear – this is a primary forest area, where the animals are even more inclined to show up, creating, as João puts it, a “symphony of birds and amphibians.” Here is the real objective of his journey: getting to see the clay walls formed out of erosion from the river and covered in colorful macaws, up close.
“The proximity to the Andes makes the soil susceptible to the formation of gullies of mineral salts,” he explains. They are colpas, or clay pits, where birds go seeking complementary nourishment. “This is one of the only places in the world where there is a concentration of different macaws on a single wall. It's a spectacle of coexistence among species.” From the TRC, the expedition departs for Colpa Chuncho: there's no right time for the passage of the animals, so you have to get there around 6 a.m. and wait (sometimes the whole morning) at the observation point, around 100 feet [30 m] from the clay pit.
The process starts out slow. First, the blue-headed parrots come, then the southern mealy amazons; a subtle change in the sound announces the arrival of the macaws. Two, three, and then suddenly, 100. Cautious, they know that swooping down to the clay pit means exposure to predators, and, as such, they're in no hurry. “It's a sensitive process and one that demands lots of patience,” says João. “Sometimes, they'll almost touch it and, out of nowhere, they leave.” Around 10 a.m., finally the first in the flock touches the clay pit, giving the others the go-ahead. The wall is covered in red, blue, and yellow and the camera works incessantly. This is the end of the adventure for the photographer who always dreamed of experiencing it firsthand. While the Tambopata may be music to João's ears, it’s a rainbow to his lenses.
João Marcos Rosa
Winner of the World Bird Photo Contest, João has led over a dozen photographic expeditions
LATAM has direct flights to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco and Lima.
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