Quick Quinoa breakfast at 6am. Ready to leave at 6:30am. Only 5 minutes after we start driving from the lodge we reach a little city in the middle of the jungle. We are surprised how many people live in the Recreational Zone of the park, growing Coca plants and harvesting Coca leaves, with their own communities, churches, schools and few shops. One shop has giant UHU and Faber Castell commercials advertising their products for kids and students. We stop to get some bread in one of the shops and continue our journey through thick lush green forest.
Every now and then, our guide Alex suddenly stops the car and we are surprised what he spotted again with his eagle eyes from the moving car. This time a sleeping potoo that blends in perfectly with the tree trunk.
Eventually we reach the boat station in a small village. Shops sell Inka cola, water, beer and snacks. We are surprised to see Oreos too. Here we swap our driver for 2 young men from indigenous communities who are on a rotation to spend a few months working in the village and then go back to their communities. They are experts in the currents of the river and steer the boat between rocks, fallen trees and hidden sand banks.
The boat passes seemingly endless green. There are rare sights of minimal agriculture and banana plantations. Other than that the park and nature seem pure and untouched. You almost feels like you are the first explorer to set eyes on this land.
After dinner at the 2nd lodge, the Dorado lodge, we do a nightly jungle walk to the tapir clay lick. With long sleeves and plenty of mosquito repellent we start our walk into the forest. Leaf-cutting ants cross the path, tapir, pig and jaguar footprints are visible in the mud.
After a 40min walk we reach the tapir clay lick around 5pm climbing onto a an elevated wooden observation point. Shoes are taken off, to move quietly; sitting is not possible. So we stand silently and wait… It is getting darker. Almost 6pm. We are still in complete silence just listening into the jungle, the millions of unfamiliar mysterious noises, and staring into the shades of grey. A few fireflies dance in the tree tops, turning their lights on and off, competing with the twinkling stars.
Eventually, Alex signals. One sound out there seems to be the tapir. He will take 15min more minutes to slowly and carefully make his way to the clay lick.
“1, 2, 3,…” Alex turns on his flashlight perfectly illuminating the tapir just about 20m from us. For some reason the tapir does not seem to be surprised or scared by someone just switching on the light in the jungle. Beautiful!
We stumble back to the lodge through the pitch dark forest and we both feel slightly uneasy looking at all the giant footprints and noises from the dark and behind.