Thursday, November 16, 2000

Fluctuating Water Levels

There are times of the year when the Río Amazonas and its tributaries are rising and the water level is high enough to flood the forest floor. In the dry season the waters recede and the rivers and lakes shrink. Yet, at other times like these the water level fluctuates from day to day depending on whether or not it has rained. Tamara and Captain Antonio have had some concern about whether we would be able to enter the mouth of the Río Samiria this morning, as the water level is so low.

In the middle of the night there was a loud "slap" and the boat rocked from side to side waking everyone up—except the captain—who sleeps upstairs with us in case we need protecting. Tamara had to call to him many times before he woke up. She was afraid that the water level had fallen during the night and that the sound we heard and motion we felt was the boat settling onto the river bottom. Once awake, the captain determined that the water level had not fallen. Instead, the current had suddenly pushed the boat up against the tree to which we were anchored. We were all relieved. However, none of us slept well after that—except maybe the captain!

This morning Captain Antonio and Letser took the small skiff on a reconnaissance. They needed to measure the depth of the river channel up to Ranger Station 1 to determine if we could get the Mirón Lento up the river or not. It turns out the water was barely deep enough to get the boat through the mouth. The boat needs a minimum of one-meter clearance. At one point we had 1.1 meter clearance. The captain has a depth indicator near the wheel that he constantly monitors while we are moving. The question on everyone's mind today was, "So we get in, how do we get out should the water level drop more?" But we'll worry about that next week.

As we headed up the Río Samiria, white water gave way to black water and the riverbanks closed in on us. Now that we are in the Reserve there is an abundance of birds. A flock of parrots flew overhead and hundreds of cormorants were drying their wings on the shore.

Ranger Station 1

Even though Tamara has a stack of signed and stamped permit papers, we still have to have approval at every ranger station to proceed. This approval seems to be dependent upon the individual ranger. This morning Tamara negotiated with the head ranger for some time. She said it was a little like a card game—each player laying their cards on the table, one at a time. The trump card was the spare battery we purchased and plan to donate to Ranger Station 5. In the end the ranger stamped our papers. Now we just need to get through Ranger Stations 2, 3 and 4! At the station Michael played kicked their soccer ball around the make- shift soccer field.


Susan is a very happy camper. Today we rented a cat. Yup! We really did rent a cat—from the rangers. It turns out that when the boat was docked in Nauta, a rat came on board. The crew put out poison, but the dead rat has yet to be found so nobody is certain it is really dead. Tamara has rented Machina before and she seems to like the boat. The last time Machina was rented, she chased a rat right into the water. She swam back to the little skiff, climbed in it and walked the plank to the Mirón Lento. This is definitely an Amazon cat! Nosotros necesitamos practicar nuestro español para hablar con el gato.

Once we had our permit signed we left the station and headed up to Tipishca del Samiria, another ox bow lake to perform a zigzag transect. After the hard work of the transect, where Geoff identified his first dolphins, we had lunch and a swim in the river. We had to stay close to the boat because of the current so that we could quickly climb back in if necessary. Last year little fish nibbled our toes and legs quite a bit, but this time we were left alone. The most difficult part was getting back out of the water because the ladder was a bit precarious. The water was as warm as bath water. Of course dolphins swam very near by.

Captain in Training

After our swim, Shelly got to drive the boat out of the lake. Amazingly enough, the wheel was hard to turn, but when she did, the boat responded quickly. The captain kept pointing which way to go so we did not run aground. Geoff was the replacement driver and was going to dock the boat at Nueva Arica, a local village, but at the last moment the captain decided to take over.

Nueva Arica

We stopped at Nueva Arica to deliver the coloring books Tamara has been distributing to all the village children in the area. She and a friend created the coloring books to help educate the children about the dolphins.

Like every other time we have stopped at a village, all the children came to greet us. As always, we try a little Spanish, they try a little English; but mostly we stand and smile at one another, trying to imagine what our respective lives are like. Sometimes we remain this way for a very long time.

Tracy took a picture of the children who surrounded the boat when we docked. She quickly loaded the picture from the digital camera to her computer, then crawled down on the bow of the boat to show the children. Instant pictures—let alone computers—are a novelty to the villagers, so the children squealed with delight when they recognized themselves and their friends.

There is one teacher in the village for 70 students. He told Tamara that some of the children had found a baby dolphin that morning. The children told Tamara and Enzo that they had played with it awhile until it, "Didn't look very good any more, so we put it back in the water." Tamara always records such incidents in her log when she hears about them. As the boat pulled away, we all waved at one another. On our way out of the lake we kept a look out for the dead baby dolphin, but we didn't find it.

We had planned a research excursion up the Yanayaquillo this afternoon in the skiff. This is the tributary where we saw squirrel and howler monkeys, caiman and many dolphins last year. Tonight we had planned a night excursion in the skiff to look for more caiman.

Once again, though, we are reminded that here in the Amazon, nothing is for certain and that life is governed by the weather and the rise and fall of the river. Currently we are anchored near the shore waiting out another rainstorm. It is pouring buckets but the Mirón Lento is standing firm. We are all huddled on the top deck with the tarps rolled down reading, writing in our journals, or playing cards. As the storm continues we need to readjust ourselves occasionally to stay dry. Every time lightening and thunder strike we all jump a little. Our laundry that was almost dry is once again soaking wet and will need to hang yet another day. Tracy just reported that there is a leak in the bathroom right over the toilet.

If the rain ceases we will transmit tonight. If not, there is always tomorrow.

Lessons Learned Today

Do your laundry even though it is raining because you never know when the sun will appear.

Your clothes are just as dirty after you wash them as before—washing them just makes you feel better.

Only swim by the ranger stations to avoid the 21-foot caiman.

Don't flush when people are swimming along side the boat.

DEET eats away nail polish.

Bumps in the middle of the night usually do mean something.

The mosquito nets mostly serve to trap mosquitoes IN not OUT of the net—which makes for mosquitoes bites in the most interesting places.

Your Questions

We are delighted to be receiving your questions and are eager to answer them. However, because of our limited power supply we are going to wait until the weekend to answer them. They will be posted to the Q&A page on Monday.

home | map of peru | site map contact us | glossary