Members' Travels

The Bolton Camera Club meets weekly throughout most of the year and gives a very warm welcome to visitors and new members. We have been sharing a passion for photography since 1884 and are more than happy to share with you, whether your interest is in film or digital, audio visual or more technical aspects of photography. 

This is the third and final instalment of Bolton Camera Club member Brian White’s pictorial adventure of the Amazon Basin. At the end of part two Brian cycled by mountain bike down the hazardous “Death Road” and safely returned to La Paz. We re-join his adventure in La Paz as he travels into the Madidi National Park in Bolivia.

26_Plane 

                                                                 30_Jungle_river

20-Seater Propeller Aeroplane.

Jungle River.

Brian travelled in a military 20-seater propeller aeroplane to Rurrenabaque, a one hour flight over the Andes and into the Amazon Basin rainforest (the only other option was a 26 hour minibus ride including travelling on the dreaded “Death Road”). Due to the often adverse weather the flights only take off from early morning to midday, and even then there are many delays and cancellations as it is not safe to fly over the high mountains in turbulent and cloudy weather, or in darkness. Situated north east of La Paz, relaxing “Rurre” (as the locals refer to it, pronounced “zussay”) is set in the midst of the tropical lushness on the Beni River, a tributary of the Amazon. It is a frontier jungle town and a popular place to arrange an onward journey to the nearby Madidi National Park, one of the world’s most precious wilderness gems. Covering an area of 7,320 square miles (19,858 square kilometres) in the upper Amazon River basin, the Park is part of one of the largest protected areas in the world – the park alone almost the same size as Wales. The Madidi National Park has few villages and fewer people, just rainforest so dense that any photos required a flash, even in daytime; Brian found the rainforest to be very dark, very hot, very humid and very claustrophobic. 

1_Guide

29_Elevated_tent

Local guide.

                                                               

Elevated Tent.

Brian arranged with a Spanish guide who organised tours using three Indian brothers from a small indigenous town, to be his guide for his trip into the Madidi National Park: luckily one of the brothers spoke good English! Travelling with a Swiss girl to share the costs of enough fuel, food, water and beer to last for four days and nights, Brian negotiated the price for these provisions and a cook, and set off by boat into the jungle. Some 8 hours after leaving Rurrenabaque the boat arrived at the camp site, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, totally surrounded by dense rain forest! 

4_Tarantula

                                                               32_Guide_in_river 
Bird-eating Tarantula  spider.

Guide with machete in River.

There was no mains electricity – a generator was turned on for two hours in the evening, and a priority for Brian was to recharge the batteries for his cameras and torches! The Indian brothers were the guide for daily hikes into the rainforest, which was fraught with the dangers presented by the local wildlife. Brian saw several poisonous and venomous snakes and many butterflies; indeed the Park is home to over 1000 bird species, representing 11% of the worlds known bird species, as well as many different types of fish, some of which Brian caught.

24_Bullet_Ant                                                             

19_Swollen_finger

Bullet Ant.

Brian’s Swollen Finger.

During Brian’s visit the weather was often relentless tropical downpours, with high humidity and many biting insects; the washed out roads meant the only way to travel was by boat. Despite regularly washing his clothes, the humidity meant it was virtually impossible for Brian to dry them. On one occasion Brian had put his clothes on a washing line for 3 days, but they were still not dry! Checking to see how damp they were, Brian was feeling his hanging underwear when his finger came into contact with a bullet ant.  Measuring about  ¾ to 1¼ inches (18-30mm) in length, they are so named on account of the powerful and violent  sting, which is said to be as painful as being shot by a bullet, and are known locally as “24 hour ant”, referring to the 24 hours of pain that follows a sting. Not amused to find he literally and painfully had ants in his pants, Brian knew the bite was painful but not poisonous. He went to inform his guide to seek medication, only to find the guide had been stung on his ankle by a scorpion. Brian spent the next day watching his finger swell to twice its normal size before the antibiotics eventually worked.

5_Cicada

                                                           

6_Cricket_scratching_head

Cicada.  

Cricket, scratching the back of its head.

The tents are fairly cramped and basic, but Brian could not sleep until 2am when the temperatures dropped to something bearable. It is not possible to open the tent as the mosquitoes will attack, and it is very hot and humid, making breathing difficult and cooling off impossible. The tents are constructed on a wooden platform as the ground is too damp and there are too many ants and crawling insects.  The days end at about 6pm, when it quickly becomes dark - there is no twilight. The torches and lanterns are turned on sparingly to conserve their energy, and by shining them into the forest a mass of pairs of dots shine back as the light reflects from the eyes of wolf spiders and dozens of other nocturnal creatures. Once a green dragonfly landed on Brian’s neck, and his guide quickly grabbed it and threw it to the ground, where it was immediately covered and devoured by wolf spiders.

9_Edible_pod

                                                            

31_Jungle_view

Fleshy wild jungle friut.

Jungle view.

Brians guides showed him several edible plants, one of which had seed pods that formed like peas. The pod contains a seed like a peach stone surrounded by a white flesh which, when sucked, tastes like lime. Sad to leave the jungle rain forest but looking forward to a decent shower, laundry and a rest, Brian headed back to Rurrenabaque on another eight hour boat trip.

16_Frog_as_pebble

                                                              

21_Frog

Amazon Frog camouflaged as a pebble. Amazon Frog.

After a two day rest he was off again, this time by 4x4 Jeep on very rough roads for 6 hours then a one hour boat ride to the Pampas area of the Madidi National Park. This is a flat area of swampland and cattle ranches, covered by protected river systems, with bird life and yet more insects. There are also frogs that disguise themselves as pebbles in an effort to hide from predators. The wildlife is easier to see in the pampas as it is a wet-land savannah rather than thick rainforest jungle. Without the tree cover the sun in the pampas is more oppressive and the bugs are more numerous and worse, so plenty of strong anti- bite cream is essential.

 2_Capybara

                                                               

25_Anaconda

Capybara.

Anaconda eyeing a Mosquito.

The pampas is also the home of the Capybara, a large rodent which is prey to Anaconda snakes and Cayman. Native only to South America, the Capybara have short heads and barrel shaped bodies with reddish brown fur on the upper part of their body and yellow brown underneath, with adults about 4 foot (130cm) in length and up to 25 inches (64cm) tall and weighing up to 150 pounds (66 kg).

22_Victoria_Lily

                                                               

20_Brian_by_boat

“Victoria Amazonia” Lily.

      

Brian by the boat.

This area is also home to a giant lily, the “Victoria Amazonica”, with a leaf up to 10 feet (3m) in diameter and a stalk of 23 – 26 feet (7-8m) in length. It is a member of the Victoria genus named in honour of Queen Victoria in 1837, and the flowers, pollinated by the scarab beetles, are white on the first night they open,  then pink from the second night and are up to 16 inches (40cm) in diameter. 

7_Black_Vulture

36_Macaw

Black Vulture.

                                                                

Blue and Yellow Macaw.

As before the accommodation was basic: wooden huts that were clean but had no air conditioning due to the lack of electricity. It was 90 degree heat and very humid and sticky, and despite the sunshine nothing dries – the only breeze is found on board the boat, when it accelerates faster! The boat took Brian through the flooded pampas, and he flew back from Rurrenabaque to La Paz in the same military aircraft as before, but this time the flight was very turbulent, causing a female Australian passenger to scream the whole journey!

11_Brian_at_camp_site

                                                                  

17_El_Misti

Brian at the jungle camp site.

El Misti volcano, Araquipa.

Brian spent two days in La Paz, where he watched Bolton Wanderers lose 5-0 to Stoke City in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley on a satellite television in an ex-pat bar! He took a connecting flight to Cusco, and the following day travelled overnight by bus to Arequipa high in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 7,661 feet (2,335 meters) above sea level with the volcano El Misti overlooking the city. El Misti is a stratovolcano, which is a tall conical volcano built up of many layers of hardened lava from previous outpourings, and it has periodic explosive eruptions, the last one being in 1985. The symmetrical cone stands at 19,101 feet (5,822m) above sea level, and is usually covered in snow. From here he travelled on to the Manu National Park in Peru by an assortment of vehicles including buses and boats, spending 3 days in the mountainous cloud forest and rain forest in the Andes.

33_Jungle_tree

                                                                 

23_Roseate_Spoonbill

Tall jungle tree.

Roseate Spoonbill.

The Manu National Park remains virtually inaccessible by road as they are washed away by the rainfall and landslides for several months of the year, and in 1987 it was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Covering an area of 7,263 square miles (18,811 square km) it is similar in size to Bolivia’s Madidi National Park (and Wales!) and is the largest National Park in Peru. Several ecological zones are protected by the Park ranging from as low as 492 feet (150 metres) to altitudes of 13,780 feet (4,200 metres), making it have one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any park in the world. Overall, more than 15,000 species of plants are found in Manu, and up to 250 varieties of trees have been found in a single hectare. The reserve is home to over 1000 species of birds - more than the number of bird species found in the United States and Canada combined. One of these is the hoatzin bird, which could be described as the missing link of the bird world as it half jumps as it tries to fly. 

8_Hoatzin_Bird

          

3_Butterfly

Hoatzin bird.                                                                      Tiger Butterfly.    

The hoatzin bird is a roughly pheasant -sized bird up to 26 inches (65 centimetres) long, with a long neck and small head. It is brown in colour, with paler under parts, an unfeathered blue face with maroon eyes, and its head is topped by a spiky, rufous crest. The Hoatzin is eats leaves and fruit, and has an unusual digestive system with an enlarged crop used for fermentation of vegetable matter. It is also known as “Stinkbird,” possibly because of the strong smell it produces due to the consumption and fermentation of leaves.

12_Jungle_Flora

          

13_Female_Condor

              Jungle Flora.

                                                               

   Juvenile Female Condor.  

Returning to Cusco by a boat and minibus journey taking two nights and three days, which can often be delayed for up to 5 days, Brian had 1½ hours to collect all his bags before catching an overnight bus to Arequipa. On arrival there was a power cut and the hotel had no record of his booking and pre-payment - he managed to book a room but they tried to charge him again! From here Brian travelled about 100 miles (160km) northwest of Arequipa to the Colca Canyon. The canyon was forged by the mighty Colca River, and is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in North America at 13,648 feet (4160m) – although the canyon walls here are not as vertical as those in the Grand Canyon.

18_Male_condor_in_flight

          

14_Colca_Canyon

  Adult Male Condor in flight.

                                                               

       Colca Canyon    

The canyon is home to the Andean Condor, which can be seen clearly as they fly past the canyon walls. With males weighing up to 33 pounds (15 kg) it is the worlds heaviest bird of prey, and has the largest wingspan of any land bird at 10½ feet (3.2 metre), enabling it to effortlessly carry a 44 pound (20kg) carcass.

15_Hawk_trainer

          

10_Market_Vendor

Hawk trainer in Colca Canyon

                                                               

      Female Market Vendor    

Brian returned to Arequipa and took the first flight out to Lima, and then having an eight hour wait in the airport for his pre-booked 14 hour flight to Amsterdam. After a 5 hour wait at Amsterdam Brian eventually arrived back in Manchester. On his return home a friend invited Brian to see Bolton Wanderers play the following day in Blackpool. Suffering from jetlag, Brian reflected how the world and travel have rapidly changed in recent times. From being virtually alone for seven weeks in the jungle, his journey back from Arequipa in Peru took “only” 36 hours, yet it is a world away and a total contrast of lifestyle to watching a football match amongst several thousand shouting fans, 1½  days later.

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                               Tree at Sunset                                 

        

That concludes Brian’s Amazon Adventures on this website, and we hope you have enjoyed the journey and the stunning images.

Brian is available to give an illustrated talk on this remarkable journey, and he is currently working on a photo book containing many images from his Amazon travels. In the mean time his contact details and images from his previous travels can be found at www.brianwhitephotography.co.uk

 

A photograph taken by one of our members

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