We were heading for the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve in Loreto region of Peru. The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is located between the river Marañon and the Ucayali in the Department of Loreto. It is the second largest natural protected area in Peru, consisting of 2,080.000 hectares. Inhabiting the reserve are (at last count!) 449 species of birds, 102 of mammals, 69 of reptiles, 58 of amphibians, 256 of fish and 1024 of wild plants. Our arrival at 4am in San Martin village two days later was exciting and full of expectation, collecting science data for the Reserve and the Wildlife and Conservation Society back here in the UK.
Four teams then seperated to start their first phase of this momentous expedition. My first phase was the canoe trip, to follow the Yanayaquillo River (a tributary of the Maranon) as far as we could get in six days. Using traditional dugout canoes, we wild camped in the jungle, taking in the incredible scenery, the night-time sounds, cooking on open fires and living from a rucksack. During this part of the expedition, we saw dolphins almost every day, caught fish from the river to add protein to our diet, did night time paddles under moonlight and made it upstream to a cocha (small lake) by day four.
A major part of this expedition was the link we had with the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve and the local Cocama tribe, at Sam Martin de Tapischa village. The community life revolves around fishing, including commercial fishing. Whilst they also sell rice, manioc, bananas and high qulaity timber from their reserve. Ecotourism is fast becoming a funding resource for the community, helping them to exist without damaging their ancestral home. It is documented that the Cocama were first ‘discovered’ by Europeans during the expedition of Juan Salinas de Loyala in 1557. Whilst we were there, teams visited an ancient Aztec village site on the other side of the river, where many pot shards were found in abundance.Our return to the village at the end of the canoe phase was the start of the project work with the local people through the ‘Asiendes’ organisation (Indigenous Association in Defense of Samiria Ecology). All other visitors to this amazing reserve usually only get a day to visit and our five weeks was a real privilege. It gave us all an opportunity to understand the part the Cocama play in preserving the reserve and the life that they lead within the rainforest. Our projects included traditional canoe repairing, working with the local school, helping with a village herb garden, the building of a chapel and community toilets amongst many others. It was a joy to work and share experiences with such happy and incredible people. I spent an unforgettable two weeks with these people, living, sharing and working within and around the village.
I then completed a secong canoe phase, heading up the Samiria River this time. A very different experience to the Yanayaquillo, much wider and more diverse forest. Again, wild camping and catching fish with a spear were some of the major highlights, as well as the roar of the Howler Monkeys. A pod of dolphins followed us for much of this phase, playing with our boat as we entered the now much lower (10m drop) Maranon at San Martin.
The other two phases that I was not involved in included a weeks jungle trek from the Samiria River to the Cocha wa Wiuri where the team would spend another week collecting data for the reserve.
Our journey back to Iquitos back down the Amazon was a fitting end to a superb Expedition.
Further images of this expedition can be found here: