I’m sitting at my desk in my small but comfortable room. It’s been months since I last saw a monkey in the wild, but somehow the mosquitoes are still prevalent in this part of The Netherlands. Rain is pouring down in the woods surrounding my house and it reminds me of the tropical rainstorms of Peru. There, a downpour would bring life to the forest, but winter is around the corner here and everything is going to sleep. The snakes have long since retreated in their holes and the last sand lizard was basking weeks ago. Hedgehogs and squirrels are fattening up to prepare for their hibernation. I scroll through my pictures and realize there is one type of animal I have not yet written about: humans. Considering the many pictures and videos I’ve made (mostly of myself), it would be a shame not to share them.
Some days, it seems impossible to find interesting animals. It might be too hot, or too cold for anything to come out. Or it could be a Saturday, which means helping out with tasks around camp and not having much time to go out. But an interesting animal that’s always around, is myself.
In this video I release a two metre yellow-tailed cribo, Drymarchon corais, after taking photos of him. When I open the bag, he puts his head out in the air and sniffs the environment with his tongue. After deciding it’s safe, he cautiously slithers out before quickly crawling away.
The Loboyoc is full of small caiman like the one in this video. It’s very difficult to distinguish between the two members of the Paleosuchus genus, trigonatus and palpebrosus. They’re easy to catch at night, when you can spot them from yards away with their bright yellow eyeshine.
I had some of the best fun at LPAC during a little river expedition we undertook for two days. With an incredibly loud but somehow more fuel efficient motor on our boat we drove upstream the Las Piedras from dawn till dusk. As a preparation we boiled pounds of rice, soy meat and eggs. It’s amazing how much can fit on such a small boat, if you throw all sense of comfort overboard. The most important addition to our baggage was the SS Anaconda, a small rubber boat I had brought with me from The Netherlands. Unfortunately, I was stupid enough to leave the vessel inflated out in the open, where it naturally got punctured by falling branches. My DIY skills are not as developed as might be expected from a jungle dweller, so the monstrosity that was rubber cement and duct tape did not hold together very well. I chose to still bring the infamous SS Anaconda with us; a wise decision, as is evident from this video and this gif.
We stopped some hours before nightfall on a wide beach to build up camp. I was lucky enough to be able to set up my own personal hammock, which proved to be a difficult feat when I found myself standing in a fire ant nest wearing flip flops. We managed to build a campfire and boil water for coffee and tea. As darkness began to take over, we became surrounded by glowing eyes and calling cane toads. The sand made my dinner extra crunchy, but it didn’t matter because the silhouette of the trees in front of the stars was beautiful. The fire was warm and we sat talking until the rum was gone. Many noises from unidentifiable sources woke me up in the middle of the night. The fresh tapir tracks on the beach we found in the morning revealed the identity of one of them.
Apart from a large array of gorgeous birds, a family of capybaras and a sole red brocket deer, we never saw many animals on our trip. The engine was loud enough to scare most animals away long before we could reach them. We did however see a frighteningly large amount of loggers. Even our campsite had once been a loggers camp, which was evident from the grooves in the bank where they had previously dropped down chopped trees. I have no idea how much further upstream logging is prevalent, but I imagine it goes on along the entire river.
The most depressing day came when I joined Adam on the Forest Ranger program one day. We tracked the logging roads that exist across the river from LPAC’s land. Obviously I had seen videos and pictures of rainforest logging before, but there is nothing like seeing first hand the destruction that takes place in the jungle. Thousands of trees are demolished to make way for massive roads to transport the wood to a nearby town. Many smaller trails are cut along the main road; when you follow them, they usually lead to another spray-painted hardwood tree, marked for death. Our goal is to GPS track these roads and assess the extent of this network. We’ve arranged with the owner of the land that we’re allowed to do this, as long as we don’t interrupt any of the logging being done. The owner is also completely allowed to log on that land, as long as he doesn’t enter the area that is owned by Jungle Keepers.
The main road leads us downhill, but we’re still sweating like otters. There is no canopy left here to protect us from the intense tropical sun. Our energy to keep going comes from determination and coca leaves. Suddenly we notice the grumbling noise from machinery is getting closer to us. We duck into the undergrowth just in time before a gigantic truck loaded with heavy tree trunks comes thundering up the hill. Tons of steel and wood speed through the forest without any problem, faster than a sprinting jaguar. As we emerge from the shrubs again, I’m doubting the truck would have been able to stop for us.
The effect of humans on the earth is striking. Logging is just one part of the deforestation problem. Gold mining, farming and oil production all contribute to the destruction of the lungs of the earth. Some are legal, some aren’t, but all of them are largely ignored by the authorities that profit from them. I don’t want to end this blog on a depressing note, but this death of the forest is a veil that hangs over all my experiences in the jungle.
One day, I rafted down the Loboyoc in the SS Anaconda (edited video here). It was half deflated and the sun burned my bare back to a crisp. But I saw a giant anteater and chased a sunbittern while admiring its incredible plumage. I caught a swimming forest racer and scared off a giant stingray. I saw spider monkeys and capuchins cross the stream through the overhanging canopy and heard the chorus of hundreds of green parrots. I spent a day on my own surrounded by nothing but untouched rainforest; I want to able to do that in the future as well.