Trip Report Peru October 18 — November 29, 2007
Participants: Kim Garwood and cast of thousands

9 of us started for 2 weeks at Tambopata Research Center, and their 2 intermediate lodges, then 3 of us joined the ATL group in Cusco and drove to the Cock of the Rock lodge for a week w/Gerardo Lamas, then some of us continued on to Amazonia Lodge for 4 days, across from Atalaya at the end of the road, then on to Pantiacolla Lodge down river by boat for 6 days. Then we retraced our steps back to Atalaya by boat, on the bus and back to Cock of the Rock for a night, back to Cusco for a night and flew back to Lima the next morning. After spending a few days in Lima, the final 6 drove to Pampa Hermosa for 6 days, 2 hours from San Ramon, which was 6-8 hours from Lima over a 4,800 meter pass. So we had 2 cloud forest lodges, which were Cock of the Rock and Pampa Hermosa, at 1,400 and 1,200 meters respectively, and 3 lowland areas; TRC, Amazonia and Pantiacolla. We tried to time the trip for early in the rainy season, so we had some wet but not too much. The serious rains start in December. For more detailed travel info see below.

10/18 flew to Lima, arrive 1am on the 19th, spent 2 nights at Posada de la Parque in Lima.
A very nice simple hostal on a cul-de-sac, so it was very quiet which is a treat in any big city. It was $30 for a single, $36 for a double. I would use this little place again, only about 30 minutes from the airport and probably 20+ blocks north of Miraflores. This is nice to have, as the airport at Lima is usually an hour from Miraflores, which is where most of the tourist hotels are. Miraflores is very nice, lots of restaurants and shops, but can be a long drive after a long international flight. A new Ramada has just opened at the airport, $145/night I’ve been told, but this may be a good option when you fly in at midnight, or later, and have to catch an early am flight to Cusco. In the past I’ve used the Manhattan Hotel, which is about 5 minutes from the airport in a rough part of town. The rooms are acceptable, cost about $60-70, a decent place to crash for 4-5 hours between flights. Better than wasting 2 hours of sleep time back and forth to Miraflores. But if you’re spending more time you wouldn’t want to stay there.

Early the morning of Oct 20st 5 of us meet the 4 others of our group at the Lima airport for our flight to Puerto Maldonado, via Cusco. This included Dan and Kay Wade, Hank and Priscilla Brodkin, Fred Heath, Willie Sekula, Richard Lindstrom and Shirley S. and Kim Garwood, all friends and photographers. Our guides from Rainforest Expeditions, Gerson Medina and Rudolfo Pesha, met us at the airport and were with us the entire 2 weeks. They’re great bird guides, had recordings of the calls and were very knowledgeable, spoke good English, and are enthusiastic local Peruvians who have gotten good jobs through ecotourism. We had asked for bird guides, even though we were concentrating on butterflies, because we are mostly birders as well and it’s nice to have guides who know the habitat. Rainforest Expeditions arranged the trip to TRC (Tambopata Research Center) and the stops at their other 2 lodges,
TRC, originally set up as a research center for the macaw lick, is simple and rustic, shared bathrooms down the hall, open rooms w/open ceilings, one step up from a dormitory, but great food and great habitat. It’s about 8 hours up river by boat from Puerto Maldonado, after a 45 minute bus ride, so you can’t get there the same day you fly in or out. So they have 2 intermediate lodges, Posada Amazona and Refugio Amazona. These other 2 lodges are a little less rustic, but follow the same style w/open ceilings and one wall completely open to the outside, only you have your own bathroom in your room at these other 2 lodges. We slept under mosquito nets at all 3 lodges. We stayed at Refugio on the way up for 3 nights and Posada on the way back for 3 nights. The habitats are different at each one, so you see different species at each. TRC is the most primary forest, tall trees and dark and wet, while Posada is drier and more secondary growth. Our 2 weeks cost about $1,600 each, not including airfare. The cost is higher for a smaller group. The internal flights on LanPeru were about $150 each leg, and those of us who stopped off at Cusco on the way back had to pay $450 for 3 legs, instead of $300 for a round trip Puerto Maldonado to Lima.

On Nov 2nd 3 of us, the Wades and Kim, flew from Puerto Maldonado and got off at Cusco, while 4 others continued onto Lima. The Brodkins stayed in Puerto Maldonado and the next day went up river to Manu Lodge, a 15 hours jaunt by car and boat, then took a boat and later met us at Amazonia Lodge. They don’t recommend this route, but they did see some good butterflies, even though Manu Lodge sounds like it’s seen better days. Plus they had boatloads of mosquitoes, which was very unusual as we didn’t have much mosquito problem at any other place. In Cusco the 3 of us met up w/John Heppner and the ATL group, spent the night and left the next morning for Cock of the Rock in our bus. Others were flying into Cusco later that morning and came in a separate van. It’s about an 8 hour drive over 2 high dry passes, then down the east slope to Cock of the Rock, about 1,400 meters. It’s an amazing drive, as the habitat changes dramatically as soon as you crest the last pass and start down the east, or wet, slope. First you have short elfin forest, then the trees get taller and the bromeliads get heavier. It’s too bad there isn’t a place to stay about 2,300 - 2,500 meters, as the fauna is quite different at this elevation as it is at Cock of the Rock. It’s about another 1.5 to 2 hours to the lodge, which makes for a long commute. I’ve camped up at the higher elevation, but this isn’t a lot of fun as it’s usually damp and cool, but wonderful birds, and very special butterflies when the sun comes out.

We spent 7 nights at Cock of the Rock,
working both up and down slope. Some of us were at the new lodge right around the corner, Manu Paradise, More of the moth collectors were at Paradise, as they have electricity in their rooms. I was at Cock of the Rock, which uses candles everywhere, but they have a charging station in the dining room for batteries. We were a large group, and you basically just work the road, as there are very few trails, but our bus driver was very obliging and frequently took some of us down the road 10 - 20 km so we could spread out. The lodge even brought down our hot chicken lunches by motorbike and delivered them to us individually, talk about service! I’ve been down this road a number of times, and each time it’s fabulous. I would love to spend a week here every month for a year, to see how the species change. We were a mixed group of collectors and photographers, which caused a few conflicts, but most of the people were very cooperative and worked out fine together. I enjoy being w/the collectors, as several of them generously let me go through their catch each night and photograph what I want. We learn from each other. Plus on the road the collectors tend to move much faster and want to get ahead, so I hang back, go slowly, see plenty of bugs after they’ve swept through, and get the advantage of all the accumulated pee spots as the morning goes on. One of the best baits we found was urine, so we always tried to pee on the road, not off in the bushes. And poop can be even better. Dan Wade calls is serious bait. I would find 30+ butterflies on a pile of poop. It may not be esthetically pleasing but it sure works. Some people were even saving their urine in a bottle so they would always have some to sprinkle around. Not a bad idea.

After the 7 days, some people went back to Lima, but most of us continued on to Amazonia Lodge.
This is another 3-4 hours down the road, where it ends at Atalaya. Then you get a boat, or 2 in our case, across the river, and walk about 10 - 15 minutes through the jungle to the lodge. They transport your luggage. This is an old tea and citrus plantation about 500 meters, which has been used by bird tours for years. It’s mostly second growth, but they have a hill that goes up to about 900 meters which is more untouched forest. Very different species between the 2 habitats. The collectors were catching Agrias up on the hill, so that was the holy grail. Our weather was cool and rainy, I even wore my fleece jacket several times, which is unheard of for the lowlands at this time of the year. It seemed very late for a friaje from the south. I think this negatively impacted our species counts, as it seemed very slow at times. I was last at Amazonia 3 years ago, in Sept 2004, and I had expected it to be even better now, in November, as we would be further into the rainy season. But I was wrong, we saw many more butterflies, both # of species and # of individuals, 3 years ago. Who knows why?

Then 9 of us went on down river by boat to Pantiacolla, while 3 stayed at Amazonia.
This was a little lower, about 400 meters, had wonderful trails, very well marked. Some of us hiked many miles, putting out traps and really covering the possibilities. They had a large bamboo patch as well, w/many of the speciality bamboo birds, and probably butterflies. It’s always hard to catch or find things in bamboo, however. They have to want to be seen, or photographed. They had cabins, 2 rooms connected w/a shared porch, so we had 1 cabin of collectors and 1 of photographers. I scored, as the odd woman out, and got my own single in a group of 3 rooms, but I had my own bathroom connected out the back, which was very nice in the middle of the night in a driving rain. Plus mine had hot water, sometimes! Don’t know why the other shared bathrooms didn’t have any hot water, maybe they’re putting it in. We liked the habitat here better than Amazonia, but we still had the cool, rainy weather. And the food was boring, plenty of it but nothing to rave about. The last day was nice and sunny, and it would be interesting to see the place when we had good weather for several days. Butterflies are so sun dependent, it’s very hard to get a feel for a place when you have uncooperative weather.

Then we took the boat back upstream for 3 hours, met up w/the others at Atalaya and drove back to Cock of the Rock for the night. The next morning we were off for our all day drive back to Cusco. It was cool and drizzly, so our group stopped several times and birded. Fabulous birding, lots of hummers, and we even got some sun as we got to the top, so we had some of the special high elevation satyrs. The big problem with doing butterflies up high is waiting for the short periods of good weather. Plan to bring lots of good books or play cards. When the sun comes out it can be fantastic, and lots of special stuff that you won’t find lower down. Lamas told me that February can be a great time to come, right in the height of the rains, but you get 6 rainy days out of 7. There are a number of species that only fly then, but it might be a long wait.

When we got back to Lima on Nov 21st, after spending another night in Cusco, most people headed home. We had to spend a night in Cusco as the last flights out of Cusco are about 2pm, and you can’t plan to make it from Cock of the Rock. 6 of us stayed one more week, and drove 2 cars to San Ramon, over a high pass north of Lima, then on to Pampa Hermosa on a bad jeep road for 24 km, 4 wheel drive is required. Plan to get there before dark, as our 2nd car ran late and had to come in after dark. It took them twice as long, due to rocks blocking the road and steep switchbacks where you have to cut and fill to get around them. Much easier when you can see what the road’s doing. Plus you have to know to look for the Victoria bridge, a small bridge off a dirt road just out of San Ramon. This isn’t easy to find, we had to hire a motorbike cab to lead us to the bridge. He wanted to make sure we didn’t want him to lead us all the way to the lodge, as he didn’t want to do the 24 km bad road.
Once we got there this was probably the poshest lodge we stayed at, tasty food, power 24 hours due to their own hydro-electric plant, bathrooms ensuite. But very little hot water, as they use solar, so when it’s cloudy there’s no hot water. It would be great if they would put in propane heaters. I think the newer cabins had these, but my cabin didn’t. Great porches, though. It’s about 1,200 meters, with the road going a couple of meters higher. Along the road is good, even though it runs mostly through little farms and orchards. Below the lodge there is a short trail to the riverside, and there is a small beach. We made this an official pee spot, and it was fabulous for big skippers and firetips. We probably had 10 - 12 species of Pyrrhopyge, more than I’ve even seen at one place. I put out spitwads and they worked very well here, the only place on this whole trip the spitwads were effective. Again, who knows why? At times a skipper would hit the spitwad as soon as I put the salt water on it, within seconds. I carry a small bottle of salt water to put on the small pieces of toilet paper, or napkins, or whatever you can find that’s white. It’s easier than using spit, plus you can refresh them during the day, or the next morning, with a few drops from your bottle. Even at pee spots I found if I put out a few pieces of small white paper, to simulate bird droppings, the skippers would hit the white paper, then move off the paper to the urine soaked sand or rocks. W/out the spitwads the skippers seemed to buzz by more, w/them it made them stop and check it out. It was interesting that we had most of the skippers on the beach, buzzing up and down the river, but very few up on the road, even at pee spots. Up on the road we had morphos, nymphalids, some riodinids, but not near as many skippers. It was also interesting that at the river beach pee spot the big skippers came in early in the morning, about 8:30am, while the spot was still in shade. As the sun got higher and came to hit the pee spot, the skippers moved to stay in the shade, while the nymphalids started showing up in the sun. The pierids showed up last, in the full sun.

Across the river is a steep hill of good looking forest. There is a trail that crosses the small river, 2 planks, then continues for miles up into the hills. I spent a morning just a few hundred meters up this trail in a small clearing and had lots of goodies. They told us you can hike for 3-4 hours, climb 600 meters, and get to big cedar trees which would be very different habitat. Of course, that means an all day hike for me, so that’s not going to happen. We only went a short distance on this trail, but it looked very interesting. Than after 5 nights we drove back to Lima and flew out for home the next night. Most of the flights to the US leave around midnight. We stayed in Lima at the Hostal El Patio, in Miraflores. This was a pretty little place, but they were a bit unorganized for our first stay. $30 - 40, an old hacienda looking building, a decent restaurant right across the street, Las Tejas, which we used several times because it was so convenient. $10 for a one hour cab to the airport, $20 for a van, and the hotel will arrange it. Close to internet, shops and parks.

All in all a very interesting trip, lots of good places, a nice variety of habitats. Now all I need is lots more years and lots more time to check them out at different times of the year. Next trip I may aim for May, at the end of the rainy season, see how it’s different.