Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bill Lamar's Field Journals

Primitive at Heart
by William W. Lamar

Part 1

Crackling leaves underfoot kept me mindful of how rapidly the vast pluvial forests of the Amazon Basin shed moisture. Scarcely 12 hours had elapsed since the last downpour, a cataclysmic event that left the maloca (communal house) I was sharing with its Karapana Indian owners stranded in inky, roiling waters of the Tí river. Yet already the place seemed parched. Still sleepy, the forest was slowly coming to life as the sun's equatorial rays knifed through the canopy. Anticipating another day at the Greatest Show on Earth, I smiled.

Stopping in the damp flutter of swirling butterflies beside a stream, I waited for Luis, my hunting companion, and reflected on our morning strategy. I had come, by plane and five days' paddling, to this remote sector of Vaupés, Colombia, seeking an enigmatic creature then known from a mere handful of specimens: the Red Toad-headed Turtle, Phrynops rufipes. The Karapanas surprised me with the news that these denizens of forest creeks were stunned by barbasco (Lonchocarpus sp.), a plant toxin they used to kill fish for food.



Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Famed Inca Trail

By Debra Bouwer

Built by the Incas in about 500AD, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu covers only a small section of the ancient road system, which once spanned 23000 Kms and connected over three million Km² of territory. The trail was built block by block along the spine of the Andes, linking southern Ecuador to central Chile.
At a spot called Km 82 on the Urubamba River, about 170 tourists gather each day, to walk the 53 Km famed Andean trail, to the ruins of Machu Picchu. For many, the path gives modern man a chance to walk in the footsteps of a lost civilization, but what many people don’t realize, is that the route opens a window to exquisite plant life, a myriad of old Incan Ruins and an insight into some of the old traditions of the people. Walking along well worn paths, the trail heads through small little villages where residents grow corn to make their “Chicha,” or Corn Beer. Here, weary porters carrying heavy loads, stop to purchase a mug of the pinkish brew to quench their thirst. But first, they pour a little on the earth as a dedication to the earth goddess, Pacha Mama.


GreenTracks Inca Trail Programs


Monday, September 21, 2009

The GreenTracks Naturalist

Peru’s Living Jewels--Poison frogs rank among the world's most beautiful creatures. They get their name owing to the often highly toxic alkaloids contained in their skin. Incorrectly called "Dart Frogs," because they are widely believed to be used by indigenous peoples to tip their darts and arrows, in reality only a couple of species were ever used in this manner. Of the several dozen species, Peru has more than her share and those found in Peru include some of the most striking. The GreenTracks naturalist takes a look at a few.....

Ranitomeya fantastica

Ranitomeya fantastica

Ranitomeya vanzolinii

Ranitomeya imitator

new dendrobatid

Amereega trivittata

Amereega bassleri

Amereega bassleri


Friday, September 18, 2009

Iquitos, Peru

Iquitos is one of the most fascinating cities, historically and culturally, in the Amazon. Founded in 1864 it reached its zenith during the rubber boom era. GreenTracks presents a photographic record of Iquitos - past and present.

Plaza de Armas - 1886

Plaza de Armas - 2008


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guest video

A riverboat cruise aboard the Delfin I into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. Video by Radiocolan.

Delfin I and Delfin II Amazon Cruises


Friday, September 11, 2009


During a GreenTracks' boat expedition up the Tapiche River, all had enjoyed great weather with clear sunrises every day. Everyone was accustomed to getting up early, grabbing coffee or tea, binoculars, and a good seat on the roof of the boat in order to bird watch and enjoy the scenery as the boat slowly eased upstream.

One morning, a bit earlier than customary wakeup, the guide was out on the bow admiring the mist rising from the river's surface. Looking far ahead after the boat rounded a bend, he saw something that looked out of place. As he continued watching, he realized it was some sort of animal in the water, and he knew it had to be large as it was still some distance away.

Grabbing his binoculars, he focused on the mystery and discovered it to be a large tapir (South America's most massive land mammal) swimming across the river. Tapirs tend to be nocturnal, so any sighting during daylight is something special. Quickly he shouted to the Captain's quarters and asked the crew to hold their speed to a minimum. Frantically he ran to each cabin door, banging loudly and telling the dazed occupants to grab their cameras and binoculars and run up on deck.

In a remarkably short period, everyone had staggered up to the bow of the boat and all began training binoculars and cameras on the tapir as the boat grew closer. The previous night had been especially cool and humid, and the air conditioning units in each cabin had really done their job. The problem with that was that all the equipment had become thoroughly chilled such that the lenses fogged when they were exposed to the warm morning air. The guide, who slept in a room temperature cabin, was unaware of this problem so it took a few minutes to sort things out.

Everyone quickly made a line and each, in turn, used the guide's binoculars to admire the great animal as it made its way across the river and up unto the beach. As the boat grew close, cameras were brought into action, but each shot was preceded by a quick wipe of the glass! Everyone was able to see and enjoy the tapir, and we made a note to encourage all to protect their electronics and binoculars from the cold air in their cabins.


Monday, September 7, 2009

GreenTracks works to save endangered amphibians

Most everyone knows it is not a good time to be an amphibian. Chytrid fungus, global warming, rampant contamination of air and water....it's depressing just writing about it. GreenTracks got to lend a helping hand when Bill Lamar went to Santiago, Chile, to assist in setting up breeding units to aid in conservation of Darwin's Frog.

Not only is the frog, a native of South America's southern temperate rainforests, a beautiful creature, but also we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of its namesake: Charles Darwin. Darwin discovered this little frog during his epic voyage on the HMS Beagle.

Funded by the Atlanta Botanical Garden the new facility is in Chile's excellent National Zoo, and without their enthusiastic help, the task of getting everything assembled would have been impossible, and a lot less pleasant. Pulling long days (and nights) we got it done and now things have moved to the final stages of preparation. Next big step will be to place some frogs into their new home and start producing them. The project is also funding critical field work in order to establish how much suitable habitat and how many frog populations remain. GreenTracks is committed to conserving the Earth's resources and we join all Chileans in the hope that this project will be a success.

After days of hard work, it was great to see the completed facility.



Friday, September 4, 2009


Lost in the Jungle. A harrowing true story of survival.
by Ghinsberg, Yossi. 2009
Skyhorse Publishing, New York. 314 pp.

It is almost axiomatic that breathless tales of nightmarish times in the Amazon are written by the uninitiated. Indeed, to those unfamiliar with the occupants of the rainforest, every encounter bristles with malevolence. The normal rhythms of the forest, its calling frogs and insects, the rustlings in the night, the ants and their kin…all of it combines into an overwhelmingly unpleasant experience unless one is fortunate to travel in expert company.

But this book is about getting lost, and that is a singularly scary hazard in the Amazon, whether it befalls an old pro or a novice such as the author. Ghinsberg in his youth was a trusting, friendly fellow who was blissfully unaware that it is never wise to respond to those who hang around backpacker resting spots in South America, especially those who start conversations. So, he and two friends were seduced by an Austrian of dubious credentials and they found themselves embarking upon a trek in northwestern Bolivia.

As conditions deteriorated, the author and a companion opted to continue along their way when the Austrian decided to return. Almost immediately they became separate, with Ghinsberg clinging precariously to a raft in rapids. It would be twenty arduous days before they were reunited and during that time the author learned much about mortality, wilderness, and himself. His companion was somewhat more fortunate and made his way to help in several days. Had he not been determined to mount a rescue for the author, it seems likely he would have perished.
Interestingly, Ghinsberg continues his involvement with the region and he was one of the founders of Chalalan, an important wildlife reserve and ecolodge. We've been lost in the Amazon on more than one occasion and Ghinsberg's book rings true. The Austrian and the Swiss who turned back early during the hike have never been seen since. A good read!

More Info/Order


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fed-up fliers ready for rights

By Jessica Ravitz

(CNN) -- Claustrophobia was not a condition Bill Johnson understood.

That changed on August 8 when he and his new bride, while returning from their honeymoon, found themselves among the 47 airplane passengers left trapped overnight on a tarmac in Rochester, Minnesota.

As the hours -- going on six of them -- passed, he said the air in the ExpressJet for Continental Airlines cabin grew rank. The two babies on board cried. The toilet filled and stopped flushing. No food was served and the puddle-jumper seats made sleep, for him, impossible. All the while, the airport was visible from the plane.

"I wanted to freak out and kick the windows out," said Johnson, 35, of Minneapolis, Minnesota. "I was just trying to keep my cool."

The much-publicized story of Flight 2816, diverted to Rochester because of bad weather while en route to Minneapolis from Houston, Texas, has brought to the forefront a growing demand to institute passenger rights.



Tuesday, September 1, 2009


It is difficult to imagine a more spectacular monkey than this one, with its startling red face and bald pate. Not only does it look exotic, it actually is. Uakaris live in a small area in a remote part of the Amazon Basin. They are endangered owing to habitat destruction and hunting for bush meat. In many ways, this stunning creature symbolizes the need for our help in order to prevent further loss of diversity in the world's greatest wilderness. There are four species of Uakaris. They are medium-sized and lack a prehensile tail. The diet consists primarily of fruits and seeds. One species, Cacajao calvus, the Bald Uakari, as its name implies, is largely lacking hair on top of the head. The face has little pigment and as a result is usually pink to brilliant red in color. Bald Uakaris vary in overall color from white to yellow to buff or reddish, and four races are recognized. These monkeys are found only in a region shared by Brazil and Peru, and all of them are considered vulnerable, but it is difficult to provide protection owing to the remoteness of their habitat.

Because Uakaris lack prehensile tails, they must scramble from tree to tree, but if logging removes part of the continuous canopy then these monkeys are effectively cut off from important food sites. What's more, Uakaris spend a great deal of time in flooded forest, so moving across the forest floor is not an option during much of the year. In recent years, the proliferation of largely illegal timbering operations in the Amazon has been alarming. Brazil and Peru are aware of the problem, but curbing such activities is not an easy task. In areas where Uakaris are hunted for bush meat their offspring are raised as pets. Uakaris are known to live up to thirty years in captivity.

We see Red Uakaris (Cacajao calvus ucayalii) along the southern extreme of their range during our Rio Tapiche expeditions. Pressures there have been mounting steadily during the past ten years and the population is shaky. However, along the lower Yavari River, between Peru and Colombia, a reserve has been established, and work with local people as well as observational studies of the 500 or more Uakaris in the area is ongoing. Here the monkeys are easily observed. The film "Uakari-Secrets of the English Monkey" aired on Animal Planet.