Monday, August 30, 2010

GreenTracks in USA Today

After a nice profile of GreenTracks in National Geographic Explorer recently our Two Day program to Ceiba Tops has now been featured in the USA Today Travel Tips section.

Explore a spectacular section of the Peruvian Amazon in two days with the Ceiba Tops tour package presented by Green Tracks, a Colorado-based eco-tourism specialist. The tour begins with a guided tour of the historic city of Iquitos, Peru's main port on the Amazon River. Cruise 25 miles down the Amazon to Ceiba Tops, a luxury lodge in the rainforest. Enjoy an afternoon hike into the reserve, followed by dinner and a live musical performance in the evening. The second day of the tour begins with a morning boat ride to visit a small Yagua Indian village and learn about the local culture. You may spot Amazon river dolphins during the trip.

Go to - GreenTracks 2 day/1 night Ceiba Tops Program


Friday, August 27, 2010

Over the Rainbow

Deep in Peru’s Amazon, visitors on a storied steamboat discover a bounty of colorful wildlife, from pink dolphins and scarlet macaws to giant river otters and black caimans.

Over the Rainbow
Audubon magazine July 2010By Susan Cosier

At first their calls are distant. I grasp the iron railing circling the boat’s deck and peer into the forest, determined to spot brightly colored red, yellow, or blue feathers among the densely packed emerald leaves. Harsh croaks give the birds away before their flapping wings and long trailing tails are visible. Trees rustle, and above the canopy there appear two, no, three macaws. From where we’re standing, it’s hard to tell which of the five species known to live in this locale are coloring the sky. Then we see their fire-engine-red fronts and electric-blue flight feathers: scarlet macaws. Their strident squawks continue well after distance darkens the departing birds’ colors.

We motor farther into the flooded forest. Blue-and-yellow and chestnut-fronted macaws cross from one side of the river to the other. Iridescent Amazon kingfishers wing just above the water’s surface, tightly hugging the shoreline.

We are heading toward the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Nearly the size of New Jersey, this five million acres of pristine Amazon rainforest in northeastern Peru is sandwiched between the Ucayali and Marañón rivers, and accessible only by boat. Our goal is to observe the extraordinary mix of wildlife that can be seen here and almost nowhere else—mythical pink river dolphins, menacing black caimans, giant river otters, raucous red howler monkeys, and an entire rainbow of some 500 bird species, from endangered scarlet macaws to wattled curassows.

In the past few days we have followed the trail that only a few thousand other people will trace this year, flying from points around the globe to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, then driving an hour and a half in sweltering heat to Nauta, a small fishing village. There we board a boat that appears straight out of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo. Once a decaying carcass of steel, the restored steamboat used a century ago by rubber companies and now fueled by diesel, is a dead ringer for the ship in Herzog’s award-winning 1982 picture portraying Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (played by the enigmatic Klaus Kinski), a man obsessed with building an opera house in the middle of the jungle.

Our Fitzcarraldo is Richard Bodmer, 50, a biologist determined to save this forest. So intent is he, in fact, that with parts from eight different boats, he built a floating research vessel fit for luxury cruising through the heart of Peru’s Amazon. For the next five days Bodmer, a British-born bloke fond of gingham shirts, khakis, and loafers, will play the role of gracious host while four traveling companions and I double as tourists and scientists. Our mission: help Bodmer and his six-person crew ply this sunken forest for the scientific clues that will help keep it pristine into the next century.

Turning a bend in the river, our boat ripples the forest’s perfect watery reflection at flood stage, revealing to us why locals call this swath of forest “the jungle of mirrors.” More than 10 million years ago the Amazon basin we’re cruising through formed when the Andes rose to sky-piercing heights, trapping the water to create an inland sea. As the salt water drained, fresh water rained down, filling rivers and the low-lying jungle. “The result of that is these huge areas of flooded forest,” says Bodmer. “It has a very unique ecosystem in terms of the birdlife, the fish, and other wildlife.”

Beginning with the rubber boom in the 1880s, foreign barons steamed deep into the forest and, for a minimal fee, hired Indians to etch small channels in the bark of rubber trees, forcing them to weep the white sap that would form rubber. By the early 1900s the barons were making the equivalent of $2 million on each trip, and since the rubber tapping didn’t kill the trees, they returned to their leased lands again and again.

After the rise of rubber plantations in Asia ended the South American boom, the logging and mining industries moved in, filling the void. Trees were cut down, oil was sucked out of the earth, and the workers joined the local people in living off of wild game and plants, driving down wildlife populations. Although much of the forest remained intact, development was steady.

In 1984 Bodmer saw an opportunity to work with Peruvians to reverse the destruction. While earning his doctorate in zoology, he began studying Amazonian peccaries. He met and fell in love with Tula Fang, a local Iquitos woman who was also studying biology, and they married in 1986. Today Bodmer, Tula, their son, William, 22, and their daughter, Carolina, 19, split the year between Kent, England, where Bodmer teaches at the university, and Peru’s jungles, where he conducts wildlife surveys and hosts students and volunteers.

In the same forests where Bodmer met Tula, he also encountered Pablo Puertas, a sharp-witted Peruvian primatologist with a wide smile and a shoulder-shaking laugh who was one of the first to document the reserve’s 13 primate species. Today the two of them work with the 21 local Cocama-Cocamilla Indian communities in Pacaya-Samiria to preserve the wildlife.

So far their research is yielding good news in Pacaya-Samiria. “Most of the key wildlife species are recovering, including paiche, the giant freshwater fish,” says Puertas. “Giant river otters, manatees, macaws, river turtles, woolly monkeys, howler monkeys, and caimans are also coming back. The results show that we’re succeeding.”

The setting sun tints the clouds a vivid pink that darkens with each passing moment. Powder-scented flowers perfume the night air. Silhouettes of macaws show against the darkening sky, and a lone toucan flies in the distance. Leaf-nosed bats appear out of nowhere, flying erratically over the river, feasting on insects. We hear a strong roar through the trees; it’s a troop of howler monkeys, which have the loudest call of all New World animals. Though they weigh only as much as a small terrier, their vocalizations can travel three miles through the dense forest.

Bodmer invites us to the boat’s canvas-covered upper deck before dinner, as the rubber barons would have done. In the small bar Enrico Caruso’s scratchy voice sounds from a gramophone speaker. Bodmer pours Iquiteña, a locally brewed beer, and we clink glasses. “I’ve always been interested in history, so what better way than to link biology and biodiversity and culture and history all in one?” he says. “I wanted to do something more real, not just academic. That’s what conservation is.”

Soon he summons us to the formal dining room outfitted with a long carved table that’s topped with lace and surrounded by 20 red velvet-covered chairs, each with the name of our ship, Ayapua, carved in the back of its heavy mahogany frame. Mouth-watering smells of salted fish, pan-seared plantains, and fried manioc, a starchy tuberous root, whet our appetites.

After dinner we pile into a small wooden motorboat to explore nocturnal wildlife. Soon Magalay Rengifo, a 28-year-old biology student at the University of Iquitos, switches on a spotlight and scans the shore. Slowly sweeping from left to right, the beam illuminates the forest at the water’s edge. Rengifo is looking for reflective points the size of marbles.

With her long black hair kept in check with a bandana, she scribbles notes on paper secured to her clipboard. “Alli!” she shouts, pointing to a snag jutting from the water like a broken bone.

Our captain, Odilio Recopa, a Cocama-Cocamilla Indian villager from the area, points the boat in the direction of Rengifo’s finger. We pitch to the right. Near shore, Recopa cuts the motor, keeping the light trained on an eye just inches above the water’s surface. Slowly we drift toward the caiman. Recopa readies a lasso-like wire and leans precariously over the bow. With a quick pull he snares the foot-long primordial reptile.

The alligator-like black caiman tries to escape, thrashing water in every direction. Within seconds, Rengifo’s skilled hands have taped the dark-skinned juvenile’s four-inch jaws shut. Its tiny, scaly legs helplessly wave in the air until Rengifo secures them with a piece of rope.

She places the caiman on the boat’s seat, and measures it. Even though it’s so small, this reptile belongs to the largest species in the Alligatoridae family, and individuals can top 12 feet. After she weighs the caiman, she peels the tape off his snout and eases him back into the murky water.

Catching even one black caiman is more than researchers could have hoped for less than 20 years ago. “They were overhunted because of the pelt trade,” says Bodmer. “Now we see very large ones quite frequently.” Researchers find nearly two black caimans every two-thirds of a mile on surveys, which makes them almost as familiar as their cousins, common caimans, which compete for the same food and habitat. The black caiman’s resurgence is now helping scientists to learn more about how the ecosystem can support both species.

The air around us fills with the distinct stench of rotting flesh. A dead caiman, floating belly up, appears in the beam of our spotlight. Rengifo explains: In spring males will fight to the death over a female, creating a floating cemetery of beaten caiman corpses.

After counting dozens of eyes glowing in the dark and another carcass, Rengifo turns off the spotlight and tells Recopa it is time to head back to the Ayápua. We are engulfed by darkness and the heavy smell of night-blooming jasmine. The flooded forest’s shadows creep in and several light-colored branches take flight: great egrets flapping into the darkness.

Daybreak’s cool turns muggy by mid-morning. On shore, we’re eager to explore shading palm fronds and buttressed ceiba trees covered in twisted vines. Clearing a path with a long machete, our scout, Recopa, leads Puertas and me into the jungle. With each step, thick mud slurps at my boots. Recopa points toward the high branches of a kapok tree, and Puertas whispers: “brown capuchin.” In the next several hours we spot 10 of the 13 primate species found in the reserve, including spider, uakari, and titi monkeys. Without Recopa’s expertise, we might have missed them all.

Cocama-Cocamilla Indians’ experience and knowledge wasn’t always so respected; in fact, they were once considered outlaws in their own land. The Peruvian government first protected the area now known as Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in the 1940s, establishing it as a fisheries reserve in an attempt to save the endangered paiche. But the government’s designation of the region as a full reserve in 1982 actually amounted to a defeat for the local people dependent on the land for survival.

Anybody caught hunting—even for food—was declared a poacher. Rangers from outside the area manned guard stations, confiscating fishing poles, nets, hunting spears, and knives. Hostilities mounted between those living on the land and those managing it. As a result, the Indians were forced to sneak into the reserve, hunting what they could. Wildlife populations plummeted. “We saw much less in the 1990s. And much more of the smaller species,” says Bodmer. No one knew how the wildlife would fare in the long term.

Tensions exploded in 1997 after a ranger confiscated an expensive new net from a fisherman. Enraged, the fisherman attacked a guard station. “Three people were killed, two of them biologists,” says Bodmer. In response, the government, with some convincing from Peruvian and American researchers, changed its policies and began involving locals in the reserve’s management.

“If we don’t work with local people, we’re going to fail in our conservation,” says Puertas. When the Indians are included in managing the forest, he adds, they take responsibility for protecting the wildlife, plants, and resources within it.

The government permits communities to take a certain number of animals each year to eat and sell, which curtails excessive hunting. “What the locals want are their resources for their future,” says Bodmer. “They don’t have a mortgage, they have a canoe; they don’t have an income, they have a forest. The key to conservation is to find ways to help people, to find ways to help guarantee that the use of the forest will continue for a long time.”

The next day we head toward a pocket of the Samiria River where we hope to see the reserve’s holy grail: the pink freshwater dolphin. Across the Amazon, indigenous people regard these dolphins as humans who live below the muddy water’s surface and revere them more than almost any other animal. “When one was killed accidentally,” offers Bodmer, “the fisherman gave it a human burial.” Robust dolphin populations show scientists that the Amazon’s rivers are healthy.

Anhingas perch on branches with their wings open, drying their feathers. Wattled jacanas with their bright-yellow beaks creep along the shore. We’re scanning the surface for dolphins, straining our eyes to see deeper into the water. Minutes pass. Then we hear it: hooonnnkk. A bubblegum-colored dolphin breaks the surface. We hear a forceful sigh behind us and turn in time to see the bulbous head, beady eyes, and long, thin beak of a second pink dolphin.

Soon the arching backs of five gray dolphins, a smaller freshwater species, join them, shining in the sun as they crest. They dart through the water, chasing fish. “At first it was hard to tell between pink and gray dolphins,” says William Bodmer. Following in his father’s footsteps, the quiet, dark-haired young man is tallying the aquatic mammals we see. “Now I think it’s easy.”

Last year researchers counted more than 220 pink and gray river dolphins per square mile, more than ever before and double the tally for 2008. Bodmer says good fisheries management is boosting numbers, and oil exploration in the nearby Tigre River may also push some dolphins deeper into the reserve, possibly increasing the count. “Nearby rivers haven’t been conserved in the same way, so we’ve seen a real increase,” he says. “It’s a very top predator in the aquatic system, a very intelligent animal, and there’s a very strong tradition around it because of the strong taboos.”

The greater the leeway the government gives energy companies operating in the Amazon, the greater the threat to the forest. “[Pacaya-Samiria] acts as a refuge for these important species that you don’t find in those numbers in other places,” Bodmer says. “It’s a huge flooded forest, with great diversity.”

Back on the boat, Bodmer discusses his plans to expand his operations. This spring he opened a restored rubber baron’s house in Iquitos and is currently in the midst of setting up a rubber-tapping community. He envisions forest managers extracting the resource and selling it to high-end carmakers at a premium. Automobiles with those tires could receive an environmental credit, while companies could prove that they’re contributing to conservation.

Although the idea is still just that, it seems more realistic than Fitzcarraldo’s vision of building an opera house in Iquitos. Herzog’s hero and ours are both visionaries in their own ways. One was fixated on bringing music to the jungle. The other simply chooses to listen to those refrains while steering his ship through a landscape that he hopes will always feature the live soundtrack of birdsong and howling monkeys.

GreenTracks Amazon Cruises


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hot nightlife, restaurants and bars in Cusco, Peru

Published in Vamos! by El Comercio
Adapted from Spanish by Diana Schwalb

After February's closing of Peru's Machu Picchu, much of the nearby city of Cusco was in suspended animation. Now Machu Picchu is open and the city is more ready than ever to welcome visitors with new restaurants, bars and botique hotels.

An exotic ravioli plate at La Cicciolina

Cusco constantly reinvents itself. The presence of travelers from around the world contributes to this mixing of cultures that coexist with the locals and creates an original feeling that shines throughout its streets, squares, cafes, restaurants and active nightlife which receives every night of the week this cosmopolitan visitors with new tastes, ideas and flavors.



Thursday, August 19, 2010


Tim Paine is a passionate herpetologist and top-notch photographer who has traveled with us to Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. From the first time we met Tim it was obvious that he was a kindred spirit and we have enjoyed his company, his quiet humor, and his keen powers of observation. And now comes his wonderful new website,, and, like Tim, it is meticulous, logical and represents a lot of thought. The photographs are beautiful and we highly recommend this excellent internet contribution.

AmphiBios is about reptiles and amphibians. It is about photography, travel, and conservation. It is part science and part adventure. It is a mix of high tech camera gear and quietly watching animals move about the forest. These are my stories as I strive to capture images of amazing animals in amazing places.
Timothy D. Paine

Spiny-headed Treefrog (Anotheca spinosa)

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans)


Monday, August 16, 2010

Trip report - Delfin cruise

We received this letter and photos from Patricia Neale, who recently traveled with us on one of our Delfin cruises.

I recently took my trip of a lifetime which Green Tracks arranged for me. I began my journey with a cruise of the Amazon Basin aboard the Delfin II.

The Delfin II is an incredible riverboat built about 2 years ago and made from local products which reflects the area that it plies. The attention to detail from the table settings, the folded bath towels and the food were as spectacular as the flora and fauna that we explored each day. My swim with the pink river dolphins, in water that was surprisingly so cold I thought my limbs would fall off, is a memory that I’ll remember even if I should have Alzheimers. The owners of the Delfin help the economy of the village people along the river by purchasing walking cat fish and other food products as we stopped along the river that was prepared for dinner each night by an extraordinary chef. The crew entertained us with music after dinner playing Peruvian songs, dancing and singing as we slowly floated down the river. In addition, the village people have started producing crafts that reflect the animals in the area as well as baskets and bowls made from local gourds and grass enabling them to provide a better life for their families and to educate their children.
At the end of my cruise, I stopped in Iquitos and had dinner with Scott who gave me insight to that quirky, Bangkok-like town on the Amazon River.

I proceeded to Machu Picchu. There are no words to describe and no pictures that can compare to the reality of Machu Picchu. You just have to go there, but be prepared to deal with the high altitudes of Cusco and surrounding areas.

Now if that wasn’t enough, I headed to Galapagos to cruise the “Darwin Islands”. All the animals in the Galapagos are totally unafraid of people and you can walk so near them that you feel they look at you like you are one of them.

It was an unforgettable experience thanks to Green Tracks because they provided me with superb hotels, guides, and flights leaving me with no worries. Everywhere I went I felt a personal touch and warmth from all the people that I came in contact with. What for an incredible experience! Thanks.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Newly Identified Monkey Species Revealed in Colombian Amazon

A scientific expedition to the Colombian Amazon has revealed a new species of monkey. The species of titi monkey (Callicebus caquetensis) is a cat-size creature that is critically endangered because of rapid habitat loss and its small population. The discovery was announced today by the environmental nonprofit group Conservation International.

Research from 30 years ago hinted that a previously unknown primate species might be living in Colombia's Caquetá region, near the Ecuadorian and Peruvian border, but violence and insurgent fighting kept the area off limits for decades. It was only in 2008 that scientists Thomas Defler, Marta Bueno and student Javier García of the National University of Colombia proved the rumors true.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Horned Screamer

When we travel on the Amazon it is always hard to see the big river as anything but straight. But the truth is, like all rivers the Amazon twists and turns like dribbled honey. And it changes its course, often cutting loops off and leaving them as isolated lakes which we call "Ox-bows" owing to their distinctive shape. In Peru they are known by a Quechua term, "cocha." The fauna of cochas includes fishes and birds not usually found along the river itself, so we visit these lagoons to see special creatures. And one that never fails to interest and amuse us is a ponderous bird that looks for all the world like one of Dr. Seuss' creations. It is the Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta), one of only two species of bird that comprise the family Anhimidae. Aside from the cumbersome body, this vegetarian sports huge feet to help it walk across islands of floating vegetation. There is a long, bony spike protruding from the head, and an additional pair at each shoulder. Although graceful in flight, watching these immense birds struggle to take flight, seeing them walk and observing them uncomfortably perched in palm trees is somehow funny. Up close they look and act like the original Godzilla model. They just don't seem like birds!

Ranging from Venezuela and Colombia south through the Amazon Basin to Bolivia, these strange creatures suffer hunting pressure in several countries. Fortunately, in Peru they lead fairly tranquil lives so we are usually fortunate in seeing them, and they can almost always be heard. Their sonorous honking sounds like anything but a bird calling and the sound is the subject of several popular jokes told by local fishermen.


Friday, August 6, 2010

50 Best Twitter Feeds To Stay On Top Of Green News

With the green movement consistently gaining momentum thanks to the passionate efforts of activists worldwide, those interested in learning more about its philosophies and applications desire to dig up as many news stories as possible. Fortunately for them, a wide variety of mainstream and independent media outlets, individuals, communities and businesses keep running Twitter feeds to keep audiences updated about the progress of every environmentalist element available. Microblogging formats such as the ubiquitous blue, bird-themed juggernaut allow for fans of the green movement to browse the latest headlines quickly and efficiently. From there, they can zero in on the ones that pique their interest most and move on to the corresponding articles.



Monday, August 2, 2010

Luxury Jungle Lodge and Canopy Walkway

Ceiba Tops, the only luxury jungle lodge on the Amazon River, offers air conditioned rooms and cottages, private bathrooms with hot water, swimming pool, prime rainforest habitat and excursions to the Rainforest Canopy Walkway.

The Canopy Walkway is an experience unequaled in the rainforest! At a height of over 115 feet and extending for one-third of a mile, the Canopy Walkway provides a view of the rainforest from the treetops, a great vantage point for observing Amazon wildlife and epiphytic vegetation. The suspended walkway is spread between 14 of the area's largest trees and is one of the longest canopy walkways in the world.

Ceiba Tops Jungle Lodge