Another plea for Peru

"P8200084" by teamperks on Flickr; borrowed through Creative Commons license

A year from today (approximately), on Saturday November 13, 2010, I hope to be stepping off a plane and breathing in the humid, tropical air of Peru. As regular readers know, I have been offered an opportunity to travel with Kolibri Expeditions to southeastern Peru. The trip is an 8 day birding tour of the lowland rainforests adjacent to Manu National Park. My particular departure will start on the Saturday, and wrap up on the following Sunday, just prior to the American Thanksgiving. I’m hoping to entice a few adventurous birders, bloggers or travelers to join me on what should be an exciting trip. We ideally need 5 people, besides myself, to make the trip a go (the trip could run with fewer, but individual costs would be higher).

"Our group and local weaver" by Dermoidhome on Flickr; borrowed through Creative Commons licence

The tour will be visiting areas associated with the Amarakaeri communal reserve next to the national park. The Peruvians who live in these communities are poor, and the primary source of income currently is through exploitation of the local natural resources: logging, mining, and oil. Kolibri Expeditions is working with these communities to develop ecotourism as a viable sustainable alternative to non-renewable resource extraction. Although the natural resources are more lucrative in the short term, it is hoped that the communities will embrace the long-term benefits of preserving the ecosystems for tourism. Ecotourism would also have the effect of encouraging the natural resource extraction operations that are already taking place to become more eco-conscious, as they will be under greater scrutiny from an environmentally-minded crowd.

"Our bus on Manu Road" by Dermoidhome on Flickr; borrowed through Creative Commons licence

The Kolibri trips will serve a dual purpose. The first is that a contribution from each traveler’s tour fees will go directly to the community for use in developing facilities and training local workers. Currently the infrastructure in the Amarakaeri communities is minimal – these won’t be 5-star lodges you’ll be staying at on the trip. Previous tours have camped in school shelters, for instance. Obviously it’s difficult to promote ecotourism to affluent countries when the facilities are rustic (by the visitor’s standards) at best. And yet, it’s hard to get enough money to be able to afford to upgrade the infrastructure without the tourists coming in. Kolibri has been working hard to help contribute toward the necessary funds for the projects. If every tour currently scheduled on the webpage for this trip goes out with 5 participants, a total of $5000 will be raised for the communities.

"Birding the Manu Road" by Dermoidhome on Flickr; borrowed through Creative Commons licence

The second effort that Kolibri has been making with this trip is promotion of the region as a destination for birding. This is a large part of the reason for inviting bloggers on to the tour. The agreement is that the bloggers will post about it preceding, during, and after the trip. Kolibri is in the process of working out satellite internet service that would allow the blogger to “live-blog” the trip from the rainforest, providing a day-by-day report of the latest highlights, and then following it up with a more complete summary after the trip. If tour participants also happen to be bloggers, they would receive a $100 discount on the price of the trip in exchange for at least one post-trip report on their own blog (honestly, though: if you were going on such an amazing trip, how could you possibly not post about it upon your return, $100 incentive or no?).

Riverbank in Manu, Peru; borrowed from Wikimedia Commons

The Amarakaeri Communal Reserve is a 402,335 ha area that was designated as protected land in 2002. It is part of a conservation corridor that includes protected areas from Bolivia and Brazil. ParksWatch, an international non-profit based out of Duke University that helps assess Central and South American parks to advise park management decisions, designates the Reserve as Threatened, meaning that under current trends and practices there is a high risk of failure in the park’s ability to conserve and maintain current biodiversity levels over the medium-term future. Current factors affecting the Reserve’s viability include gold mining, illegal logging, and human pressures such as hunting and forest resource collection (eg., palm fronds) by a population increasing through migration.

"Hoatzins at Cocha Salvador" by Sarah_and_Iain on Flickr; borrowed through Creative Commons licence

Although the macro-fauna and -flora of the area is fairly well-documented, there has been very little research undertaken in the Reserve to either study the local macro-species in more depth, or to document more of the micro-species. An advantage of a strong ecotourism industry and the facilities necessary to support it is that often research institutions such as universities or museums will use lodges as a base for local research operations, especially when first beginning to explore and research new areas. By establishing a good infrastructure in the area, it may encourage more research on the local species and habitats.

"Cocha Otorongo" by Sarah_and_Iain on Flickr; borrowed through Creative Commons licence

My departure dates are November 13-21, 2010. I would love for you to join me on my trip, but if you want to go and the November dates just don’t work for you, you can still participate on one of the other departures. The cost is $1680 (or $1580 if you’re a blogger) plus airfare from your local international airport to Lima; this covers everything but your personal expenses such as souvenirs. For more information, including an itinerary, and/or to sign up for the trip (you know you want to!) visit the Kolibri Expeditions tour page.

Since the trip is still a year away, this won’t be the last you’ll hear me promote it on the blog – I have 5 people I need to round up! – but I’ll try not to make it too often. :)

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Won’t you come and bird with me?

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Jatun Sacha Biological Station guest cabin

Waaaay back in 2002, when I was still in university, I had the fabulous opportunity to visit Ecuador. It was a field course that would count as one credit toward my degree. It happened to be Field Entomology, and although by that time I had already established my primary interest in birds, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the tropics – someplace I had longed to visit. My extremely generous parents covered most of the cost of the trip as part of my university expenses (thanks Mom and Dad!) and off I went for two fantastic weeks. Almost as soon as I was back in Canada I began plotting my return to this amazing ecosystem. Unfortunately, being freelance doesn’t earn one much money, Dan and I just squeak by most months, and so I’ve never had the free cash available to go.

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Rainforest canopy view from ridgetop

A couple of days ago I and a number of other prominent nature bloggers were contacted with a rare chance for a trip to Manu, Peru. Gunnar Engblom, of Kolibri Expeditions Birding Tours and A birding blog by Gunnar Engblom, managed to convince his company to invite bloggers on one of their new tours all-expenses paid as a form of promotion for both the company and the particular tour. I can’t tell you how flattered and honoured I was to be chosen alongside the ranks of some very exceptional nature bloggers! From the moment I read the email I was hooked by the idea.

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Flora at the Jatun Sacha parking lot

The catch? The blogger who goes agrees to blog about the trip before, during, and after the trip. I can guarantee I would have no difficulty doing that. My biggest concern would beĀ  whether I’d have enough space on my camera cards to contain all of the photos I would take! On my trip to Ecuador I took 200 photos. That would be a drop in the bucket these days. My photos from Ecuador are very low-quality – it was my very first digital camera, back in the days when digital was still something of a novelty, and was a measly 1.3 megapixels. I would love to have the opportunity to replace them with better photos.

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Huge tree at Jatun Sacha - not sure what the sign says

Also, the trip needs a minimum enrollment to run. This is the main reason for this post. Yes, I’m selfishly asking my readers if they’d pay for a fabulously amazing birding tour of Peru that they’ll never regret doing so that I can take advantage of this opportunity to go for free. Hey, at least I’m honest about it! :)

The dates are currently flexible with one trip running per month from now till Dec 2010, although it’s first-come first-served and particular months may fill up as other bloggers sign up. My preference would probably be for one of the winter months, Nov-Mar, but I suspect they’ll be the first to be snapped up, since who could imagine a better way to beat the winter blahs than visiting a tropical rainforest and watching colourful birds. My other choice would be a May departure in celebration of my 30th birthday that month. Edit: Gotta be quick! Dec/Jan/Feb 2010 are already snapped up, as are Oct 2009 and Oct 2010.

The trip will be 8 days/7 nights. The tour itinerary is posted here. Cost per individual is $1680. This cost would include all lodging, meals, birding guides (a fabulous resource when traveling to the tropics), local transportation, and in-country flights to and from Lima. Perhaps best of all, they take care of all the booking and arrangements for you – all you have to do is show up and enjoy yourself! The cost would not include airfare to Lima from your hometown, personal expenses, souvenirs, extra bottled water/snacks, etc. If you are a blogger you would get a further $100 off (so $1580 total) in exchange for blogging about/promoting the trip in at least one post. Of the amount you pay, $100 goes directly to improving the local infrastructure for ecotourism (promoting conservation of habitat and biodiversity). Also, if you book an additional trip with Kolibri of 5 days or more, you get a further $100 off of this trip.

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Heliconia along Jatun Sacha trail

Sound tempting? C’mon, you know it does… just think how much fun you would have tromping through the rainforest with me, looking at Purple Honeycreepers, Paradise Tanagers, Band-tailed Manakins, Curl-crested Aracaris, Emperor Tamarins and Giant Otters, a macaw lick, ocelets, tapirs, toucans, parrots, barbets, tanagers, antpittas, and hundreds of other species of birds and mammals and insects and plants you can only imagine. :) I know I don’t have quite the same star power as someone like Kenn Kaufman would on a tour he goes on (let’s be honest: I have none at all) but I’m still a really nice person, and you’d have a great time. Ooo, how’s this for a gimmick – I’ll give you a free signed copy of our moth field guide when it comes out if you sign up! :)

To try to whet your appetite, here are a few additional photos from my trip to Ecuador…

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Rain every day at noon, like clockwork - didn't dampen our enthusiasm

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Fabulous buttressed roots

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An actual cacao pod! The locals harvested these and dried a batch while we were there. The beverege of choice there was hot cocoa.

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A heliconia in the Jatun Sacha parking lot

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The view from Jatun Sacha's canopy tower. That iron railing is only a foot high. We remained secured by safety harness and carabiner at all times.

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Traveling by river boat to a nearby wildlife rescue operation.

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White-throated Toucan at wildlife rescue centre

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Lowland (I think) Tapir at wildlife rescue centre

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Heliconia in Jatun Sacha parking lot

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Blue-and-gold Macaw at wildlife rescue centre

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Free-roaming semi-tame coatimundi at wildlife rescue centre

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Lodge at SierrAzul Cloud Forest Reserve, with beautiful gardens (hosting many hummingbirds) and really nice, comfortable accomodations

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SierrAzul crew bringing in our luggage by pack donkey

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Bromiliads growing on tree trunks - they were everywhere!

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Unknown flowers in cloud forest at SierrAzul