EXPEDITION  TO  WILDEST  PERU

                                           1-21 JULY 2014
 




PERU RECCE – SITREP 1  BY JOHN BLASHFORD-SNELL

 

Our drive from Quillabamba in the Ministry of Health 4wd started badly when fuel station attendant put dieselinto our petrol engined car. thus three hours delay whilst fuel tank removed and cleaned. Numerous Spanish oaths accompanied threats to castrate the idiot.


The torturous mountain road was blocked by a land slide which wasbeing  cleared by bulldozersas we arrived, but thanks to the initiative of our Ministry driver who shot passed the queue exclaiming “Mission Official”, weslithered across the debris which was still sliding down hill.


It was after dark when we reached the end of the road at the little  river port of Ivochote.  Alas the way into the town was blocked with mud so we carried our stores across a lengthy suspension foot bridge and found the partially built  hostel with rooms for us. The beds were obviously used regularly by sleepers with fleas.


At 05:00 on Sunday all hell let loose as trucks began hooting to call passengers to get aboard. This went on for an hour! Unable to sleep we tottered down to the bank of the swirling Urubamba riverand eventually found our boatman, Jose.  A handsome and mostobliging fellow he had his 18 metre long boat ready to carry us on a day's journey down stream to the Machiguenga village of Chocoriari.


The route took us through the infamous Del Manique canyon and rapids, where fortwo miles the Urubamba is squeezed through a sheer-sided gorgeslicing its  waythroughthe eastern Cordillera of the Andes.


Well meant warnings of the dangers of this “ Pongo” were given by several friends in Cusco  who reminded us that an English Professor and a Peruvian Bishop had drowned here.  Jose thoughtfully provided us  with life jackets and we were soon speeding down river at 37 kph.  Numerous rapids, up to grade three, were shot skilfully by Jose and at midday we reached the legendary Pongo.   The rock walls closed in, forcing the muddy torrent to boil through  the cleft in a series  of heaving stopper waves, spinning whirlpools and racing back currents. It would have being a challenging ride in a white water raft but the long boat with its 60 hp outboard cut its way through, sending clouds of spray up from its high bow, like a Destroyer in an Atlantic storm.

 

Rounding the first bend in the canyon we saw columns of foaming white water cascading out of the cliff as a powerful waterfall joined the Urubamba.   Clouds of mist drifted down the chasm and a wave smashed into our side.   Luckily my Nikon camera was waterproof!


Damp, but undamaged, we emerged into the flatter jungle-covered terrain and at 15:30 reached the homestead of Ubaldo Dueñas, Vice Presidente of the Arus settlement. Welcoming us he kindly provided his building and a cook house for our use.  Whilst making mash potato Yoli was visited by a metre long yellow striped snake that hissed menacingly. Apparently it was harmless and only there to hunt the cockroaches.

 

From here we crossed the river to Chocoriari.  We soon learned that the companies mining the natural gas  have caused much concern to the Machigengas whose traditional hunting grounds are being ruined  and their peaceful life aggravated by the industrial activity and the constant dull roar  of the processing plant, interestinglynamed Malvinas.


At night the Western sky was brightly illuminated by the flames of the gas plant.  An environmental disaster occurred in 2008 when a pipe line exploded killing several men, wounding others and decimating the fauna and flora.

Today the Machigenga and other local peopleare campaigningto reduce the impact of the gas company's activities and seek compensation.


However in Chocoriari we were surprised to see many facilities being provided by the Gas companies.  Much of this support comes to the people via their local government,so the companies claim they are helping the population.  There is an added problem in that the Machigenga do not hold title deeds to their traditional land althoughthe Government has declared that the areas are protected.


Ubaldo  Dueñas is eager to reforest 30 hectares of his land which bear the mark of seismic explorationand has since been used for his cattle.  We offered to seek advice for him.


We returned to Ivochote in the long boat to findheavy rain had swollen the river bringing down manytree trunks and drift wood.  An abandoned balsa raft floated past and as we neared the  Manique rapids the naked body of a man with a Vultureperched on his back came through the waves.  He appeared to be clutchinga length of timber in his dead hands.  This did not give us much comfort as we entered the Canyon to the roar to the tumbling water.

The entiregorge was filled with tossing waves with no clear route.  However with commendable  skill Jose fought his way through the heaving mountains of water.  The falls tumbling from the cliffs added to the noise and their swirling mist increasedthe chaos.  Nevertheless it was an incredible sight. Hanging on to the  gunnels  we were swung violently from  side to side.  This was more like an ocean in a storm than a river.


After two miles we broke clear of the tumult and  weresoon in  a wide densely forested valley withsun beating down to dry us.


At dusk we reached Ivochote  and the hostel we had named the “Black Hole”.

The next day we drove back along the precipitous road through the mountains to Quillabamba  where we  had hoped to proceed on the second  phase of the recce to several remote villages in the Manu forest.   However landslides in that area had blocked the roads so we were forced to visit an alternative task site in Western Peru.

 

ENDS

 

SITREP 15TH JULY 2014

Expedition now based at Iscozacin on East side of Yanachaga Park. Altitude around 1000 feet, hot and humid. Surrounded by jungle-clad mountains. Spectacled bears elusive, but reported by local people whose maize and avocado they eat.

Our clinics were well attended. Dentistry especially needed. Dave Smith has led a medical team to remote Nueva Esperanza, wading through knee deep mud and crossing a 50 metre wide river.

Community aid team continue to distribute school books  and reading glasess whilst giving advice on agriculture. Using woolen spectacled teddy  bears and puppets, competitions are being organised for the children who draw spectacled bears. Winners are rewarded with a teddy!

Dr Amy Hall of Jersey's Durrell Wild Life Park is working with a team on the fauna within the park.

Dave Smith and a group are joining them today.  

Our rations consists largely of fruit, fish and avocado purchased locally by Yolima Cipagauta and issued by Hazel Armstrong.

Steve Clarkson and Lyn Watson of New  Zealand area advising locals on agriculture. Main crops in the region are cocoa, papaya,  yuca, plantain, banana  and avocado.


21 July 2014

The  expedition has completed its tasks on the East side of Yanachaga and is now returning to Oxapampa and on to Lima.

The biological group al Paujil in the park, saw a wider range of creatures, including kinkajou, porcupine and woolley monkey; but spectacled bear proved elusive.  Snakes were encountered and bird life and insects were prolific. The porcupine were very tame and regular visitors to their camp. One even tried to get into Dr Katherine Welland's tent! Paujil is extremely well run by a group of wardens and the expedition zoologist, Dr Amy Hall, described it as an  isolated, unique and diverse environment .

In the buffer zone villages the medical teams treated over 400 patients and the dentist had over 150.

Medical supplies, schools books and reading glasses were distributed in the villages. The gifts of 'spectacled bear' teddies to children was recognised as an important way to encourage the conservation of wildlife.

Mike Grady has repaired numerous items of machinery and Ben Clayton  has shot a video film of the expedition.

Steve Clarkson gave useful agriculture advice to villages and was specially interested in the fish and edible snail farming.

The Park authorities and Health Dept have praised the tireless work of the expedition that has been of great benefit to the fauna, flora and people of the area.

At Oxapampa the team will hold the traditional Burns supper using the Stahly's tinned haggis from Scotland.

Dave Ellis commented, “It was a fascinating opportunity to see a little known part of Peru. Dave Smith (SES QM) said It was a most logistically challenging project. Botanist, Lyn Watson of New Zealand, described the adventure as “a great once in a life time experience and insight into the native peoples of the Palcazu region”.

Expedition leader, Colonel John Blashford-Snell said “This has been a higly  successful project in support of DRIS and the Yanachaga Chemillen National Park. We are especially grateful to all our supporters including American Airlines, Stephen Fry, Villa Piche, The Saint Georges Day Luncheon, The Scientific Exploration Society as well as Shirley Crithley and the kind ladies who knitted the teddy bears. We also appreciated the splendid help of our Peruvian drivers, boat man and interpreters. END