Trip – Packrafting Las Piedras River near Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon 212km / 132mi


Welcome to another packrafting
adventure in the Peruvian Amazon. This time were floating down the upper Las Piedras River near Puerto Maldonado in Peru. This stretch of river is generally
calm but there’s never a dull moment as we encounter flocks of noisy macaws and parakeets unsuspecting capybaras on the riverbanks black-capped squirrel monkeys
and hoatzins to just name just a few. We’re often floating alongside things with teeth. not to mention the piranha, pacu and vampire fish. The area is pristine. It’s full of life and free from any tourism but it’s also known for recent indigenous
sightings. So let’s get to it. It’s two full days upriver to our
destination in a “Peke Peke” which is the local term for a riverboat with a two-stroke motor. Segundo is our “Capitan” and Alberto is our “Tripulante” or captain’s assistant. Bradley Rose, John McLaine and Peter Rose are joining me on this expedition. I’m in the back enjoying the scenery. It’s an unending series of right and left turns not knowing what we’ll find
around each bend of the river. We find some loggers maneuvering their makeshift
rafts composed of the very same logs they hope to sell back in Puerto Maldonado. The usual suspects are here snowy egrets, cormorants, a little blue heron. Although it’s a long steady journey upstream we are constantly scanning the banks for
activity. It’s late in the day and with the sun dropping behind the canopy we pull over at a beach and pitch tents. morning the next day is foggy and warm. As the sun rises the temperature change is noticeable and it tends to make you want
to scramble. to get back on the water. Another full day by motorboat awaits us. but we soon get a break from the boat as we reach “La Cachuela” a rocky division which stretches across the river. Segundo and Alberto maneuver the Peke Peke up a deeper channel. while the Rose boys decide to “Have a flick” which translates to “do some
fishing” in Tasmanian. By now we’re getting a sense of what we’re getting into. It’s not a river with rapids but it’s beautiful and unspoiled. A black skimmer swoops down on Alberto. These guys have hatchlings for nestlings nearby on the
beaches so they get very territorial. Alberto’s job as the Tripulante is
mainly to monitor the depth He is constantly poking around to avoid us beaching while watching for any submerged logs. John’s rubbing some of
the sting out of his eyes as we pass through a burn zone. The locals are without a doubt clearing forest for agriculture. It’s sad to see but being this close to the river’s edge means that any given year the river could flood and clear the same area on its own. Per the advice of our Capitan
we decided to stop just short of Monte Salvado in order to avoid dropping in
which could be considered impolite. Now we’re boating and right away Brad notices macaws in the canopy. These are blue and yellow macaws. Then John spots some red and greens. Since macaws are so loud and obnoxious they are hard to miss. I love this shot. Although the river’s only moving at about 5 to 8 km/h or 3 to 5 miles per hour paddling through debris like this makes it seem like you’re moving. John paddles into a trio of neotropical cormorants while Bradley’s fishing from his boat. I spot a flock of horned screamers on the shore. Normally I find these guys in mating pairs so for me this is kind of cool. But even cooler is the spectacled
caiman also known as the “white caiman”. just a few feet from us. Pete’s got a bite and it’s a big bite. The Rose boys came for river monsters looking for giant catfish, piranhas and others. Bradley and John help to push Pete to the shore. Just now getting a look at it seems to be a piranha relative the much bigger cousin, the pacu. The locals call’em “pacos”. They’ve got teeth and can grow to be giants. We continue downriver and soon find ourselves in
the middle of a mess of frantic parakeets. This isn’t normal behavior
though but we’re not the cause. This hawk is to blame. You know they say “birds of a
feather flock together” but here we have both blue and yellow with red and green macaws in the same tree. Further down we reach Quebrada Culiaco. “Quebrada” means “stream” or “creek” in Spanish but this looks more like a river worthy of its own expedition although following this deeper into the
forest would most likely lead us into the indigenous and dangerous area. Packrafting is a blast. In addition to maneuvering around debris or under debris these flat-bottomed boats are great for floating over debris. Being that it’s dry season and the river is at its lowest all year you’re really tempted to cut corners but it’s a gamble. If you bottom out you may have to drag your boat back towards the middle of the river while your buddy floats by. We’ve found a macaw clay lick. The locals call it a “collpa”. On this cliff face at first light macaws parrots and parakeets
will all flock here as part of their daily ritual. This is not only a social
gathering but necessary for dietary reasons. It is believed that licking
the negatively charged clay offsets a positively charged acidic diet of fruits
and nuts. A downed tree makes an excellent perch for this pied lapwing and this this red-capped cardinal or these clay-colored nighthawks. And then we get into some mammals not just any mammals how about rats and not just any rats but how about the largest
rodents in the world the capybara. During the hottest time of the day capybaras come down to the river to cool off. They are very shy and since they would normally expect to have a fair warning from a loud peke peke motor they are extremely startled by us. Dazed and confused they often cannot find their way back up the bank. The little black birds which are hanging around are probably wanting to pick a tick off as an afternoon snack. These are referred to
as “cleaner birds”. It’s smooth sailing and the jungle’s in bloom. I continue to scan
the canopy and finally see some movement movement from across the river so I paddle over. At first it looks like it could be a woolly monkey by the tail but I can’t be sure until he comes down closer It’s a black-capped squirrel monkey
and now he’s looking right at me. John’s still getting landscape shots and hasn’t noticed. I’m watching him and he’s watching me. Now we’re all watching him. He leaves and so do we. We’re back at La Cachuela and John’s first
to go followed by Pete, Brad and myself. Here was one of our campsites. John, Pete and Brad preferred a tent on the beaches while I did the hammock thing in
the forest. The next morning the Rose boys have another catch. This time it’s
Bradley and he’s got a vampire fish Check out the teeth. I counted about
fifty of these little incoming creeks some navigable. Each offers its share of
niche wildlife such as freshwater stingrays, kingfishers and aquarium fish. Spotting caimans in the river is not easy to do. Sometimes it’s just a log. In this case it was a caiman. I find a sunbittern. and a flock of hoatzins and of course we see more squirrel monkeys. Further downriver we reach a really cool
spot I’m calling “Dos Cascadas” or “Two Waterfalls”. Another hour or so downriver brings us back to Lucerna where our driver is waiting to take us back to Puerto Maldonado. It was a successful expedition. And very special thanks to John, Pete and Brad for an incredible trip. Thanks for watching
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