Picaflor Jungle Research Center

Flying over the Andes


Going upriver

Gold mining boat

Orchid bee

Orchid bee


River bank

Village along river

Tambopata River

Butterflies on the bank

with Pico

Rowing the boat



Roofer and his family



Aspirating bees



Leafcutter ant

Laura, Laurel, and Anna

Laurel Hanna

overlooking Picaflor

Climbing tower at TPL

On top of the tower

From my travel journal:


I just got back to a slightly more civilized part of Peru yesterday after a truly amazing week in the jungle. A few things to remember about the Amazon rainforest:

1. Its HOT! One day I got out my handy thermometer/compass/keychain to see what it said. It was 120 degrees in the sun!

2. Everything there is bigger and more colorful, especially the bugs.

3. It's beautiful!!

After arriving in Puerto Maldonado on the 19th, I had to wait until the next day to take a boat out to Picaflor. The flight from Lima to here was amazing -- we flew over the Andes and could see some of the snow-capped peaks. There were some terraced agricultural fields and roads zig-zagging up the sides of mountains. Even from the air you can see how incredibly diverse the jungle is -- every tree is different from those around it, in height, bark color, leaf color, leaf pattern, etc.

In the Puerto Maldonado airport, I met an Australian lady who came here all the way from Australia with two friends to consult with a local shaman and to drink something called ayahuasco. She said it would enhance her spirituality. Found out later is a hallucinogen made from a vine that grows here.

When I left the airport, 6 or 7 taxi drivers surrounded me. They were super friendly and not overly aggressive. I negotiated a price and got a ride into town on a contraption called a motocar, sort of a tricycle-looking cross between a moped and a go-cart. It was really fun and I had to try not to have too big of a grin on my face. There are very few cars here and most people get around by moped -- youll see a family of 3 or 4 on a moped. Noone wears helmets.

I missed the boat going upriver, so had to wait until the 20th to get to Picaflor. I had a really fun 24 hours here in the meantime. PM is a really interesting and relaxed little town with a population of about 40,000. Not many roads are paved, people are friendly and relaxed and appear to have plenty of time on their hands.

I was here on a Wednesday night and just walked around the streets. It seemed like the whole town was out of their houses just walking around or sitting on benches. Everyone seems to know everyone else. I went to the movie Heartbreakers which was in English with Spanish subtitles. Maybe some of the jokes didnt translate well because for most of the movie I was laughing like crazy and everyone else was dead quiet!

On the 20th I took a boat ride with a tourist group a few hours upriver to Picaflor. They dropped me off on their way to a tourist lodge a little bit upriver from Picaflor. We passed some indigenous communities on the river (one is called Infierno which is Spanish for hell), some farms, a gold mining boat, boat taxis, and also saw people bathing in the river. They were out there with their bar of soap lathering up.

We saw some capybara on the river bank. Capybara look like giant guinea pigs and are the worlds largest rodent. Theyre about the size of a German shepherd. Also we saw a group of blue and yellow macaws.

My week at Picaflor was nothing short of magical. The place is run by an interesting couple -- she's an English biologist with a PhD and hes a boat driver from here. They met while she was working as a guide at the nearby tourist lodge and he was working as a boat driver. He doesn't speak any English and she speaks some Spanish but spoke much less when they got married a couple years ago.

And their story really isn't that unusual. I keep hearing about these English-speaking women who come down here as biologists or guides and who end up marrying Peruvian boat drivers. I can understand it -- the boat drivers I've met so far are pretty charming and charismatic.

The Picaflor lodge is a one-floor thatched roof house with a raised floor. It has room for about 6 researchers, is about 20m from the river and basically surrounded by jungle. They have hammocks strung up in the entry way, and it was just about the most relaxing thing in the world to swing in a hammock in the shade with a cool breeze blowing.

For part of my volunteer work, I helped clearing their trails. Once when I was out there cutting down a bamboo tree, I heard something scampering up above and looked up to see a dusky titi monkey looking at me wondering what the heck I was doing. Also I helped with some bee researchers who were studying the Amazonian bumble bee and also looking into some stingless bees. They were studying communication, specifically the kind of information that a foraging bee goes back to the nest to communicate about a new food source. One day as a part of another study, one of the researchers put out some scents (vanilla, eucalyptis, etc.) to attract male orchid bees. The males collect the scent and metabolize it somehow to create another scent to attract the females. Orchid bees are not stingless, but no male bees have stingers. So we could pick them up and hold them to take a closer look. Some were bright metallic blue and green.

One of the stingless bee behavior experiments involved trying to see if foraging bees communicated information about the height of a food source. This involved putting a feeder up on a 24 meter high climbing tower at the nearby tourist lodge. Guess who got voluteered to go up?? It was great! They put a harness on me and basically hauled me up to this platform built into the branches of a tall tree. They've got that setup so they can bring tourists up there because the view allows for seeing some pretty amazing wildlife. I saw: white-throated toucans, a pair of scarlet macaws flying, masked tityras, and some other stuff I cant remember.

The day after some heavy rain, some leaf-cutter ant colonies hatched their young queens, which were about the size of your pinky. Some swallow tail kites caught on to what was going on and a flock of them formed. They would swoop down, grab the would-be queen in flight, eat the abdomen, then drop the rest. The abdomen-less queens walked around quite happily until other species of ants ate the rest. Kind of creepy.

Outside the Picaflor lodge are a few tarantula nests. They were so cool! They were huge of course (size of a mans hand) but shy.

After getting back to town yesterday, Ive just been kicking around the town and hanging out with some new friends. Tomorrow Im probably heading over the border into Brazil and/or Bolivia for the night, then going to Cuzco next week. As much as I love hot weather, this is a little much for me! Im pretty much covered in a film of sweat all the time. Then again, so is everyone else here.

Im hoping to come back to Picaflor to volunteer a little bit more before I head back home. Its a really cool way to see the jungle, and $10 a day pays for food and a bed. And the chance to interact with some interesting people.

Thats all for now, more in a few days!