Magnificent Manu


P arrots are expensive' Especially when one's love and curiosity take takes him to the faraway places where these amazing creatures actually live in the wild. Fortunately, my wife (Rita) shares that interest and eagerly accompanies me on some of these expeditions.

Before this last trip, I had visited the Explorama lodges near the Amazon and Napa Rivers northeast of Iquitos; the Tambopata Research Center (twice) south of Puerto Maldonado; the Pampas del Heath Lodge (actually in Bolivia across from Peru's southern Heath River border); and Timpia (tribal center for the Machiguenga Indians) north of Cuzco. My main focus was to observe parrots and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Of particular interest to me are the macaw clay licks where parrots congregate daily to socialize and eat the clay. It is reported


that eating the clay provides needed minerals and offsets toxins ingested with certain fruits and seeds. There are ahout 30 known clay licks in Peru but many are inaccessible to the average tourist. However, several have heen developed into ecotourism sites where poachers have heen convened to protectors for the tourist dollar.

But I kept hearing and reading that Manu was the ultimate rainforest destination. A 1997 AFA Watchbi1·d article hy Rae V. Anderson gave an exciting presentation of Manu that further piqued my interest. Pristine, untouched, abounding in wildlife, relatively free of tourists and campers, more expensive than other destinations - and the best macaw clay lick! I had to see it! So, I contacted InkaNatura Travel and arranged to visit not only Manu hut also the Colca Canyon in southern Peru.


Incidentally, the Colca was absolutely spectacular hut that is another story.

Getting There

Manu National Park is huge, about 4 million acres or three times the size of Delaware. It does a hound in wildlife - more than 1,000 species of birds and 200 species of mammals, reputedly more stuff than any other park in the world, with the possible exception of the new Madidi National Park in Bolivia. Yeah, I was really getting excited I

It is located about 100 miles northeast of Cuzco and is accessible from Cuzco by either an arduous two-day overland trip or by a 35-minute charter flight. Since we were somewhat limited on time, Rita and I opted to fly and that turned out to he an adventure in itself. At the plane, we met our guide for Manu, Doris Valencia Puclla, as well as a couple from Germany and a fun hanker, John Urofsky from Philadelphia. Imagine flying in a small two engine plane, looking for a break in the clouds (no NavAids here), diving into a hole, and swooping down to a landing on a wet, grassy strip cut into the jungle at Boca Manu!

The airfield consisted of a thatchcovered platform with a radio powered by car batteries, a doorless outbuilding, and a fleet of two wheelbarrows for luggage handling. We transferred to a motorized canoe for the 1 1/2 hour ride up the Madre de Dios River to our lodge.

Manu Wildlife Center

The center is not located in the Manu National Park for the simple reason that no tourists are allowed there, only conservationists and researchers. Many people book "cheaper" trips and find themselves in what is called the Tourist Reserve Zone. They might end up disappointed. The Manu Wildlife Center, however, is located on a 50,000 acre private reserve and is one of only two lodges that I know of in this very desirable area. The center has 15 fully screened private bungalows, separate toilet and shower complexes, dining room, and a neat social/bar building. There is no electricity but there is a generator that can ·be fired up to


charge camcorder batteries or to power a blender to make pisco sours, Peru's national drink.

We were fortunate to be assigned to the 'Jaguar" bungalow, one of the few containing its own toilet and shower. We were delighted because it can be really bothersome to use the communal facilities during a downpour. But any of the facilities in the rainforest can generate surprise. During our first night a tree frog jumped on Rita in the bathroom. Shades of Ally McBeal1

The center director, an Australian named Julian Grey, has a construction background and is working to convert


more of the bungalows to full facilities and he is up to eight completed. The food was great and featured many local dishes and, all in all, it was probably the best lodge we have encountered.

There was only one other small group at the Manu Wildlife Center when we arrived and another couple arrived the day before we departed. Each group has its own guide and all activities are done with only that guide, so the Manu experience can be as good, or as weak, as the a group's particular guide. Our experience at other lodges was enhanced by the variety (locals and researchers) and expertise (birds, plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, etc.) of the individual guides. However, Doris was very good with primary expertise in ornithology (thank goodness!) and a strong smattering in the other disciplines. We lucked out!