A hike in the Amazon Rainforest at Sandoval Lake
While staying at Sandoval Lake Lodge, it was customary to be wakened before dawn for an excursion around the lake at daybreak. After completing our early morning circuit of the lake, Bob and I returned to the lodge for a much needed breakfast that once again featured local fruits.
Breakfast was almost over when one of the kitchen staff ran into the dining room. He came to let us know that a Green-headed Tree Snake had just been discovered out back on the clothes line. The excited staff had retreated quickly when the snake slithered out from among the clothes drying in the sunshine.
Of course, we jumped at the chance to see it. With our cameras in hand, Bob and I quickly passed through the kitchen pantry and into the backyard. Sure enough, peeking out from the folds of the hanging laundry was what turned out to be a baby Green-headed Tree Snake. Given it was just a baby, we wrongly assumed that it was not a huge threat, but standing there, looking at it, Sonya, our personal handler at the lodge, told us that, despite its small size, this snake was more dangerous than its full-sized parents!
that you might survive a bite from one of this snakes adult parents, but if bitten on the neck by the young offspring, a person would die instantly from the highly potent venom. Sonja went on to say that even a bite on the leg would kill a person in a couple of hours. That was somewhat worrisome even though Sandoval Lake Lodge had a full snake bite medical kit provisioned for the treatment of bites. Apparently, anti-venom was available to combat bites inflicted by other species of snakes, but not this one!
The smaller the snake, the more venomous its bite is how the staff described it.
Not only were there snakes around the lodge but also many varieties of spiders such as this Golden Orb Spider whose impressive web spanned a distance of about 4 feet.
But even with all the potential threats that might lurk in the trees and on the plants around Sandoval Lake Lodge, it was still a garden of Eden and well worth the risk for even someone like me who has no great love of snakes.
After seeing the snake, we proceeded on a guided hike in the rainforest with Sonja, a lengthy walk that proved very interesting. Sonya, who was born and raised in the Amazon, has a vast knowledge of the medicinal qualities of the indigenous plants and was familiar with those that are edible. At the beginning of our hike in the rainforest, she deftly used a machete to open a cacao pod revealing the plump and slippery seeds inside.
When a cacao pod is ripe, the outside shell will be yellow. Inside the pod were between 20 to 60 seeds. These seeds are what most of us call cocoa beans. Sonya explained that to prepare the beans for consumption, they are washed, dried and then ground into cacao (cocoa), which we all know is the main ingredient of chocolate.
Cacao trees (chocolate trees) only grow between 13 and 26 feet high under the higher jungle canopy, and the only place that you can find cacao trees growing wild these days is in the Amazon jungle or at the edge of the Amazon near the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
Another ripe cacao pod awaits picking.
As we walked through the jungle, Sonya informed us that up to 90 per cent of the animals that live in the Amazon jungle live in the trees. This massive specimen soars up to 150 feet above the jungle floor; tall trees like this one stand over 20 to 100 feet above the rest of the canopy.
Bob and I were dwarfed by the circumference of this massive tree.
At the base of a Chicken Foot Tree, we found a messy pool of sticky sap. This sap originates from the red roots of the tree, and it has always been used when making plaster casts.
It was interesting to learn, that Sandoval Lake Lodge is built on the site of a former agricultural clearing where Brazil Nut Trees were grown. Brazil Nut Trees are among the tallest trees in the Amazon jungle, topping almost 160 feet. Back at the Lodge, we had made use of an industrial nut cracker that was available, and necessary, in order to crack open the large outer shell that houses a Brazil nut.
It was no easy task to crack open the coconut-shaped outer shell, but once Bob managed that, he was able to then crack open one of the individual Brazil nuts found nestled inside. Each of the large coconut-shaped shells contained 8 to 24 Brazil nuts.
One very interesting tree we came across in the Amazon jungle was the Walking Palm Tree. This tree can actually move across the jungle floor, but it does take quite some time to achieve that feat.
If another tree blocks its sunlight, or if large amounts of debris fall around the Walking Palm Tree, it moves to a better location. This tree grows most of its roots above the ground’s surface in what are called “silted” roots. When the tree decides to move, the silted roots begin to grow in the direction the tree wants to go. Once the new roots are established, the tree cuts off the supply of water and nutrients to the old roots on the opposite side of the tree. Once those old roots die, the stronger new roots cause the tree to inch in their new direction. Over vast amounts of time, the tree can move several feet in a new direction.
As the three of us moseyed along the shady forest trail, we were lucky to pick out a well-camouflaged Forest Giant Owl butterfly. This butterfly earns its name from the eye spots that resemble the wide open eyes of an owl. How I wish that this butterfly had shown us the dorsal surface of its wings. They are a glossy blue with hints of purple and a navy border. That would be impressive to see.
Yet another butterfly on a plant along the way, and this one is a Berecynthia Giant Owl Butterfly. If by chance the butterfly had opened its wings, we would’ve seen that the dorsal surfaces are a deep maroon with a band of orange running more or less around the perimeter of the fore and hind wings.
There are in fact hundreds of species of butterflies living in the jungle around Sandoval Lake, and even by contacting entomologists in Peru, we were unable to identify the specific species of this moth. So many of them remain undocumented and unnamed, but it is thought that this specimen is some sort of Cane Borer Moth.
An attractive Heliconia or Lobster Claws was impossible to overlook. Also referred to as False Bird of Paradise, these flowers provide a food source for hummingbirds.
The quick movements of an Anole Lizard took us by surprise. There happen to be several species of these, the most common lizards in the Amazon.
As I took a break and put my feet high up above the ground, below me, countless Amazon Leaf-cutter Ants were busy at work!
Amazingly, the wind was rising steadily as we neared the lodge on our return from the morning tour of the jungle plants, and literally, within a couple of minutes, before we could enter the meeting room, the rains descended.
As you see firsthand in this short video, when it rains in the Amazon, it really pours!
Thank goodness we had been spared while enjoying our walkabout in the jungle.
During the downpour, Bob took time to relax in the Great Hall with a view of the torrential rain just beyond the overhang of the thatched roof.
As the rain thundered on the roof above me, I took time to update my notes while the ground turned into sloppy, red mud outside. Unbeknownst to us, a new group of guests were hiking along the trail from the river to the Lodge. What an initiation for them into the world of the Jungle.