Countdown to Peru 2013: Amazon Macaws

The countdown to Peru Workshop 2013 is in full swing and I’m checking in with another post relating to my past Peruvian workshop travels. Last year was my first opportunity to enter the Peruvian Amazon. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but after asking Adam about it all I got was, “Spectacular,” so I knew I was in for something unique.

The Amazon part of the workshop is an extension, so not an official part of the class, but most of our workshop group was able to go. It’s such an intense experience it’s nice to be with people you have gotten to know over the course of a few weeks, a few meals and a few laughs. Flying into Puerto Maldonado you look from the plane window and as far as you can see in all directions is a sea of the most intense green you can imagine. The door opens and the rush of humidity blasts in and the long, slow sweat begins. You realize immediately you are in a place unlike any other.

Getting to and from this spot requires, in our case, plane then bus then boat. The boats are dugouts, thin and relatively fast, but speed isn’t of the essence here. In fact, the slower the better. The hours on the boat are a good time to just take things in, sleep, enjoy the heat, or in our case bust open a bottle of Adam’s favorite Pisco, which I have to say was maybe one of the best packing jobs of all time. Thanks Adam.

Ultimately we ended up at the Tambopata Research Center.

The Tambopata Research Center (TRC) of Rainforest Expeditions is situated in the Tambopata National Reserve on the upper Tambopata River in the center of a large uninhabited track of primary tropical lowland forest, very near to the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, in the Madre de Dios Region of Peru.
The area hosts a unique forest environment, with the highest concentrations of avian clay licks in the world. A range of animals comes to satisfy their need for salt along the river banks of the region. Sometimes hundreds of macaws can be seen at the Collpa Colorado clay-lick near to the research center.

As you all know, I’m not a landscape photographer and I don’t normally shoot wildlife. I LOVE both of these things but never feel like I ever do them justice. However, when thrust into these places, environments and situations I make my pictures. They might not look like the normal landscape or wildlife images, but they mean something to me and I enjoy making them. The longest lens I had was a 50mm, so not really equipped for this type of heavy lifting, but I think these pictures still work, and the audio file is priceless. Think the jungle is quiet? Think again.

Perhaps the best part of this entire thing was getting up long before sunrise to walk through the muddy jungle, climb into the boat, get out of the boat, walk through more muddy jungle and then wait. I grew up bird hunting, so I was used to the idea of doing all this, but not used to not shooting the birds I’d come looking for. In this case I was glad I wasn’t hunting with anything more than my trusty Leica. If you haven’t been to this region it is well worth the effort. The Peruvians have done a wonderful job of preserving this place, much better than many of the other regions in South America, but human nature requires constant diligence. My motto, if you can go, go now.

14 responses to “Countdown to Peru 2013: Amazon Macaws”

  1. mason higa says:

    Please talk to my boss and convince her to let me go with! I keep saying next year but I like your motto, “go now”.

  2. Nancy says:

    I think I have a picture of you taking the second picture from the top, above.

    You’re going in July?!? Not Christmas in Arequipa, New Year’s on Machu Picchu?

    I remember walking through the main plaza in Arequipa last year, with you exclaiming that we were spending Christmas Eve in Arequipa! My most exotic Christmas Eve ever. Not to mention Christmas night in a small hotel in a small town with a group of musicians playing just for us. They pulled me up there with them — bouncing around at high altitude wearing one of their hot, heavy wool ponchos. I wasn’t sure I would last till the end of the song.

    • Smogranch says:


      New time, new events but with a few familiar haunts. Starting in MP, then to Cusco then to the festival and on to the lake. Finally,…….le Amazon. I can’t wait. I remember your brief foray into the Peruvian music scene. I actually think there are photos floating around that would confirm it!

      PS: Getting a Samsung phone today.

    • Nancy says:

      I ended up doing an entire Blurb book *just* of Machu Picchu. So spectacular, late in the day and early the next morning.

      And who could be anywhere nearby and NOT go to the Amazon? After all the books and movies about the deep, dark Amazon? And make audio, too, definitely. (Though we all missed recording the Star Wars re-enactments — Fleming and Dan, too.)

      Wish I had a good picture of the pile of devices recharging during the few daily hours with electricity (in the main lodge only).

      Yes, I have photos of my Peruvian music foray. I gave Amy my camera.

    • Smogranch says:

      Good, evidence is important if the government ever comes looking. Flemming and Star Wars was one of those lucky breaks where the stars align and all reason is tossed aside.

  3. Highly recommended, if you want to learn real photography and not just boring technical gear stuff. Peebs, gotta go!

    (Amazon was fantastic, I’m happy there’s no recording of my Star Wars re-enactment on the boat)

    • Smogranch says:


      Gear puts butts in seats oddly enough, but as you know, if you are shooting in Peru and focusing on your gear you have missed the point by a long, long shot. I defy anyone to experience that place and still remain preoccupied on gear. It’s doable but would take a geek of legendary proportions.

  4. LionelB says:


    Not just the fixation with 500mm Apo lenses. There is also the mindset that travelling is about ticking things off a list as they are viewed, mostly for the sake of what others might think. It takes time for impressions of a place to evolve into familiarity. That is usually when the extraordinary, the moving and the unexpected amble out into the sunlight. But by that time the collector of itinerary stop-offs has already applied their highlighter pen to a dozen more “things seen”, while in reality they have seen nothing at all.

    • Smogranch says:

      Competitive travel is a reality through time, perhaps more so today than ever before. It’s rare I have a student who is like this. Most people know good imagery takes a long time. When I hit a place like Peru I know in 2.5 weeks I won’t return with a mega-essay but I will return with a handful of memories. I’ve been to Sicily five times and feel like I havent’ even scratched the surface. This will be my 3x to Peru and I feel the same. It’s a lifetime country, like four different places in one.

    • LionelB says:

      And vast tracts of space where a mobile phone is about as much use as a Voyager comms badge. Can’t be bad … You could take a portable darkroom though.

    • Smogranch says:

      I just got a new one today.

  5. Laura Gerwin says:

    Im daydreaming of joining you in 2013! Its all about the power of positive thinking right?
    The light has been amazing in Santa Fe this week from the winter storms and chill in the air. Hope you have been around to enjoy it.

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