On our last morning at the Tapiche Reserve, we awoke to the now familiar roars of distant howler monkeys, and they continued to serenade us as we ate breakfast. After breakfast, we followed Katoo out to the turtle enclosure where he had drained its water and was beginning to collect all of the baby turtles, which were now ready to be released into the wild. We set out in the boat with a bucket full of turtles, and a few more buckets to collect eggs.
The routine of searching the beaches for eggs was unusually productive that morning because we were accompanied by Pedro, one of Katoo’s employees who was once a poacher. He was an expert at finding turtle nests, and was quick to point out spots for the rest of us to dig. Our efforts yielded a lot of eggs, and we also came across a set of jaguar footprints that were left the night before.
Once we had checked all of the beaches, it was time to park the boat and start our hike. The third day was to be the most exciting of the trip, and the action started almost the second we entered the jungle. We immediately saw the familiar movements in the treetops that indicated monkeys were nearby, and were soon surrounded by a gang of tamarins.
We watched the adorable little creatures jump from tree to tree until they were out of sight before we pushed deeper into the jungle. Hiking was getting hard for me by this time because I had developed a rash from my gumboots, and my feet were incredibly sore from three days in the uncomfortable footwear. However, the section of jungle we were in was so beautiful that it made up for my discomfort, and I was awed when we came upon a tree with a root arching up well above our heads. Katoo called this tree the door to Narnia, and explained that we were about to enter the most pristine section of forest on the reserve. We all walked underneath the archway to officially enter “Narnia.”
Shortly after that, Katoo left the trail, and Pedro indicated that we should follow, but quietly. When we reached Katoo’s side, he had located a tree where he knew a family of night monkeys lived, and we could just barely see two of them peering out at us from in between some branches. Night monkeys are nocturnal, and extremely shy, so this was a very special sighting.
Although all of the mammal sightings were spectacular, our main destination for the day was the biggest lagoon on the reserve, and the canopy tower that overlooked it. We made good time in reaching the canopy tower, and ascended its narrow ladders up to the top of the forest, where we ate second breakfast while admiring a fantastic view of the lagoon.
We stayed there for a while just taking in the sights and making conversation, and then Katoo told us that we were going to go out on the lagoon and look for caimans. We went back down the the base of the tower, and walked to the edge of the lagoon where there were a couple of dug out canoes waiting for us. Out on the water, the sun was bright, and we could feel the full extent of the midday heat. The lagoon glistened around us and the sun bounced off of the surrounding trees, turning them a brilliant green. Katoo had brought a piece of bread, a string, and a fishing hook, and he made a makeshift fishing pole and dropped his bait into the water. A fish jumped up to eat the bread before it had even touched the surface of the lagoon. Katoo caught a few fish and fed them to some young caimans, which we were starting to see around the canoes in every direction. Their glassy eyes peaked above the surface of the water, and they lay perfectly still until they found the opportunity to lunge at a fish.
We saw caimans ranging from minuscule to as large as a human as Katoo and Pedro steered the canoes toward where we would release the baby turtles. They had to cut through a large mass of plants to get the boats the the far shore of the lagoon, where Katoo got out and set the turtles free. This was an emotional moment and we all hoped that the young turtles would be successful in their new habitat.
Our next mission was to cross back to the other side of the lagoon. After floating and watching great egrets, and horned screamers in the distance, we came to a passageway that veered off from the main body of water. Katoo and Pedro steered the canoes into it, and we were immediately surrounded by countless birds. They lined the banks, sitting regally in treetops, until we passed through and they flew to the next stand of trees down the line. This parade went on and on until Katoo stopped us under the shade of a tree to eat lunch. We floated in the canoes and had a lunch of rice while enjoying the serenity of the jungle.
Too soon, it was time to head back and we retraced our steps across the lagoon, past the canopy tower, and back under the archway tree. On the hike back we saw a huge boa constrictor, and ran into the same group of tamarins. We retired to the reserve where it was already time for dinner, and we spent the evening talking and joking with Katoo, of whom we had grown very fond. After we had been talking for a while, Katoo invited to come back out on the boat one last time, and we floated down the river as caimans ducked into the water from the beaches until we discovered a couple of poachers. Katoo was unintimidated by the men, and told them that they had to leave his property. They tried to convince him that they weren’t doing anything wrong, but eventually they complied and turned their boat around.
We hung around the area to make sure they didn’t come back before retreating to the reserve to sleep. The next morning we would make the long trip to Iquitos. Vince, Jordi, and I were sad to leave, but were so glad to have had the opportunity to experience a week at Tapiche. We were all inspired and impacted by Katoo, who is doing so much to save an ecosystem that is vital to the earth. It’s amazing that one person can go to a place and make such a huge difference, and I never want to forget the lessons I learned from Katoo and the time I spent in the Amazon.