Some of the team continue setting up camp and cleaning equipment ready for work. Others begin to explore the river and the escarpment. The ichthyologists return to camp registering ten species on their first afternoon foray including a fantastic unidentified Loricariinae catfish with a tail longer that its body found near a waterfall. Others return with news that we were expecting - the escarpment is home to spider monkeys (Ateles chamek). News that the flotilla of five boats has safely arrived in Rurrenabaque ends the day.
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Everyone is out and about and two groups return to camp with tales about close encounters with tapir (Tapirus terrestris), including film footage which we will share as soon as our internet connection permits. A close encounter with a red brocket deer (Mazama americana) and a series of encounters with spider monkeys suggests the wildlife here is naive and not frightened of people. Another amphibian audio-experience occurs in the evening as a number of toads (Rhinella poeppigi and Rhinella veraguensis) sing on the river bank.
The harsh reality of a south front in the humidity hits the team as a couple of people go down with bad colds. After one more hour on the Hondo the team reaches the intended study site at the base of the magnificent Chepite escarpment. Immediately people begin cleaning sandy tents after three nights on beaches and/or drying tents or sleeping gear. Then a human chain is formed to unload eight boats and begin setting up camp. The cold is staved off with a hot Bolivian corn-based drink made from called api, a tradition in tropical research camps during a south wind. Five of the boats head back to Rurrenabaque in the afternoon.
The entire day is spent travelling up the Hondo, except for a brief stop to cook lunch for 40 people on a beach. Hondo means deep in Spanish but perhaps this name stems from the deep canyon further upstream because there is nothing deep about the Hondo River – it is in fact famously shallow - and as the day progresses the frequency in which everyone has to get out and push to negotiate a series of “huarascas” or rapids begins to increase. Everyone is tired at the end of the day and camp is hastily made to the sound of a chorus of Hypsiboas tree frogs, that perhaps are announcing a forthcoming change in the weather.
Another entire day on the Hondo River where the boats have to be pushed, pulled, coaxed and driven uphill most of the way, often involving half the team per boat, and in the shallowest rapids also requiring the construction of channels. And these waters are home to many stingrays (Potamotrygon spp.) that pack a very nasty sting. At midday the rain begins and a south wind arrives bringing a cold front. Lunch has to be cooked with a makeshift shelter. The team is driven on by a series of glimpses of our destination - the Chepite escarpment – and as temperatures and with everyone soaking camp has to be made a short distance from our destination.
An early start begins with the 4-hour process of carefully loading the boats ensuring they are balanced correctly. After a quick breakfast the flotilla of wooden boats with outboards or peque peque motors leave, traveling up the Beni River towards the Hondo River, stopping briefly to register at the park guard station just past the dramatic Bala escarpment, and then again at the mouth of the Hondo to wait for one of the boats delayed due to a motor problem. At the end of a long hot day camp is made a short distance from the mouth.
Most of the Identidad Madidi researchers arrive just before dawn following an overnight 11-hour drive from La Paz, catching up with the lorry just before getting to Rurrenabaque. Others arrive on overnight buses. The day is then spent making local food and supply purchases, organizing the fleet of eight boats that will transport the team up the Hondo River, and general preparing for the next three weeks in the field.
Part of the team leaves on the day-long trek to Candelaria and then back to Ixiamas and beyond. Many of the #IDMadidi team accompany the team using this logistical opportunity to restock on diminishing food supplies in preparation for the last two weeks of the Alto Madidi trip. The Madidi park guards return too to further accompany #IDMadidi providing their knowledge about this wonderful place and helping the scientific team on the river and in the forest.