If I’m being honest, I didn’t want to go on this trip. I was deep into a homebody rut after four months at home. And I had other projects in the works that I was hesitant to set aside for two weeks while I didn’t have any internet connection in the jungle.
For me it is typical before every trip, even the ones I’m most excited about, to have a little freakout where I’m mentally kicking and screaming, “I don’t want to go!” But then the bags get packed and the passport comes out. Once I’m on the plane I am forced to set aside all of the things I wanted to get done before I left. Muscle memory kicks in and I transform into a traveler again, ready for another adventure.
This was my second trip to the Peruvian Amazon and although I knew better from my prior experience, I still harbored a fantasy that the rainforest would look like a Ravensburger puzzle where toucans and macaws dripped from tree branches, monkeys and sloths kicked it together, and butterflies flitted over the heads of caimans. The rainforest is indeed a riot of species, so abundant that it pulses with life, but that doesn’t mean all of that life will line up for the perfect photograph.
As the National Geographic Photography Expert, I taught the guests I traveled with how to photograph in extremely challenging photographic situations where deep, dark forests and overcast skies called for drastic changes to exposures from one sighting to the next. And I hopefully instilled the idea that although not every wildlife sighting we had made a good photograph, it was always a worthy experience.
So I shifted my expectations and did my best to just soak up the humid decadence of the rainforest. I looked again to reflections and quiet moments and would ask the skiff drivers to stop or multiple occasions to photograph something subtle like flowers or vines. I reveled in feeling like I was in a Dr. Seussian world when floating past islands of skinny palm trees in a flooded forest or navigating a waterway flanked by giant white-barked ceiba trees. On forest walks, I had the time to appreciate the small species and even discover leaves carved by hungry insects into modern art. I watched blackwater and whitewater rivers converge into a hypnotic, constant stirring of cream into coffee. The staff on board the Delfin II ship spoiled me again with their hospitality, amazing meals, and their patience for my rusty Spanish. And I was able to revisit locals I’d met and photographed the year before and gift them with prints.
And although it turns out we had blips of internet connectivity when we’d pass certain communities, I decided to remain blissfully unconnected and instead tuned into the sounds of downpours, choruses of frogs and birds, and took in the unique experience of plying the swollen tributaries of the mighty Amazon River.
Brown-throated three-toed sloths, with their charismatic half-smile, were delightful to spot, especially in close proximity during forest hikes.
Something as simple as a patch of water lettuce could transform into abstract art with the right background reflections.
The sighting of this white-throated toucan was my favorite encounter of the entire trip. This bird, the largest of the toucans, had eluded our view earlier during a skiff excursion on Magdalena Creek, but on a return visit, we found it roosting in a nearby tree before it then flew into perfect view.
I loved simple, beautiful scenes like these roots and vines hanging from the rainforest canopy. As much as I enjoyed photographing the wildlife in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, I think it was moments like this that conveyed the magic of the region.
A naturalist looked for wildlife during a skiff excursion on the Pacaya River. Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent motoring on the glass-like tributaries of the Upper Amazon.
Precise caterpillar holes formed a pattern on a tropical green leaf, turning the leaf into nature’s own artwork.
A tiny saddle-backed tamarin, who is about the size of a squirrel, nibbled on fruit from a tree over Nauta Creek.
Watching the woolly monkeys swing and play from trees was a highlight of each week. Unfortunately, the curiosity we experienced from these animals was caused by some tour operators allowing people to feed and pet these animals.
A group of great egrets gathered in treetops at sunset on El Dorado River.
The graceful tailfeathers of a great egret blew in the wind as it hunted for fish.
Blackwater (colored by tannins) and whitewater (colored by sediment) converged and looked like cream being poured into coffee on the Pacaya River.
During a night walk, we encountered plenty of insects, snakes, spiders, and frogs like this Manaus slender-legged tree frog.
A walk on a suspended bridge at Amazon Natural Park was an interesting change of perspective on the rainforest canopy.
A heliconia butterfly rested on a green leaf to lay tiny white eggs.
I ran into many of the people I’d met last year when I visited the community of San Francisco de Loreto on the Marañon River, including Safira, the girl on the far left. I brought her father prints of the images I’d taken of his family as a gift.
I met this woman, Nora Tapujima Chavez, while I explored the small community of Amazonas. She let me spend time with her while she weaved a basket using the plastic from old rice sacks.
The Delfin II ship never anchored in the vast waterways of the Upper Amazon but instead tied up to familiar trees.
Photographers knew that the bow of the Delfin II was the place to be at sunset on the Ucayali River.
If you are interested in this expedition to the Peruvian Amazon, you can find out more here. And to see more of my images, visit my Photoshelter gallery.