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Full Circle

Day 192: On the Urubamba River

Urubamba River, Peru 
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Barry converts me to birding.
Michael Palin - Full CircleIn the space of an hour he's introduced me to the wonderful world of russet-backed orependulas, bare-necked fruit crows and drab water-tyrants. 'There are more species per square mile here than anywhere else on this planet,' Barry rattles on from behind his binoculars. 'Peru has the highest bio-diversity on earth, 1700 species. And it's not just birds, it's butterflies, rats - look! on the bank there, fasciated tiger heron.'

By the time we moor up for lunch even I can recognize a fasciated tiger heron. They have a slightly lugubrious quality, tall and thin like cypress trees in a cemetery.

By midday we are into land owned by the Matsiguenga Indians. Their children splash about in the water and we can see them on the rocks washing their clothes or crossing the stream in perilously fragile balsa rafts. A young boy swings a fish-tail on a length of twine round his head and flings it out into the water. With their fringed haircuts and simple brown robes the Matsiguenga look as though they are from a time long past. I wave, but they don't wave back.

As we draw closer to the Pongo de Manaique the cloud thickens and a light drizzle begins to fall. We decide to make camp and hope for an improvement tomorrow. Pitch our tents on grey volcanic sand. Adolfo and friends take one of the boats out and come back with a three-foot catfish for supper.

Take my towel and sponge-bag and walk along the bank to find a suitable place to wash.

'Don't pee in the water,' Barry shouts after me. 'There's a small barbed fish which will latch onto a stream of urine and swim right up the penis.'

Bio-diversity is a wonderful thing.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 192
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Urubamba River
  • Book page no: 261

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