Tiputini Biodiversity Station sits on a bend of the Tiputini river. The forest on one riverbank is indistinguishable from that on the other, except that on the far side the forest lies within Yasuni National Park, a place that has long been on my wishlist of dream destinations. Jose offered to take us there, and we leapt at the chance. We set off downriver by boat, pulled into the riverbank some way downstream, and jumped onto the thick mud, following tapir footprints up the bank. Jose led the way, machete in hand, as we stepped through the riverside scrub and into more open forest beyond.
We were aiming for a clay lick within the forest, a swampy area, rich in minerals. Like the watering hole in the African bush, a clay lick is a magnet for all kinds of species day and night: the minerals in the clay are vital for a healthy diet. Jose led us under palms, across a stream where we exchanged glances with a trio of peccaries, and past a huge freshwater mangrove tree.
Eventually we climbed a bank, and then we were looking down on swampy clay, bright in the sunshine, covered in footprints. A solitary parrot quietly made its way up into the branches of a tree, but we saw no other creatures. Jose revealed he had never been there before, but had led us through the disorientating jungle based on directions given to him by his brother.
Despite not seeing so many species that morning, it was a thrill to be in Yasuni itself, and evidence of the diverse visitors to the clay lick was all around. This video, filmed in the Peruvian Amazon, gives a wonderful idea of who might have been there just before, or just after us. If you watch until the end, you might understand why I sometimes felt a little nervous during my PhD field seasons, on the trail at dawn.