Aquarium fishes from Caño Arabella, Part 1

Warned about entering a hitherto unexplored Peruvian backwater, Heiko Bleher and his team proves that defiance can be rewarded with some marvellous discoveries.

Domingo, the boat-owner in Tabatinga, Brazil, right at the border of Colombia and Peru, said to me that I was crazy, going to travel much to far up into unknown territory near the Brazilian border with Peru, up the 1100 km long Yavari River.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Caño Capivara, Rio Yavari.

He said: ” Ai voce pode encontrar Indios que nunca tiveram contato com brancos,” – there you may encounter Indian tribes never been in contact with white people, and he added: “Provavelmente os militares não lhe dão permisso para entrar,” – and possibly the military will not grant you permits to enter.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Trees in flooded rainforest during dry season in the Caño Capivara.

Together with the Brazilian woman living in Italy, Claudia, the Romanian guy Adrian who lives in Ireland and the German Hartwig, who is Italian resident as well as Steve, the Brit which has a lodge near Leticia, and two Indian guides Pedro and Esteban, we left from Leticia after having received the exit stamp in our passports, from the Colombian authorities.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Heiko at the collecting spot 7 in the Arabella stream – a tiny tributary of the Rio Yavari.

And it took most of the rest of the day until we finally left Santa Rosa on the other (left bank) side of the Amazon, the Peruvian outpost, where we had received the Peruvian entrance stamp…

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
At the collecting spot 7 with a new Hemigrammus sp.

The sun did set early, as always near the equator, and in the darkness Esteban who guided our boat very well, did see enough to even find a shortcut from the Solimões to the Yavari.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Indian settlement Jaguar, Rio Yavari.
Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Terra Prohibida –  indian territory on the Brazilian side.

The latter is a white water tributary of the Solimões and forms the boundary between Brazil and Peru for over 900 km. It is navigable by such a small boat as ours for nearly 1000 km from above its mouth to near its source in the Ucayali highlands.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Rio Yavari.

The country it traverses in its extremely sinuous course is very level, similar in character to that of the Jurua River. My destination was the left-hand tributary called Yavari-Mirim far up the Yavari and the Arabella, a left-hand tributary of the latter, a very small totally unexplored and unpopulated caño.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
A boat loaded with fuel and food as there is nothing to buy on the stretch of 1000km river further up in the Rio Yavari.
Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Another boat loaded with cooking bananas, Rio Yavari.

It took us three days to reach the mouth of the Mirim, passing in its lower course several settlements along the Peruvian side of the Yavari, mostly cattle ranching and Indian villages.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Pedro cutting our way through to the laguna.

Along the Brazilian side, where the rivers name is Javary, and further up river, on the 2nd and 3rd day we did hardly see any settlements or houses anymore until we reached Indian settlements with the sign “Terra Protegida”, which means rotected land – prohibited to enter.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Sandbank in the Yavari.
Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Night-time across a furo with Pedro guiding our boat.

I asked the only Indian of the Matis tribe I saw, in Portuguese, about a furo, a shortcut, we tried to find to the laguna we wanted to camp, away form the main river.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Deforestation near the Jerusalem settlement, Rio Yavari.

The very unfriendly Matis Indian told me that the fine is 30,000 US$ if one enters their territory, but explained there are furos on the other side. Well we had a hell of a time, as the first ‘furo’ we didn’t find, the second was completely overgrown and filled with trees fallen into it.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Pirarucu skin colours, Rio Yavari.

It took us almost three hours to cut all the bushes and trees to get the boat across to the laguna. But inside it was like paradise, well worth the trouble. Fish jumping, hundreds of herons and cormorants, red macaws flying in pairs over our heads, like everyone wanted to say ‘welcome’ to this untouched laguna where no one ever lived.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Peruvian military outpost on the Mirim.

We found a nice area to camp and in seconds Esteban had, like every day, Piranhas and other fishes on the hook. Caldo de Piranha we ate every night on our campfire, a soup of the “man-eater”, of a fish that has never attacked a man in reality – only in tales and Hollywood films.

Rio Yavari, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Arabella stream full with fallen in trees.

On the next day, a half day boats ride below the mouth of the Mirim, we came by the Brazilian military outpost Estirão do Equador on the right bank and as we travelled along the Peruvian side (left bank) a military high-speed boat came up and forced us to stop and return to report also to them.

Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
It is was difficult to travel upstreams the unexplored Arabella.

It took nearly four hours, as the military in command, was in a meeting and without his ok we could not go on, we were told. In the meanwhile I took parameters, as down river we had collected along the sandbanks, species that only live there: pH 5.67; conductivity 21 µS/cm; temperature 28.8° C at 15:45.

Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Aechmea bromeliad, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Heliconia sp., Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Monstera deliciosa, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Mushrooms on the jungle floor, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Red mushroom, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Scorpion, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Tree-frog, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
A wild coackroach at night in the jungle playing dead, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Butterflies, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Butterfly, Caño Arabella.

From here on no more sign of any settlement or boat, no man lives anywhere here, that is also why they register everyone who comes through, to have a record. We camped while the sun was setting finding an elevation where loggers have already cleared a good piece of a land. And continued our journey upriver early next morning when we finally reached the “entrance” to the Mirim.

Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Aquatic vegetation Cyperus luzulae, Caño Arabella.
Caño Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Calathea loeseneri, Caño Arabella.

It wasn’t easy to find, as besidnes no person living or passing here the ‘entrance’ was less than 50 metres wide at its mouth and overgrown by dense rainforest.

Caiman, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Paleosuchus palpebrosus, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Paleosuchus palpebrosus, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Adrian with his collected caiman, Caño Arabella.

Also in the Mirim no sign of human being only about two hours later we reached a Peruvian checkpoint, with 4 crosses. People that had been killed here and other (military personal) which died of malaria…

Paleosuchus palpebrosus, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Paleosuchus palpebrosus, here called Babo morichalero, the black croc smallest on earth, only about 120 cm in TL, Caño Arabella.

The chief of the three soldiers here at the outpost, having a miserable life, only once a month a supply boat comes, living in this single wooden hut on the hilltop, surrounded by dense jungle, told me that the entrance to the Arabella and its two tributaries is not far up the Mirim, and all have mixed black water as the Mirim, as the sediment rich Yavari waters have influence everywhere.

Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Heiko trying to remove obstacles in the Caño Arabella.

He said the first rise came over two weeks ago (it rained almost every single day on our trip) and for the last days it drained nearly two metres, which happens every year before the final rainy-season floods arrive and the water rises almost near to their hut (about 10 metres here). And that would make it difficult to enter those tributaries.

Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Checking where to cross with the boat, Caño Arabella.

I gave them a couple of bottles of rum, Italian candies, muesli and soups, which made them very happy and we continued reaching the Arabella about two hours later.

Entering this hardly 30 metre wide caño was like entering a different world, even more virgin an untouched than the Mirim. There were roots from giant trees hanging in the water mainly along the right bank, which looked like being hundreds of years old.

Night collecting, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Night collecting with Adrian –looking for Apistogramma and other small fishes in the Caño Arabella.
Ageneiosus cf. magoi, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Heiko with Ageneiosus cf. magoi, Caño Arabella.
Ageneiosus cf. magoi, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Adrian with a Ageneiosus cf. magoi, Rio Yavari.

Eagle flying very high up, bustards lower, a pair of long-bill toucans crossing the river bed, the large Menelaus Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus) with its iridescent blue and a wing span of 15 cm (5.9 in) flew over the bow of our boat, and at least three different herons sitting in the trees while two Kingfisher species flew along the shore with fish in their mouth.

Astronotus ocellatus, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Astronotus ocellatus caught on the hook, Rio Yavari.
Pygocentrus cf. nattereri, Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Pygocentrus cf. nattereri, Yavari-Mirim, Peru.
Serrasalmus sp., Cano Arabella, Peru. ©BAP, photo B. Bleher
Serrasalmus sp. 7, adult male, Yavari-Mirim, Peru.