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Río Tambopata by Pascale Petit

There it goes again – a pulsating hum coming from the jungle. Sounds like a generator coming on, but Tambopata Research Center uses solar panels for energy. Is it aliens? One wall of my lodge is open to the black jungle; it’s like I’m camping right under the great kapoks and ironwoods. Is it the trees that sing at night? A series of discordant hoop-hoop-

hoops, then the drawn-out purr. The sound pours through me, leaves the roof of my mouth tingling, like after stroking a cat. I switch my torch on, see a huge cockroach inside the mosquito nets. It’s 3am. I’m too excited to sleep now. I have to get up at four anyway, to be on the river just before dawn. It’s coming closer; I’ve never heard anything so strange. Yet I’m the stranger here.

Now there are strangled squeaks coming from above. Are the bats crashing into the antitarantula threads strung across the ceiling? And now the poison arrow frogs start their predawn chorus like manic phone alarms – toot-toottoot-toot. The first scarlet macaw lets out a dawn greeting from its hole high in an ironwood. Then the terrestrial and treefrogs join in. It’s the turn of the titi monkeys now – a crescendo of squabbles over fruit trees. At last the red howlers begin their hair-raising roars, the official jungle wake-up call.

I make my way to the tea station in the canteen, gulp some from the urn, then stumble along the raised wooden walkways, to the communal bathrooms. Even queuing for a free cubicle is thrilling because of the bird chorus accompaniment – the dwarf tyrant manikin’s chew-weep, then the slow descending scales of the grey potoo. The spectacled owl’s boomboom-boom, followed by the musician wren or uirapuru, whose melodious flute-like notes make every other bird stop to listen.

Dr Donald Brightsmith, research leader of the scarlet macaws project, is in the queue before me, so I ask him about the electronic night-hum and he tells me it’s the song of pale-winged trumpeters, black chicken-sized forest floor foragers with a white patch on their wings. On our way to the river, my guide Jungle Paul spots a flock, so I mention that I heard them. He opens his birdsong app and uses Bluetooth to amplify it into the understorey. And it gets them singing in daylight!

Here I go again, down the sheer bank, clinging to the rope handrail, as I make my way over rickety wooden steps. Once installed on the motorised canoe, I relax. There is nothing as thrilling as being on the river. The Tambopata is

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