Thursday, April 16, 2009

PERU: MUSHROOMS IN THE JUNGLE

Did you know there are about 14,000 known varieties of mushrooms? That's a lot of fungus amongus. I read recently that the itt-bitty spores of mushrooms are the hardest naturally-made substance on Earth. They are very durable. In fact, there are actually scientists who think mushroom spores are capable of space travel and that some fungi found on Earth may have originally came from outer space! (I think that if you believe this, you just might be from outer space yourself.)

Americans are relatively light mushroom eaters. On average, we consume 4 lbs./person/year. However ASIAN-Americans eat an average of 9 lbs./person/year. In Asia itself, the Chinese consume an average of 22 lbs./person/year, and in Japan it is a whopping 29 lbs./person/year.

Mushroom farming is picking up speed in the U.S., and wild mushroom foraging is becoming a very popular hobby. See this website if you are interested in foraging. Some people have a business of harvesting wild mushrooms from remote areas they keep secret, then selling those mushrooms to upscale restaurants for large sums of money. Who knew?

We saw many mushroom varieties in Peru that we had either never seen before or seen only in pictures. We didn't have the courage to try eating any of them. It's probably a good thing. Here are a few:







The colors and shapes were wonderful--much more variety than the ones we get in our lawn in California. We were wishing Andrew, our budding mycologist, had been with us to help identify them.

So that's it--the highlights of our Great Peruvian Adventure. It's only taken about two months to process it all on this blog, but now that I'm done, I'm wondering:

WHERE ARE WE GOING NEXT, BOB????

Monday, April 6, 2009

PERU: BUGS AND BIRDS AND BATS, OH MY! Peruvian Animal Adventures, Part 2

As previously mentioned, once we got to the jungle, we didn't see any domesticated animals (other than dogs, of course). When we first got to our cabanas, we did see these little guys sneaking around the grounds:
At first we thought they were capybaras, but we learned later that they were agoutis, rodents related to the guinea pig but larger and with much longer legs.
This, if you can believe it, is a termite nest high up on the trunk of a very tall tree. The black viney-looking stuff curling around the trunk below the nest is actually a tunnel, built by the termites, which they take to get from their nest to the ground.
This snail was at least as big as my hand:
A "cute" little tree snake:
A true centipede:
I hate spiders, I really do. This tarantula was humongous:

And this was the biggest spider web I have ever seen. Ever. It was at least 12 feet long:
A beautiful moth:
And an unusual cricket:
Bats lined up like on a tree trunk during the daytime:
A monkey leaping from branch to branch:
What the natives call a "stinky bird." Apparently it has exceptionally bad breath:
A beautiful blue and gold macaw:
This gorgeous bird, called a "trogon," lives in the top of the rainforest canopy:
And our final wild animal sighting, a caiman, swimming in the Madre de Dios River at night. I'm glad I was in a boat!

UPCOMING: 'SHROOMS (Final Peruvian post)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PERU: BUGS AND BIRDS AND BATS, OH MY! Peruvian Animals, Part 1

This post is somewhat inappropriately titled since for the first half of our trip, the only animals we saw were domesticated ones. However, I didn't think a post entitled "Llamas and Dogs" sounded all that interesting. The bugs and birds and bats will be featured in the follow-up to this post.

I love llamas. I think you'll be able to figure that out by looking at these pictures:
Isn't this cute? A llama chilling with two women down the street from our hotel.

We saw lots of llamas at Machu Picchu.

In fact, they use llamas to mow the grass there. Genius.

Aren't they CUTE? I want to have one in my backyard. Think of what we could save on gardeners and fertilizer! (A pet llama would certainly be preferable to a pet rattlesnake, don't you think? I DO.)
Even the Peruvians themselves think llamas are cute. In fact, they like them so much that they had one sculptor put a llama on this poor lady's head. (Actually, they asked for a FLAME to be on her head, and the Spanish word or flame is "llama," and, well, you get the idea.)
In case you, like this sculptor, are confused about llamas, this poem should help:

The one-l lama,
He's a priest.
The two-l llama,
He's a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-l lllama.
--Ogden Nash

Okay, let's move on.

Other than llamas, the animal we saw the most of was dogs. They were EVERYWHERE. I've never seen so many dogs in my life. If happiness is a warm puppy (thank you, Charles Schultz), Peruvians are the happiest people on earth.
This poor lady obviously doesn't have a dog, so she had to take her donkey out for a walk instead. (Still better than walking a rattlesnake.)
And these Peruvians are REALLY confused about why their dogs make such funny noises:
So there you have it. Llamas and dogs.

As a preview of my next Peruvian Animal Post, here is a picture of a lovely visitor to our hotel room in Aguas Calientes:
Totally creepy. (But they get bigger in the Amazon.)

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