Recently I visited Tingo Maria, Perú with a group of friends where we had heard it was possible to see the famous Peruvian Cock of the Rock bird from a little town in the jungle. We knew very little about the birds and even less about how to actually find them. We asked a group of taxi drivers if they knew where this town was and we were given estimates ranging from 15 minutes to 3 hours away. One taxi driver didn’t know where the town was but offered to take us anyway. We went with him, driving over the dirt tracks, never really sure where we were going. We had to drive through a river at one point and get out to push up a hill at another, all the while hoping that we were heading in the right direction.
After two hours of guesswork and driving, we arrived at the ‘town’ and realised why so few people had heard of it – only ten people actually lived there in a ramshackle collection of huts. The village was alongside a stream named ‘lost river’ which seemed rather literal at this obscure location. A kindly old toothless lady was so excited to see us that she came and touched us all and thanked us for visiting. We were worried because she had never actually managed to see the birds herself and did not know where we could go to find them.
Fortunately, another lady said we could go with her to look for a relative in the jungle who might be able to help us find the birds. She strapped her six-month-old baby to her back with a cloth and her 9-year-old daughter came with us too. I was a bit concerned that the daughter was wielding a foot-long machete and walking barefoot.
_(Photo: Tom Clark)_
Soon we were wading through rivers and knee deep mud. The taxi driver had decided to come along for the adventure but was soon at the back of the group grumbling about snakes. At one point we passed a half-eaten donkey carcass. After an hour, we found the relative fishing with a bamboo rod at a river. He took us deeper into the jungle to search.
We had never really believed that we would actually find the birds and so to finally encounter the beautiful and bizarre-sounding creatures was so rewarding and surreal that it felt as if we’d stumbled on a lost city. The cock of the rock is a beautiful citrus-orange bird with a great tuft of head-plumage. We stood in the murky forest light, panting and whispering, glimpsing the shy birds squawking and hopping between canopy branches. When we returned the taxi driver seemed very glad to see the little village and his car again. The toothless lady sold us some of the coffee beans grown in the village. The taxi driver had expected a short trip (probably on tarmac) but had been gone with us for five hours trekking through rivers, yet he still offered to take us back to our hotel.
I’m sure that there are places in Latin America (and perhaps even Tingo Maria!) where it is easy to observe this bird. However, it was the sensation of adventure and wilderness, as well as the eagerness and kindness of our driver and the villagers, that provided a unique lens to our experience. I really believe that Perú is a uniquely fantastic place for those different factors to combine.Until the mid 1930s, central Peru’s Tingo Maria was considered unreachable. A young expat dives in deep and reveals his recent adventure.