The trip to the Amazon began with a red eye flight from DC to Lima. A sleepless overnighter, 2 more flights – to Cusco and then to Puerto Maldonado – then a 45 minutes bus ride to the dock, followed by a 3 hour boat ride to the lodge (Tambopata Ecolodge), finally concluded the transportation portion of the 37 hour long day. A cold shower in the cabin shocked us awake long enough to eat what turned out to be one of many delicious meals at the lodge. We ended the never-ending day with a night walk through the jungle. And thus was our introduction to Peru.
A cursory glance through my multitude of photos brought me to the following summary of the Amazon: THE AMAZON… summarized in 4 points….
- Boat rides (aka. Nap time, animal watching, either sunny or cloudy skies- it’s the rainy season, so who the hell knows).
- Strolls in the jungle (aka. More wildlife spotting, insect spotting/avoidance, vine and tree climbing, face painting, and when downed trees block the actual path – watching your guide hack a new path through the jungle with a machete while shouting “do not touch anything!” at you.
- Eccentric guides (aka. JULIO… To repeat – hacking new paths with machetes, playing with tarantulas – over and over and over again, daring me to climb vines and laughing when I do, providing crackers to feed piranhas, playing with other poisonous arachnids, informing us “all mushrooms in the jungle are edible… At least once.”
- It’s wet. Very wet. That is all.
#1 BOAT RIDES
The Tambopata EcoLodge is about 70km by boat from Puerto Maldonado (about 30 as the crow flies). Obviously, we spent some time on boats. These rides were spent in a variety of ways Nap time being one of them. Thankfully, our captain didn’t decide to get some shut eye like everyone else. Animal spotting was the preferred (I think) way to occupy time on the boat. Howler monkeys… canibara – the largest rodents in the world… macaws of all different colors… caiman…
Two nights were spent caiman hunting. I use hunting in a non-lethal way… Julio stood watch on the front of the boat spotting the first night, Elvis the second. Elvis showed Julio up with 4 caimans spotted, Julio only 3. We still love you, Julio.
Another bonus to boat rides – the mosquitos magically disappear.
#2 STROLLS IN THE JUNGLE
Step one of taking a walk through the jungle – use bug spray. Now, in our case, we not only used bug spray, but 98.11% deet spray. That shit melts your skin, I swear. But burning is okay, right? One the bright side, the mosquitos were afraid of us.
Anyway, after donning knee-high rain boots, we’re off to see the rainforest. A few fun new creatures we came across: tree frogs, blunt head snakes, blue & yellow spiders, a dozen other humungous other spiders, the bullet ants that were the size of my thumb and made weird noises, (heard, not seen) bamboo rat with a crazy screech of a call, and white capuchin monkeys (even though experts insist they don’t inhabit Tambopata). Of the plant life we encountered, much had spikes for protection. Or there were the strangling trees that encircle and kill other trees to take over. Or the numerous poisonous mushrooms. Even the plant life was deadly!
A little background on eccentric Julio… our 5 foot nothing guide was born in the Amazon. We discovered he attended university for tourism, but that doesn’t guarantee one becomes a guide. After hopping between working a menial support staff to handling the bar, Julio began to master English. Young Julio was then able to shadow other guides on tours. Once his language skills progressed, he became a guide. Oddly enough, Julio’s first language wasn’t even Spanish, it was Quechuan, and he didn’t seem to think he was fluent in English – he even knew slang! On op of that, Julio was exceptionally knowledgeable about the wildlife, insects and plant life present in the rainforest (to include proper names, what animals are thought to be present in an area, and what is/isn’t poisonous). So that’s Julio’s brief story. Now for some highlights….
Spiders… I’m not a huge fan, and my counterpart is even less so. Hell, I have to kill spiders at home. Needless to say, there are a ton of the 8 legged arachnids creeping around the Amazon. Julio, time and time again, used a stick and leaf to taunt tarantulas. Because that’s apparently what one does when one finds a hole in the ground in the jungle. And who doesn’t like yanking on the bronzy colored web of the blue and yellow spiders spotted constantly along trails at night?
Speaking of trails, due to the shallow soil, downed trees are extremely common. Those downed trees obviously don’t discriminate as to where they decide to fall. On more than one occasion, Julio used his trusty machete to hack a new trail through the jungle, all while shouting, “do not touch anything!” at us, as he hacked away. Those trails were covered in mushrooms of all shapes, colors and sizes. Julio very nicely informed us, ” All mushrooms in the jungle are edible… at least once.” Ahh… Julio. His sense of humor rarely failed. Plus, he gave us crackers to feed to piranhas on an oxbow lake – who doesn’t want to play with supposed flesh-eating fish?
#4 IT’S WET
Yeah, it’s a rainforest, that’s to be expected. But damn! Upon arrival in Cusco, at a whopping 11k feet in elevation, everything (and I do mean everything) inside my backpack was wet. Clothes had to be hung up to dry, paper was soggy, playing cards had expanded so much so that the box could no longer contain them… damn you moisture! And I thought GA was bad.
A FEW LITTLE EXTRAS…
Puerto Maldonado – the best word I can describe this place as is DEPRESSED. Small, single roomed dwellings with no glass in the windows… a man living under what I can only classify as a lean-to… few paved roads… no running water or electricity… smalls boys playing on a dirt mound with a chicken. I couldn’t imagine living quite like that.
Tambopata EcoLodge – accessible only by boat from an Amazon tributary, the lodge operates only absolutely necessities on a generator. The lodge winds through a patch in the jungle, cabins occupying the back half. Those cabins, while they possess running water, that water is not heated and you absolutely cannot drink from the tap. Windows consist of mesh wiring to protect against mosquitos. Those imperfect “windows” were supplemented by the olive green mosquito netting around the beds. While most things were bare necessities, Tambopata Lodge made certain to stock its bar, and provide excellent food.
The Stars – Never in my life have I seen that many stars. With absolutely no ambient light coming from anywhere, given we were literally in the middle of nowhere, the number of stars visible was astonishing. The Milky Way swirling through the sky, Orion’s Belt, and a multitude of other constellations I don’t know the names of. The whole sky was alight. I have been in rural areas in the States, but that can’t hold a candle to viewing the night sky in the Amazon.
Panther – Can’t forget the resident feline, who chilled on the chair next to me for hours.