It’s been a dizzy two days into our tour so far, the first day ending with a fabulous Chinese (Chifa) welcoming dinner treat that Marta (our Profesora) hosted at a private resort located right next to the Pacific Ocean, with members of her family in attendance to see her and meet us. Altogether, there had been seven meals total that I neither had to plan or prepare (hurrah!) , two nights with not enough sleep (is there EVER enough sleep on vacations?), and finally it’s Wednesday so we’re on the way here to the Amazon Jungle, a place that’s always been steeped in romance and mystery in my mind. I watch the mountainous terrain out the airplane window wondering about the wildlife and adventure that lies just ahead along Peru’s eastern coast.
We finally landed in Puerto Maldanodo after a brief stopover of our domestic flight in Cuzco where I remembered the reported altitude of nearly 12,000 feet. As we weren’t allowed to deplane, even to sniff the air (or lack of it), I didn’t feel any different than yesterday. Of course we had taken the advised precaution of starting our high altitude pills in Lima the morning before.
One of the greatest things about a planned tour is the fact you never worry about how to get where you need to be when you get where you’re going because there’s always a bus, a driver, and guide(s) waiting to greet you as soon as you’re off the plane. Our guides (there were several representatives at this point), most of whom lived in and had families in Puerto Maldonado joined us on the bus to transfer us to the Refugio Amazonas field office for Jungle Expeditions. On the way they made us gently aware of the community’s ecotourist effort by giving us this snack tray to eat along the way. You can see there’s a bottle of water, some locally made chips and nuts plus that beautiful little banana–all packed in a reusable, locally woven reed basket they collected at the end of the ride–almost no waste with fancy packaging, the only “waste” being the plastic bottles and which were collected at our destination.
During a brief rest stop here we were able to use the banos (bathrooms) and stretch our legs a bit–some of us even tried a few bottles of the local beer–before we were transfered by bus and personally assigned guides, Elder and Aldo (about whom you’ll learn more and see in photographs in a future post), to the Tambopata river dock where this new form of transportation waited.
With lifejackets for all and much needed assistance from the Jungle Expeditions staff, all of us climbed aboard and figured out how to get our individual Mae West style jackets on. What may not be apparent in this picture is how steep and muddy and slippery the river banks were, and a climb either up or down was required every time we had to either enter or depart the several different boats we were to use the next two days.
In my mind’s eye, the Amazon river passages have always been treacherous and narrow waterways with gnarled tree limbs awash with snakes lunging or crocodiles snapping at the boat during every bend and turn. In truth, the journey–here in Peru at least–was tranquil and without incident.
While we did spot wildlife now and again (thanks for our guides with their perfect jungle vision), it wasn’t as up close and personal as I hoped. The ride was beautiful and memorable regardless, and since it was already sometime early afternoon (around 3 p.m. as I recall), the guides passed lunch around for each of us.
What we had was a fried rice mixture of scrambled eggs and veggies wrapped in banana leaves, an easy travel and serve meal. After finishing there were no paper plates to clog or pollute the river and we could simply throw the banana leaves away without worry. The leaves breakdown easily and quickly in the water, and any leftovers serve as fish and river critter food. Another good ecological example.
Along the way we saw several rodents, capybara, that looked a lot like a huge pig and in fact are members of the guinea pig family. Sorry those photos didn’t turn out well. There were also numerous sightings of Macaws and other exotic birds and of course we oft times heard screeching monkeys. Our guides assured us that even though we weren’t able to spot the monkeys or more scarey creatures, THEY most certainly saw us. I couldn’t decide if I was happy about that–or maybe a tiny bit disappointed.
By the way, I thought you might like to see the gangplank (is it still called that?) we used to embark and disembark the boat.
This may not look terribly interesting due to the distance, but it’s a boat used for gold panning. We saw it at least twice and it was always moving river water through the “sifter” with a power motor. There’s a couple of workers inside also that you can barely see. At various times we also saw people, especially children, fishing or enjoying themselves swimming and splashing. I even saw a few washing clothing in the water’s edge. It was easy to see the peoples’ strong connection to this river, the Tambopata.
When we were planning the tour, we chose the lodge we’d stay in by the number of hours we wanted to cruise the river enroute. There was a stop 30 minutes in, as well as the one we chose, about two and a half or three hours. After half an hour we stopped and unloaded the passengers who chose the shorter cruise and then continued on for several hours until we reached our lodge, the Refugio Amazonas. Since it begins to get dark around 5:30 p.m., we began the long hike to the lodge in daylight, but by the time we made it the mile or so by foot to arrive at our forest lodge, night had fallen–a great excuse for a few of our group to stop for beer and wine. Then, before dinner, we checked out our digs for the next three nights.
Here’s our room. (Actually these photos were taken the next afternoon while it was still daylight.) Note that you’re actually looking out into the forest through the open side. There was no fourth wall, only a little overhang of thatch you can see at the top, designed to keep rain out, but not bugs. Consequently the mosquito nets above the beds were a must have! What a hassle it was to get in and out of bed without leaving an opening for the bugs to get in. And for some reason I kept having to get up every few hours to pee. That figures, right!? Oh yes, we learned to sleep with our flashlight helmets in our bed so we could see to get to the bathroom because it was pretty dark otherwise. There’s NO electricity except for 4 hours or so each day in the main lodge and the lodge-provided kerosene lights which the staff turned out every night around 9 p.m.
Marta provided a citranella candle for each of our rooms, which provided an eerie glow. Several times I’d wake up to see outlines of gigantic bugs along the outside of the netting. We set our candle on the wooden ledge and it burned well into the early hours of morning. We didn’t get much time to enjoy the hammock, but it was located in the perfect place, don’t you think? At night the room was filled with cricket, frog, and bird trills, and probably others that we didn’t recognize.
The bathroom had bamboo walls and floor, complete with cracks in the floor. Hubby accidentally dropped a pill on the floor and it went through the cracks. We learned not to open our meds in this room. Since it was a malaria pill, Hubby assured me none of the bugs and snakes below the floor would get malaria. (He meant to do that!)
The shower and bath faucets only provided cold water! The temperatures were pretty high outside with humidity of about 98%, so cold showers means REALLY COLD. Unfortunately it was hard to skip a shower because we all sweated so much during our long hikes and you WANTED that shower regardless of the cold. In the morning, the clothes we laid out to put on at 5:00 the next morning were already damp and actually had to dry on our bodies when the sun rose. Several members of our group reported frog visitors in their showers, but unfortunately only roaches seemed to visit us in our room! We had to be very careful to zip or latch everything all the time as they came out at night to crawl everywhere. YUK! I’d take frogs over roaches any day!
It was getting pretty late, so we all gathered back in the dining area for dinner which was very good. My eyes were always bigger than my stomach, but it was nice to be able to sample some authentic Peruvian dishes at every meal. Bottled filtered water and fruit were also available at anytime.
And here some of us gather after dinner and wait for the guides and others to learn the plans for the next day, which will begin far too early, but will be well worth it. Tomorrow, among other things I’ll talk about later, we soon learn that we’ll go pirahna fishing.