We caught an evening flight on LAN Airlines to Lima, Peru from Buenos Aires and were transfered to our hotel where we joined our GAP Adventures group. Having heard many negative reviews of Lima we were prepared for the worst but were actually pleasently surprised. We spent two days in the Miraflores area which was clean, modern and as safe as you can expect in South America. The views of the Pacific Ocean and the cliffs high above the beaches were spectacular. With that said, we were strongly advised not to venture into the downtown or suburbs of Lima without a tour guide and proper transportation because the risk of theft and muggings was too high.
The GAP tour started bright and early with a flight to Puerto Maldonado, which is a small, remote and isolated city that borders the Amazon Jungle. The group of 13 jumped on a long, thin river boat and headed 4 hours up the Tambopata River deep into the Amazon where we reached our destination; the Libertador Tambopata Eco Lodge. We spent too nights in very classy wooden huts that had huge open ceilings with screens all around. It felt as if we were actually sleeping in the jungle without the threat of being eaten alive by the jungles thousands of little friends. The lodge is beautiful and spacious with polished wood and comfortable furniture. Although there was no electricity and all lighting was done by candle light and lanterns, we definitely were not ´roughing it´with our solar powered hot showers every morning.
Our brief stay in the Amazon Rain Forest was a great experience. On a night hike, we were fortunate enough to see a sloth at ground level. Of course once he saw a group of 15 people with flashlights and cameras he quickly climbed back into the trees (quick to a sloth is aout 4 minutes!). According to our guides this was an extremely rare thing to see. We saw tarantula spiders along with dozens of other spider species. We saw red howler monkeys, toucans, Red and green macaws, and Caimans, but unfortuntely no Anacondas or Jaguars.
One of the highlights, aside from the jungle hikes, was hunting for the black caimans (a small alligator) at night in the river boat. It had rained that afternoon (imagine that, rain in the rain forest!), and the river had risen about 2 meters. The river current was very strong and it was pitch black, in probably the most islotated places we´ve ever been, in a boat that is being guided by a flashlight. We did manage to see about four caimans ut none of them were over a couple feet, in fact most were very small. I still don´t now how our guide saw these small reptiles nestled in reeds along the shore more than 50 meters away!
Although many people view the jungle as a scary place with thousands of deadly creatures (which is true), it is a very peaceful and calm place that plays a critical role in our global environment. Aside from the lush environment, we learned about how the deforestation and opportunistic governments are destroying the jungle and the tragic outcome that this can (and will) have on our future generations. It was interesting to see the other side and not just the Hollyood portrayal of the Amazon. And of course tourism is having a negative effect on the eco systems as well... isn´t that ironic.
The two days went by quickly but it was a fantastic experience that neither of us will forget. We returned to the city of Puerto Maldonado on the 3rd day and caught a flight to Cusco, where we aclimatized to the high altitude and learned about the rich Incan history prior to our trek of the Inca Trail.