Amazon Rainforest, near Puerto Maldonado, Peru - January 30-31, 2015
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Oh my God! Oh my God! This is in fact the real deal.
We flew to Cusco and then on to the airport at Puerto Maldonado. We had a 45 minute drive via van on a dirt road to the river, then a 45 minute ride by a long, motorized canoe to the "port" -- a rough wooden platform tied to a steep mud bank. On the boat trip we stopped to see a small group of blue and red macaws eating mud from a salt lick. After leaving the boat at the dock we climbed up a tall hill and then hiked another 30 minutes on a muddy path through the jungle to reach the lodge. On the hike we saw a howler monkey, another smaller variety of monkey, and a bushmaster snake swiftly swimming across a puddle. It had rained for several hours before we arrived so the air was filled with heavy moisture.
The lodge is totally open air and primitive but nice none the less. Since our flights had been delayed, we had to immediately embark on our first hike. We put our things away in our open-air room, took a few quick photos, and joined our guide, Harrison, who introduced us to the boot rack were we found tall rubber boots in our sizes and headed out for this first adventure through the jungle toward the tower. The tower is , a 120 foot metal structure that looks a little like the old forest ranger towers that once existed in US forests. We climbed to the top. Once there, we felt like king of the mountain, looking out over the layered canopy of trees, palms and vines each seeking their share of sunlight. We stood on the platform a long while patiently watching for the sights. We could see the river as it curved through the jungle. We spotted a huge Brazil nut tree and a variety of birds enjoying the cool of the late day and preparing to roost. Monkeys could be heard in the distance. Pairs of parrots flew by over the river and also flew nearby us in the tower. We found a wild turkey in a treetop not too far away.
The plant, insect and animal life we pass on these hikes is simply mind-boggling! We have learned about walking palms, erotic palms, cacao trees, Iron trees, and papaya trees. There is a beautiful array of vines that seem to choke and climb over everything. We have seen frogs and lizards, bees, butterflies and termites as well as millipedes and beetles. Harrison is intent on finding a tarantula for us.
We returned back to the lodge just in time for a glass of wine and dinner at 7 pm. We met another couple from Tampa and had our meal with them. Lights provided by the generator went out at 9 pm. Lodge staff had positioned mosquito nets around our bed and we were tired, but the evening air was far too warm and humid. Of course, there were sounds from animals and insects as well but had the air been cooler the sounds would not have been totally unpleasant. No sleep. Our bed was just too hot and too clammy to allow it. All in all it was a pretty miserable night.
We had a 4 am wake-up—who cares, we were awake anyway. We had a nice breakfast and put on our jungle safari gear, cameras, binoculars, and boots and hiked out to the river. Hiking on a rough, muddy trail through the jungle in the dark with a flashlight at 5 am is UNNERVING!
Another motorized canoe took us down the river to another "dock," where we began another hike that lead to Oxbow Lake, a natural lake formed by the Tambopata River as it changed course. There we boarded a homemade catamaran paddled by an Inferno ranger and his 8-year old son. ---- I loved this little guy! He spoke no English but we got along. He was a big helper to his dad and showed that he was learning and already knew a lot about being a nature guide. After a while, he became bored with being the "little man" and the little boy emerged. He found a stick and began shooting Stan with his "gun." Of course, Stan played along and would fall-out and act dead or wounded for a moment. We all giggled.
We saw one member of a family of giant otters swimming across the lake; we saw water fowl and stinky birds. These fancy chicken-like birds have two stomachs like cows so their diet of young leaves can be digested - apparently this digestion process causes them to be quite smelly.
Then, the highlight of the trip, we stopped the boat and tied up to the bank. The little boy untied a bundle of sticks that turned out to be fishing poles. The ranger chopped some meat with his machete and we fished for piranha and sardines. It was great fun. Those piranhas have teeth!!!!
All this occurred before 8:30 am!! We returned to the lodge for a little break and hiked out once again at 10 am through the jungle to a blind made of palm fronds. We could peep through holes in the blind to watch Macaws from a close view as they socialized, ate mud and screeched at each other.
Harrison says we have one more trek later today. We are going to hike to the botanical garden in which we will see medicinal plants, but for now it is lunch and siesta time.
UPDATE!! We went on that next adventure. Oh yes! We hiked once again through the jungle to the river and were joined by a band of locals who work at the lodge and were going home for their Sunday. It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon so Stan and I for once, decided to go light. We left the backpack, jackets, and raingear in the room at the lodge. We traveled in the motorized canoe about 20 minutes down river when suddenly black clouds formed overhead and wind picked up. Stan said calmly, "We are about to get our asses wet!" Within minutes the wind and rain was ferocious. The river became an ocean of waves. Stan started doing his airplane-turbulence-slap-the-seat dance. We both were scared. Sheets of rain were drenching us. Trees along the bank began falling into the river, one after another. The locals in the boat with us began shouting in their native language, obviously fearful, as our boat driver tried to maneuver our giant canoe to some area of greater safety. Honestly it was like being on an angry sea. All I could think was that we could capsize or our boat could be hit by a falling tree.
Finally, the weather calmed a bit but kept raining. After an hour or so, we made it back to our lodge's "dock" you know, the homemade wooden platform. But the river had risen so much that we could not reach it. We had to jump to the muddy bank and thank God, it was firm not slippery. We started the hike back to the lodge only to see that the trail was blocked over and over again by fallen trees. We climbed over some and under some. When finally we made it back to the lodge we learned that several 100 ft. trees had fallen there too. The lodge was hit in several places. Walkways and the roof just down from our room were crushed by fallen trees. One person was hit by falling debris, but thank goodness no one was seriously injured. Stan thinks the sudden rain was accompanied by a micro-burst of wind that caused the severe damage.
My God, what a wild, exciting, scary afternoon in the Amazon forest!