Puerto Maldonado, Peru
03.05.2011 - 07.05.2011
We had been through canyons, desert, high altitude altiplano and the mountains. Now it was time to experience the jungle. After spending a day in the city of Cusco in the Sacred Valley, we flew to the town of Puerto Maldonado in the south of Peru's Amazon basin. The (very expensive) flight took all of 45 minutes, which we booked after reading that the road between Cusco and our destination was horrendous and took over 20 hours. We since discovered that the new transatlantic highway had been built through this section and now takes a mere 11 hours. Nevertheless, the bird's eye view was amazing - as we watched the terrain below transformed from dramatic mountains draped in cloud to dense, lush canopies of forest.
We were met at the airport by our jungle guide, Paul, from the Explorers' Inn Lodge where we were to spend the next 4 days, just the 2 of us in our group, with our own personal guide! A few hours later by bumpy bus and scenic boat, we arrived at the lodge on the banks of the Tambopata River. Not quite a wide as the Amazon, the Tambopata River was still wider than any river we had ever seen, and made the perfect setting for immersing ourselves into the life of the jungle. Our room was a wooden bungalow with a thatched roof, and we slept inside mosquito nets. We were fed a consistent diet of soup for lunch and dinner followed by some sort of chicken or vegetarian dish, always with rice. Being surrounded by banana trees, bananas were in abundance, and we soon became addicted to deep fried banana chips, served fresh, warm and salty - the perfect accompaniment to our evening cerveza or pisco sour.
On our first night, our guide took us on a night jungle walk, stopping on the way to freak out at fist-sized spiders nesting with their giant baby spiders, and photograph cute tree frogs as well as other weird jungle insects. Gumboots were a wardrobe staple here as the jungle was still drying out after the rainy season and we often found ourselves trudging through ankle-deep, thick mud.
Our second day kicked off with a harsh 4.30am start, and a short boatride downriver to a claylick on the river bank for some bird-watching. Inside a bird-watching shelter we sat patiently (and sleepily) binoculars in hand (true jungle style) waiting for birds to fly onto the walls and feed off the mineral-rich clay. Eventually they came - chestnut-fronted macaws and parrots, the macaws being the coolest ones to watch. We also got to see dusky titi monkeys swinging from tree to tree high above us.
Later that morning we visited a local farm by the river, walking through plantations of banana, papaya and orange trees, samping the fruit along the way. We also attempted to visit the largest tree in the jungle, but after much jungle bashing we were thwarted by a large expanse of water. Although our guide did attempt to cross with a rickety raft that had Ali with water up around here ankles before the attempt was aborted. Later that day back at the lodge, we got up close with some playful, hungry little tamarind monkeys who couldn't get enough of our bananas.
That night we went out on the boat to search for caimans , small members of the alligator family native to South America, using a huge spotlight. This turned out to be pretty boring, firstly when the boat's engine wouldn't start, and even after we all swapped to another boat, we saw one tiny caiman very fleetingly and then just the tail of one other. Despite the lack of caiman sightings being out on the river at night under a canvas of bright stars was pretty special, although Trav does not share this view!
Our third day in the jungle started cruelly again, with a 5am breakfast in preparation for our round-trip 6 hour hike to Lake Cochochaca. Our guide had promised us otters, so it was otters we were determined to see. After 3 hours trekking a la gumboot style through thick jungle which our guide would frequently slash at with his machete, we reached the lake. The lake was breathtaking, once connected to the Tambopata river centuries ago, but now isolated, surrounded by thick jungle and home to lots of wildlife. And there were the otters! A family of giant otters were playing,swimming and catching their breakfast of fish in the early morning sun.
We then paddled a 'catamaran' (2 canoes welded together) out around the lake and got up close to two sunbaking turtles, saw an elegant snake bird flying over the lake, and spotted monkeys high up in the trees.
We lazed away the rest of our last day siesta-ing and swimming in the warm rusty water of the river.
The next morning we made the journey back to Puerto Maldonado where we spent the day swinging in hammoks at our hostel and devouring tropical flavoured ice cream in the humid heat. We also visited a terrible reptile park where the only highlight of seeing the cruelly-housed animals was that Ali got to hold a snake for the first time, with only mild trepedation. The next day we were back on the plane to Cusco, to get ready for our Inca Trail!