Slowly but surely, I am writing about all the different things I saw and experienced on my recent trip through South America. Right now you can read about La Chascona in Santiago, The Witches Market in Bolivia, and Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca. Today is the fourth instalment, and is about an excursion that was another highlight of the trip – two nights and three days in the Amazon jungle.
From Puno, we took a 4-hour bus journey through the mountains to Cusco. The bus was one of the comfiest I’ve ever travelled on, and I ended up with a seat on the upper floor directly in front of the TV and the huge window looking out over the scenery. So it was pretty awesome, actually, even though I was getting tired of so much travelling. We arrived in the beautiful colonial city of Cusco, and spent the night in a hotel there, before getting up at an ungodly hour to take our taxi out to the airport. Our plane didn’t actually leave till 10am, but the whole city was going into lockdown because of a national protest, so we had to leave the hotel before 6am or we would not make our flight.
I ended up with a window seat on the plane, so I could stare out at the tributaries of the Amazon as they wound their way through the dense jungle like giant, gleaming blue snakes. At the airport we met a Canadian guy named Tom who was in Peru for only a few days and changed his flight at the last minute so he could get to the Amazon. Tom didn’t have any idea what hotel to stay in or trip to take, so we suggested he tag along with us.
We set off in an open-sided bus through the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado, with a stop on the way to buy snacks. Along the road we passed hundreds of people on motorcycles. Most people in the town own motorcycles instead of vehicles, and there are even motorcycle taxis (you can spot them because the passengers wear yellow helmets).
We arrived at a little jetty where we climbed into long wooden canoes. The ride out to our lodge was a bit over an hour down the Madre de Dios River (a tributary of the Amazon), and from our boat we could see birds swooping over the water and strange and wild plantlife growing on the edges of the water.
We arrived at our home for the next two days – an ecological lodge built completely from materials sustainably harvested from the jungle itself – in time for an amazing lunch of quinoa (of course), and chicken and olives cooked in banana leaves. Dessert was platters of delicious, rich fruits, some of which we couldn’t recognise. While we ate, large colourful birds sang to us from the rafters. It was quite magical.
The lodge is completely off-the-grid, a lifestyle I’m pretty used to. Lights only come on at night, and most of the lodge is lit by oil lamps, rather than electricity. There is only power for a couple of hours a day supplied by a generator. The cabins don’t have hot water (although it’s so muggy you don’t even miss it). Every cabin has an outer door and inner door and mesh covering all the openings to prevent insects getting in.
That afternoon we put on some waders (because despite it “technically” being dry season, it rained heavily the previous day. They don’t call it the “rainforest” for nothing) and went off to explore Monkey Island. I went into the jungle thinking I might not see any animals, and that was perfectly OK. I was sure I’d still have an interesting time. But that all changed when we arrived at Monkey Island.
Our guide had some treats for the monkeys and used those to entice them out of the trees. Soon, we were surrounded by gibbering ‘maquisapa’ and black and white ‘Martins’, their inquisitive faces peeking down at us. They swung and dived from the trees to grab the food. One cheeky monkey even climbed up onto my mum’s back! He knocked off her hat and proceeded to eat several bananas while my poor mum stood there petrified with terror!
That night we had another delicious dinner, then mum and I played some pool, before going out on the water in the pitch blackness to look for caimans. The group saw two caimans, although I couldn’t see them myself, but it was OK because just floating on the water listening to the sounds of the jungle and watching the stars above was pretty amazing.
The next day I was woken by the sound of Howler Monkeys. It’s such a weird sound, like some deep, ominous creature coming closer and closer. After another delicious breakfast, we took a hike through the jungle.
Along the way, our guide showed us lots of interesting flora and fauna. This is a Shihuauku tree – an Iron Tree. It’s the oldest tree in the jungle (this one is more than 200 years old) and is extremely strong. The local populations use the tree to make support beams for their houses.
This is my tarantula friend. She is so beautiful. It was an absolute honour to see a creature like this so close up.
The area around this tree is completely dead. Nothing living grows there. That is because this tree trunk is hollow, and filled with fire ants.
The juice of this fruit is a black colour, and it will stain your skin for about three weeks. Local teens use it to make “tattoos” for special celebrations. I got a tattoo of my own – mine was a flower.
Near the end of our hike we reached the edge of the river again, and clambered up this 5-storey platform to watch birds over the water. The platform swayed precariously every time we moved, and when I looked down, I noticed this:
Now that’s reassuring.
However, the view was spectacular! I couldn’t see as many of the birds as other people, but I could definitely see these guys chilling in the trees. Others saw a huge variety of parrots, guacamayos, toucans, camungos, shanshos, herons, and caiman.
Next, we got in a canoe and took a trip through the river back to camp. Maik had to hold the canoe steady so we could all climb on. No one wanted to fall off!
Two bats sleeping under a shade.
After the hike, we returned for a late lunch. Mmmmm, jungle food.
All around the lodge are beautiful gardens filled with parrots and other birds, and butterflies fluttering everywhere. Maik even spotted a capybara!
We were meant to go out on the lake in the afternoon to look at more caimans, but I’d had enough of searching the trees for things I couldn’t see, and the hammocks looked mighty inviting, so I parked my ass in one with a bottle of Peruvian Red Wine (it didn’t even have a name, which is probably a bad sign, as it tasted a bit like monkey piss but did do the job), and we chatted and read and chilled out for the afternoon.
After two wonderful days relaxing and enjoying the jungle, we hopped back on a plane to Cusco, to prepare for the Inca Trail. Which is what I’ll be talking about in my next post.
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