Katie, Em and I said a final good-bye to Cuzco early in the morning and headed out to catch a short flight to Puerto Maldonado, where we started our journey into the Amazon! The flight went fine, and we were super lucky and got to take part in an emergency fire drill at the Cuzco airport before we boarded the plane and took off. Nothing like a good fire drill to get your adrenalin up and running.
We touched down in Puerto Maldonado and were thrilled to instantly feel warm, balmy air seeping in from outside. We waited for what seemed like forever for all of our luggage to show up at baggage claim (but were grateful it all did show up, eventually), and then we walked outside and were greeted by sunshine and a bright smile from Natalia, who had a sign with our names on it and would be our guide for the next two days. We crowded onto an already crowded bus and were debriefed. First stop was the office where some people would leave bigger luggage behind, then we'd load up on water and other supplies and head off to the second stop, a dock where we would catch a boat to the eco-lodge.
I loved how different all the greenery and even the sky was from everywhere else we'd been in Peru. And, after a few very cold evenings up in Lake Titicaca, I was ready to get a little sweaty.
I was looking forward to the boat ride on the Tambopata river - it had been one of the things I'd been looking forward to the most. We climbed gingerly into a long, banana shaped boat that rocked back and forth quite a bit as the rest of the group slid and stumbled in. We all got arranged and put on our life jackets (very fashionable ones, I might add) and then sped off! They passed out a box lunch for us to eat that wasn't half bad. It wasn't exactly half good either, but it took care of things. I was as happy as could be, feeling the wind in my face and watching the shoreline dotted with palms and wild jungle pass by. Our boats had little roofs over them, and it was a good thing, as about 30 minutes into our ride, the sky darkened and let loose with some pretty ferocious rain. I would hate to see what it is like in the wet season.
Lucky for us, it didn't last long, and by the time we arrived at the lodge, the sun was back out. We had a brief orientation with Natalia and met the couple who would also be a part of our group, then we got our cabin assignment and marched off to find it. The lodge only had electricity in the main cabin where we would eat our meals, and there was no hot water, but all in all, I wouldn't say we were really roughing it too badly. I mean, we had cheetah print bedspreads, for god sake.
At the Explorer's Inn, they don't waste anytime getting you out on the trails. We got ourselves sorted out, and then met Natalia just as the sun went down 'to uncover everything that moves,' as she put it.
Flashlights in hand and covered with a thick layer of mosquito spray, we set out, literally, into the jungle. It was awesome. Now, as I have written before, I am not exactly nature girl. When I was in sixth grade, I went on a girl scout camping trip and ended up spending the second night in the minivan with my mom (also not a nature girl) because I was over sleeping with spiders and whiny, complaining 11 year old girls (even though I was one of them. ahem.) But, these days, get me out in a place I've never been to before, and suddenly, I am all about finding spiders, bugs, beetles, ants that can paralyze you, and tree frogs. Here are a few of the little buggers we found that night (and yes, that is a tarantula nest!)
Natalia informed us that it was mating season, and that this was a 'sensitive time' for the animals. As we trooped through the jungle, walking over deep chasms and trickling rivers on little wooden plank 'bridges,' we could hear sounds all around us. About this time, my flashlight batteries began to fizzle. For real. In the distance, we could hear a deep, throaty roar. We asked Natalia what she thought it was. She paused until we heard it again, and then said 'A cat. Probably looking for a mate.' Cat. As in jaguar? Hmmm.
Just then, we ran into a colony of fire ants and had to skip over them as quickly as we could. Meanwhile, the deep, throaty roar sounded like it was getting a little closer to us. Then, it was definitely getting closer to us. My flashlight conked out for good right around this time, so I had to depend on Em and Katie to help light my way. Not exactly the position one wants to find themselves in as a 'cat' is roaring through the amazon at you.
Suddenly, Natalia stopped and asked us to be quiet. We stopped dead in our tracks. I found it a little thrilling, though I sorely wished my flashlight hadn't croaked. It was pretty damn dark out there. Poor Em was not into it at all, though, and I have never seen her eyes so big. I figured as long as Natalia didn't seem worried, we were probably ok. We could hear the roar pretty close to us. We stood stock still, watching Natalia for cues. She was not moving at all. The cat roared again, and then we heard it swish past us just about six feet away in the bushes, which snapped and parted as it swooshed by. Natalia paused for a moment, I guess to make sure it was gone,and then began to lead us out of the jungle back to the lodge, though not before we spied some monkeys up in the trees throwing things in our direction. All in all, it was a pretty exciting first walk!
The next morning, we rose at 4:30AM and hiked 5km to a lake. On the way, we spotted more bugs, lots of beautiful plants, some macaws feasting on tree tops, and more monkeys:
At the lake, we got into little canoes and were paddled around the lake by our guides in search of river otters, but sadly, didn't spot any. We did see tons of different birds, some bats and some piranha action in the water, though, which was pretty cool. Then, we took a different trail back to the lodge, ate some lunch, and had the afternoon to do as we pleased. I was zapped. Between hiking 10k in total and the heat, I was plum exhausted and took the opportunity to nap after a nice, cold shower.
The agenda that evening included watching the sunset over the river:
and then going caiman hunting before dinner. This was a really great part of the trip-back out on the river in the little banana boats in near total darkness and an almost full moon. Natalia stood at the helm of the boat with a giant flashlight (the only one on the boat), skimming the surface to spot caimans by the eerie red reflection their eyes give off when caught by light. We saw several, moving along in the water, and this one on the shore:
We spent our last night in the Amazon, and in Peru, out on the deck of the lodge drinking pisco sours and quizzing one another with a very old set of trivial pursuit cards, enjoying being hot and looking forward to Argentina. It was probably one of the best nights of the trip.
Me vs. RA on the trip of lifetime scorecount: 7 and 0
Next up: Paradise = Iguazu Falls. Who doesn't love waterfalls, steak, pools and cocktails?