Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours
Chapter 14 – The Jungle
A short flight over the jungle and we were in Puerto Maldonado. As we got off the plane, the jungle humidity hit us at once, we began to sweat before reaching the bottom step from the plane. Across the tarmac and into an equally humid terminal. First we entered the queue for vaccination against yellow fever, if you had a certificate (luckily I did) you didn’t need one, then we met our guide for the next part of the trip.
The Tambopata River – image: AV
First it was to their agency to leave our baggage, for we only needed enough for two nights, and it was senseless to cart all our baggage into the jungle unnecessarily. So it was with a much lightened cargo we were off to the riverfront and after negotiating a narrow wooden plank that was balanced precariously from the muddy riverbank to the boat, we were safely aboard a long motorboat for the four and a half hour trip up river.
We travelled on the Tambopata River, the trip seemed endless. In places the river was wide, in others narrow, sand banks and floating logs were ever present and our driver skillfully steered us between them and kept us from harm.
Lots of cayman on the riverbanks – image: AV
Produce headed for town – image: AV
All along the river we passed small riverside communities, mothers washing clothes in the muddy waters, children playing and diving beside her. Small boats laden with produce heading for town and the markets. And so the scenes continued to repeat themselves until we arrived at the Ranger Station and all sign into the Tambopata Nature Reserve. From here it was only a matter of another quarter hour and we would be at the lodge.
First view of the Lodge – image: AV
From the river we trekked twenty minutes to the lodge and were ushered into the bar for our welcome.
Our first surprise was a small ocelot kitten watching us warily from the rafters. Its big round eyes observing every move. It’s mother had been killed by poachers for her valuable skin and the kitten abandoned to be rescued as a malnutritioned orphan by the lodge guides.
The ocelot kitten, as big as a house cat in the rafters watching the proceedings – image: AV
Our chalets – image: AV
Rooms allotted, we went to our chalets to freshen up before lunch. A very welcome cold shower and change of clothes from those we had travelled in. Then, what else was to do, back to the bar. And guess what? We didn’t get a complimentary pisco sour.
Lunch was quite an elaborate affair, considering that we were in the jungle, but these people were quite obviously used to having tourists with healthy appetites around and they catered to them very well. We left the dining lodge well stuffed.
One of the lizards I spotted in the afternoon – image: AV
We had the afternoon free, there were several marked walking tracks that led from the lodge by a circular route and back. We had time to manage any two of them, so that’s what I did, I managed two of them. It was quite enchanting to walk alone in the jungle, albeit on a formed track. Animal and bird life abounded, monkeys watching discreetly from the trees, vultures flying over head, macaws and various parrots made their ways across the clearings screeching like wounded banshees, giant iguanas scuttled across the trail in fright, more afraid of me than I was of them. So the lone treks were well worth the effort. Tomorrow we would be taken further afield on a longer trek by a naturalist guide. My arrival back at the lodge was nicely timed as several of my companions who had been exploring other trails also arrived. We agreed that after a shower and another freshen up, the bar was the next attraction before dinner.
Once again, we were well fed. Those who wanted were taken on a night trek, to see more of the local inhabitants. It seemed a long way to come and just sit in a bar, even if we were accompanied by a friendly ocelot kitten who walked along the bar accepting friendly hands. So I went along. We didn’t see that much, but the experience of being in the jungle in the dark with only a torch between you and total blindness was unique.
The next morning we were again led on a trek after breakfast. We were introduced to tarantula spiders, great hairy beasts that scared the willies out of the girls and the bravest of us held in our hands having been assured by the guide that they were harmless. They certainly didn’t look harmless, but nevertheless I swallowed my apprehension and briefly played host to a gladly inert hairball for several breathtaking moments, thus proving my manhood, or my stupidity, I haven’t decided yet which.
During the walk we saw parrots, parakeets and macaws by the dozen. The guide named them all, but the names were lost in their sheer numbers. I had long decided there were red and blue ones, green ones and green ones with red heads. Toucans and vultures were present and we saw herons and egrets. There were lizards, which were an acceptable size and iguanas that left doubts.
After our hair-raising experiences with the tarantulas, we were back at the lodge in time for lunch. After lunch, the guides showed us some of the more local inhabitants, the animals that could be found around the complex. Giant inch and a bit long ants that could inflict nasty bites, small snakes, lizards that had a green front end and a brown back end and bobbed their heads up and own as though they were agreeing with you, along with other curiosities like furry caterpillars, and equally coloured butterflies were among the offerings. Also we were treated to a small talk on the local ecology and the animals that we didn’t see.
After which, it was beer o’clock again, so we went to the bar to pay homage to the hour. Dinner time came and went and it was back to the bar, but we had a three o’clock departure to get the morning flight back to Cusco, so the bar session was brief
Back at the airport, pax off, pax on and away
We left in the dark, down river, the trip was a little faster. We had one scary moment when the driver had to swerve violently to avoid a submerged log that could have sent us swimming. After dawn we saw the same communities, people fishing and travelling on the river that we had seen on the outward journey.
We had time for a second breakfast in Puerto Maldonado, collected our left luggage from the agency and taken to the airport. Our flight landed and we duly checked in and boarded.