Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A trip to darkest Peru - Part 2


So, where was I?

Oh yes, I remember. fast asleep in bed after a shattering but fabulous day at Machu Picchu. Well, after a leisurely breakfast and another round of trying to fit all our belongings into the right rucksacks, we headed off to the airport for the flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. It was such a short flight it seemed like no sooner had the fasten seatbelt sign gone off than it was back on again as we started our descent. Not that we actually undid our seatbelts you understand, but the gap between the sign going off and then coming back on is the only time the kids are allowed to play on the iPads during a flight, so it has become a very carefully monitored period of time.

Short or not, the flight was certainly long enough to leave the nice weather behind and we arrived during a downpour so extreme they wouldn't even let us off the aircraft for twenty minutes as it was considered too dangerous to disembark until it had eased somewhat. I should point out that this was the first rain we'd had all week - not bad considering it's still technically the rainy season. In fact, up till this point, we'd had nothing but beautiful clear skies and enough sun for me to get a sunburnt nose.

We stopped in Puerto Maldonado only long enough to collect the rest of our party, pile into a minibus and head out of town along something which only qualifies as a road because vehicles were driving along it. Once upon a time it had been a dirt track, but the constant rains had left it so potholed there really wasn't much of a surface at all and we spent a considerable amount of the journey being hurled around inside the van as the driver blithely ignored all but the most catastrophic craters. Also, much of the track was completely under water and so we slooshed our way along not even knowing what we were driving on.

About an hour later we made it to the "dock" where we were to pick up the boat for the next part of the journey. This was actually nothing more than a gap in the foliage at the side of the road with a muddy track which led down to the side of the river. Apparently the proper dock was inaccessible because the river was so swollen with rainwater that it had risen several metres and this was now the only place we could get to the boat.

We were two hours on the boat, heading upriver into the jungle. The rain stopped, the sun came out, we were fed a nice meal of rice and egg and chicken, all wrapped up in a palm leaf, and suddenly things started to look much more fun.

We were staying in the Tambopata National Reserve, at the Explorers Inn Lodge and we had been warned in advance that the accommodation and facilities were going to be fairly basic. But actually it wasn't at all. Okay, so there was no electricity in our room and everything had to be done by candle, or torchlight, but for a lodge in the middle of the jungle it was actually pretty swish. There was a proper toilet, a shower (cold water only) and a very nice central building which served as a dining room, bar and general meeting place. There was always coffee and tea available, the bar was well stocked and the meals were all excellent.

The first thing we did, after making a complete mess of our room by emptying everything out of our rucksacks and then realising that it was too dark to bother tidying most of it away, was for each of us to go and get kitted out with a pair of wellies. So now we could happily plodge around without worrying about our trainers getting any more covered in mud than they already were.

So that's exactly what we did. Wasting no time at all, we decided to go out on the 'Night Walk' which had been scheduled for our first evening. This was a one-hour wander through the forest around the lodge looking for anything nocturnal that might be around. Of course, by this time the rain had started up again - quite heavily - and for some reason everyone else in our party decided they would much rather stay in and sample the delights of the bar. So it was just Paul, our wonderful and long-suffering guide, and the four of us who ventured out into the darkness.

Oh what fun it was! And thank goodness for the wellies. Most of the path was under water to some extent, and in places it was so far under water I had to carry David so the water didn't flood his wellies. And because most of the wildlife was more sensible than we were, there wasn't that much to see either. We did spot a spiny rat, a mouse, a tree frog and an owl-like bird who was fast asleep and none too pleased about having a powerful flashlight pointed directly into its face for several minutes.

At one point we stopped, turned off our flashlights and just stood silently listening to the forest for a minute or so in the pitch dark. I promise you it was a lot more interesting than it sounds. The place was so noisy, with rain dripping through the canopy of leaves, insects and birds chattering away and the occasional rustle or crack as some animal or other wandered around looking for something to eat. Not us, I should point out. There are pumas and jaguars in the area, but they're quite rare and tend to keep well away from the humans and their lodges.

Back at the lodge we were introduced to a couple of extra guests - two tarantulas - which were happily crawling around on a tree just outside the main building. They were quite common, apparently, and did sometimes come into the rooms, but they weren't dangerous to anything larger than a mouse. Even small children were safe, we were reliably informed.

Our first full day at the lodge was full indeed. Up at four thirty, a quick breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs and coffee and then it was off on a hike down to the oxbow lake 6km away. Although 'hike' is perhaps not the right word for what we were doing. Yet again, the path was water-logged and mostly we were wading, feeling carefully for the roots and vines that were just waiting to trip us up and send us sprawling face-first into the muddy water.

It was slow going. But fascinating at the same time. We drank fresh water from the inside of bamboo shoots, learnt which tree barks could be used as medicines and which leaves could be crushed to make different coloured dyes. We found a tree, known as the walking palm, whose roots grow into a pyramid above ground. It doesn't actually walk, but the area inside the roots is an excellent place to sleep if you're ever stuck out in the jungle overnight as predators can't get in to eat you.

We also painted our faces with purple dye to protect us from the evil spirits of the forest, or something like that.


Eventually we made it to the lake, and after a short break we took to the water in a double canoe for a little explore of the shore - which sadly we couldn't actually see because the river was still so high. We did see some otters though, and an hour in a boat under the baking hot sun was a good opportunity to dry out David's socks - which were clearly a source of some interest to the butterflies.

We took a shorter route back - only 5km this time - but the track was still as muddy and water-logged as the previous one, if not more so. Again it was slow going, and despite our best efforts, we arrived back at the lodge an hour late for lunch. Which was actually pretty impressive, seeing as how the track was so difficult and we were doing it with two children, one of whom had to be carried several times along the way.

Actually, both children were absolute stars. It was a hard enough walk even for adults and they both did the entire thing without a single complaint. They never needed to stop for rests, they never pestered their parents for food or drink, and they didn't even get that dirty along the way and they genuinely found the whole experience interesting and worthwhile. I promise not to forget that for a long, long time.

That afternoon was free time (i.e. sleep and recovery time) and then it was out again in the evening. This time though it was just down to the boat for an hour-long trip up and down the river looking for caimans. The weather was perfect, with a completely clear sky and a full moon to light the way, but sadly the river was still too high and as we couldn't see the river bank, we didn't see any caimans either. Still, the trip was pleasant enough, especially when the pilot cut the engine and just let us drift in silence for a few minutes.

The following morning was our last and we had nothing planned except a bit of packing and a lazy breakfast. However, at the last minute we decided to make the most of our last few hours in the jungle and we again got up at half past four in order to go and sit in a hide along the river to watch the birds come down to a clay lick for breakfast. For those who don't know what a clay lick is, it's exactly what it appears to be. The birds come down to an exposed section of muddy wall and lick the surface. There are a few theories as to why they do it, but the most accepted is that they're doing it to get the sodium out of the dirt. To be honest it was a little bit on the dull side, or at least I thought so. There were plenty of birds (at least by the end), but my camera just isn't up to any serious wildlife photography at anything further than point-blank range and the clay lick was just too far away. The rest of the family seemed to be having a nice time though, so I just sat there quietly and let them get on with it.

After our own clay lick (breakfast back at the lodge) it really was time to leave. The boat ride was only an hour long this time as we were going with the current and the bus ride back into town was slightly less bumpy and soggy. However, we did get stuck in the mud at one point and after several minutes of slipping around without getting anywhere, we all piled out and joined in tugging on the handy rope which had appeared, and which is presumably required equipment for that particular route.

We had five hours to kill before our flight, and Puerto Maldonado is not famed for its plethora of fascinating diversions. However, a lovely German couple who had been travelling with us told us to go and see if we could get lunch at the lodge they had stayed at, and with few other options, we decided to give it a try.

Anaconda Lodge, literally just around the corner from the airport, was absolutely perfect. All we had to do was say that someone had recommended we come and ask for lunch and we were invited in, made comfortable and offered an amazing selection of Thai dishes from the menu. The food was great, and while we were waiting for it, we got the chance to spend time with the owners' collection of pet monkeys, so we did get to experience some of the jungle wildlife after all!



1 Comments:

At 8 July 2013 at 03:16 , Blogger rickeytard said...

Travel to Peru often becomes a journey of a life-time for many tourists. But with many activities to do places to see, many of people confuse about it. Although, it seems you all enjoyed a lot.

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