Amazon jungle

For this leg of the trip we purchased air flight tickets from Star Peru Airlines to fly from Cuzco to Puerto Moldavia in the Amazon. We had decided to negotiate our tour and accommodations once we arrived. We wanted 4 nights and 5 days at a river retreat jungle lodge. Janet did a good job on this negotiation saving us 30%.  The transport picked us up within the hour and took us to the dock at the water edge. We had signed up with Carlos Expeditions, with its trip advisor award, and headed downstream to the Monte Amazona Eco Lodge in a 24 foot wooden boat with simple canopy. Our boat group included a Peruvian family with a teenage daughter, Alejandra, who ospoke wonderful English, and the rambucsious 5 year old named "Ricardo".  Ricardo became famous right away when the van transport was pulling away and he was walking down the street in the opposite direction. Mama yells out "Ricardo , Ricardo"---we stop and pick him up. The rest of the week Ricardo became a mascot of sorts with his devil may care attitude. 

We were again inspired, boating down the Amazon River - who would have thought we would be  doing this in our life. The air was fresh, the water was light tan, not green or blue. The Amazon was about 1/2 mile wide in this stretch, but you could observe 10-12 foot cliffs at the shore, indicative of the high water the rainy season would bring in the next few months. If fully flooded the Amazon would expand to 1 mile wide or even wider. All the cabins and the lodge at Monte are  on stilts and the walk ways were elevated; our guides said in the rainy season the lodge would close and the water may come over the banks and reach the lodge well inland. 

When we arrive at the lodge there are gang blanks leading to stairs up the cliff to a small pavilion.  See picture below

Our Eco lodge, like most others is rustic. We have a cabin with private shower and bath. The cabin has screens on 3 sides with pull curtains for privacy and mosquito nets over the bed---but no wifi, no hot water and electric only from 5:30 to 9:30 pm. Our cabin was by the pool which is great since it gets so hot and humid in the jungle. Our first lunch was at a table with Ricardo's family. The teenage sister spoke English well enough and translated between us. She worried about her ability as she did not practice much, but we praised her and thanked her. It was very pleasant. The lunch was good. In fact all the meals were very flavorful. And after a hot day, the cervasa (beer) never tasted better.

We settle in and then meet for our first activity-- feed the monkeys on "Monkey Island"; back on the wood boat again up stream to the beach of the island. Our guide leads us into the bush and then the jungle hacking away with a machete. As we reach a clearing our guide sticks the machete in the ground and our group then could hear monkey howls and jump between trees. While we are looking into the trees, little Ricardo goes for the machete, which is snatched away by.  The monkeys quickly arrive and the guild feeds them cut fruit.  He assures us that the monkeys do not live off the food from the lodge, but clearly they are use to humans, see the picture below of how close they came to us. As the monkeys came down the trees I gently guided Ricardo's head to the view. He started counting and was mesmerized. The guide directed our attention to this Alpha female that came to him and simply reached into his bag and took the fruit she wanted. At one point she jumped down between us all and strutted down the path on which were standing. We all moved back to clear the way. She did not seem bothered by us. It was pretty amazing.

That first night we got back on the transport boat and went shining for caiman on the shores of the Amazon. The driver floats the boat toward the shore--engine off. The quide shines his powerful light toward the shore looking for sparkling eyes. When we see the eyes we move silently closer. The caiman, look like skinny alligators, and scatter on the beach or duck under the water. Their skin is alternating light and dark bands. We repeated the process several times. It was a nice outing especially in the dark.

Our Second  day in the jungle starts early, breakfast at 4:30, good and simple, eggs, fresh rolls with jam and coffee that is so strong we are provided hot water to cut in in half.  We are on the boat by 5:00 am and head up river to the Reservea National Tambopata lead by Johan. Our group is large so we split up-- English speakers and Spanish group. Ricardo is with the  Spanish group--I wonder if he can keep quiet enough so as not to scare the animals. Our large canoe carries 10 people. We shove off down a narrow channel and meet up with the incoming ranger-- side by side-- the ranger accuses our guide of taking one of his paddles--an argument in Spanish ensues. I'm sure Johan promises to bring it back but finally our guide relents, as he should because he did jump over a couple boats to get a better paddle-- he paddles us backwards, exchanges paddles and off we go to the most tranquil, beautiful and virtually round lake. We move at a very slow pace along the shore. Here we see some wonderful creatures--colorful birds, a tree trunk lined with bats in a straight line, and camin-- both small and large--we have a video of an adult camin swimming in the middle of the lake (once our computer is fixed we will post it & other videos as well). Luckily the sky is hazy, no direct sun, making the 2 hour trip cooler. We return to the dock and stop at the ranger station for a special passport stamp, then walk through the jungle back to our transport boat. This was an especially nice trip both for the nature and because the English speakers started to bond-- not just people on a ride, but now cordially interacting. Janet makes many friends as our little group was composed of 2 women from Australia (formerly from Russia), 2 young women who met in the UK--one Brit and one New Zelander, and a lovely Peruvian from Lima. We took all our future excursions together. As both groups prepared to ship back on the Amazon, our departure was delayed; Ricardo was clinging to drift wood on the beach and would not leave. We started to back the entire boat into the river, but he would not budge. That bit of child psychology failed, so his dad jumped off the boat and swung him over his shoulder without a peep from the dad or Ricardo. Lodge bound and looking forward to a jump in the nice clean pool that was right by our cabin; cold but refreshing.

 

At dusk we meet our guide and group for a jungle night walk.  Our first stop is less than 5 feet from our lodge to watch a huge tarantula on a tree!  It was as big as my hand and very hairy. We actually saw 3 types of tarantulas--brown, pink footed, and the giant black--no scientific jargon here. 

On day three our group has shrunk to 5 people and we have a new guide.  Today is a combo day.  We start with kayaking on the Amazon. We the boat and travel up river, Marco our guide offers no suggestions other the "don't lose the paddle or you pay for it".  These are plastic two person kayaks that sit in the water, it was easy the current is good and we have a nice trip down.  Wow kayaking in the Amazon.   We meet up with the boat and Marco our guide back at monkey island for a swim.  The water is warm and the current is surprisingly strong.

In the afternoon  we meet for zip-lining and  canopy walk.  The zip is easy and no worries.  The first canopy walk was a 2x4 plank suspended with a cable, the board had several places where the wood had rotted and was wrapped with rope, we had to walk hand over hand on this plank about 50 feet in the air, it was scary for some.

In the afternoon we had rest time and we again took advantage of the pool, it was hot over 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.  At 4:00 pm (the top heat of day) a small group of us walked with Marco  through the jungle with simple fishing sticks and line until we reached a pond and creek. The bait was cubes of  meat. Drop the line and you can see small Paranea nibble and strike at the meat. These fish are not catchable, so we have to be patient-very patient- as we fished for about 2 hours with out much luck. I didn't fret-- it was ok--after all I was fishing in the Amazon basin and as the sun set over the creek the reflective view of the dusk was spectacular. As I dreamed on I did get a hard strike and waited to make sure the bait was taken-- I had me a fish! Our initial story to our friends was it was a large Parana, but we confessed it actually it was a catfish. Thankfully our guide caught 2 catfish so at dinner we were treated to the fresh fish as appetizers--so tasty and perfectly spiced -- even with the heads on. We did not eat the electric eel our guide also caught. UGLY-- flat head like a giant worm, light brown with spots, it wiggled and curled up the line. The home trek through the jungle was in the dark, but no problem with out IPhone lights.

 

Last day thebin the jungle

Buzz, buzz, buzz--snooze--buzz, buzz, turn off the alarm 3:45. Get up and dress in the clothes layed out the night before--back pack ok-- out the door at 4:00. We walk down to the dock house in the dark using our IPhone lights. We are first to arrive. Then comes Marco-- handsome guide guy--who calls for driver. No answer so he rouses him out of bed. He bangs the boat off another boat and Marco hands us life jackets. Finally we clear the dock and head up stream at high RPMs to watch parrots eat breakfast. We pass the city and go under a mini version of the Machinac bridge. As I look back I see the sunrise. The Amazon twist like a snake, so later the sunrise is to starboard. The wind is high due to our speed--we flip up our hoods and cross our arms for warmth. We both closed our eyes for awhile too. This is the dry season so the banks rise 10 feet and at this point the river is about 50 meters wide says our guide. But these banks and the beaches forecast an immense influx of water in the rainy season that starts in late October/ early November and will widen the river to 1 KM in some places. We are told the entire lodge and camp will be flooded and closed; that is why the buildings are on 5 foot stilts.

We are the first boat to arrive from all the lodges to the special place where parrots and macaws congregate for morning breakfast. We first saw a large macaw --red, yellow tail-- sitting on a nearby fence. With powerful binoculars we watched the tree line for parrots--and saw small green birds--parrots-- jumping from branch to branch. We backed the boat up went downstream to a high red cliff at waters edge, with vines hanging down. Now comes the fun!  All of a sudden hundreds of green parrots, some with blue head feathers & some with yellow cheeks, land in the vines. Then in waves they jumped to the red banks and pecked at the salts and minerals in the dirt. These mineral apparently enhance the color of their feathers and make them more attractive for mates. It is like a blanket of parrots. There are a few larger macaws as well-- they have long tail feathers. The feeding frenzie goes on for about 15-20 minutes. What a treat. We had a box breakfast with hot coffee as we watched. It was a great early morning. We got back to the dock at 7:50 am. No more planned activities until late afternoon.

We prepared for a walk in the jungle again; this walk is for vegetation review with Marco, a self proclaimed floral specialist. He lead us, just Janet and me, with a machete through the jungle. At first we were on a path then went into more dense jungle. No scientific terms here. We observed the following:

Hard shell palm tree that is good house for tarantulas; a shedding bark tree; poison mushrooms; thistle tree with spikes that move under your skin; giant Amazon trees, giant red Amazon trees, strangler trees that wrap around and envelope the trunks of other trees, termite nests, red ants nesting inside trees, army ants marching in a long row, large black ants in clusters, monkey fruit with hard shells, beetle fruit with hard shell where beetle drills a hole and and lays egg that grows to larvae, tremendous Tarzan vines hanging from massive trees, and walking trees that have roots that grow out and shift location to move the tree toward sunlight. 

I Should note that the guide and I split a beetle larvae which tastes like coconut; we cut out about 1 inch of a termite tunnel that was repaired at the end of our trek; crushed termites give off an evergreen oil scent  that is a natural bug repellant. We walked back in the dark on an alternate path that was blocked by a fallen tree and had to follow our guide with his machete cutting a new path. Home safely and very instructive. Jumped in the pool to cool down. A great day. Pack for tomorrow's 8:00 am transfer.

in conclusion, Janet and I talked about this jungle lodge. It was a treat. It allowed for us time for reflection and communing with nature. The pace was slow but the activities worthwhile and downtime welcomed. Swimming in the pool, swinging in the hammock-- no suntanning too hot; but writing notes on the porch and absorbing the surroundings--both the sights and sounds. The animals ,insects and birds sounding off at 6:00 ---7:00 am then quiet until dusk when the volume cranks up again , intertwined  like a melody. In our wildest dreams we never thought we would travel the Amazon basin of South America. An experience to savor!