Although a lurker since UIDs were in the low tens of thousands, I’ve only recently joined DK and never diaried. Selecting a subject for my first was a difficult process, since I didn’t want to jump in with anything like, well, politics, yuh know? There are so many here who do that so well.
I’ve really enjoyed Angelajean’s series on Peru; Cusco, the Inca Trail, and Machu Picchu. So, to break the ice, I thought I’d take a stab at another side of Peru, the Amazon Basin. Mostly a photo diary, but a little information thrown in, meant to complement Angelajean’s far better crafted work. So, with pardons for the crude formatting, follow if you wish ...
Overall, our trip was organized around Machu Picchu (although, alas, not the Inca Trail). One of the things that had attracted us, though, was a planned stay in the Reserva Amazonica, a preserve on the Rio Madre De Dios in the southeast of Peru. We arrived in Lima from Chicago and met up with our small group and guide, Francis. Like Fredi, angelajean's guide, Francis is a veteran of hundreds of Inca Trail trips and a supurb guide for us.
The following morning, we flew to Puerto Maldonado, in southeastern Peru on the Rio Madre De Dios. The plane made a quick stop in Cuzco, enough to get interested in our later return, although not so much from the flying perspective; it takes a long time for a jet to get airborne at that altitude! In Puerto Maldonado, the heat and humidity immediately struck us. We were bused to the river front, where we boarded a long, covered boat, part dugout and part wood slab construction. This transported us upstream for about an hour, passing miles of riverfront farm and jungle. The river was a busy place and obviously the major means of local transportation. The favored boat is the Peque Peque, named after the sound made by the converted, non-marine, Briggs & Stratton motor connected directly to a prop via a long shaft. The boats are steered by swiveling the whole contraption around. Our boat didn’t count because it was powered by a huge Johnson outboard!
Arriving at our destination, our boat nosed into the muddy bank and we scrambled up a wooden stair to a grassy opening in the jungle. The Reserva Amazonica is a private, 25,000 acre ecological reserve and research center supported by a company called Inkaterra, who operate eco-tourism sites at several locations. We found palm-thatched cabanas on stilts, with hammocks, and mosquito netting around the beds, and very nice river/jungle views, but no electricity or hot water. Showers were a little cold and more or less al fresco, with the bathrooms installed in only partially enclosed rooms. All perfectly fine, though. Meals would be served in a central community building and another central building acted as a gathering point for the group, where we could get our briefings every morning.
Settling in quickly, our first activity was a series of walking loops through the surrounding jungle. Ironwood and ficus trees, vines, ferns, insects, flowers, lizards, macaws, etc. I wish I was one who could identify them all, but my background is in geology, not any of the biological sciences, so I’ll let some pics suffice.
That evening before dinner we enjoyed our first Peruvian pisco sour. We were very familiar with the Chilean version, but were not inclined to be judgemental, declaring it a tie. Walking back to our cabana, we discovered a Pink-Toed Tarantula peeking out from its treehouse. Seriously, the tips of its toes are pink. We slept very well shrouded in our mosquito netting and lulled by the sound of Peque Peques plying the river and gold-sluicing operations on the sandbanks across the way.
The following morning we boarded the boat for a 30 minute trip to the Tambopata National Reserve. After a comfortable 2-mile hike into the reserve, we arrived at a swamp and met up with a couple of wood canoes that we took to Lake Sandoval. It wasn’t 9 in the morning yet, but the sun was brutal. Time for sun hats (As a side note, it behooves the traveller to make sure one has brought the sunscreen, not the hand sanitizer.) Francis tied our canoes together in the middle of the lake and we just drifted for a while. Soon, we saw heads bobbing up and down in the distance; a family of Giant Otters. We were seriously lucky to see them, particularly so many together. Up to 2 meters long, top of the local food chain, and a disposition to be respected by all. Not your warm and cuddly otters! But we felt privileged. We spent time patrolling the shore line watching for birds, including a heron high in a tree and a wood rail drying its wings from a branch sticking out of the water. We kept an eye out for sloths and monkeys, but no joy there. Tiny bats keeping out of the sun on the underside of a tilted tree were interesting. Eventually, though, the heat drove us back to the river and "home", where Peruvian wine was a very pleasant surprise. Again, we were familiar with the Chilean wines, dare I say to a fault, but were unaware of the Peruvian industry.
The next days’ morning excursion took us on a canopy walk, viewing the topside of the jungle from rope-suspended walkways 130 feet above the ground. No joy on monkeys, but parrots and lots of large butterflies.
Continuing by boat down the river, we arrived at the mouth of Gamitana Creek, a narrow, muddy waterway that didn't look nearly big enough for our sizable boat. Nonetheless, Francis and his helpers Jose and Moises, maneuvered us upstream until Francis announced "peque-peque viene", our smaller peque peque had arrived for us. We split into two groups, one, including us, for another jungle walk and the other heading up the creek in the peque peque for some fishing. On our walk, led by local guide Moises, sights included a toucan high up in the trees and a frog smaller than our thumbnail, both out of our photographic capabilities, a huge Community Spider web, and baby crickets occupying the underside of a huge leaf. Moises mentioned a friend had spotted a Jaguar in this area recently, which ramped up the energy level a little, but we knew not to expect that. We eventually met up with the other group again, but not a fish in sight. The bait had been forgotten.
Ready to heading back to the boat, Francis offered the more adventurous among us a trip down the creek in dugout canoes. We weren’t going to miss that and took off downstream with Juan, a local guide. Juan, spoke no English and very colloquial Spanish, somewhat beyond our skills; but we namaged to communicate. It wasn’t an overwhelmingly pretty creek, but a very different visual experience, including sunning turtles and a bloated Fer de Lance floating in the water (I had experience, fortunately only third hand, with these nasty snakes years ago in Honduras and was glad not to see a live one).
We had left Francis and the second boat behind and were alone, maneuvering down the small creek. Suddenly there was a big splash off our right side and a sleek brown body rushed out of the creek not 10 feet away, scrambling up the muddy bank, disappearing into the jungle. “Lobo, Lobo!” our guide cried – Giant River Otter. Way too fast for a picture. That could have been dangerous, but was only exciting.
After a while, we arrived at a local banana farm where we were to have lunch and waited for the other canoe. And waited and waited. Finally it arrived, including a soaking Francis. Too much showing off in their canoe had ended him up with a dunking. He claimed that they had spotted a Caiman (river crocodile), which we hadn't, but was reluctant to believe our encounter with the much more elusive Giant River Otter; but we had a witness!
That evening, our final excursion was a night cruise on the river in our canoes looking for Caiman, river crocodiles. We went out at dusk and, as soon as it was dark enough to see the Southern Cross, we started seeing glowing eyes along the river bank. One was nice enough to pose a little bit for a dark picture.
The next morning we headed back downstream to Puerto Maldonado, Cuzco, and the rest of our trip, very glad to have included this aspect of Peru.