Tambopata: The Peruvian Jungle

Day 5

From Canopy Tower_6On Tuesday, we began the second leg of the trip…the adventure deep into the Peruvian jungle!! Personally, this was my favourite part of the trip because we were outdoors within nature that has hardly been touched by humans over the years. After seeing Q’oricancha in Cusco in the morning, which is a temple built on top of Inca foundations, we headed to the airport. There, we caught the 30 min flight to Puerto Maldonado in the morning. We arrived into the heat of the Amazon region (altitude of 200m) at about noon, and met up with Susana’s family there. We would be joining her 3 brothers and some of their children for the jungle trip. In total, there were 14 of us. Rainforest Expeditions picked us up at the airport and we were off! First stop was their office, where you could leave any luggage that you didn’t need.

After this short stop just outside of the town of Puerto Maldonado, we piled into a rickety bus and traveled along a dirt road for about 45 min until arriving at the port on the Tambopata River – the river that we would be traveling on for the next 4 days. The Tambopata River feeds into Rio Madre de Dios and into northern Bolivia, which eventually flows into the Amazon River.

Another boatAt the port we were able to buy essentials like batteries and flashlights (a necessity when there is no power after 9pm). I had come prepared so was ready to go when we got there. We boarded a boat, which is about double the width of a typical Canadian canoe (and maybe a bit more), and quite long with a peaked roof to keep the sun and rain off of the passengers. The boat design is typical of the region, and they are supposedly made from the trunk of one entire tree. It was great to be on the water with the sun shining and hot weather. It reminded me a bit of summer at home, but the vegetation was rather different!

The boat ride was just under an hour to arrive at the first lodge – Posada Amazonas. Rainforest Expeditions has 3 lodges along the river and we would stay at all three. We had lunch on the boat, which consisted of a chicken and rice concoction served in a banana leaf. Once in the lodge, after passing by the hammocks, we sat in the lounge and were assigned our rooms. I would be staying in a triple with two of Susana’s nieces (Daniela and Nicky). The funniest part of the room assignments was when they called the room for Susana’s brother, Jorge, and his friend Marty. They didn’t want anyone to think they were “together”. This would become a running joke throughout the trip.

Posada Amazonas_roomAll three lodges were similarly designed and had a very eco-friendly feel as well as an eco-friendly operating policy. The lodges were open concept. There were no walls in most of the common areas, only roofs and floors. The walls were all made of eucalyptus trunks (or something similar). In the bedrooms, the exterior wall was partially open and to combat the mosquitoes and other nightly creatures, mosquito nets were provided for the beds. There was only electricity between 6 and 9pm or so. All the doors were made of curtains. The bathrooms only had cold water and the showers were surrounded by a clear curtain so that in some of the lodges you could look out into the trees while you took a shower. Biodegradable shampoo and soap were provided, and you were asked to keep your towels. So, as you went to sleep you could hear the jungle noises all around, as well as some domestic noises (such as snoring from the next room!). And in the morning the sun would slowly come through the trees and into the room.

After dropping off our stuff in our rooms, we headed on a short walk to a lookout tower, which was 37m high. The view from the top was magnificent, and we were lucky enough to be there at sunset
(see photo above). So, I was able to watch the sun go down over the jungle canopy with the river in the distance (w-o-w!). After climbing down all the stairs, we headed back to the lodge for dinner. We had some pre-dinner drinks at the bar where I was able to get to know some of Susana’s family a bit. Then it was onto dinner. I must say, I was very impressed with the food served at all three lodges. Everything I ate was fantastic. Generally when cooking in large batches (the food was always buffet-style with one main dish and some side dishes) the end product is not great, but the food there was top-notch.

After a short round of poker (played with dried chickpeas as chips) we all headed to bed early because the next day was to be a very early morning, which laid the foundation for the rest of our time in the jungle!

Day 6

Wednesday morning started bright and early with staff knocking at our rooms to wake us up at 4:30am. It was still dark, and our group was a bit slow to get going, however after a quick breakfast we finally wandered down to the river to board the boat which took us to Tres Chimbadas Lake. The lake is an oxbow lake, which means it was formed by a change in the path of the meandering Tambopata River. It is a completely different ecosystem, still fed by the river, but with different animals and birds than in the river. After a 30 minute walk, we arrived at the lake and boarded a catamaran (that’s what they called it – I would have called it something more along the lines of a pontoon boat).

Oxbow lake_2On the boat, we toured around the little lake. It was extremely peaceful – the water was calm and you could hear birds and other noises of the jungle. From the boat, we saw a lot of different birds (whose names I can’t recall!). We saw a black caiman, which is similar to a large crocodile. We were also lucky enough to see the family of river otters which live in the lake. The river otters are fairly rare, and there is no guarantee that they will be out and about in the lake when you are. Some of the kids (and adults!) had a bit of fun fishing for piranhas, and managed to catch a couple of small ones as well.

After a few hours on the boat, we walked back to the river and boarded our river boat to continue the journey along the river. It was another hot and sunny day by this point, and the wind on the boat was quite helpful in keeping us cool. This would be our longest trip in the boat. It lasted about 7 hours, when we finally arrived at the Tambopata Research Center (TRC), the lodge deepest in the jungle of the three. Along the way, we saw a few interesting animals – a white caiman, which is much smaller than the black one we had seen earlier, and two capybaras which are the world’s largest rodent. We also saw houses of people who live along the river, and several locations with equipment used for mining gold from the river. We arrived at TRC at about 5:30pm.

TRC is not only a lodge for tourists, but as the name suggests, a research center. Scientists live there and carry out research in the jungle. The lodge is located within the national reserve – a 700,000 hectare area with little human habitation. After dinner, one of the scientists gave a presentation on the Macaw Project, to prepare us for our trip to see the macaws the next day. Macaws are in danger of extinction because they are losing habitat. They mentioned that generally only the first chick survives, and they have been successful at feeding the second chick so that it survives. These birds are then much more used to humans, and tend to come by the lodge for a snack.

This was the only lodge where we had to be careful of the bugs. There is an insect which carries a disease called Leishmaniases, which can leave you pretty sick and needing a month of treatment. It is pretty rare, and the best way to avoid it is to wear long pants and shirts and put on repellent on bare skin. So despite the heat, I did. Throughout the trip I got a lot of mosquito bites (it can hardly be avoided when they bite through jeans!) but survived without contracting any diseases.

Day 7

Thursday morning was another early morning (notice a theme??). We were again woken up at 4:30am, but this time breakfast would be after our first outing of the day – the Clay Lick. A 10 minute boat ride brought us to the Clay Lick, which is an area where there is a cliff of clay where macaws come everyday to feed on the clay. They aren’t sure why the birds eat the clay, but believe it has something to do with the minerals available. We had to get there before the birds start to arrived and be very still and quiet, even though we were watching from across the river. The birds start to arrive in pairs (macaws live in partners), and fly around the area looking for signs of danger. As more and more arrive, they land in the surrounding trees and wait, while some groups continue to circle the area.

Macaws_clay lick_3_zoomedOnce they are satisfied that there is no danger, they fly down to the cliff and start to eat the clay. There were hundreds of macaws, of several different types. My pictures don’t do it justice at all. The best way to see the birds was through binoculars or the telescope provided by the guides. There were bright and colourful red ones, a lot of green and yellow ones, and some blue and yellow ones. It was an amazing sight. And the noise from all of the birds was incredible. We watched them for probably about an hour (fighting mosquitoes the whole time). Once in a while one bird would sound a warning call and they would all take off into flight at the same time, but generally would go back down a minute later. After an hour, a final alarm call set them all off and that was the end of their feeding for the day.

While watching the birds, one of the guides spotted some monkeys far off in a distant tree and set up the telescope so that we could all take a look. They were howler monkeys (whose noises we would hear early in the morning several times during the trip). The monkeys were busy sleeping though, so we didn’t see much movement. To get back to the boat, we trekked through some deep mud, and then went back to the lodge for breakfast. What a morning it had been so far and we hadn’t even eaten yet!

Macaws at breakfast_2During breakfast, we had some visitors. Two big bright red macaws flew into the dining room. These are ones that had been fed by the scientists as chicks. They have wild mates, but the mates don’t come near the lodge. Everyone had a lot of fun feeding them and we all took pictures with them. The next day at breakfast, one flew in and stole a bit of someone’s breakfast who was sitting at another table. It was pretty funny.

After breakfast we had a choice of a 3-hour walk, a 1.5 hour walk or staying in the lodge for a nap. I chose the 3 hour walk along with a few other people, while other people in our group opted for the other two. We walked among the jungle trees and saw a lot of interesting things. There were giant trees that were hundreds of years old. This part of the jungle is virgin forest, and so has never been cut down by humans. We saw insects, butterflies and toads, and a giant spider the size of my palm. We passed by one small snake, which was apparently a type of boa. We walked through a palm swamp, where there was another lookout. This one only had ladders to climb up, and halfway up I chickened out. The highlight of the morning walk was definitely seeing some howler monkeys up close. This time they weren’t sleeping, but were jumping around from tree to tree.

We got back to the lodge in time for lunch (have I mentioned how good the food was??). We had a few soccer fans/players in our group, so we set up a game against the staff after lunch. We hopped on the boat which took us across the river to the soccer “field”. I put it in quotations because it was more of a mud pit. The week before we arrived at Tambopata, there was a lot of rain and the river was about 3m or more above its current level. This meant that there was still a lot of mud around. The soccer field was a mud field full of potholes. However, we had a lot of fun playing. Everyone who wanted to got a chance to play, and I even played D for a few minutes (and wasn’t too shabby!!). Unfortunately we lost the game 4-3 and had to buy the staff beers later in the day.

After the soccer game, we were all quite hot and sweaty so jumped in the river for a swim. I can now say I’ve been swimming with piranhas! The river was very silty so you couldn’t really see what was in the water, which may or may not have been a good thing! After that, we had a few hours to relax. I swung in a hammock with a cold beer and read a bit, watching the sun go down over the trees. It was then time to join the group in the bar for a pre-dinner drink, followed by another excellent meal.

Nightwalk_8_tarantulasAfter dinner we went on a night walk. Some people opted to stay in, but I opted for the walk (in fact, I went on every walk offered – I didn’t want to miss out on anything!). So off we went into the jungle with our two guides and only flashlights for defense. The nightwalk lasted for about 2 hours and I was exhausted by the time we got back around 11pm. It had been a long day! But we did see all sorts of interesting insects, and one even decided to get to know me personally by flying down my shirt! I don’t know what it was, and I don’t think I want to. Luckily it didn’t leave any damage. We also saw a few different kinds of snakes, frogs, a few sleeping birds and a tarantula with about 15 babies. What a day!! I collapsed in bed exhausted, and set my alarm for another early morning.

Day 8

Friday began with a wake-up call at 5am for a morning walk. Some people opted for the sleep, I opted for the walk. Unfortunately I did not wear the rubber boots provided by the lodge because the guide said it wouldn’t be that muddy…but I could have used them when we went off the path in search of monkeys! We came across a group of monkeys not too far into the walk, and wanted to see them more closely. There were apparently two types of monkeys – spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys. These two groups tend to live together. We saw them jumping from tree to tree, and they were quite successful at hiding from our cameras. I did manage to get a couple of photos, but they aren’t great.

Back at the lodge, we had breakfast and packed our things to leave and head to the third lodge where we would stay, which was located halfway between TRC and Posada Amazonas. The trip was quicker this time because we were traveling downstream. After a 3 hour boat ride, we arrived at Refugio Amazonas in the early afternoon. We had eaten lunch on the boat, so we dropped our stuff off and headed across the river to a demonstration farm. The farm happened to be right beside the soccer field, so our group again played a few short games of soccer, this time winning!

StarfruitThe farm showed the different fruit trees and crops that would typically be grown in the area. There were pineapple bushes, banana trees, starfruit trees, yucca trees, lemon trees, and a whole of fruits that I had never even heard of before. We tasted a few and walked around the farm while our guide explained a few of the things to us. We then went for a quick swim in the river.

All of this took a bit longer than planned, so we had to cut our Brazil Nut walk short. However a few of us did go for a short walk to see some Brazil Nut trees. The walk started off with our guide showing that Brazil nuts actually fall from the tress in a coconut-type of shell which has 8-12 Brazil nuts inside in their own shells. The outer shells are extremely hard to break, but if you leave them to dry it is a lot easier. He also described the harvesting process, which employs a lot of people. We cracked a few nuts open and tried their meat, fresh from the trees. On the walk we saw some huge brazil nut trees which were about 400 years old.

Back at the lodge, we had a pre-dinner pisco sour (mmmmm…) and then celebrated Susana’s brother’s birthday with cake for dessert. In honour of our last night in the jungle, a few of us stayed up for a drink (late !! haha …. until 10:30pm!).

Day 9

Saturday we left the jungle. After an early breakfast, we headed out at 7am. I’m surprised we were able to rouse Nicky (but that is another story!!), but she made it to the boat on time! After two hours on the boat, and a few rounds of the game telephone (which is pretty interesting when there are language barriers involved!), we arrived back at the port where our jungle journey had begun. Then it was back on the bus to Puerto Maldonado. There we bought some Brazil nuts at the market, and then headed to the airport. We were all on the same flight, which stopped first in Cusco where we said our goodbyes. Susana, Mike and myself were getting off the plane there, as well as Susana’s brothers Jorge and Luis, along with Nicky and Marty. The others headed back to Lima.

The jungle trip was my favourite part of the trip to Peru. It was great to get to know Susana’s family. They made the trip even better by providing a lot of laughter. I enjoyed everything about the trip, the walking, the food, but I think my favourite part was seeing the macaws at the clay lick. It was really an amazing sight.

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Posted in peru | travel Submitted by Meg on Sat, 2007-08-11 14:42

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