As our flight from Cusco landed in Puerto Maldonado, I peeked out the window. There was nothing but trees for as far as the eye could see. It was time for major adventure #3: the Amazon rainforest! When we stepped off the plane, we were blasted with a powerful wave of heat and humidity. I hadn’t felt this type of climate since my two months in Southeast Asia, and I was drenched within seconds.
We were picked up at the airport by our guide for our Amazon lodge experience, which we had arranged through Intrepid. We bumped along in a van to the Tambopata River, an Amazon River tributary, and we took a 2.5-hour boat ride to our lodge.
I had booked a few days in the jungle because I was keen to be immersed in nature again. However, I had one major stipulation: our accommodation had to have an en-suite bathroom! I was not all interested in reliving my African safari experience and having deadly wildlife prevent me from using the toilet at night.
I was very pleased with our rustic little cabin at the lodge. We had a room to ourselves, and we shared a wall with a lovely older couple from near Toronto who didn’t make a bit of noise. Our beds were covered by mosquito nets, which I managed to get tangled in repeatedly. There was no electricity, so we used candles at night, which provided a neat ambiance. Best of all, the toilet and shower were only a few steps from our beds. Luxury, really! We did have to de-spider our sheets before going to sleep each night, but it was all part of the experience. Luckily, spiders don’t bother me in the slightest.
The first thing on the schedule was a night walk. We met with our guide and our tour companions for the next few days, a friendly young couple from Australia. Before we ventured into the forest, our guide gave us a pep talk (minus the pep). He told us that some of the leaves were poisonous, so we had to make sure that we didn’t brush against anything (I hastily wiggled into my sweater). He also warned us about the bushmaster, an extremely venomous and territorial snake. Rather than slither away at the sight of humans, the bushmaster will remain still and strike out at the first opportunity with enormous amounts of venom. I unadvisedly asked the guide whether he had ever come across this fearsome creature. He said that he had seen and disposed of three in all his years of guiding, but that he had not encountered any at this particular lodge (yet!)
As we made our way down the path, I began to wonder whether it was normal to spend significant portions of one’s vacation in genuine fear for one’s life. I also made a mental note that my next big trip should be to Ireland!
We did see some really cool creatures along the trail, but we had to cut the walk short to race back to the lodge ahead of an incoming rainstorm. I wasn’t particularly bothered!
When we were back in the relative safety of the dining area, out of the blue the Australian couple said to the guide “So what type of snake was that?” The guide exclaimed “What?” and I shouted “WHAT??” Apparently everyone behind me had seen a snake that had quickly slithered off into the darkness. The guide couldn’t tell them what the snake was, but since it didn’t kill us, it probably wasn’t a bushmaster. Phew!
The next morning, we were up bright and early for the next item on the schedule, a “6 km jungle trek experience.” Our guide carried a machete with him at all times, both to clear away the path and to behead any dangerous reptiles. My survival strategy for the trek was fairly straightforward. Stay right behind the guide with the machete!
I was trying to remain calm and collected as we trudged through the forest, but my insides were quaking like mad. It was only a few years ago that I would cover my eyes at the mere sight of a snake on TV. I have come a long way since then, but this “nature walk through the Amazon rainforest” business was still quite a stretch for me. Every so often, the guide would stop suddenly, point at something and shout “Look!” and I would yell “WHAT?? WHERE?? WHAT IS IT?? WHAT??” And he’d show us some funky tree. Or maybe a monkey or a salamander. Nothing particularly deadly. I’d breathe a sigh of relief, and we’d carry on.
In keeping with the “asking questions that really shouldn’t be asked” theme, I had the following enlightening conversation with the guide:
Me: So…is there an anti-venom for bushmasters?
Guide: Yes. We have it at the lodge.
Me: Oh good! So do you have any with you?
Guide: No. It has to be kept refrigerated.
Me: Well how much time do you have to take the anti-venom after being bitten?
Guide: You have one hour at the most before you die.
Me: But…we are at least a three-hour walk from the lodge!
Guide: Don’t worry! That’s why I have the machete.
Me (outwardly): Okay 🙂
Me (inwardly): AHHHHHH!!!!
Eventually we reached the Sachavacayoc Lake, where we climbed into a wooden boat for some aquatic animal viewing.
I actually desperately wanted to see an anaconda. Odd, I know, since I have just spent an inordinate amount of time on this blog blathering on about my snake phobia, but hear me out. We would only have seen one from the safety of our boat. Also, despite what Hollywood tells you, an anaconda will not jump out of the water and swallow you whole.
Our guide carefully scoured the marshes for any sight of the snake, but it was nowhere to be found that day. We did see several caymans, so that was reasonably exciting.
At the end of our lake excursion, the guide parked the boat and told us that it was time to fish for piranhas (at this point, I stopped mindlessly trailing my fingers in the water.) We all tried and failed to reel one in using raw beef. Those smart fishies devoured our bait at a remarkable speed, but refused to latch on. Finally, our guide took the reel and managed to catch one in about 10 seconds. After he yanked it out, it was flapping directly in front of my face! I may have shrieked a wee bit.
I was intrigued by these hoatzins by the side of the lake. Apparently they smell terrible, but thankfully they didn’t come close enough for us to catch a whiff.
To cool off after our ramble through the jungle, the guide suggested that we go for a swim. I was apprehensive about the colour of the river, since I (naturally) associate brown water with dirt and grime. It turns out that the water is only brown because of the sediment and is actually quite clean. I was reassured by the fact that the guides were also going swimming. We headed by boat a short distance from the lodge and hopped in the river. It felt fresh, but it was way too warm. I could feel fish nipping constantly at my legs. Normally, I wouldn’t mind that at all, but in the Amazon I would have preferred to see what exactly was biting me. Since the water was so opaque, I had no idea whether I was being eaten by sardines or by something more sinister. I drew the line when I felt a fish nibble at my tummy. I squealed, shot up like a rocket, and clamoured into the boat. That was the end of that day’s swimming adventure!
Before dinner, we climbed back into the boat to go cayman spotting. I was a tad surprised that our cayman observation spot seemed to be the same place as our swimming spot, but unusually for me, I didn’t press the issue.
“I am getting up at 2:30 in the morning to go birdwatching” is a sentence that you will never, ever hear me utter in Canada. However, in the Amazon it seemed like a swell idea. Our guide took us by boat about two hours down the river to see a salt lick, where hundreds of birds congregate every morning to get their nutrients for the day. We learned all about how macaws are thought to mate for life, and how they sometimes meet their partners at the salt lick (like a birdie e-harmony!)
At one point, all the birds vanished from the salt lick and flew high up into the trees. Our guide said that it was likely because a predator had appeared below, but we were unable to see anything. I decided that it was probably a jaguar 😛
On our boat trip back to the lodge, we kept our eyes peeled for the elusive jaguar. None made an appearance, but we did see an adorable gang of capybaras.
That afternoon was even hotter than the day before, so we spent most of our time trying not to move. Even breathing was a supreme effort. I took the opportunity to enjoy some quality hammock time.
That evening, I bravely went for another swim. I was joined by our lovely Canadian cabinmates. They told me how one of their sons was a camera operator who specialized in war zones, and how he had filmed in every war zone in recent years (except Syria!) Kind of puts my comparatively tame wanderings into perspective, doesn’t it Mum?
As were finishing up our swim, we could see the rain approaching from a distance. We managed to scramble into the boat right before the downpour.
The rain continued that night and the next morning as we headed by boat to Puerto Maldonado. We said goodbye to all our new friends from the lodge and flew back to Cusco for our final night in Peru. For our last bit of sightseeing, we hiked up to the Saqsaywaman (also known as “Sexy Woman”) ruins above the city.
The next morning, I flew on my own to San Jose, Costa Rica for what would turn out to be two of the best weeks of my life thus far!