To Hell and Back

Trip Start Jul 31, 2006
Trip End Aug 24, 2006

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Where I stayed
Tambopata Lodge

Flag of Peru  ,
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

With our tour leader smashed from the night before, he somehow managed to get us on the right plane from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. The lady at the ticket counter certainly seemed unimpressed with his smell.

Puerto Maldonado is a bit of a frontier town in the rainforest. With cars almost obselete here, most people choose to zip around on motorcycles. It was quite reminiscent of Cambodia. We left our "big mutha" backpacks in Puerto Maldonado, and took only what we needed for the next couple days.

For the next couple days we would be staying at the Tambopata Lodge - which is a few hours up river. To reach this destination, we would first have to make our way to Hell. Yes, Hell. Our boat was leaving from a little port called Hell. I didnīt really have too many expectations of Hell, but I can tell you this much, there is a definite lack of fire and brimstone. The only thing in Hell was a snack bar and some toilets.

We boarded a skinny motorboat and proceeded our way up the Tambopata River. Along the way, our guides Hugo and Delford, had the boat stop along the banks to point out a variety of wildlife. What amazed me more than the creatures in front of me was their ability to spot the animals from such a distance. Truly incredible.

We saw some capybara (worldīs largest rodent), macaws, caimans, turtles, and howler monkeys along the way.

Over these last two days we embarked upon a number of hikes and activities, including:

- A night hike. This was our first introduction to the Amazon rainforest. It lasted a mere 45 minutes, but we still saw a number of animals. There were some sort of monkeys jumping around just off the path, and our guides were also able to spot a number of insects hidden within the brush.

We all turned off our flashlights at one point and just stood there. The noise was deafening. Mainly frogs, crickets, and cicadas... but other indescernible animals could be picked out as well. Compared with the day, the jungle certainly comes alive at night.

On our way back to the lodge, we almost tripped over a tarantula waiting for itīs next meal.

- Piranha Fishing. One of our day hikes involved us boarding a precarious floatilla and drifting around on an oxbow lake. Although the lake was pristine and calm, what lurked beneath the surface was far from that. Piranha. Armed with a fishing hook and raw meat, we dropped sacrificial offerings into the depths below. I tried to keep mine close to the surface, so I could see the piranha, but they werenīt biting. When you drop the bait further below, thatīs when they start nibbling. I saw a few silver flashes under the surface, but my view of the piranhas was quite limited.

They much prefered the meat to the fat of the bait. Nonetheless, if you left it there long enough, the entire offering would be depleted. We never did catch one.

Some of the people in my group went swimming in the middle of the lake later, but I couldnīt be bothered. I donīt really have a lot of fat on me... consequently, as I knew from the fishing experience, I would potentially make a fine meal for the toothy fish.

- Day Hike 1... plus tree-climbing. This was divided up into pre-piranha fishing and post-piranha fishing. As we made our way to the above oxbow lake, our guide showed us the little features of the forest. We saw a massive web made not from one spider, but hundreds of little one. Clearly these were "socialist spiders"... working together to meet an end goal. Our guide was also able to "fish" a tarantula out of its den. And we saw a giant tree that dropped human skulls... well, kind of. The large coconut-sized nuts it dropped looked normal. However, when you broke them open, the inside looked like the top of a human cranium. Understandably, the locals called this tree the "Dead Manīs Tree". It certainly smelled like a cadaver. It stunk to high heaven.

After the piranha fishing, we stopped by a mini-tree in the middle of the path. Keeping our distance, we watched hundreds of fire ants parade around on it. Apparently one bite feels like your skin is burning, and a hundred bites... well, letīs just say itīs not a pleasant experience.

It was quite interesting. Our guides would drop some twigs and dirt on the plantīs leafs, and the fire ants would then proceed to clean house. They liked their leafs spotless. When they came across some foreign debris, they would pick it up and throw it off the edge of the leaf. It was quite comical to watch these pain-dealers, struggle with a piece of dirt.

Further down the path, we came upon a giant tree... I think our guide called it a Strongwood tree. The cool thing about this tree is that it was hollow in the middle, and you could enter into it. With our guide showing his circus-like ability, he climbed the inside of it and then swung down from a vine to the ground. He then offered us to do the same. The first person to try it in our group was a 14 year boy. With some perseverance he made it to the opening where he would then have to swing down. Trying to grab hold, he stumbled a little and almost fell. After about 10 minutes of us urging for him to come down, he made one last attempt at grabbing hold of the vine. Fortunately, he made it and there were no broken bones.

Two girls tried it unsuccessfully after that. And me, being a little nonsensical, decided to try it too.

I made it up the tree alright, and could see why everyone had problems getting a hold of the vine. A lot of it was mind over matter. Itīs tough to will yourself out of the tree at that height. Like my predecessor, I too made it to the ground safely.

On our way back, we were also entertained by some Saddleback Tamarins. Literally surrounding us, they leaped high above from tree to tree. (As a side note, when tramping through the forest without a guide the following day, a couple of us had Howler Monkeys jumping over our heads. A truly awesome sight.)

- Night Caiman Spotting. Saw quite a few smaller caimans. I was just amazed how our guides could see them from such a great distance.

Before we headed back to the camp, the boat driver turned off the engine and flicked off the light. Once again, we were immersed in the dark. Sitting there, looking at the silhouette of the trees and the stars above, one could not help but reflect upon their experiences in Peru. This was one of the last things I would see and do before I headed back to Canada. My mind wandered.

Five minutes later, the sound of the motor starting up signalled to me that my Peruvian experience was coming to an end. I would be heading back. A couple days in Lima and then itīs back home to it all.

Iīve valued every minute Iīve had in Peru. Itīs a land of contrasts. With so much history, culture, and a variety of ecosystems, a visitor cannot help but be humbled by their time in Peru. Itīs difficult to choose a favourite moment from the trip; every moment has been so different.

The traditional dancing in a remote village. The first approach to Machu Picchu. The rollercoaster-styled dune buggies. The colour and flair of the nativesī outfits. Lomo Saltado. Spending three weeks with strangers that soon became great friends. Horseback riding amongst the ruins around Cusco.

Each moment has been so different. And I have appreciated every one of them.
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