From the Depths of the Amazon Basin

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Flag of Peru  ,
Monday, September 8, 2008

Ahhhhh, finally a bit of luxury...enough beds for all of us, three buffet meals every day, freshly squeezed juice, and a private guide to take us through the rainforest.  After 3 weeks of (not always easy) travelling on our own in Peru, Kevin and I were ready for this.  Every once in a while it's good to be pampered, and this is one of the few splurges we budgeted into the trip.

We arrived at the Refugio Amazonas Lodge from Cusco after an hour plane ride, an hour bus ride and a three hour boat ride along the Tambopata River.  The "boat", which comfortably sat 35 people, was some sort of a very long, antique canoe thing, powered by a 55hp was encouraging to see Captain Stubing bail out the water before the 40 passengers boarded.  It turned out to be very enjoyable...great scenery, good company, and our delicious "boxed lunch" of hot fried rice that came wrapped up in a banana leaf.   Open up the leaf, use it as a plate and when you're done just throw it overboard to decompose.  I tell you, we could learn a few things about environmental friendliness and conservation from here.  And, there was nothing like the look on Michael's face when we told him he should just throw his "garbage" over the side of the boat...11 years of "Do Not Litter" messages joyfully down the drain! 

What a place this is!  The main portion of the lodge is completely open to the jungle, with no windows or doors.  This openness is continued in the bedrooms located down an open boardwalk corridor.  Our bedroom door consists of two curtains that slightly overlap.  The room has three walls made of bamboo that stop well shy of the vaulted ceiling.  The fourth wall is non-existent, just a railing at waist-height, and then open to the view of the jungle beyond.  We loved this feeling of being amidst the jungle.  There is no electricity in the bedrooms; instead, the rooms are "powered" at night by several kerosene lanterns and a few candles.   The lodge may not be for everyone.  We saw a few big bugs (yes, cockroaches -but we are in the jungle) coming after the remains of our toothpaste in the sink, and bats, birds and mosquitoes can enter the rooms freely.  We were also advised not to leave food in the room, lest something bigger decide to join us    Mosquito nets surround each bed in the room so we felt quite protected and comfortable at night.  It is really lovely.   Despite the missing bedroom wall (or maybe because of it), it is without a doubt, the nicest hotel we've ever stayed in. 
The lodge is a 10 minute walk up from the river, and by the time we arrived we felt like we were in the middle of the jungle.  The sounds of the cicadas shrieking, the monkeys howling and the birds chirping filled the air.  Abundant beautiful flowers, vines falling to the ground from the branches above, and green, green forest.  I didn't know there were so many different shades of green.  The humidity was high - so high in fact that Sarah said she thought it was neat that we could taste the air.  We saw a couple monkeys up high in the trees on the hike to the lodge, and we saw toucans, egrets and capybaras (the largest rodents in the world...about the size of a small pig, 100lbs, 3 feet tall) during our boat ride.  We were off to a good start.

The main reason we picked this lodge over some of the others was that it has a specific program for children.  Our kids have loved hearing about Ania, a young girl who lives in the rainforest and must warn others to take care of the environment.  We had to find five different types of seeds, solve some clues and do some hikes to find a treasure.  The kids did lots of hiking without uttering so much as a peep of everyone knows a 4 hour treasure hunt is infinitely more interesting than a 4 hour trek.  The hikes brought out several good messages.  We must treat the earth well.  Ensure we only take what we need from the forest and replenish what we take several times over.  Honour the values of truth, friendship, bravery, freedom and love, and be true to them.  And remember that it is children who have the power to save the rainforests.  All good stuff...although Kevin, Mr. Global Sensitivity, was heard muttering, "I'd take an anaconda-jaguar jungle death match over the seeds of love and truth any day".  Nice.

While the hikes were focused on the kids we all learned a lot.  Some of the more interesting facts/moments include:

    Several types of trees have trunk supports/roots that begin to branch off like teepees a few metres above the ground (to provide additional support for the trees' enormous height).  One such tree grows new trunk supports in the direction the tree canopy moves to get sufficient light.  The unnecessary trunk supports on the other side of the tree die.  The result?  Over the years, the tree can move slowly across the forest (and is called the "Walking Tree").

    Walking into the trunk of the Strangulation Tree.  This tree begins to grow when its seed falls onto the leaf of another tree and is germinated.  Its roots begin to grow over and around the host tree until they finally hit the ground.  After several centuries, the strangulation tree completely envelops the host tree, depriving it of all sunlight and ultimately strangling it.  The trunk of the strangulation tree becomes hollow inside after the, now dead, host tree decomposes.  (The particular tree we saw had a big enough trunk hollow that all five of us could go inside at the same time and not feel crowded);

    The winner of the "Best Trick Played on Kevin Award" goes to Elder, our rainforest guide.  On one occasion, he told us to chew on a certain plant like it was gum.  Kevin did so and noted that his mouth was quickly going numb.  Elder looked at him in shock and said, "Uh oh, I gave you the wrong plant!"  Kevin was horrified (imagine if you can, your best horrified Kevin face) and he immediately spit the stem out of his mouth.  Just then the guide started to laugh.  "No worries", Elder said. "The plant is used as a natural anesthetic by the indigenous people for such things as toothaches and snake bites."

    Seeing the cry beetle - so named because when you hold it close to your ear it sounds like a baby crying.  If you hold it too close when you're listening, its pincers get hold of your ear (and don't let go) and it makes you cry.  Thankfully, Elder had already played one joke on Kevin...

    Swinging on vines in the rainforest like Tarzan (or Jane, since our little Sarah would never pretend to be a boy...);

    Having Laura come back from a night walk (looking for alligator-like caimans) with Kevin, and seeing how excited she was to have finally seen a tree frog like the one in her study guide;

    Feeding and holding the piranhas.  We threw soda cracker crumbs into the lake and watched the piranhas swarming to the surface of the water to devour them.  Some meat on the end of a hook attached to a bit of fishing line (no expensive fishing rods required) and within minutes we had a couple piranhas that were ours for the holding.  They are creepy little things with neon red/orange eyes, and really sharp teeth that reflexively bite down on anything close to their mouths.  It seems that you can go swimming with them and they will leave you alone as long as you don't have any open wounds on your body.  Unfortunately, if you're at all wounded before you go in, be prepared to become more extensively wounded when you come out, if you come out at all, that is.  We decided to pass on the swimming...

    Eating termites.  While we didn't eat them ourselves, we watched Elder eat them.  Apparently, they don't taste like chicken, just like little mints (that scurry around your mouth, I guess).  The kids were all pumped to eat them on our last rainforest walk but the termite nest we tried to extract them from was dry.  I wonder if I should feel slighted by all the meals I've cooked (that the kids turned their noses up at), given they are so eager to eat live bugs;

    Climbing up the 25 metre high canopy tower and seeing the forest from above in the early morning light (...nothing like a 5am wakeup "knock"!), and learning about all the different layers of the rainforest;

    Painting t-shirts with natural dyes, and getting tattoos on our arms(which by the way show no signs of fading 3 days later...uh oh);

    Seeing Kevin crack open the large brazil nut shells with a machete (with his eyes closed!);

    Learning why the parrot beak flower is so aptly named;

    Visiting a nearby rainforest "farm", and seeing (and in some cases, sampling) about 15 fruits we had never even heard of a side note, we were particularly happy about the abundance of fresh fruit around the lodge, as we wanted to rid the children of any signs of scurvy before their grandparents see them;

As you can probably tell from the above, we loved the rainforest - it was so peaceful and calm, and unlike any other part of Peru we have seen.  It was a real highlight for all of us.   

We have now arrived back in Lima for our last night.  We fly out late tomorrow and go home for a few days to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary...I'm thinking that tattoo covering, long sleeve shirts might be in order for the pictures.   As a final note, I thought we should close off with some miscellaneous thoughts we will remember about our time here:

    Peru is not nearly as scary as the Lonely Planet Guidebook (the backpackers' bible) makes it out to be, and we have felt quite safe (except perhaps for the first few hours in Lima).  I'm convinced that if this had not been our first destination outside Canada/US, we would have been more acclimatized to international travel and not been quite so troubled.  In fact, as we returned to the city today I saw it differently - it is a vibrant and dynamic city, with people scurrying about their business, not unlike what they do in Toronto. 

I also now understand one of the reasons that Lima looked so desolate and eerie on our first visit.  Many shops here don't have windows or doors; they have what looks like garage doors that get opened up during the day and closed at night.  Some businesses even bring their signs in at night so it just looks like rows upon rows of closed garage doors.  (Note:  We learned that businesses take in their signs when we were trying to pick up our laundry from the Laundromat in Cusco.   They were closed and for the life of us we couldn't find the place.  We went back later and its neon sign had magically reappeared.)   To make matters look worse, all garage doors (as well as any windows and doors that may exist) are covered with metal bars to ensure no-one is able to forcibly enter the premises.

    There is great poverty here.  Whole families can live in the same space taken up by a couple large bedrooms at home.  Many houses are made of dried clay or mud bricks.  And, we didn't go to the really poverty-stricken areas of Peru - I know it is much worse in areas outside the typical tourist "Gringo Path". 

    Kids take pleasure out of playing simpler games (like skipping, flipping chips and creative play) and don't have the same material expectations that our children have (no Nintendo DS's here).  We had brought some glow bracelets from home and I taught Michael, Laura and Sarah to say "A gift for you" in Spanish.  One night we gave them away to children we saw in the street.  We all watched as the children's faces lit up when they received a bracelet.  I heard Sarah ask Laura (as we returned home that night) whether her heart had felt warm when she gave away the bracelets.  Maybe putting her in the trunk hasn't scarred her for life after all... 

    Stray dogs are everywhere.  Before we left Canada, we discussed rabies with the children, explained how serious it is and told them they were not to touch any animals.  We were most worried about Laura, who loves all animals.  Apparently, we put the fear of God into them - particularly Sarah, who jumps back terrified if any stray animal comes anywhere close to her.  Oddly enough, most of the stray dogs here don't seem to bark.  They are happy going about their business wandering around looking for food, and occasionally "playing piggyback" with one another...we'll explain that later to the kids in health class. 

    Protests are everywhere.  We must have seen a dozen protests during our few weeks here.  Some more serious than others, but all equally well organized. 

    We love our Inca Kola, Peru's own sweet yellow soft drink.  We have all enjoyed the periodic Inca Kola.  One night during supper we got particularly silly with our Inca Cola bottle and a couple of Inca statues.  I'm sure the locals were shaking their heads at us, and muttering under their breath about the "Crazy Gringos".

    We have met some wonderful people along the way. 

       o   We crossed paths with Maria from the UK four times in three different cities, as we followed the same Gringo Trail;

       o   In Cusco we met Vincent from Paris.  He is planning to give up his life there and live a simpler life as a chef in Colombia.  (Note to anyone interested in travelling to South America - Vincent could not say enough good things about the people and the sights in Colombia...);

       o    In the rainforest, we met Sarah and Ahmed, a lovely couple who are currently living in New York City.  They previously lived in Cairo and were happy to share some recommendations on what we should see there and where we should stay.  They were so good to our children.  Sarah even let our girls use her paints (and didn't complain when they mixed all the colours together).  She also gave our Sarah a painting she did that will soon be fondly displayed in our Sarah's room;

       o   And, we met up with Diane and Erik again (our accomplices in the whole "putting two kids in the trunk" adventure from last week).  It was great to hear about what they had been doing/seeing since our crime.

While the sights we see along our travels are certainly spectacular, it is the people we meet and the stories and perspectives we share that ultimately transform this trip into a true journey.

That's it for now.  Our next stop is Toronto and then we're off to France on the 15th.  Blessings to you all and thanks for all the wonderfully supportive comments about the blog.  We'll be in touch in a couple weeks.   In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy sitting on proper toilet seats and not having to bring toilet paper with me wherever I go...
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hagueipn on

Peru to France
Was just thinking how totally different your travels were in Peru from my recent stay in Paris (just arrived in London from Paris today) and then I find your next stop is France! Back to civilization.

Looking froward to the next instalments.


soleste on

ou didn't say anything about the food in peru, with the exception of inca kola

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