In the jungle...the mighty jungle....

Trip Start Nov 05, 2009
Trip End Apr 26, 2010

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Where I stayed
Tambopata Research Center
Posadas Amazonas

Flag of Peru  , Madre de Dios,
Monday, January 18, 2010

...there are no bloody Lions or Jaguars...but there are lots and lots of other amazing things!

Journey to Tambopata
After an incredible cramped flight...I guess the planes are built to accommodate the very tiny Peruvians after all...we arrived into the equally small airport of Puerto Maldonado in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.

We had arranged a 5 day trip into the Tambopata reserve staying for one night at a lodge a couple of hours up the Tambopata river and then moving up for the next 2 nights to a research station 6 hours further upstream in the middle of the national park.

The journey upstream to the first lodge seemed remarkably familiar and it felt good to be back on a boat again. Gold is a huge part of the Peruvian economy and we saw a number of very rudimentary shack like boats where the poor buggers that worked on them had the sorry and very dangerous task of diving down to the bottom of the river to dredge up mud, upon which a toxic array of chemicals (predominantly mercury) are used to extract the gold. Horrific for the health of both the men and the life in the river & surrounding rainforest.

The lodges are all very eco.... designed to have minimal impact on the rainforest with limited electricity, bio-degradable soaps & shampoos, recycling and we even got our lunch on the boat wrapped in a leaf rather than using any packaging.

Posada Amazonas
Our first lodge was amazing... made entirely of wood, lit by candles and situated right in the middle of the rainforest. Our bedroom was completely open to the rainforest down one side with a hammock positioned so you could while away a few hours looking out into the forest. Slight concern about creatures of the forest thinking our bed was also part of the forest but we did have mozzy nets, although not sure they would give much protection against a marauding Jaguar.

We didnīt have much time to make use of the hammocks because we had to don some wellies for a very muddy walk through the forest to a 135ft high canopy tower to watch the sunset. There was just myself and Nic with the guide so we were able to badger him with lots of questions as we walked through the forest. My fear of heights came into play as we climbed the fragile looking, swaying tower but it was worth it for the view across the canopy of the rainforest below. We were also able to see some pretty atmospheric looking clouds heading our way...I guess you have to expect rain in a rainforest in the wet season. I got totally soaked as I had optimistically gone without any waterproofs and so just had a giant leaf hold over my head to keep me dry (along with some resident ants).

I didnīt think it could get much better until I spotted that they made a Coca Sour at the bar...what a legendary (and lethal) combination of Pisco and Coca.

At dinner we got to meet our guide and the other people in our group for the rest of our trip. We were with another couple who were from Toronto and we were relieved to find that they were really lovely people. With just four of us it could have been a total nightmare if we hadnīt got on. Our guide was called Ruben and was the strong,silent type...only speaking when absolutely necessary...we all grew to totally love this about him. Dinner was amazing and a buffet...does it get any better?

Onwards to the Tambopata Research Center
Eurghhhhh..woken at 4.00am by Ruben after a night of jungle dreams for a quick but lovely breakfast before boarding a boat to a nearby oxbow lake. We saw loads of wildlife including the amazing leaf cutter ants, a caiman, howler monkeys, macaws and some giant river otters fishing in the distance. All very peaceful as we paddled around on a catmaran except for a gaggle of loud mouthed Canadian birders with the most enormous camera lenses. One of the funniest thing I heard was one of the big lensed ladies commenting to another very large big lensed lady that her neck problems were probably due to looking down at the ground too much (rather than the gargantuan piece of equipment permanently slung around her poor neck).  Poor Nic got eaten alive by something but apart from that it was a very enjoyable sojourn.

A small group of us then headed onwards up river for 5 hours to the Tambopata Research Center for the next couple of days. The center focuses primarily on macaw research as it is only a 5 minute boat ride from one of the clay salt licks where hundreds of macaws descend each morning to get their daily dose of clay. It still isnīt known why they do this but it is suspected that they get some vital minerals from the clay plus there is also the theory that the clay helps the birds fight toxins from the fruit that they eat.

On the way up river we saw some cappibarra resting on the beaches as well as lots of parrots and some beautiful white egrets. Once again the lodge was incredible, located in the middle of the reserve with the Andes away in the distance. After a such a long day and a couple of Coca Sours I was fit for nothing and headed to bed after dinner at about 8.00....although the candles that light the lodge are blown out not much later than that anyway....what an amazing place.

In the Jungle....
They donīt seem to like sleep here as we were up again at 4.00 to get on the boat to head to the island where you can watch the macaws arriving at sunrise to get their mouthful of dirt. Ruben had expertly managed our expectations by saying that parrots donīt like wet conditions and particularly fog...of which we had lots of both. Fortunately some of the parrots were made of tough stuff (obviously have some yorkshire blood in them) and we probably had a hundred or so parrotts on the cliff face at any one time. There were lots of different species including Mealy Parrotts, Blue headed, White Fronted and Blue & Gold Macaws, Red Headed Parrotts & Blue jays. I even spotted some Howler Monkeys in a distant tree.

After 3 hours I was definitely ready to head back to the lodge for breakfast and to prepare for our first jungle trek with the lovely Ruben. We definitely got the best guide...what a guy....we would be walking along in silence when he would pause and look off into the jungle pointing out some previously invisible fascinating creature or plant. We of course had heard and seen absolutely nothing except for a wall of jungle. On one occasion he paused and very quietly said I can hear monkeys lets go and find them. And so we headed off the trail into the forest to find monkeys. It was very difficult to contain my excitement but Ruben doesnīt do excitement or any extreme of emotion so I had to keep a lid on it. After fighting our way through the vegetation we came across a family of Red Howler Monkeys and also a Black Spider Monkey. It was such an incredible sight to see monkeys in the wild, swinging through the tree tops. It was even more surreal when you could see them curiously looking down on you.

Slightly worrying moment when Ruben asked us if we knew the way back to the trail and then said that hopefully he could remember...we heard later that he had gone off trail another time and had got totally lost. He had to climb a tree to find the river and then follow it back along to the lodge. We saw so many amazing plants, insects, butterflys and even a big hairy tarantula. Ruben had also arranged for us to go along for a Macaw chick weigh in with the research center staff from one of  the nesting boxes in the reserve . The researchers have to climb the tree, have a bit of a tussle with the mother to remove the chick and then lower the chick down in a bucket so that various measurements can be made. The chick was adorable and didnīt seem at all fazed by the researches fiddling about or by us all looking on.

No rest for the wicked as we headed off after lunch for another 3 hour trek through the forest. poor Keith was struggling....I think he had been expecting more hammock time and fewer 4 am starts but he was glad that he joined us when we had another off trail adventure to find some Squirrel Monkeys that Ruben had heard in the distance. They came unbelievably close to us and we were all totally enthralled until we heard an almighty racket coming from the opposite direction. It turned out to be a heard of wild forest pigs (Ruben had spotted some tracks on the trail but they are rare to spot in the flesh) that were crashing around the forest in a very scatty and slightly scary way...gnashing their teeth at us and obviously not very happy that we were exactly where they wanted to go. I didnīt know quite where to look as we had the squirrel monkeys on one side and the pigs on the other...very exciting.

Not sure how much excitement you should have in one day but after another gorgeous dinner we headed out with Ruben for a night hike into the jungle.We went off trail again wandering around a swamp like area looking for snakes and tree frogs. Nic had a great spot and saw a tree snake. We also saw Scorpions, Arachnids, a big fat Cane Toad, a Mouse Oppossum and some gorgeous little lizards snoozing on leaves sheltering from the rain.

Back down river to Posada Amazonas
Up again at some ungodly hour for the journey back downstream to the first lodge we stayed at for our last night.

We spent the afternoon visiting a shaman and being shown around his medicinal garden. I ended up with a thick lip for the rest of the night after over enthusiastically sampling a plant that the local people use as an anesthetic. He showed us some fascinating plants that can cure anything from cancer to impotence. There was also a love potion where if you rubbed the leaves into your hand all you had to do was shake hands with the person of your desires and 3 days later they would be gagging for it.

My overriding memory of the whole trip is waking up each morning at sunrise to the sound of the Howler Monkeys. It is the most incredible sound and makes all your hairs stand on end. You can listen to a recording on the link below.

We were both very sad to leave this very special place and I canīt recommend it enough should you be passing through Peru. You can also volunteer here as would be worth it for the food alone!

We are now heading off to Cusco for some Andian trekking and a visit to Machu Picchu.....

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