Off to the jungle....
Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
34Trip End Apr 08, 2008
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We made it....plane about 3 hrs late but finally we're in the jungle....flying in we see the broadly winding flow of the Madre de Dios and, where it merges with the Tambopata, someone decided to build the town of Puerto Maldonado. The plane lands...we walk into the airport and it downpours!! Hard, driving rain proving once again that it is rainy season. We scout around to find a ride to town with one of the tour groups. We're free agents since we haven't booked our jungle time with anyone yet and it's easy to get a ride in with some folks suggesting we may want to book with them...but as I look around and see the other tourists in this group wearing the shirts that have the built in sunscreen and mosquito repellent, I'm wondering about our compatibility and I know we're in the wrong place when they provide us with cold, wet washcloths to freshen up. And it turns out that the price of this tour is about 4x what we thought was already extravagant. So we get a ride to the center of town to find a hostal and a jungle guide. The guide proves easier than the hostel. Did I already say it was hot and humid? And somehow we needed to look at no less than 8 hostels before one passed the sturdy mattress, no mold, airy enough, and tolerable cleanliness test. So now we're in the Las Vegas Hostal...for what reason it's named this I don't know...but I'm glad to have a place to drop my stuff.
Decided I couldn't make it through the night without another something to eat and once again, I'm thinking chicken. Our hotel is right across from the mercado and this place is active way into the night hours. We walk around in the mercado and it's got everything, from clothing to hardware to school supplies to fruits and vegetables to food vendors. I pick up a pair of flip-flops, the special Brazilian variety, Havaianas...the vendor assures me that these are class flip-flops, not like the garbagey ones that the Peruanos make. Actually they are the densest pair of flip-flops I've ever owned, they're made of real 100% rubber. Time to give the boots a break in this hot, humid climate... So back to the chicken. The first place is a few sets of table and chairs and a few pots cooking up stuff in the back room... it's dark, the tables are sticky, and the ground is murky with nastiness, but I'm hungry and they have food to offer. I order up some chicken....Lisa spies a rat running overhead...not surprising given the scene...but they're out of chicken anyway. So I move over to another pollo place around the corner, order up my chicken, and enjoy the view. Clearly we are not in Cuzco anymore. It's wet, muddy, potholed, kind of slimy right around this market...I guess last week the river flooded and covered this low lying town so there are puddles all over and in fact it's raining right now. The soup arrives and I see something I take to be a hunk of chicken submerged...I bring it up for closer inspection and this thing that looks like a baby's hand is in my spoon. Got to say it gives me a start...I look closer and it's just a bloated chicken foot. My mouth snaps quickly backwards for just a moment....it's a little freaky... But I recover and focus on the rest of the soup...although I have to sneak a peek at the appendage every once in a while for some perverse thrill. I just about drain the soup bowl but when the chicken foot starts to emerge more fully, I have to push it away. Guess I hit my limits of tolerance. And there's still the next course to come.
Well you can't just take yourself on a tour of the jungle...you need a boat, and shelter, and food, the essentials. So we connect with Corto-Maltese, a place that provides excursions ...we're spending 4 days down river at their camp. We're on the Madre de Dios River where the Tambopata River joins it and together they keep on flowing way down into Brazil, changing their name as they cross the border, until they become one with the Amazon and eventually flow into the Atlantic. Now the Madre de Dios is a really wide river...at least two, maybe three times the width of the Erie Barge Canal and it's just a tributary to the Amazon. We get into camp and right away meet this group of very friendly Mormon missionary women on tour...but we're mostly hanging out with a couple from Paris...she's Peruvian and he's French. I believe we might have more in common with them. The big red macaw sees us relaxing in our hammocks and comes running down the path to hang out. Right up the steps of our porch and by our sides. After some conversation with the macaw and a great meal, we take a hike through the jungle with Frank, our guide and it's really pretty exciting. We see all sorts of symbiotic relationships and jungle adaptations. We see termite nests, red ants swarming a tree, ironwood trees, the toughest trees of all, which ding like metal when you whack them, capoc trees with their buttress roots, walking palms that travel as they put down new roots, lots of jungle fruits, and a gazillion mosquitoes. Forget the organic repellent, time to saturate in DEET. It's at this point that I'm glad I had my yellow fever vaccination. Frank says that everybody here is automatically vaccinated as a child so there isn't a problem. I've certainly got enough bites to likely have a yellow fever one in there somewhere. I watch Frank who can just seem to talk right through them landing on his nose, his eyelids...he's got a lot of good stuff to say and he's into it so I'm glad he's our guide. You certainly get a lot more out of a walk in the forest with a guide. There is perhaps no where that a shower is more appreciated than in the humid tropics...we retire to our hut in this jungle paradise and let the insects on the other side of the screen serenade us to sleep.