Back to basics

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2011

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Where I stayed
Posadas Amazonas

Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, March 10, 2011

"I don't like formal gardens. I like wild nature. It's just the wilderness instinct in me, I guess."
 Walt Disney

We left the Galapagos and Ecuador with sun-tans and some wonderful memories and headed back to Peru to take up our final volunteer program. Five days in the Peruvian rainforest volunteering at Amazon Shelter's Centre for the Rehabilitation and Conservation of Wild Animals.  But before the Rolf Harris act there were 4 days staying in a Jungle Lodge for which you can read as 4 days being a blood donor to mosquitoes. And since this was a malarial zone we were back on the drugs – in my case this time Doxycycline (Doxy), rather than the hallucinogenic Malarone I'd used in Malaysia.

Another miserable LAN flight took us to Puerto Maldonado from the ever infuriating Lima airport. An airport that almost makes Heathrow seem as good as Singapore airport. Puerto Maldonado’s airport by comparison was simplicity itself as it was not much more than a large hanger with some wood lattices for windows.  

We were picked up by our guide, a hawk-eyed chap called Silverio and boarded a bus to the Lodge, Posados Amazonas. Also on the bus was a breath-takingly annoying Swiss family (on our trip it’s always the Swiss that are the most annoying or weirdest) whose mother insisted on taking over the guides.

The bus somehow managed the muddy dirt track road, bypassing the partially built bridges, where we boarded a narrow-boat to the Lodge, 2hrs up the Rio Tambopata in the heart of the Peruvian rainforest.

Of the tours we’ve done with GAP Adventures the accommodation has generally been better than hovels we’ve stayed in on ‘Real Gap’ trips but even by GAP’s standards Posados Amazonas was pretty good. Okay, it had no hot water, no fans and electricity only for a few hours in the evening but it was clean, comfortable and quite stylish.  After settling in we did our first short trek to a 37m high wobbly observation tower that took us all the way to the tree tops. From there we could see over the rainforest which spread as far as the eye could see for 360. It’s quite an amazing sight and appears endless until Silverio pointed out an area of secondary forest – an area deforested about 30 years ago for logging and still slowly recovering.

There are three main threats to the rainforest here – much the same as other rainforests. There’s direct logging as logging companies cut down vast swathes of the forest and fail to reforest and they are supposed to do either by not planting sufficient numbers of saplings or by replacing slow-growing hardwood trees such as cedar with faster growing soft-wood trees.  As one tree is felled others are damaged or destroyed as the loggers drag the tree out of the forest. But at least with logging the area can be reforested. With the second major threat, gold mining, re-forestation isn’t an option as the mercury used in extracting gold seeps into the land and the water causing immense damage to the environment and considerable harm to the workers. In this area our guide told us the Peruvian Govt is coming down hard on the gold companies and (unlike Malaysia) laws are starting to be both implemented and enforced. The final threat is agriculture.  Despite their appearance rainforests are not nutrient rich, so to get the nutrients into the ground to allow for crop cultivation farmers have to slash and burn patches of the forest. Once done they can grow rice, yucca, corn and bananas for a couple of decades. 

We had a 4am start on our second day at the lodge. As I’ve said before I’m not one for early starts and 4am barely seems worth going to bed for. But if nothing else the bed, with its mossie-net, did offer more protection than staying up and as there was no electricity after 9pm there wasn’t much else I could do.  

We were back down at the wonky stairs to the dock at 5am to jump on a long-boat to take us to The 3 Chimbadas Lake (via a 30 min hike thru’ the mud). At the incredibly picturesque lake we boarded a ‘Catamaran’ - when I say catamaran I mean a couple of long-boat hulls joined together with some planks of wood where the passengers sat – powered by a local chap moving around a large oar Japanese style. It was quite something to be floating gently along thru’ the early morning mist as it gradually cleared as the sun came up. The immensely irritating Swiss family were with us but were eventually told by the guides to keep quiet if they wanted to see anything. Their relative silence was rewarded by us seeing a number of strange, noisy, slightly chicken like bird called the Hoatzin and best of all a pair of Giant River Otters – which kept Claire happy as she loves otters – who were feeding. It was a privilege to watch these rare Otters dive, catch a fish and then casually swim on their backs eating their breakfast. 

We also did a spot of fishing ourselves, for Piranhas.  This simply involves putting a small lump of raw meat on a hook and line and then chucking it into the water until the Piranhas bite. This, as you would imagine, doesn’t take too long at which point you yank the line up with a Piranha dangling off the hock still chomping down on the meat. Easier said than do as the Piranha are wise this and nibble around the hook but I did manage to catch one mean looking Yellow Piranha which we threw back.

Come the afternoon we went to visit a local Shaman. It’ll come as little surprise that I viewed this excursion with some scepticism. And whilst the Shaman explained that some of the brews he created had valid medicinal properties – such as acetylsalicylic acid (also known as aspirin) when he described how this bark when mixed with alcohol cures early stage cancer (not sure which one), or that leaf (again mixed with alcohol) makes one more attractive to the opposite (or even same) sex and this leaf allows the Shaman to ‘see’ what ails a patient you realise (if you didn’t already know) that most of it is suppositious bollocks.  

As Claire pointed out – with a level of cynicism I’d proud of – that back in the middle ages we’d dunk and then burn people as witches or warlocks if they claimed to be able to ‘heal’ people. For me the most amusing thing was that for all the Shaman’s supposed magical or mystical powers there was nothing he do to ward off the mossies that infested his medicine garden and attacked him incessantly.

After a couple of days the lessons from the Borneo rainforest came back. Nothing every gets dry in the rainforest, it’s too humid. Dry clothes, if left out, become damp and damp clothes stay damp. So to avoid getting too many sets of clothes damp and dirty before going onto the animal shelter I figured that I might as well just wear one set of increasingly dirty and smelly clothes for trekking – I never knew how bad a pair of North Face trousers could smell until now - and one set of ‘clean’ clothes for the evening. Such was the logic of my argument even Claire followed suite! Well to a degree at any rate...

Our last day proved to be the wettest as we went for a trek to view a couple of huge, 500 yr old Ficus trees. This involved us wading thru' knee-high swamps - or as I call them mossie colonies. On route we were lucky enough to see a pack of Black Capuchin monkeys eating wild papaya and tearing the bark off of a tree in their search for bugs to eat.Whilst they were eating the bugs, the mossies invariably were eating me.

When we finally got back to our room the cold showers were almost welcome. As for the wet, smelly clothes; well they were just shoved back into the rucksack ready for the animal shelter project ahead of us.
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Andy Howell on

Ian, I think you could have been a bit more creative, I could see an immediate solution to your Swiss problem through the presence of a) a rickerty boat and b) piranahas. I presume even the mossies won't come near your jungle kit now !!!

Tim on

Hallucinogenic Malarone? Are you not thinking of Larium (Mefloquine)?

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