Puerto Maldonado, Peru
I`m a Wuss…Get me out of here!
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Amazon Rainforest Lodge and Sacred Valley – 16th – 21st August
Up at the crack of dawn to catch our early flight to Puerto Maldonaldo, the gateway town to the Peruvian Amazon and one of South America’s finest jungles, according to Lonely Planet. The flight offered great views, and took our minds off the pretty hairy landing on the tiny runway.
Our tour company was there to meet us, along with a group of Italian tourists (here we go again with the Spanish/Italian confusion). They seemed to understand me though, and it was nice to speak a language I felt a bit more confident with. Puerto Maldonaldo was nothing to write home about, and we were soon on our way by road and then along the Tambopata River to our Lodge. A very tasty lunch of vegetarian rice wrapped in a leaf and a bottle of water (Dave wasn`t impressed!) was served on the boat, and it felt very surreal floating down the river surrounded by jungle – spotting parakeets, herons, and other exotic birds along the way along with a baby capibara.
The Inotawa Lodge was a pleasant surprise, and we were allocated a spacious “bungalow” complete with mosquito nets and en-suite shower room. We weren`t so impressed with the cold water and large gaps in the wooden roof and floor – after all…this was the jungle for heaven’s sake – anything could (and did) get in. After a cold beer at the bar, we were treated to the up-close spectacle of several squirrel monkeys helping themselves to the bananas left over from breakfast just alongside the dining room. We were horrified to learn that we were unlikely to see any jaguars, as the Russian tourists somehow managed to bend the strict conservation rules governing the national park, and went on shooting parties up-river.
That evening we were invited on a night walk with our guide Carlos, who promised that we should see snakes, spiders and bats (oh joy!). I was already a little uneasy after the news story about the killer vampire bats that had been attacking children in the Northern Peruvian Amazon, only to see a couple roosting in the roof of the dining area. Still, looking like we were about to go down the pit with our headlamps on (we felt we were setting ourselves up as a kind of mobile MacDonalds for bugs), we set up intrepidly into the dark depths of the jungle. Several frogs, tarantulas and other man-killing wasps and ants later, we weren`t too disappointed not to have seen any snakes.
Dave felt quite cosy in our mosquito net covered bed listening to the sounds of the jungle, but I still had the bats on my mind, and woke up with a start when I though I heard scuffling noises in the hut. A few sleepless hours later, we arose for our early morning boat ride to the parrot “hide” up river (there was never a more appropriate use of the word). After a quick wash I nearly fainted when something ran out from under the sink I`d just been using, and I just saw a long rat-like tail disappearing under the shower curtain. Apparently, it would have been a “possum”, but I felt a little spooked nonetheless.
The parrot spotting didn`t go too well, as a large hawk had taken roost in a nearby tree and was scaring them away. We did see a few brave grey headed parakeets and several dozen “weaver birds” (the name given to any bird that Carlos obviously couldn`t identify)! Slightly disappointed, we took the boat back to the lodge for breakfast, before setting off on another journey down the river and then on to the lake, to see if we could spot some giant otters. We did see a white caiman at a distance, which seemed to have his eye on a large otter that was out fishing. The otter clearly could out-swim the caiman and each time he almost caught up to him, the otter would go speeding off leaving the caiman in its wake. Apparently, the caiman wasn`t after the otter, but the remains of the otter`s fish. It was quite funny to watch! The others went fishing for Piranhas while I gave them my best disapproving glare. It was a lovely serene spot though, with multi-coloured butterflies fluttering around us.
The evening`s adventure featured visiting a local farm and it was eye-opening seeing the hard lives the locals faced. A small family of four adults and one child lived in a wooden framed house and had to tend a very large piece of land growing several crops including bananas, mangoes, sugar cane and cotton. They had no running water and had to wash in the river. They did have a radio so at least could keep up with the latest goings on in “The Archers”, no doubt.
On the way back, the mad Carlos was determined that we see a caiman close up, and ventured into the rocks at the side of the river (in his flip flops!) to fish a baby caiman out of his nest. When he brought it struggling onto the boat, most of us nearly jumped off! It was eerie, spotting all the eyes in the light of the torch as we swept down the river.
Feeling in need of a stiff drink once back at the lodge, Dave was amused when I asked for the wine list! Well…it was worth a try.
Another night under the mosquito net (strangely enough, mosquitoes were the last thing I was worried about being bitten by), and up early to catch our boat and bus back to Puerto Maldonaldo.
We arrived back into Cusco around lunchtime, and picked up our hire car. I think Dave was having second thoughts after experiencing Peruvian drivers and roads on the drive in from the airport. He was even more worried when we were told we couldn`t take out fully inclusive insurance and they took a $1000 deposit from his credit card. I did offer to drive, as I thought my driving skills were more up to Peruvian standards, but the look on his face told me that he would have rather gone for a swim with the piranhas and caimans.
My fine navigation skills however, guided us directly into the centre of Cusco, where we passed up on the Guinea Pig pizza (I kid you not) and found a great little cafe run by some Aussies for lunch. We took the opportunity to see Cusco in the daylight but were quickly driven back to the car by the hoards of street vendors trying to sell us everything from massages to jellies. Not particularly feeling the need for either, we set off on our two hour drive to the Sacred Valley.
All went well and we managed to navigate our way through the mad drivers, pot-holed roads and packs of kamikaze dogs, until we somehow missed the turn off we needed and ended up on a wild diversion up a dirt track on the side of a mountain, behind a large lorry. Each time we hit a bend, the lorry would stop and roll backwards. When we finally tried to overtake him, we found a stream of minivans and cars trying to overtake us at the same time!
It was a relief to finally reach the Rio Sagrado, on the banks of the river running through the valley – a very pretty spot, in time to watch the sunset. An ancient ceremony was being staged in the grounds of the hotel – a sort of Harvest Festival – giving thanks to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). The Gods didn`t seem to be too pleased with the offerings, as a strong wind had blown up and was blowing embers from the fire dangerously close to the gathering.
Much as we were enjoying the “Earth, Wind and Fire” show, we were reluctant to become burnt offerings and we beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of our room. The long day had taken it`s toll, and we enjoyed a luxurious night`s sleep in a room with a solid roof and floor, a hot shower and devoid of bats and other night creatures.
A rare lie-in and we felt brave enough to hit the Peruvian roads again (although it felt more like they were hitting us). Avoiding the pot holes, burst water mains, tuk tuks and dogs we drove to Pisac, a scenic market town along the valley. Much haggling later, Dave emerged with presents of alpaca scarves and shawls and I bought myself a nice jumper with a hood, to keep me warm on the long cold nights in Bolivia.
After a quick relax back at the hotel, we filled up the car at the local petrol station,
and were rewarded with our free gift – a loo roll! We wondered what the rest of the collection consisted of. Still, I packed it in my rucksack, feeling sure it would come in far more useful than a set of glasses over the coming weeks.
Hunting down a very well hidden restaurant that was recommended in the guide book, Dave finally succumbed to trying alpaca (a choice he lived to regret over the next few days). Us vegetarians can be very smug sometimes!
An early night as we had to be up at 4am (it gets worse) the next morning for our drive back to Cusco to drop off the car and catch the 8am Andean Explorer train to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.