Up and early for our last day. Most of our belongings were packed, and we ate an early breakfast. We did a reverse trip of our first day and arrived back at the airport for the 11 a.m. flight. Unfortunately, when we arrived back in Lima at 2 p.m., none of the international flight gates were open yet, so we were forced to pay for luggage storage to go into town for a few hours.
After some haggling, a taxi took us to the Larco Museum, which is thankfully open late on Sunday nights. The museum is far superior to what we had seen already and also allowed photography. It houses a huge pottery collection and gold pieces, and it amusingly had an ancient erotic art collection. We ate dinner at the museum café, and the museum shop clerk was able to call us a taxi for a much more reasonable price.
At the airport, JJ was finally able to get some donuts due to a Dunkin’ Donuts booth. The three of them bought half a dozen to eat amongst themselves before the flight, so I wandered around some of the shops. Apparently the donuts were too Peruvian for their tastes. We boarded the flight, which was in the air through the night, landing in Dallas in the early morning where we went our separate ways.
Overall, the trip was good. The Amazon leg of it felt out of place after the first two parts, but I still enjoyed it. It probably would have been better as its own trip, though. Thinking back, we had tried to save money by removing one of the legs and staying in the Sacred Valley, but perhaps we should have kept the last leg and just gone to a different part of Peru such as Lake Titicaca or the Nazca Lines (I hear they fly over them in hot air balloons). A lot of experiences, many intense, and many scenic. And a lot of the food was very enjoyable.
I am excited to go on yet another trip soon, but once the coffers have re-established themselves.
Back to Day 8
Our last full day in the Amazon and another 4:45 a.m. wake up call. We took a short boat ride to Tambopata Park, just the four of us since the others we met all had flights that morning. The day was warm, and we were advised to wear rubber boots because of more rainfall last night. Rubber boots and 5km of hot humid jungle hiking do not go well together. I don’t think I’ve exercised this much since our honeymoon in Japan (we walked a lot, I recorded 11 miles one day). After the first half hour, my mind started wandering putting only as much effort as needed to not trip or get stuck in the mud.
An hour and a half later we arrived at Cocacocha Lake, full of piranhas that Daniel demonstrated by dropping a piece of bread in the water. The response was voracious. We munched on our breakfast from the viewing hut with that knowledge in mind, then jumped into a canoe with Daniel and fellow staffer Luis paddling the quiet and calm lake that barely held the rainforest back.
We could hear river otters in the distance, the main attraction of the lake and often elusive. Macaws flew above the trees, and “stinky birds” were found along the shoreline trees. The guides zeroed in on the otters, and there they were. Seven total, curious and playfully hunting food along the edge of the lake. Several times one otter came towards the canoe to check us out, poking his head out of the water every so often while the others remained back barking and snorting. We followed for ten minutes before going off in search of more wildlife but only found more stinky birds.
Daniel gave us fifteen minutes to psyche ourselves up for the return hike. Daniel made the pace more manageable by stopping to show us different medicinal plants, including having us sample the bark of a tree that is used to make the pills effective against malaria and yellow fever (a shot I could not coordinate in time for the trip back home). It was incredibly bitter, like potent thousand year old earwax. I drank half a bottle of water and chewed on a mandarin-orange flavored sweet leaf hoping to lose that taste. At least we were now somewhat “immune” to the two bad diseases to be concerned about.
Barely holding it together by the time we reached the river, the short boat ride back felt amazing. Our package also included a trip to a similar lake on a catamaran with some piranha fishing, which I was really excited about (the catamaran part), but after that hike none of us could work up the energy to go. It was intended to be during the time we went to El Gato for the other couple’s tour, and I would have preferred the catamaran (although similar to the one we just did, it would have at least been a shorter trip but still a lot of walking).
After lunch we decided to relax that afternoon and took over the hammocks. While we were chilling out, a new substantial wave of guests arrived. Soon enough it was time for our night ride, so we made another trip to the Tambopata River banks, boarding the roofed boats. We barely pulled away when we saw our first caiman, not even a year old, sitting on the bank next to us. He didn’t appreciate the spotlight and quickly darted into the water. Motoring along in near darkness, it was easy to get caught up in star gazing. This far out from civilization, the sky popped, just peppered with stars and the Milky Way clearly visible (amazing since inside the jungle its pitch black from the dense foliage). I wished I could get a photo, but that would have required much more advanced technology and solid ground.
The motorman beached us and hopped into the shallow water. A large caiman’s eyes reflected in the spotlight, and when the motorman dove, a large splashing ruckus ensued. This caiman was considerably older and made a getaway. After a while, we started up the river again and found one more younger caiman we were able to get close enough for some decent photos. We returned for dinner, then slept well once the MIT reunion finally quieted down.
Back to Day 7 | On to Day 9
Waking up before 5 a.m. was hard but necessary for a quick shower, complete body bug repellent and sun block application, and then the peeling on of clothing. Thankfully the weather was much cooler as we boarded a boat at 5:30 a.m. for a ten minute ride to the clay lick viewing huts. Along the way a family of capybara was swimming across the river and emerged on the other side. Despite being rodents of unusual size, they were cute! At the overlook, the birds began to arrive shortly after us; primarily parakeets, which squabbled with other bird species before flocking to the clay lick. After a half hour of observation, we returned to the lodge for some eats.
The couple that joined us had a different package that included a trip to El Gato waterfall, so we hopped back in the boat for a two and a half ride up the river. The weather began turning halfway through, bringing chill, winds, and rain. The driver had some difficulty navigating the low waters and the sandbars, rocks, and logs but did a great job. The rain was really coming down at El Gato, and the waterfall did not look like much during the dry season but did still have a strong flow. We were given the opportunity to swim in the lower river by the falls but were already quite wet.
As part of the tour we took a 45 minute hike in the rainforest (aptly named at this point), beginning with a demonstration of plant use by natives in ceremonies. S was painted with goji berries with orange shapes on the face and arms as well as a “beak” and “ears” using the pink leaves of a waxy flower. Lunch was served in the lodge afterwards, a leaf wrapped huayna but fancier than the lunch on the boat with rice, a piece of chicken, a whole hard-boiled egg, and some cooked peppers. We also had bananas and a cold drink that tasted like cinnamon coffee tea. By the end of lunch the rain had moved on so we took a few more photos and grabbed some star fruit off a tree near the lodge. An unusual experience just before leaving was a bathroom run; flushing didn’t release water but rather ants… I was glad not to have to figure that one out.
Everyone passed out on the long boat ride back; although because of the rain we had a higher chance of seeing a jaguar or puma. Only more birds and capybara around the river though. Two Danish college students that joined us spotted some spider monkeys on our walk back to Inotawa and went chasing after them. We couldn’t find them again, but later when everyone but I was napping, Mes and Andreas emerged from the forest having found the monkeys close by and showed me them as well as a poison dart frog that was caught in a large ditch. We hung out for a while on the hammocks until they went off on another wildlife spotting excursion.
While reading in the hammock my stomach became upset, and JJ ended up feeling unwell from poor sleep in the boat. So sadly only Herr and S were able to go see the fruit farm and plant a banana tree. The farm has a sad story of a father losing his son to a snake bite and later burning down the house and abandoning the farm. The banana tree they planted should be full grown in a year.
Because of my upset stomach, Daniel had the kitchen staff make me a chicken soup. He was very thoughtful about our health, especially because S later on would have a bad stomach problem as well. Mes and Andreas were convinced to join us at a game of Citadels that went very late. Andreas came surprisingly close to winning, a sleeper player, so to speak. That night we did not get nearly enough sleep.
Back to Day 6 | On to Day 8
We departed Cusco for Puerto Maltonado, the driver dodging and honking his way through the morning traffic . The flight was the same one we took to Cusco, which is just a stop along the way to the Amazon destination only 30 minutes farther east. I was ready for some warmer weather! However, most of us were not prepared for the level of humidity that hit us when we stepped off the plane at the very small airport. Our guides found us, and two more people joined our group for the first two days. They were a fun relaxed couple from British Columbia.
The hour long van ride felt much longer because of the unpaved lumpy roads. We passed by several acres of slash and burn, making space for banana and profitable papaya crops. The houses looked shanty-like, but after a few hours in the climate I could appreciate the lifestyle. The next leg of the trip was an hour by boat on the Rio Madre de Dios, one of the Amazon tributaries, which was 30 feet (!!) shallow being the dry season. The boats resembled long canoes with a wood roof attached and a motor at the back end. Daniel, our guide, said the wet season was often miserable for visitors with long rain and wind spells that forced events to be canceled.
The boat docked at an unmarked staircase that led to a boardwalk of sorts through the jungle floor. Three minutes into the forest was the Inotawa eco-lodge. It greeted us with a large open lobby and four hammocks. A staff member had a fruit drink for us, and other staffers were carrying our bags into the main complex connected by raised boardwalks. The main lodge had maybe a dozen small rooms off the main hall with curtain doors, and past that the dining area, bar, and kitchen also connected by covered boardwalks. Sleeping in those rooms in the main lodge would have been difficult, but luckily we had our own bungalows off the path a ways. The bungalows were cute, with candles for the evening, and working bathrooms (albeit not very private).
What makes this an eco-lodge is its minimum carbon footprint. No AC or really any electricity most of the day. They used generators that ran about four hours a day, from around 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The bungalows would have light during that time, and people could charge cameras and other electronics. The food made was local, and the staff members were locals. Daniel grew up on a farm in the area, for instance. The boardwalks out to the bungalows were lit by beer-bottle “tiki” candles once dark out. Quite a change from the previous legs of the trip!
We dropped off our bags in the rooms and agreed to meet in two hours for a short hike in the jungle. After drinking a lot of water and leaf-wrapped “fried rice” on the boatride in, we were ready to not move for a while. The best way I can describe the heat is to imagine a very hot sauna and wearing all your clothes including the shoes. Then try to imagine doing any physical activity such as walking. Clothes had to be peeled off to take a quick shower (the water was controlled by a valve, no temperature control), after which I did not dry. When 4:30 p.m. came around, I nearly had to push Herr out of bed.
The hike was to the mother tree, a very tall and wide tree with giant wooden vines used to climb up to a wooden platform two thirds of the way up. No one made it up very far, too much perspiration. Back at the lodge we saw the resident monkeys. Daniel had found them a while back, and it took him a week to convince them to come down to be seen using lots of bananas. Shortly after, we went on a night hike. The sun consistently disappears a little after 6 p.m., being so close to the equator. Armed with flashlights, we walked the trails again, spotting spiders, frogs, and other bugs. We heard a lot of wildlife, especially when Daniel had us turn off the lights. We stood still for five minutes taking it in, eyes adjusting to the darkness but still not seeing anything.
Back at the lodge, dinner was served at 7:30 p.m. in a pseudo buffet style. We managed to hang out until 9 p.m. before we called it quits. The bungalows had cheesecloth-like netting that kept the bugs out but the heat in. Despite that, I slept well (crickets are much easier to sleep to than honking horns and barking dogs).
Back to Day 5 | On to Day 7