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.