South America

Into The (Amazon) Jungle

On Wednesday morning, we took a 35-minute flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, a small town on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. Our journey kicked off to a fate-based start while waiting in our shuttle for the rest of the tour group to arrive. Eric and I waited with two other couples around our age and, as it turned out, we were all from the United States.

One of the couples, Mike and Lara, were visiting from Chicago, the same city Eric and I currently live in. Lara is a vegetarian and has been since fifth grade, just like me. The other couple, whose names escape me now, currently lives in Washington, D.C. and the girl is from Rochester, New York, the same city I grew up in. She attended Ithaca College, a school I applied to, and she looked at St. Bonaventure, the university I attended for my undergraduate degree. Lara also looked at Ithaca College and ended up going to Syracuse University, a school that is two hours from Rochester, for her first year and a half of college.

After our coincidental introductions, we drove through Puerto Maldonado, a town where motorcycles and mototaxis (just picture a cross between a motorcycle and a peddicab) swarm the streets as the primary mode of transportation. Every so often we would see a car or bus sprinkled among the weaving moto-vehicles, but it was not common.

Our rainforest lodge was about a four hour boat ride from Puerto Maldonado in Tambopata, a 3.5 million acre spot of the rainforest located to the south and east of Puerto Maldonado. Our tour group had 11 total people, and we all rode together down the Madre de Dios River with our boat driver and tour guide, Victor. For lunch, we ate rice out of huge leaves that acted like Saran wrap with a small, perfect string tying the leaf ends together like a small sac.

When we arrived at Wasai Tambopata, our rainforest home, Victor led each of us to our private bungalows, which were each made of wood and palm tree leaf-woven roofs. Each bungalow had its own bathroom and shower, but no hot water.

I took my showers in a sort of Hokey Pokey manner as I put my right arm in then my right arm out, all in unwanted anticipation of sticking each remaining unwashed limb in the freezing water. Each bed had mosquito nets that hung from the ceiling, and every night they turned into a netted canopy around each mattress.

Our visit consisted of a series of jungle hikes, boat rides and delicious group dinners. The second day we took a 4:30am boat ride down the Tambopata River to visit one of the world´s largest macaw clay licks. Though there are few worldwide, the licks are rainforest walls where hundreds of parrots and macaws gather early in the morning to eat minerals from the clay.

The boat ride to the clay lick lasted two hours, most of which was in complete darkness. While I struggled to keep my eyes open during most of the ride, I was amazed by the navigation of the 30-by-five-foot boat through the early morning darkness. Victor sat in the front the entire ride, moving a single spotlight back and forth across the river. This showed the driver in the back of the boat the edges of the river, and signaled to him where to avoid rocks and branches that jutted up from the water.

Victor’s focus amazed me. Wasai only turns the electricity on between the hours of 6:00 and 10:00pm, so we got out of bed in the morning with no lights to help wake us up. Everyone in the boat struggled to keep our eyes open, especially until sunrise, as we only had a single candle and a couple flashlights to lead us into the day. Victor and the driver, though, stayed attentive and alert the entire trip.

Among our other excursions were a night hike through the jungle with flashlights and cameras, a few day hikes and an evening boat ride to search for caymens along the river. On the third day, a small group of us canoed around Sandoval Lake, a beautiful body of water surrounded by palm trees and tons of wildlife. It lies in a secluded part of the jungle, and the only way to reach it from the Tambopata River is by following a two-mile long path by foot.

Throughout our excursions we saw spiders, including a huge turantula, lots of birds, a turtle, scorpion, monkeys, butterflies, caymen, a mother and baby sloth and countless types of plants and trees. We also saw jaguar, anaconda and mole cricket prints in the sand. At Sandoval Lake we watched a family of seven otters swim and play along the lakeshore.

According to the records kept at the ranger stations, most of the rainforest visitors are American, British and Australian. Rarely do people from other countries in South American or other cities in Peru visit. There are even people from Puerto Maldonado who have never been into the depths of the rainforest. Many of then simply are not educated about it.

Though much of the areas we visited are protected, many of the areas in the rainforest are not. Only a small percentage of the people living in Puerto Maldonado are actually from the town. Many people come to live there temporarily to farm or mine gold, then leave the land destroyed when they return to their homes. The trip was relaxing and peaceful, and also an eye-opening experience that we were all glad to have been a part of.


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