Due to the recent rain storms the rail line or any streets going to Machu Picchu are still out. There is no way for us to visit Machu Picchu. Instead we took 3 days and 2 nights to visit the Peruvian Jungle, Madre de Dios. On the East side of the Andes, the mountains drop off rapidly and the Eastern part of Peru is pure jungle. Hot and steamy, moist and rainy, very dense and tropical, this jungle is certainly dangerous. We picked the town of Puerto Maldonado because it had an airport and we could get a flight from Cuzco. Also the lodge we where we wanted to stay had a special program for the time we wanted. Like most things in Peru, the planning is only part of the job.
Our flight on Star Peru was delayed and we worried that we would miss the pick up at the airport in Puerto Maldonado. Not to worry, Peruvians are used to delays of any kind. Our pick up was there in a huge, brightly painted, open-sided bus and we were first taken to their office where arrangements were made right away for our boarding pass on our return flight. After climbing over the prow of a very narrow riverboat, we travelled down river to a lodge in the jungle. This Eco Amazonia Lodge (www.ecoamazonia.com.pe), our home for the next 3 days was basic yet comfortable enough, even luxurious for Jungle standards. All food was included in the package, we did not have to cook or worry about not getting enough to eat. The meals were exceptional and great tasting. Upon arrival at the lodge we were served lunch immediately and then taken on a tour of Monkey Island. This is an Island across from the Lodge in the middle of the very broad and very fast running Rio Madre de Dios, our highway for the next few days. Monkey Island is owned by the Lodge and is quite large. Monkeys found injured, or held as pets and no longer wanted, or taken from poachers, are brought to this sanctuary. These animals are set free there and are taken care of by the lodge. When we visited we were told that a total of 35 monkeys were on the Island. Our transport to this Island was via a small river boats with a simple, homemade, outboard motor. We chugged across the Madre de Dios and landed someplace on the banks of the Island. One boat was already tied up but getting off those slim, wobbly boats was a challenge. After climbing gingerly over the prow, we stepped off the boat and sank immediately almost up the knees into the muck and mud of the river bank. Climbing up the embankment this way was not easy. Each step threatened to pull the rubber boots we were given off our feet. Slick and slippery footing made our rubber boots a god send.
We were provided with these boots before we left the Lodge; they were stacked in a rack and ready for the taking by anyone from the Lodge going on an excursion. I am very glad we listened and took them along. Without those rubber boots, walking in the jungle would have been impossible. A trail was already cut thru the thicket but some spots were so muddy we had to wade through water and mud over our ankles. In extreme spots, boards were laid out or little bridges were built to make the going a little bit easier (but not much easier). It was never an easy going hike. Each step had to be planned and each step had to be firm and secure. Without those precautions we would certainly have fallen and would have hit the mud. We came very close a few times and only by reaching out to the sides and holding on to a tree were we saved.
This holding on to any vegetation is a definite no-no in the jungle. We were just not savvy enough to touch things. Plants had so many defenses and snakes or spiders or poisonous frogs were hidden and could seriously harm us, holding on, while walking in this mud was not recommended and in fact was dangerous.
After some time, maybe 45 minutes, we came to a feeding station. The guides had set up a primitive table and before they got to this feeding spot they made monkey calling sounds to let the monkeys know we were close by.
Just before we arrived, our guide noted that Carol was carrying a water bottle. The water bottles in all of Peru have bright blue caps. The guide was a bit at a loss and asked Carol to hide the bottle in her pocket, because the monkeys, loving clean water, would certainly attack her. Well Carol heeded his advise and even kept a hand over the tell tale blue cap. But, once she saw the monkeys she forgot about the stupid water bottle and used both hands to take pictures. Well, a large spider monkey saw the tell tale blue cap and immediately ran towards Carol to get clean drinking water. There was no defense from the relentless attack of the spider monkey. Even with the guide trying to divert the attention of the monkey back to bananas or other food morsels, this monkey wanted clean drinking water. As you can see by the pictures it pulled the bottle right out of Carols pant pocket. Naturally it climbed right up Carol’s legs and did all it could to get the water.
It all happened very fast, the pictures do not do the situation justice. Only when the guide finally gave water to this spider monkey did we have peace. Other monkeys nearby were as eager for clean water but were not as bold. There is enough water around, it is the rainy season, but this particular monkey must have developed a taste for certain water and that is what he wanted.
The lodge also owns 10,000 acres of jungle and within the boundaries of this acreage no hunting, poaching or cutting lumber is allowed. It is a true sanctuary. Guided tours are given for tourists like us and explanations are given in an educational way. Students visit to learn about the delicate ecology of the jungle but are also being made aware of its dangers. Our monkey outing was just the beginning of a wonderful trip. We were lucky to be able to see a few of the monkeys and only thru the training of the guides were we able to do it. In general the jungle is quiet. Yes, mosquitoes abound, so do creatures like ants or caterpillars but Amazonia has really no large mammals. Those large mammals found in Africa are not present here. The jaguar is the largest predator and a rare sight. The main inhabitants of the Amazonian Jungle are bugs of all kinds. And the plant life is so varied that to know each plant seems impossible.
Then after seeing the monkeys we had to return to the boat. Again we had mud up to our knees and hot and steamy walking weather. Luckily, we had no rain that day.
We had been advised already, both in the U.S. and in Canada, to take anti-malarial tablets. Mosquitoes are a constant pest. Open your mouth to talk and they fly right in. Lucky for us they do not have bones; I ate a lot of them that day.
Once back at the lodge, again using the slim canoe-like riverboats with the peculiar outboard motor, we had about one hour to rest. Dinner was at 7 PM and we had just finished eating when we were told that a night tour on the river was next.
At 8 PM, our departure time, night had set in. There were no lights anywhere and getting into the riverboat again, this time in total darkness, was an eerie experience. Nobody dared to wobble too much for fear of falling into the pitch black water. The homemade outboard motor came to life and we chugged upriver, but this time we hugged the shoreline very closely. We had 2 guides on board, one at the helm and one at the bow of the boat with a homemade searchlight. A handheld light bulb was clipped to a car battery, voila, a searchlight. We were looking for caimans, the South American Crocodile, we searched and searched, chugging always upriver but never saw the tell tale reflection of their eyes.
After about 20 minutes of intense search, we gave up. Now, being upriver, the guides shut off the motor, shut off the search lights and we all shut our mouths and let the symphony of jungle sounds settle over us. The boat now drifted with the current guiding us downriver again. Swift and without sound we had 10 to 15 minutes with only the jungle sounds, in the pitch dark, in the middle of the river, in the night jungle. It was a sublime experience. Nature was all around us. We had water below, dark, cloudy sky above and wilderness as primitive as it gets left and right of us. It was such a simple yet very memorable experience. For these 15 minutes, the trip was worth every penny. As modern city slickers, we are in awe of such experiences. I certainly was impressed and strangely aroused.
Coming back and close to the Lodge again, the homemade outboard motor stuttered once more to life. It felt good to be back on land and back to light bulbs and other modern amenities. By 9 PM we were asleep and slept like logs in our cabin. This cabin, made out of rot resistant wood, had the luxury of a shower and while everything inside the cabin was made out of wood because the humidity was so intense, we had a bed with a regular mattress. We slept well that night, despite the rain that fell on the straw roof right after we lay down. An overhead fan gave us some air current but, unknown to us the electricity was turned off at 10 PM, like it is done every day. But we never knew it, we were asleep.