After Machu Picchu and returning to Cusco… we began to prepare for our next stop…
The Jungle. The Amazon Jungle.
We headed out of Cusco via the airport. It was a quick 50 minute flight on LAN. (yes! no more bus!) Cusco was a very interesting airport to fly in and out of though. It has a short runway for your standard commerical jet… and it is surrounded by mountains. And by surrounded I mean that the plane ascends sharply and quickly as you feel awfully close to the mountains around you. According to one Peruvian tour guide that we met on our train up to Machu Picchu, LAN is the only airline that has a good reputation for being able to land in Cusco safely. Yikes!
We made it to Puerto Maldonado, the starting point of our four day adventure. We were picked up by our lodge, Bello Horizonte, and our tour guide Freddi. He would be our guide for the duration of our stay. There was another female tour guide assigned to a couple from Quebec, but she, and they, only spoke French so we didn’t really get many details out of them. Bello Horizonte is a great organization. Run by a Swiss priest, they also operate a support center for kids and teens who have no other home. They take proceeds from the lodge, as well as a cafe in town and help these kids who have been orphaned and/or need assistance. Not only was the lodge more inexpensive than some of the others we looked at, we felt good that our money was going to a good cause.
After a brief stop at the Bello Horizonte office,we traveled across town to the Rio del Madre and boarded a boat to cross the river. We crossed the river, and our group of 6 hopped in a van, and travelled to the lodge, about an hour and a half into the jungle.
The lodge was cute, with little cabins for rooms. The front porch had reclining chairs and a hammock. There was a shared dining hall and social lounge, both completely enclosed in mosquito netting (thank GOD). On the property,there also was a spring-fed swimming pool, a medicinal plant garden, and a lookout tower that allowed you to get high above the tree canopy to see the birds flying about. The electricity turned on for five hours every night and the place had solar hot water.
At first we thought that perhaps it was just the two of us, the Canadian couple and staff and that more people would be showing up in the following days. But no, apparently they’d had a big group cancel and it was still technically the off season, so it was just the four guests the whole time we were there. And really, since they spoke no English, we felt that we sort of had the run of the place.
The way the lodge is set up, meals are served 3 times a day (unless you are out on a trek), and you eat in the lodge with your tour guide so you can talk about the day and upcoming adventures. The food was pretty spectacular, more authentic than we’d had anywhere in the country before. Things like potatoes, lentils, veggies, and chicken cooked inside bamboo stalks. Yum. Yum. And most importantly, lots of avocado.
The first afternoon we settled in, did some reading, went on a short walk with Freddi where he introduced us to all the plants in the medicinal garden. Then we had dinner and went to bed.
The second day was our hike to Loboyoc – which roughly translates in their coloqial language to “Home of the Wolf”. But, they didn’t really mean wolf. Apparently they call the giant river otters Wolves because they travel in packs just like wolves do. So, Loboyoc is a creek that feeds the Madre de dios River and sometimes has river otter. The trek was 6 km to the creek, a two hour ride in a canoe/boat. Unfortunately since it had been raining for a couple days beforehand, Freddi insisted that we hike in rubber boots, which was pretty annoying. Also, we spent most of the walk squish-squishing along, which definitely slowed our progress.
The hike, though, was pretty incredible. We saw SO many incredible animals and insects. We saw several types of mammals (marmut like things), leaf cutter ants, a GIANT snail,
a two toed sloth, beautiful birds, and Freddi even coaxed a tarantula out of its home. On the river “cruise”, we saw tons of butterflies, some parakeets, big big spiders, and a couple small caiman (alligators). Each one of this next group of pictures has some wildlife included….
Freddi tried to coax some parahnas to the surface with banana that we brought for snacks, but no luck. After trekking back to the lodge, we ate lunch and went to the swimming pool which was SO necessary. I mean, I have never been so sweaty in my entire life. It was only about 85 degrees or so i think, but the humidity, coupled with long sleeves and pants to ward off the bugs, we were SO SWEATY. so, into the pool we went, which was awesome. Then dinner, reading, and early to bed.
The next day was an early morning, to a clay lick for parakeets that we were very much looking forward to. Further up the river near some of the other lodges there are clay licks where larger macaws congregate, but this one was more accessible for smaller parakeets. Basically, because of the toxins in the nuts and berries that the birds eat, they need to ingest the clay every morning to cleanse their systems. So, they all appear at this clay lick every morning between 6 and 7. We left the loodge around 5 to go find them. After a brief boat ride, we pulled up to a clay cliff face where a few parakeets had begun to congregate. Freddi told us that there would be hundreds, so we waited. BUT THEN: a hawk went flying by and spooked the parakeets. They rose up in a big bunch and flew away, not to return. SAD DAY. we had really been looking forward to seeing the birds en masse, but i guess that will have to wait for the next trip. We took the boat an hour or so down river and begun another trek in to see Lake Sandoval. The walk was shorter, but even muddier than the day before and we had a couple of funny moments of almost getting stuck. Luckily, one of Bello Horizonte’s guides in training used to work at Lake Sandoval, so he knew some tricks.
Along the trail, we saw some giant butterflies, tons of monkeys, and a group of blue and yellow macaws that we had been looking for. The Lake was super pretty, an oasis surrounded by thick lush jungle all the way to the shores on all sides. We saw more caiman, lots of birds, and the ellusive giant river otters. Very cool.
Back to the lodge, we had one last dinner with the group and then tucked ourselves in for the last night in the jungle. That night, the stars were INCREDIBLE. It was the first night that it wasn’t really overcast, and it was truly more stars than i have ever seen. We could see the Milky Way stretching across the jungle as far as you could see.
The Amazon jungle is an incredible place. I can totally see now how important it is for biodiversity and medicinal discoveries. The jungle is so dense, and we were *fairly* nearby to civilization.
The last morning we woke up to the sound of many parrots, including a couple of pairs of macaws that were nearby. Freddi and crew took us back to the airport, where we boarded another LAN flight to go all the way back to Lima to start our trip home. We had to stop in Cusco to pick up more passengers (a little unfortunate given the precarious landing/take off scenario). But, it was no problem, and we landed in Lima for a half day layover before our flight back to Houston, the US, work, and real life.
It was a fantastic trip full of an impressive array of landscape, wildlife, people, and adventures. We would both go back in a heartbeat and recommend Peru to anyone looking for a South American adventure that is approachable, affordable, and exciting.