Monday, July 31, 2006

To the Amazon I go!

Our group, headed by our fearless leader Simon (more on him later) left Lima bright and early on Saturday morning. Turned out the 9th member of our group bailed out at the last minute so there were 8 of us in the group: the Stelzer family from Scottsdale, Arizona - Greg and Susie (dad and mom) and Kyle, Riley, and Carson (3 brothers); Andrea from Huntington Beach, California; Kim from NYC, NY and me.

We travelled by mini-van from the hotel in Lima back to Jorge Chavez Int´l airport and took a domestic flight to Puerto Maldonado which was our launching point to the jungle. It was great having Simon around because he basically took care of all the flight arrangements. The only thing we had to do was check ourselves in and ask for a window seat so we could see the scenery as we flew.....and I´m glad we did!

I took a quick snapshot of the group before we entered the departure lounge just so we could have a picture of what we looked like before our adventure began! From left to right are Greg, Kyle, Riley, Kim, Andrea, Susie and Carson.



The first leg of the flight took us to Cuzco and it was our first opportunity to see the Andes range from the air. Several peaks are high enough to be snow capped.




We landed in Cuzco about an hour later and then Puerto Maldonado a 1/2 hour later. The moment you exited the plane, it was obvious you were in the tropics - it was hot and humid and my glasses immediately fogged up. We gathered our luggage, got into a four wheel vehicle and headed to the a small lodge where they made everyone repack their luggage - we were limited to taking everything we needed for our two day stay in a daypack.



We then piled back into the 4 wheel vehicle and for the next 25 minutes or so, drove down a unpaved dirt road. It was a bumpy ride!!

We arrived into downtown Puerto Maldonado which is typical of many a village in a developing country - dusty, dirty, full of ramshackled huts and people, who are just seemingly loitering around.



We stopped for a few minutes, to get loaded up on some supplies and as we stood waiting, the skies turned black and rain poured down hard! We huddled alongside the wall of a small shop and waited for the rain to subside. I couldn't help but snap a photo of Andrea (on the left) and Kim (on the right) - the self professed "girly" girls who would collectively be lovingly referred to as "Princensas de los Andes" before the tour was over. Don't let them fool you though - they are a remarkably resilient pair!



Once it stopped, we piled back into the vehicle and went on our way. A few minutes later, we dropped Simon off and William took over as our Amazon guide. The rest of the road travel was slow because the once hard dirt roads were now soft and muddy but we eventually made it to the launch point for the ride up the Tambopata river via motorized canoe.



The motorized canoe was a pretty big canoe - would fit 20 people comfortably and had covered top but the sides are left open. Once everyone got in, we pushed off and made our way up river - it was to be a 40 minute ride to the lodge where we would be staying for the next two days.



hortly after we were upstream, the rain started again so plastic tarps that drape the one side of the boat were pulled down to provide protection. Though the river current was strong, the boat cut through it easily and it was a comfortable ride.



Along the way, they served us lunch which was comprised of (surprise) Chinese fried rice wrapped up in banana leaves. I don´t know if it was because I was hungry or because the food was cooked well but it was pretty tasty and I could have easily enjoyed a second helping! Kyle gave it his thumbs up vote as well!



Though we all had hoped for a sunny day, the rain actually provided cool weather and the best part of all, kept the mosquitoes away. Apparently, we´re in the dry season at the moment so the rain was very unusual.

Once the boat "docked" (more accurately, slammed into a mud beach), we all clammored out and walked for about 15 minutes or so to get to the lodge. Welcome to the Posada Amazonas Lodge!



We all checked into our rooms. Though very spacious, my room was spartan to say the least - here are the pics. There was a platform bed topped with cotton mattress, pillow, wool blanket and mosquito net. There were two nightstands each with a candle. The bathroom had running water and toilet and a shower that only had cold water. What was most unusual was that one entire wall of the bedroom and one entire wall of the bathroom was not walled in at all - no windows either. It was completely open, providing an unobstructed view of the jungle.......and full access, to all creatures great and small. More about my night time visitors later on.



After everyone checked in, we all met back and headed out for a short walk to a canopy tower so we could have a view of the jungle from high above.



Along the way, William gave us lessons on native rainforest plants - including one that had bark that smelled of garlic! We also stopped to look at a group of monkeys resting on tree branches high up above our heads.

The canopy tower turned out to be a 32m high wood metal structure. It took sometime to climb to the viewing platform at the top of the tower because the wooden stairs were so narrow so you had to be careful how you stepped and they were only wide enough for one person to go at a time.....but the view from the top was spectacular. Not only were we able to see a great distance but we could also see many of the animals (e.g., monkeys, wild turkeys, macaws, etc.) resting in the treetops. We stayed at the top of the tower long enough to watch the sun set. It was quite an experience. In the distance, the skies were turning black and we could see that the rain was gradually approaching the tower.

Here's a view of the Amazon from the top of the tower and Susie managed to snap a picture of William, Andrea, Kim and I.



As the winds picked up, we decided we better descend. By the time everyone got down, nightfall had set and we had to walk back to the lodge with our flashlights turned on.



When we got back to the lodge, I decided to brave taking a shower as I was covered from head to toe with a combination of bug repellent, sun screen, sweat and dirt! No electricity = no hotwater so to say the least, the water was COOOLLLLD!! It was the quickest of showers but I felt so much cleaner afterwards.

Dinner was served by candelight since there is limited electricity available - just to the kitchen and other essential areas of the lodge. Dinner was ¨high end" jungle fare - rice, boiled pork, beet salad and yucca. Dessert was a pudding made from the local purple corn. I ate everything but the dessert which had a taste that I cannot describe and the texture of starch - not the most enjoyable of desserts.

After dinner, everyone was pretty beat so we retreated to our rooms to sleep. It was wonderful sleeping weather. It was cool, the rain was falling gently on the thatched roof that covered my room and there was a gentle breeze blowing. I feel asleep easily but sometime during the night, I was woken up by the sound of something rustling through plastic - reminded me of the sound that´s made when you crumple up a plastic bag. I decided I had some sort of a night visitor and there was really no point trying to shush it away as it would simply return at a later time. I fell back asleep and realized the next morning that my night time visitor had figured out how to unzip my daypack, open up a plastic grocery bag and eaten two of the bread rolls that I had stashed away for munching on our hikes! As I found out the next night, I would have a return visit.

The next morning started bright and early with a wake up call at 4am.