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Amazon Basin

Written on: Friday August 17th, 2007

A journal entry from: Bolivia, Peru, and the Galapagos!

Two days ago, Larissa, Louise, both Sarahs, and I flew from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado for a two night stay in the Peruvian Amazon Basin (the jungle!). I had been expecting to fly on a small propeller plane for our 30 minute flight over the top of the Andes and down to the jungle at sea level, but I was pleasantly suprised by the brand new Airbus A319 that would actually transport us. It turns out that LAN Peru sends two planes full of gringos over to Puerto Maldonado from Cuzco to explore the jungle every day.

When we deplaned in Puerto Maldonado, the jungle heat and humidity hit us immediately. It reminded me of Singapore or summers in Boston. We met our guide Estaban at the airport exit and hopped in a taxi van for a quick drive across town to his office to pick up our boat driver, then to a market for the girls to buy flip-flops (I was the only wise one to pack some) before setting out on a 45 minute ride on a dusty dirt road to a dock along the Tambopata River. We then hopped aboard a very long motor boat for a 90 minute ride on the river to the Cayman Lodge, our home for 2 nights in the jungle. The lodge was surprisingly comfortable and run by a French woman who had visited Peru on vacation and decided to stay. The grounds had several buildings, including the main lodge where we ate and 6 bungalows each with 4 double rooms. All of the beds had mosquito nets and our room even had a bathroom with a flush toilet and shower. The shower only had cold water, but it was hot outside anyway, so the cool water was quite refreshing.

After we had settled into our rooms, we set out on a night hike through the jungle with our guide. We only walked about 1 km total, but we spotted a wide variety of insects (including lots of crickets), plus a couple tarantulas! The highlight of the trek was the spotting of an armadillo (which our guide claims is super rare!). After our trek, we sat down for a surpisingly tasty dinner in the main lodge. Apparently, the French woman had run a restaurant back in France before moving to Peru. Unfortunately, Louise wasn't feeling well, so she only managed to consume the broth of the soup we were served (more on this later).

The next morning we woke and headed out for a 10 mile trek into the jungle. The most curious part of entering the jungle was hearing all the different bird sounds which made me feel like I was in the jungle section of Disneyland (seriously, Disney got it right). As we walked, squirrel monkeys and macaws roamed in the treetops above us, but of course none of the pictures turned out (the animals are too quick and my zoom wasn't powerful enough). At the 6 mile mark, we arrived at a lake where our guide paddled us around for an hour before returning to shore for our box lunch. The most surprising thing about the lake was the large number of butterflies that hovered near the shore and were happy to land on us for photo opportunities.

After lunch, we returned to the lake to do some piranha fishing. The process was fairly simple: take a tree branch and tie fishing line and a hook to one end, next put a small piece of raw beef on the hook and lower it into the water. I could feel the piranhas nibbling at my bait, but I never hooked one (though I put on fresh bait about 25 times). Louise and tall Sarah had the same experience, though little Sarah was able to catch three piranhas and Larissa one.

After the piranha fishing, we hiked back to the lodge to shower, and then I lounged in the hammock hut reading a book until sunset. While there, a capybara (world's largest rodent) shot out of the jungle chasing a small animal, circled the hammock hut, then reentered the jungle. It was quite a site!

Once it was dark, we all climbed into the motor boat on the River Tambopata and headed out to look for caymans (lizards that look like alligators). The guide and boat driver used their spotlights to scan the shore, but in the end we only saw a couple caymans along the shore from very far away, as they were easily frightened and would scurry underwater as we approached. After the cayman hunting, we returned for dinner and our last night at the lodge. We woke early this morning to rain showers which accompanied us on our boat ride back to Puerto Maldonado where we caught our flight back to Cuzco.

Upon our return to Cuzco, we learned that there had been a massize earthquake in the town of Pisco while we were away in the jungle. Approximately 500 people had been killed and much of the town destroyed. Fortunately, we were safe, though we had to cancel our scheduled to visit Pisco in about 2 weeks time.