Monday, April 2, 2012

Into the Amazon we go!

(Shortened version - sorry - I just lost all my text and am not happy about it.....)

My friend, Jaime, arrived to Peru on March 13th and stayed until the 28th.  I just have to say that it was really really nice to have someone I know here in Peru.  It was like I had a friend all my own for the first time since I have been here.  Someone to speak English with, to share stories of the past, someone from a similar background... I think you get the picture.  Finally, I felt like the Peru Expert - getting to show her the city and head out on some adventures together.  I am really hoping that a couple more of my friends, and maybe even my family will come visit this next year!  I am dedicated this blog to our jungle adventure.....

Jaime and I headed to the airport to board our flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado.  We had packed light and were ready to head out to explore the unknown with just our backpacks.  Upon arrival in Puerto Maldonado, we were greeted by our guide from the Corto Maltes Lodge.  It always feels like a bit of a relief when you arrive somewhere and you have someone waiting for you!  We all piled into the tour van and headed on our way down to the river.  Here we loaded ourselves onto a long river boat and were ready to navigate down the Madre de Dios river.  It was hot and the air was heavy, but I was so excited that I really didn't even notice.  The views were amazing, and our guide taught us all about the history and wildlife in the region.  After one hour of navigating the river, we finally reached the lodge.  We unloaded our bags and got checked into our rooms.  The lodge itself has a big dinning hall, reception, bar, and gift shop - and each of the rooms is actually a private bungalow located on the property.  The rooms were really nice and fit into the jungle atmosphere perfectly.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch before heading out on our excursion.  I must say that the food was extremely good and presented as if we were at a 5* restaurant - very impressive for a jungle lodge!  Our first excursion of the day was a nature hike around the region.  We spent about 2 1/2 hours exploring the trails near the lodge and learning about different trees, plants, insects, and birds of the rainforest.  Our guide, Saay, was excellent and seemed to know everything there is to know about the plants and animals within the rainforest.  It was amazing to look up and have our heads covered by the jungle canopy as we hiked along the trail.   That evening, we headed out via river boat in the dark to hunt for caiman.  (species of crocodile)  We were lucky enough to spot a couple of the smaller caiman along the river banks.  More than anything, it was just so enjoyable to be out on the boat in the middle of the amazon rainforest.  I just kept thinking to myself, "How in the world did I ever get so lucky :)." 

The next morning we got up at 5:00am to begin our full day of events!  We started with an early hike to a parrot clay-lick which was about 30 minutes away from our lodge.  The clay lick is basically an eave along a small cliff edge that is made of clay - the parrots and macaws need to eat this for their digestive system.  We hid in the brush as we waited for the birds to come.  After about 30 minutes a group of about 2 dozen macaws slowly made their way down to the clay-lick.  They were a little hard to see, as they are green in color, but we definitely got some good photos of the birds!  It was then time to head back to the lodge for a big breakfast before heading out for the rest of the day.  We got our things together and once again loaded onto the river boat where we sailed down the river to Lake Sandoval.  The Lake is located on the Tambopata National Reserve and is known to be home to a lot of wildlife in the region.  Upon reaching the entrance point, we headed to the office to check-in.  Then we began our 1 hour hike to the lake access.  We trudged with our rubber boots through a lot of mud along the way, but it was well worth it once we reached the lake.  The access point was a sort of lagoon of low lying water that the rainforest was basically still growing in.  It was absolutely beautiful and felt like something straight out of a movie!  We then climbed into a smaller canoe and our guide navigated us through the trees until we reached the lake opening.  We flowed around the ledge of the lake looking at the wildlife and learning about the region.  Eventually we stopped and enjoyed a traditional packed lunch along the riverside.  Our guide then informed us that he could hear a large group of monkeys moving.  We all rushed up the river bank where we could see the monkeys passing by.  Monkeys sometimes travel in large groups when they are moving through the rainforest, and we were lucky enough to witness this.  We starred in amazement looking up as over a 100 monkeys crawled over our heads for about 20 minutes.  By the end of the day we got to see three species of monkeys - squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and a spider monkey.  It was so fun to watch the monkeys look at us and we starred up at them.  It was then time to continue on our tour of the Lake and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon navigating our way back.  After hiking bike out, we boarded our river boat once again and went back to the lodge just as the sun was beginning to set.  A lovely dinner that evening, followed by a dip in the pool, was the end to a lovely day.

On the third day, Jaime and I got to have a private tour since the other 5 in our group were returning home that morning.  We headed out with our guide and began the tour at a local farm.  This farm was definitely not what you think of as a traditional farm.  To anyone, it would just look like a couple of shacks surrounded by the rainforest.  However, after meeting the family and walking through the property - we learned that everything on the land was something they could use.  The trees were all various forms of fruit trees, and the ground was crawling with lots of medicinal plants.  We pretty much got to sample everything we came across - and the fruit was so good!  After the farm tour, we headed back on our way to monkey island.  We hiked through the island for about an hour in search of another group of monkeys, but we weren't as lucky today.  We returned to the boat and continued on to the last top of the day, a small adventure lodge.  It was finally time to enjoy the much anticipated zip-lining through the rainforest.  I was definitely more excited than nervous, but I must say climbing up the rickety tree house to the platform did have my stomach on edge.  The zipline consisted of two seperate zip lines connected by a a tiny bridge made of 2x4s.  The bridge was without a doubt the scariest part - it was pretty much like walking the tight rope - 60 feet in the air!  The zip lines were really thrilling as we zipped through the trees and brush below, with our feet narrowly missing the trees we passed.  I can't imagine any other way to end a vacation! 

The experience at the lodge was definitely fun.  Not only was the staff great, but we got to meet some really cool people who were staying there as well.  One of the best parts of traveling is no doubt meeting other travelers and sharing stories with them.  Our guide, Saay, did an amazing job, and the entire staff made us feel extremely welcomed.  I was sad to leave that next morning, but after breakfast, we loaded back into the boat and headed back to Puerto Maldonado.  We took our flight back to Lima and enjoyed the views from our plane of the river weaving through the Amazon like a snake below.  I highly recommend an Amazon excursion to everyone who comes to Peru.  It is a place like no other, and I can not wait until I have the opportunity to return again one day!!

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