Puerto Maldonado, Peru
In the 40 minutes it takes to fly east from Cusco (altitude 11,300 ft) to Puerto Maldonado (at less than100 feet), we leave the Andes behind and descend into the jungle, “la selva”, exchanging cool, fresh, dry, thin air for hot, sultry, humid, heavy air.
As soon as we deplane from our Avianca flight the heat hits us, like a wet blanket, and we start sweating. Because of the high humidity, the sweat sticks. It beads on our faces and runs in our eyes, gathers under our arms and in the small of our backs. We won’t feel dry again until we leave.
Puerto Maldonado is the capital of the region and is the jumping off point for trips into the jungle. From here we take a boat upstream a half an hour on the Madre de Dios – Mother of God – River. As in MOTHER OF GOD IT IS HOT!
The river is a tributary of the Amazon and is part of a large area known as the Amazon basin. Lush and green, teeming with wildlife and sparsely populated with people, the area has few roads and many rivers. We do all of our travel on the river, glad for the breeze. The water is brown and muddy looking, otherwise we’d be tempted to jump in and cool off. The numerous caiman (reptiles in the alligator family) are also a deterrent!
At the Hacienda Conception lodge, the staff await with lemonade and cool cloths. For a few minutes we feel some relief from the heat and humidity. But not for long. Ditto with showers. Maybe 10 minutes of sweet relief and then it’s over. Hot and sweaty again!
This is, after all, the rainforest. The mighty Amazon basin. And we are here in the dry season. It is just starting to really heat up and come December, when the rains start, it will be wet for several months.
Our “cabana” is surrounded by vegetation and is mostly screen walls, creating a sense of being in the jungle. At times the sounds of birds, frogs, toads, monkeys and insects is riotous. Yes, there are insects. And some are quite large.
The day we arrive a snake is found coiled in one of the cabanas. The news ripples among the other guests, creating a bit of anxiety. Suddenly the insects seem less worrisome.
Although the mosquitoes are quite annoying. They carry dengue fever, possibly malaria and zika. And they are persistent. We are bitten even with copious applications of repellant. And to make the heat worse, the mosquitoes mean we have to wear long pants and sleeves. They still find places to bite.
Our first morning we hike into a lake and explore the shore from a canoe, seeing birds, caiman and giant otter. There are monkeys – capuchin and squirrel – in the trees along the path as we hike back.
In the afternoon we climb to the top of the forest canopy and walk along a series of suspended bridges. Not much to see except tree tops and some bugs. But there is a cool breeze!
The next morning, very early, we head out on the river before the sun is up, which means the moon has not yet gone to bed. It looks amazing (cue Johan teasing us with his “amaaaaaaazing) as it sets smack in the middle of the river. The sun comes up just as we are passing under Peru’s longest bridge.
Our destination is a portion of the river bank where the clay is rich with minerals. A multitude of birds, mostly parakeets and macaws, gather to peck at the clay. Instinctively they know the minerals are healthy.
Afterwards, breakfast on the boat is muy tranquilo. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is playing on my iPod. Fray, our guide, gets out his bird book and explains the various species we’ve seen. It’s too early for the beer and wine we are offered, but the coffee is hot and strong and the array of pastries, sausages and sandwiches is more than we can eat.
We’ve lucked onto another great guide. Fray is young, knowledgable, energetic and enthusiastic. He grew up on a farm in the jungle, has been to tourism college, speaks great English and sights creatures large and small that we would never notice. He joins us for dinner our last night at the lodge and we share some laughs. Like when he inadvertently reveals that Craig and Geoff have indulged in a beer or two on one of the morning excursions.
Our last morning we are awakened at dawn by the sound of howler monkeys. We only know this because of a terrified night we spent in Belize a few years ago. Awakened at 3 AM by a similar noise and not knowing what it was, we were sure that an anti-tourist lynch mob was coming down the road to machete our heads off. The roar that comes out of these cute furry creatures is strangely sinister sounding. Not intended to frighten tourists, it is meant to mark territory. But, trust me, the first time you hear it, it scares the **** out of you!
For a listen go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdnwLX5 m3G8
Heading for breakfast we notice the path to the main lodge is littered with monkey dung. And the howling is getting louder. There they are: a family group in the trees by the lodge. Scampering on the branches. The big guys howl. The little ones chase each other. It is a fitting finale to three “amaaaaaaazing” days in the jungle.